Author: Alex Corzo
Alex Corzo

How to Conduct a Customer Experience Audit

Around 73% of consumers surveyed by PwC pointed to customer experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions. Yet, less than half said companies are doing a good job of providing a top-notch customer experience.

Closing this gap can give your business a competitive edge.

If you want to improve your customer experience (CX), you’ll first need to measure it with a customer experience audit.

In this article, you’ll learn how to conduct a thorough audit. This will help you create a plan of action to improve your customer experience, encouraging them to buy from you (and keep coming back).

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The benefits of a customer experience audit

Customers want the best experience possible, and they don’t want to expend more effort searching for a better option. 

These are the two sides of the customer experience coin: on one hand, you have to do things that make customers happy. But it’s just as important to avoid the painful, high-friction experiences that come with CX functionality problems. 

But you can’t deliver that clean customer experience without first getting your hands dirty. That means taking a hard look at your customer touchpoints and what the data says about their performance in a customer experience audit (CX audit). 

It might not be easy, but a CX audit can yield benefits for your business, including:

  • More customer insights. Customers know when they’re targeted with marketing that doesn’t match their needs, and doing it too often can be irritating (e.g., luxury vacation suggestions for people in a lower income bracket). You can improve their experience across the board with customer intelligence data. A CX audit will give you quantitative and qualitative data about what customers want, informing marketing, sales, customer support, and more.
  • Higher satisfaction and conversions through reduced friction. An audit helps you spot the key points of customer friction you might not have noticed. Do 40% of your customers drop out when they see your complicated checkout cart? Knowing this will help you take steps to improve it.
  • Higher customer retention. Shifting your mindset to focusing on keeping customers happy long-term will boost customer retention and prevent churn. Looking into touchpoints that existing customers encounter, as well as potential customers, can have a profound effect on your bottom line.

Empowered with new insights about your customer experience, you’ll be able to identify new ways to delight your customers and repair any points of high friction. 

But before you can do that, you have to ask yourself a very basic question: how do you conduct an audit that yields insights this powerful?

Top Tip: Learn how one company improved each touchpoint by asking customer journey questions and increased their conversion rate by 67% in our MITSEE case study 🐼

Your customer experience audit: A basic checklist

To conduct a CX audit, you’ll first need to map out the customer’s journey for each customer segment (including existing customers). Once you’ve done that, you can get into the details and define where each type of customer encounters your brand.

To diagnose any issues and make a prognosis for treatment, you’ll need to gather data and analyze it according to customer motivations. Only then can you make your plan to address the issues.

I’ll show you how to do all of that below.

Here is a brief list of checkpoints you can use to begin a customer experience audit that highlights key areas for improvement.

Step 1: Specifically map out your customer journey

Also known as the “customer lifecycle,” a customer journey map is the beginning-to-end tale of their experience with you.

In this step, you need to map out the various stages of the customer journey. Focus on high-level points, such as pre-sale points in the customer journey and post-sale points.

Pre-sale touchpoints are all about generating enthusiasm (e.g., social media and landing pages); post-sale touchpoints are about earning enthusiasm (e.g., thank-you and promotional emails). 

For example, for a student interested in a business course, the high-level journey might look like this:

  • Student sees an ad for the course
  • Student checks out the website
  • Student signs up for the newsletter
  • Student receives nurturing newsletter sequence for three months
  • Student signs up for the course during a promotion weekend
  • Student takes the course
  • Student receives an email about an affiliate program
  • Student shares her positive experience with friends

Once you’ve defined the stages of your customer journey for each customer segment, both pre-and post-sale, you have your map in its broadest sense. Now you’re ready to start collecting the data. 

Once you have the overview of your customer journey, it’s time to go granular with each touchpoint.

Step 2: Highlight every customer touchpoint in the journey

When it comes down to it, an audit of the customer experience is really an audit of a series of customer touchpoints. Those touchpoints are what determine and define a customer’s true digital experience with your business. Did you meet customer expectations, or are there key points of friction where you disappointed them?

Take the customer journeyroadmap you’ve defined in the previous section and track all of the touchpoints in which your customers interact with you along the way. 

Here are some common touchpoints to consider:

  • Social media. A common customer touchpoint is the first time they encounter your brand on social media.
  • Advertising. Also at the introduction stage, advertising such as Google or Facebook ads can be your first touchpoints.
  • Referrals. When a customer of yours recommends the product/service to a friend, this creates a new touchpoint.
  • Conversations. If a customer reaches out to your sales reps, this is a new touchpoint as well.
  • Downloads. Product catalogs and shopping guides are common touchpoints to capture emails of new customers.
  • Point of sale. The point of sale or shopping cart is one of the most crucial customer touchpoints because it’s the crux of the decision.
  • Upsells or cross-sells. Asking a customer to add items to a cart or opt for a more expensive service can be a key driver of average order value (AOV).
  • Shipping and thank you emails. Shipping notifications, order confirmations, and thank you emails are highlights of the post-purchase touchpoint experience.
  • Customer support. When something goes wrong, a customer’s experience with your support team is a critical touchpoint.
  • Cancellation. This might seem like the end of the road, but you may still be able to improve the CX here (such as by offering discounts or additional incentives to stay subscribed).

To make sure you’ve rounded up every touchpoint in your business, consider each stage of the buyer’s journey and map every point they might come into contact with your business. If you’re not sure, you can always ask some of your customers what steps they took to find you in a survey or series of interviews. I’ll talk more about that in a moment.

Once you’ve added these touchpoints to your customer journey roadmap, collect all the data you have on each stage and touchpoint.

Look for areas of high friction. For example, look at where your website viewers are bouncing off the page, where your email list is unsubscribing, and where your shoppers are abandoning their carts. I’ll discuss friction further in step four.

Often, the challenge here won’t be finding data. It will be making sense of the mountains of data available to you.

Top Tip: Customer experience audits are easier when you have a reliable customer data platform to kick-start the process 🐼

To avoid overwhelm, take a “one at a time” approach. For example, you might do one review of your data platforms at a time. A Google Analytics review is a good place to start. If you run another platform, such as Clickstream, check that out next. 

Or, you might choose to look at each touchpoint individually, putting in plans to optimize each as you go.

For each touchpoint in each stage in the customer journey, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where are customers dropping off most frequently? Check out your churn metrics and KPIs like bounce rates. This is your point of highest friction.
  • What are you doing right in the highest-conversion touchpoints? An audit may show that you have a great checkout experience, for example. Ask yourself how you can incorporate those same lessons into a newsletter that isn’t performing as well.
  • What are the key areas of friction you can improve upon immediately? Try to identify any simple solutions to key friction points (such as removing unnecessary form fields) and test to see if this improves performance. 
  • Are there steps in the customer journey you can remove entirely? Not every touchpoint is a necessity. If some steps cause more friction than conversion, consider removing it altogether.

Step 3: Diagnose the impact of every customer touchpoint

Diagnosing your poor-performing customer touchpoints sounds easy. But without a frame of reference, it might feel like you have a haystack of data and you’re looking for a needle of insight.

Use the AIDA + post-sale funnel to inform your diagnosis of poor customer experiences. Here’s what AIDA means:

  • Attention is the stage of the customer’s pre-sale focus. At this point, they’ve heard of you, but they’re not sure what to do next. A common example of a customer in the attention stage is a first-time website visitor or someone coming across your social media profile for the first time.
  • Interest is still the pre-sale stage, but the customer has taken some further action. Maybe they’re browsing your products. 
  • Desire is when the customer wants your product and is getting closer to conversion, even if they haven’t purchased yet (maybe they’ve subscribed to your newsletter). This is a “lead nurturing” stage. It’s critical that you minimize friction here as much as possible to direct customers to the point of conversion.
  • Action is the inflection point when a visitor reaches the point of sale and becomes a customer. The checkout page, the delivery process, even the unboxing are all defining points in the customer experience.
  • And don’t forget post-sale opportunities for customer retention. AIDA is a framework for how you meet customers—your touchpoints from now on are all about customer retention.

Through this lens, you should be able to sort your data and organize it effectively, gauging where in the funnel you’re going wrong. 

At some point, you’re losing opportunities to delight or avoid disappointment with your customers. Determine the motivation behind the issue (whether it’s an “attention” problem or a “desire” problem) to inform your response and improve the experience.

Consider conducting customer interviews to identify basic problems. Customers might not always tell you how to improve something, but they can certainly tell you what to improve.

Gather a large enough sample size of customer feedback until you can pinpoint patterns in what they tell you. Review client feedback, Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and customer satisfaction surveys. 

Quantitative insights can be helpful, but the full gamut of qualitative customer responses will put your finger on the pulse of the customer experience.

Keep in mind that each tool has its specific strengths, as well.

  • NPS is great for ecommerce post-sale diagnoses, as it measures how likely a customer is to recommend your product/service to others. In the AIDA framework, NPS scores will reflect on everything that comes after “Desire.” Did you ship your product out quickly enough? Did they like the product? Your NPS score can help you qualify these answers.
  • Customer or client feedback will slant towards the types of questions you ask. Here you can identify earlier touchpoints (“where did you hear about us?”) or ask NPS-like questions (“how likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”). The chief advantage here is you can review individualized, write-in responses with insights that you might not have considered.

Step 4: Address your problems and reduce friction by building a roadmap

Diagnosis is half the battle. Once you know what to fix, improving the customer experience can be as simple as a quick edit in your content management system (such as removing a form field in your newsletter sign-up process). Or, for larger changes to embedded systems, it can mean hours of meetings between departments. 

So, how do you prioritize your next steps?

Build a roadmap based on the problems you’ve diagnosed. Create benchmarks and goals for improving friction on each of the specific touchpoints you identified and plot your timeline to address them. 

Customer Experience Roadmap
Source: Roadmunk

These benchmarks and timelines are unique to each business. Small issues for smaller companies may be resolved quickly. For larger companies with many departments to coordinate, or larger issues, more time may be needed.

Regardless, it’s a good idea to plot the issues and timelines on a roadmap so you don’t loose track.

For example, here are some of the most common friction points and how impactful they can be on your CX:

  • Site performance. The earliest friction in the customer experience is something you’ll barely see, but it does happen. If a customer sees your product on social media and clicks to your website, and it’s too slow, you may have friction right off the bat. Don’t think it matters for conversions? Research from Deloitte suggests improvements in mobile site speed improved conversions by over 8% and average order values by over 9%. 
  • Your checkout page. The checkout page has all sorts of opportunities to delight the customer. With these opportunities come potential areas of friction. Everything from poor product videos to lack of customer reviews can contribute to poor conversion rates here. 
  • Post-purchase communication. Can customers view their order tracking ID? Do you email them and tell them their order is on the way, or do you just hope for the best? Post-purchase communication should be simple, effective, but not so heavy-handed that it makes customers wish they didn’t give you their email. Remember, the end of the customer journey is their lifetime value to your brand, not only their first purchase.

Finally, make customer experience management (such as your CX audit) a routine part of your marketing strategy. You never know when a new issue might pop up. The more quickly you fix it, the smoother your customer experience will be across all demographics.

Top Tip: To turn data that comes up in your customer experience audit into action, consider implementing A/B testing to improve key friction points 🐼

Key takeaways

Of all the customer-centric initiatives you launch to improve your digital experience, a CX audit is the most foundational. 

Your customer experience audit will identify “kinks in the hose” that restore the flow of conversions to your business. Most importantly, it will help you identify the hidden problems you didn’t know were plaguing your business. 

Once you’ve mapped out the entire user experience, found key points of weakness, and actioned your improvements, your customers are more likely to thank you with purchases, loyalty, and advocacy.


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Author: Alex Corzo
Alex Corzo

Barriers to Digital Transformation: Strategies for Overcoming Resistance

IDC predicted that 65% of GDP would be fully digitized by the end of 2022, driving trillions in digital transformation investment by the end of the following year. The question is: will your business join them?

Digital transformation is the most efficient way to reinvest in your business—making it more scalable, easier to manage, and faster to run. So what’s stopping businesses from jumping on board?

In this article, I’ll explore the top six barriers to digital transformation—and how to overcome them.

Table of Contents

The problem with shying away from digital transformation

Imagine a hotel at the turn of the 21st century, still using phone-up reservations rather than online bookings. 

Slowly but steadily, the hotel notices their competitors out-booking them. A hotel down the street connects with a major booking website, and soon they’re booked out for months. 

Soon, there’s nothing left for the hotel that didn’t move with the times.

If you don’t make the necessary digital changes in your business, you’ll become one of those cautionary tales.

Today, most businesses are digital to some degree (email and a website being the most basic of business supplies). The problem is that bringing up a transformation of any kind—even a positive one—usually meets some resistance

The easy solution is to procrastinate. But the longer you wait, the bigger the transformation you’ll need to make to catch up. During that lag time, you’ll also miss out on empowering your employees, your customers, and your business with the potential benefits of digital transformation, a few of which are:

  • Innovation, like inventing new revenue streams and finding uses for new technologies
  • Expanding employee productivity through artificial intelligence (AI) insights and increased automation 
  • The potential to increase market share by being the first to create new digital offerings for customers
  • Reducing the use of less-reliable information in legacy systems, including outdated data storage

Despite the benefits, introducing digital innovation in your organization will encounter friction. You’re either going to embrace the organizational barriers to digital transformation and work to get around them, or you’re going to experience the friction that comes with being an antiquated company in a 21st-century world. 

You don’t want to be the latter. So let’s address how you can get around the main barriers to digital transformation.

Top Tip: To learn more about digital transformation and how it can help your business across the board, read our article on the ROI of digital transformation 🐼

Barrier #1: Lack of leadership or buy-in

The first step is operational: you have to learn how to get stakeholders to buy into the concept of digital change. With good buy-in, you can lead employees to a more efficient future. Without it, you’ll struggle to gain their trust for any new initiative.

Consider how The New York Times—a print company if there ever was one—created this buy-in.

  • Listening to the customers. First, The New York Times listened to their customers. The Times noticed the feedback of customers who were canceling their NYT subscriptions. One chief reason? These customers wanted to switch to digital news. It’s easier to create buy-in when you can demonstrate that your customers want the company to change.
  • Highlighting the benefits of digital. People are happy to buy in when they see opportunities from a digital transformation strategy. The New York Times learned that digital traffic in 2017 yielded more customer insights—where they clicked, what they read—that weren’t available before. Highlighting new digital insights into what customers were reading created an advantage that didn’t exist before.

It doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” approach. If you’re struggling with creating buy-in, or don’t have the data to back up your claims, consider running pilot projects at your organization. 

Get your entire organization to dip its toes in the water. Establish the credibility and benefits of digital transformation first, then create a pitch for the full transformation based on these results.

Barrier #2: Employee pushback

One can imagine a hotel clerk in the phone-in booking days, wondering why someone would need a website when their phone-dialing fingers worked just fine.

It’s endemic to human nature: we resist change because the dangers we know are safer. Your job in promoting digital transformation is to anticipate this employee pushback and make a persuasive case for an upgrade.

How do you get around this? Empower your employees first.

Consider how Target handled its digital transformation process with its employees. Target needed a digital transformation because it noticed its outsourced IT projects were costing too much money—and not working great.

Target brought its IT department in-house. This required new investments in wages and training for employees. Eventually, Target relied less on outsourced IT, which not only saved money but gave its employees new confidence in the other systems it could upgrade along the way.

That sounds great. But what if your employees are particularly resistant? This leads to my next barrier, which is that no one believes in what you’re doing.

Barrier #3: Lack of faith

Before people can transform your company, they need to believe in it. To accomplish that, HBR recommends adhering to the “trust triangle” of empathy, logic, and authenticity. 

  • What does empathy mean? Listen to your employees and consider why they’re concerned. Even if you believe in the benefits of digital transformation, don’t enforce your new standards with an iron fist. People will feel bulldozed and ignored. Instead, open the process up to their feedback.
  • What does authenticity mean? Be true to your reasons. “We’re going to fall behind without these changes” is a perfectly valid reason to make a case for digital transformation. There’s no reason to hide your initiatives behind corporate speak. In fact, Ppeople will trust you more if you speak plainly about your reasons.
  • What does logic mean? Make your case for digital transformation. Just as The New York Times did, point to your current customer feedback and explain why you need your company to change if you’re going to deliver better results. While people can argue against making needless changes, it’s difficult to argue with the need to catch up with the rest of the world.
trust triangle

Lack of faith often comes down to the absence of trust in business leaders at your organization. You’ll likely find that your team is perfectly capable of following you into unknown territory—but not if they don’t trust you first.

Let’s take Uber as an example. In 2019, new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had to rebuild an organization that had lost a lot of internal trust due to a series of harassment and discrimination claims against the company.

Khosrowshahi knew he needed a bottom-up approach to trust if he was ever going to restore full employee buy-in with the company, so he invited employees to help write a new company policy. Every single one of Uber’s 15,000 employees provided feedback. The company published its new policy—and slowly rebuilt its relationship with its employees.

If you have a similar lack of faith issue in your digital transformation projects, remember a simple fact: people want to feel like they’re part of the solution. Don’t steamroll them with your new initiative. Build faith in the project by inviting people to provide their feedback for the best way to move forward. 

Barrier #4: Risk aversion

Humans can be prickly at times. As we’ve said, we don’t trust change to our ecosystem, even when business transformation changes are undeniably positive.

This isn’t something unique to business change. McKinsey reports an implicit, innate bias against risk. Simply put: if you’re trying to affect change—even good change—there’s going to be some friction due to the way people are wired.

How do you get past this aversion to risk? The first step is to accept it as part of human nature. Even history’s greatest ideas are rife with doubters and naysayers. In 1985, even The New York Times asked: “Whatever happened to the laptop computer?”

(Hint: It’s alive and well here in 2022).

If an idea as good as laptops had its doubters, then even a great digital transformation journey will run into the occasional naysayer. Once you accept that fact, you’re ready to nip this risk aversion in the bud. Try a two-pronged approach:

Consider bold new projects more closely. It’s too easy to give in to naysaying and negative self-talk before you start a new initiative. Openly encourage change in your work culture to stop the mindset of avoiding new business processes and cutting fresh ideas. 

The initial stage is the most important part of an initiative—the fragile level at which an idea has the potential to fade out or grow into something transformative. Before you dismiss an idea, cultivate a new habit in your company: consider risky new initiatives with a more thorough eye.

Weigh the upsides. Admit the downsides. It’s the classic pros vs. cons list. If you can adequately express why you’re choosing a new venture, even while acknowledging the downsides, you can inspire confidence in that new venture. Remember that one of the keys to establishing trust is authenticity. 

Admit the potential downsides of new digital transformation projects. Perhaps you plan to break down departmental silos and open collaboration and communication lines between various teams. Some employees might be reluctant to lose their inner circle. But emphasize the benefits as well: that employees will appreciate additional support and feedback. 

Yes, you might remove some processes that some people previously enjoyed. Yes, you might have to change the way some peoples’ jobs work. 

Avoid papering over the downsides, and you’ll inspire confidence that your business’s leadership has indeed considered every angle.

Barrier #5: Departmental silos

Speaking of silos, departmental silos are the bane of any well-connected business. In fact, the distance between silos might be part of the reason you’re trying to overcome these common barriers to digital transformation in the first place.

It’s easy to pick the simple solution: boost communication, get everyone on the same page. But in practice, it can feel like herding cats.

As Ron Ashkenas reports, it requires some initiative to break these silos down. 

Ashkenas tells the story of a company with experts buried in different silos. Managers who wanted to work with one of these experts would have to clear it with other managers, making any new initiative a labyrinth of bureaucracy and red tape.

The company brought in outside parties to examine their silos. An expert brought everyone into a specific project and temporarily assigned one manager to oversee the objectives. Each cross-functional team had a mandate: come up with a consensus within two days and pass it on to the temporary manager.

The temporary teams worked. By decreasing the distance between silos and focusing on objectives first, the business implemented new solutions in a hurry.

What’s the lesson here?

Make sure everyone understands that digital transformation is a company-wide proposition. Invite everyone to participate, but let the old “departments” stay the old departments for now. 

Treat digital transformation almost like you would an emergency initiative—all hands on deck, leveraging every employee’s core competencies. You don’t have to use the verbiage of an emergency initiative, of course. But if you take that approach, you’ll find ways to slice quickly through the silos and unite your team members under one banner.

Barrier #6: Company culture

Your company culture—specifically, the culture for adaptability—is at the heart of how well positively it responds to change.

For starters, managers and employees might not be on the same page. One survey found 40% of executives believed they had a “digital” culture in place. Only 27% of employees agreed.

The problem is that culture may predate leadership. Take the example from Uber above. Even though the previous CEO began building trust back with employees, trust wasn’t fully restored until a new CEO came in.

If your people are struggling to adapt to change despite a good level of trust, chances are the problems go back to your company culture. If this is the case, your goal should be to shake up the conversation without ruffling feathers. 

It’s a tough balance to strike, but you’ll get it if you can stick to a few principles:

  • Start with cultural changes first. Tackle culture issues before you try to tackle change management. One way is to take the approach in the previous section of disrupting silo barriers. You might also begin a digital transformation by inviting employee feedback before you implement something new. This encourages employee buy-in before you take even the first step.
  • Change the conversation without setting off alarms. Remember, human nature is resistant to change. If you start touting your digital transformation initiative as a “revolution,” all you’re going to do is set off internal alarms in your company. Don’t talk about upending the status quo. Start by taking small steps.
  • Employ incremental changes. A sweeping overhaul of your business is going to ruffle feathers no matter how smoothly you might sell it. But if you start with one incremental change and then another, your team won’t have as much internal resistance. Start with one pilot project and go from there.

Key takeaways

You need to upgrade your business for the digital world. But before you start rolling out initiatives, remember that digital transformation can ruffle a few feathers. The more intentional you are about your approach, the easier you’ll find it to get around these barriers. 

Invite your employees into the process. Build out incremental changes at first. Don’t make sweeping promises of “digital revolutions.” 

Remember the old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Plan your digital transformation roadmap around those barriers, and keep moving forward. 


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Author: Alex Corzo
Alex Corzo

How to Build a Fresh Email Marketing Process for Increased Deliverability & Results

If you feel like you’re seeing a drastic increase in volume in both your professional and personal email inboxes, you probably aren’t imagining things. 

The global email marketing market was valued at $7.5 billion in 2020 and is projected to increase by a further $10 billion in the following seven years.

This growth presents some challenges for those who use email as part of their overall marketing strategy. For starters, it means more email fatigue from consumers and fiercer competition to reach (and remain in) consumers’ inboxes.

But it also presents opportunities for those who know how to leverage the growth to their advantage. It’s time to get strategic about your entire email marketing plan.

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to think about an engaging and tactical email marketing strategy that will keep unsubscribes and bounces under control. 

Table of contents

How to create email campaigns that align with your marketing strategy

While email is one channel through which you deliver relevant messages and offers, it shouldn’t live in a silo. Email should be a sub-strategy of a marketing plan that aligns with overall marketing and business goals. 

As we mentioned before, brand communications inundate consumer inboxes. While it’s important to stay top of mind, every email you send must have a purpose. Pointless or irrelevant emails can frustrate and annoy your target audience. 

In order to make sure you’re sending purposeful emails, your team must map each one back to your marketing strategy. It’s also important that every email has a clear CTA. 

Readers should understand exactly why they have received it and what you want them to do once they’ve opened and read it. 

How to build email campaigns that inspire action

So, you’ve mapped out your goals and aligned your messaging. How can you ensure the emails you send get read?

Brands that want to stand out in inboxes should focus on personalization beyond first name merge tags. Gone are the days of batch-and-send emails to a single list of subscribers. It’s now about tailoring the whole email experience.

A prospect who has browsed but never bought should have an entirely different email experience with your brand than a loyal, repeat purchaser. 

Segmentation is table stakes—customers won’t take action on an email that is irrelevant to them. Receiving an irrelevant email might annoy them enough to make them hit unsubscribe.

First and foremost, your strategy should map out multiple customer journeys unique to your business. Within each segment, get to know your customers even better and further tailor their experience. 

These are all important breadcrumbs to figuring out what matters to your customer base and how they interact with your brand. Noting them and enhancing future campaigns will allow you to reach them at the right time, in the right way, inspiring them to act on a CTA.

We’ll go into more detail on how to segment your list so content stays relevant in a moment. First, how can you ensure your email reaches our customers’ inboxes?

What is email deliverability?

We trust your marketing team is thinking about things like interesting email subject lines and click-worthy copy. A less glamorous component of email marketing is crucial but often overlooked: email deliverability. 

In its simplest form, email deliverability is the likelihood that your emails are actually reaching your customers’ inboxes. Sounds easy enough, but many factors contribute to whether or not your emails will arrive. 

As many as 20% of all emails either go to spam or remain undelivered. Email systems are working overtime to enhance their users’ experience. This means a lot of emails are ending up in spam unintentionally. 

You want to make sure you’re not getting filtered or dropped completely by having poor email marketing practices in place. 

Email deliverability comprises trustworthiness, reputation, authority, and the content itself. Email servers assess all of this as emails make their way to users’ inboxes and filter out those that don’t make the cut.

Some of these things you can control, such as the content. You can also strengthen your emails’ trustworthiness with a few technical tweaks (more on that later). But until you make these changes, emails are subject to gateways and filters along their journey, and they may be stopped along the way without your consent.

While the goal of every marketer is to get to a deliverability score of 100%, most often, it’s subject to the email platform you choose to send from. Aim for at least a deliverability score of 95% or higher.

Here are a few common issues that may impact your email deliverability. 

  • Inconsistent send schedule. If you send high volumes of emails erratically, this may impact your email deliverability. Email servers may assume you’re a spam bot and block your email from reaching the user’s inbox.
  • Single opt-in. Have you ever unsubscribed from an email list and uncertainly hovered over “I never signed up for these emails” in the exit survey? It can be forgettable when brands use single opt-in to add subscribers to a regular email list (often through a lead generation offering or promotional offer). This leads to high reports of spam. 
  • You haven’t purged your list. Deleting a chunk of your email list after working so hard to build it feels unbearable. However, removing people who never open your emails benefits your send credibility.

We’ve looked at some common email deliverability issues. Now let’s learn more ways to fix deliverability and how to get subscribers to open the emails that reach them. 

How to improve your email marketing to boost trustworthiness and deliverability

As we’ve seen, there are some easy habits to fall into that hurt your chances of emails reaching inboxes. Luckily, there are techniques to prevent deliverability failures and increase your email’s trustworthiness. 

Start by reversing the issues above:

  • Stick to a consistent send schedule so people— and servers—know roughly when to expect to hear from you. Avoid sending high-volume emails sporadically.
  • Choose a double opt-in, or confirmed opt-in, to reduce “I never signed up for these emails” unsubscribes that harm your email deliverability rate.
  • Purge your list regularly (quarterly if you can). Remove anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked your emails over the past several months. 

Here are a few more things to consider when working to improve your email marketing. 

Show that you’re sending from a trustworthy source

If you’re struggling with a low deliverability rate despite changing the issues above, it may require some technical setup to show that your organization is a trustworthy sender.

DomainKeys Identified Email (DKIM) protects emails from being hijacked en route to inboxes. Dishonest parties can intercept emails and change the content before putting it back into circulation. DKIM coding in email headers communicates to email servers that the content has not been changed along its way.

Sender score is a technical metric that will impact your organization’s trustworthiness. Sender Score assigns a number to every outgoing email server. The score is calculated by using traditional email metrics, including spam complaints and backlist entries, and ranks senders on a scale of 0-100 (the higher, the better). You can learn your sender score and how to improve it.

While you may know your organization isn’t trying to hack or scam anyone, these tools help ensure that email servers understand that, too. 

Segment your lists

As previously mentioned, it’s crucial to segment your email marketing lists. 

The best way to drive engagement and action through your email marketing is to give the people what they want. For some, that will be content. For others, it will be discount or referral codes. 

So how do you know which messages to send to which customers?

Tailor your communication to users based on where they are in the customer journey. In order to do that, you need to segment customers based on their journey stage. 

You can begin with a simple segmentation like this:

  • Awareness stage. Customers who are learning about your brand and your offering.
  • Consideration stage. Customers who have shown interest in your brand by opening emails, spending time on your website, contacting you about products, etc.
  • Decision stage. Customers who have done the research and are ready to buy.
  • Retention stage. For existing customers who have made a purchase.
  • Advocacy stage. Customers who are repeat purchasers and brand advocates.

You can then segment your list further by demographics and psychographics. For example, you may send out a promotional email to customers in your awareness segment that live in the US in time for an American holiday, such as Independence Day. This email might look entirely different to customers in your awareness stage in the UK.

For longer sales funnels, you may need to nurture your leads with social proof, such as detailed customer testimonials or product reviews and demos. 

Make it easy to unsubscribe or change preferences

There is no quicker way to burn an email bridge than making someone jump through hoops to change their preferences or unsubscribe.

It may seem counterintuitive: why would you make it easy to unsubscribe? 

Unsubscribing doesn’t necessarily mean the prospect is completely uninterested in your brand. They may just not have seen enough value in your emails.

So, if you make things difficult, or worse, continue to send emails after they’ve tried to unsubscribe, they’re likely to remember you—and not for the right reasons. 

Make your content count

Once your email makes it into someone’s inbox (hooray!), we want to make sure they open it.

That begins with an engaging, goldilocks subject line—not too long and not too short.

Here we return to our point about personalization. Once again, we’re talking about deep personalization: the kind that speaks to users’ behaviors, needs, desires and gets them to engage with your email content.

Emails with personalized subject lines generate 26% higher open rates. That’s a significant amount and a technique worth acknowledging.

To optimize your emails for the highest open rates, you’ll want to A/B test subject lines to see what type of messaging performs best with different audience segments. Many of the top email marketing platforms offer A/B testing as part of their paid plans.

And with such an easy tactic, why run subject line tests for every email campaign? Levels of confidence can occur mere hours after the initial deployment to your control group. Optimizing quickly can mean lifts in open rates,click-throughs, and ultimately, conversions.

By testing different subject lines, you can learn the best fit messaging strategies and use this knowledge in other areas of your marketing strategy, such as in ads.

For example, if you learned that your millennial audience base in the awareness stage responds well to scarcity CTAs, you can try to implement more of these in your next social media campaign.

You should also use preview text to your advantage. It’s an often neglected part of an email, but it can act as a way of valuing your audience’s time by letting them know what’s inside. 

screenshot example email preview text shown in mobile phone
Source: Sendinblue

In terms of email copy, short and to-the-point tends to perform best for most marketing emails. 

In fact, data from Boomerang found that emails of 50-125 words yielded the best response rates. What works best for your brand will come out in A/B testing, but short (not too short) emails are a good place to start.

Try to keep your CTA above the fold or close to it. Your subscribers shouldn’t have to scroll too many times to see what it is you want them to do. 

For just about any marketing campaign strategy, you’ll want to have a mix of purposes. For example, you’ll want to send out some emails for awareness (e.g., “Did you know we also do this?”), some to educate subscribers about your brand (e.g., “Learn more about our origin story”), and some to encourage advocacy (e.g., “10% off for you and a friend”). 

You’ll want to avoid sending email after email asking subscribers to buy the same product is unlikely to win your brand many fans. Diversify your content to appeal to your customer segments. A helpful question to ask of every email you send, how is this helpful to the reader?

How to measure the success of your email marketing

The good news is email marketing is quite straightforward to measure. Keep in mind that benchmarks for these metrics may look different depending on your industry. Campaign Monitor released a benchmarks report for 2021, including global averages and industry-specific averages. We’ll refer to the global averages in this article, but you can find metrics specific to your industry in their report.

Here are some common email marketing metrics you’ll want to track regularly.

  • Bounce rate. This is the percentage of emails that have not successfully reached their intended recipients. You want to keep this rate as close to zero as possible to improve deliverability. As we mentioned above, you can improve your bounce rate by using double opt-in, cleaning your list regularly, and authenticating your domain. 
  • Open rate. This is the percentage of recipients who open a given email. Open rate is a great metric for understanding how well your subject lines are performing. You’ll want to check for your industry specifically, but according to Campaign Monitor the average email open rate for all industries is 18%. 
  • Click-through rate (CTR). This is the percentage of people who clicked on at least one link in your email. This can help you understand if your CTAs or the links you’re sharing are relevant or interesting to your email audience. The overall average CTR is a low 2.6%. This is a number to consider when calculating how big your list needs to be before you see any impact on your business.
  • Click-to-open rate (CTOR). This metric compares the number of unique clicks to unique opens. Like click-through rate, it’s a good indicator of effective messaging, design, and recipient interest. The average CTOR is 14.1%.
  • Conversion rate/ROI. This number (or dollar amount, depending on whether you’re asking readers to click/read something or purchase a product) indicates how many email recipients acted on your CTA. 
  • Order value. This number tells you how much a user spent resulting from a specific email message or campaign. It’s handy to know which of your segments responded in the highest-value way to your campaigns.
  • Percentage of unsubscribes (UNSUB). This number indicates how many people unsubscribed from any given email message or campaign. It’s worth tracking to see which campaigns didn’t resonate, so you can analyze them and avoid these actions in future outreach efforts.
  • List growth. You may want to set targets around list growth based on your chosen timeline (e.g., “We want to grow our list by 5% this month”) or based on a campaign (e.g., “We want to grow our list by 15% with our new ebook”). 

When you begin to understand what’s working and what isn’t, you’re likely to see incremental revenue increases. This is down to the meticulous work of continuous optimization. Little learnings lead to small changes that can lead to exponential growth.

Knowing this, what do you leave on the table if you’re not experimenting, testing, and updating your email content and strategy?

Wrapping up

Email marketing is set for growth in the coming years. But because ever-growing inboxes are overwhelming consumers, only the most relevant and strategic brands will survive the unsubscribes. 

Every email you send should serve a purpose and align with your overall marketing strategy. It’s critical to remember that your audience comprises many different personalities with varying desires and needs. Be sure to account for all of these differences as best you can by segmenting and then personalizing your brand’s emails. 

As with any marketing strategy, be sure to test and measure often and optimize your campaigns based on your findings.


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Author: Alex Corzo
Alex Corzo

How to Create a Digital Transformation Roadmap

According to Gartner, while 87% of senior business leaders believe digitalization is a company priority, only 40%of organizations have brought these initiatives to scale. Why? Because digital transformation can feel overwhelming. 

Whether it’s not having the right people in place, lack of budget or funding, risk aversion, or an issue with stakeholder buy-in, it’s easier for some companies to shy away from this behemoth undertaking. 

But it doesn’t have to be mission: impossible. In fact, Gartner also reported that companies move twice as fast on digital transformation when there is a shared understanding of the digital path ahead. 

Enter: a digital transformation roadmap. 

This is the starting point for a team and organization to get aligned on their digital transformation goals as well as the strategic and actionable ways they plan to achieve them. 

In this article, we’ll show you exactly how to build a successful digital transformation roadmap and the purposes it will serve. 

Table of contents

Defining the roadmap and its place in the transformation process

Just like you wouldn’t start a road trip by hopping in your car without a plan, any good transformation process begins with a thoughtful, strategic roadmap. 

Depending on the size of your company, current personnel, budget, business goals, and existing infrastructure, a holistic transformation takes time to implement. 

Even a quick transformation certainly won’t happen overnight, so it’s critical to lay out the end goal as well as the many steps you’ll take as well as your key objectives and milestones and measure along the way. 

A digital roadmap may encompass:

  • Your existing digital customer experience 
  • Organization-wide and marketing goals 
  • Research at the industry, competition, and customer levels
  • Initiatives and deliverables to help you achieve your goals based on your research (e.g. run paid ads, curate landing pages, etc.)
  • The technology you need to leverage said goals and run said initiatives

That’s a ton of information, and your roadmap must be user-friendly to be effective. So, you’ll want to synthesize each of these components in a way that’s accessible to all stakeholders and relevant team members alike. 

Digital roadmap components

Let’s take a look at each section to include in your digital roadmap to ensure it’s comprehensive and approachable.


It may sound obvious, but you’ll want to begin your roadmap with a summary outlining the purpose of the document. And honestly, sometimes the summary is most useful for the person or team creating the document. 

Having to summarize your plan will help you think critically about why this digital transformation matters to your team and organization. It will also help with stakeholder buy-in, which we’ll discuss in more detail later. 

Digital customer experience

What does your existing customer experience look like and how will it change once your digital transformation is complete? 

This section of your roadmap will answer these major questions. Defining the customer experience will inform every single other action you take, from digital strategy, tools, and workflows to customer journeys and more. 

Existing lay of the land and gaps in tools

What tools, if any, are already in play within your technology ecosystem? If you’ve ever done an audit and noticed you have a tool that every team member thought someone else was using, you understand the pain in paying for something you don’t actually need. 

Understand which tools your team has, who uses them, and at what frequency, and then find where gaps exist. Understanding where there may already be repetition or redundancy, as well as where there are holes in your marketing technology (martech) stack, will inform what you need moving forward. 


What are your main business objectives? What about your specific marketing team goals? This section of the roadmap will detail what it is your team is working toward. 

You’ll also want to include success/misses to date as well as your goals moving forward. This section is an important piece in acquiring stakeholder buy-in as it helps them see the big picture. Outlining systems tool by tool is necessary for those in the weeds, but your objectives section should demonstrate the high-level purpose of the changes you’re planning. 


Following the more high-level objectives, the initiatives section should dive deeper into how you plan to hit your goals and the metrics you’ll use to measure them. Each goal should include a detailed description of the digital initiatives you’ll implement or methodologies you’ll undertake to get you there. 


It’s important to acknowledge meaningful milestones along the way. These should be achievable and realistic based on your new or updated objectives. 

If you look at your goals hierarchically, with digital transformation at the top, milestones would come next, then objectives and initiatives are what you actually need to do to hit these goals. For example:

  • A milestone might be decreasing your cost per acquisition (CPA) by X% 
  • An objective on the way to this milestone could be increasing conversion rates across your landing pages
  • An initiative within that objective could be X number of A/B tests to see which works best for your audience. Since more conversions can decrease the cost of an acquisition, this objective would be bucketed under this milestone, though it wouldn’t stand alone as CPA is influenced by many factors 

Why make a digital roadmap?

Going back to our road trip comparison, even with a set destination and planned stops along the way, your ETA could be impacted by construction, traffic, car trouble, or the like. Your destination doesn’t change, but your journey does.   

A digital roadmap helps you navigate these unexpected bumps in the road. While it’s critical that any marketing team remains nimble and capable of pivoting, having clear direction and focus will set you up for success. A detour may throw you off track, but if you are determined and prepared to find an alternate route, you’ll reach your objective unscathed (albeit slightly delayed). 

Ultimately, a roadmap helps you look at your current state, define your future needs and business objectives, and figure out where and how to fill in the gaps

Your digital roadmap is a living document. It should be updated often as the landscape changes and evolves and as you hit or miss certain objectives or milestones. 

Even seasoned marketers need help wading through ever-changing customer needs, the demand for a great digital customer experience, and more. Not to mention the hundreds of digital marketing tools out there (that seem to be growing and changing every day). mention. It’s a lot, and a digital roadmap helps you and your team make sense of it.

Why the digital customer experience needs to be a key consideration in the overall roadmap

The digital customer experience is the most important piece of the digital roadmap. So much so that it may even need its own roadmap (we said this process was important, not easy!). 

Customer needs should be at the forefront of every decision both your marketing team and broader organization makes. Remember, digital adoption is more than just digital tools.

A great digital experience is not just about leveraging tools to hit a goal you want to achieve (like A/B testing landing page copy in the example we used above). Rather, it’s about creating an easy, delightful user experience that incentivizes users to engage. 

Of course, it’s necessary to have the right tools and people in place to ensure things are easy and delightful for the customer. All we’re saying is you’ll be more successful if you remember the why.

Instead of, “we should A/B test our CTAs because it’s table stakes,” reframe as, “we need a CTA that actively engages our customers and improves their experience because it’s clear, straightforward, and simple for them to do what they want to do.” Build what you need but in a way that your customers want and will engage with

If you fail to do this, you’ll likely end up with a lot of shiny tools that look great and work (on the surface) but may not align with the experience your customers want, expect, or ultimately, demand. 

Consider building a digital experience roadmap within your digital roadmap

By building a roadmap focused specifically on the digital experience, you’ll better understand how your current digital state stacks up against your expected state, from a customer perspective. 

Here are some of the ways we do this at Smart Panda Labs

  • Using your key business objectives, determine your digital experience initiatives for paid media, SEO, UX/UI, communications (email, SMS), and analytics, data, and/or technology. The purpose here is to list what needs to be done to move forward, fill the gaps, and meet business goals.
  • Organize initiatives into three or four phases, with indications if there are dependencies
  • Tie initiatives to which areas of the customer journey they affect, whether awareness, consideration, decision, retention, or advocacy to ensure you are progressing the customer to drive lifetime value.

How long this process takes varies from client to client, but after approximately 12-16 weeks, we’ll have a clear picture of the current vs. expected state of play. From there, we solidify our plan and fill out the details. Strap in, as we’re about to take you through the journey.

How to ensure your digital roadmap is effective

Now that you can see the importance of having a digital roadmap before you jumpstart your digital transformation, let’s explore how to get from ideation to execution effectively. 

1. Getting stakeholder buy-in (without having to beg and plead) 

The first step to building a digital roadmap is getting boardroom buy-in. The CEO and leadership need to not only be on board but excited about the prospect. 

At first, stakeholders won’t be interested in the details of your initiatives or even your goals. Rather, they’ll want to see big picture milestones and how the end goal—digital transformation—will save them money and keep their customers happy. 

Once they understand that, they’ll be more open to hearing the details (though, as you know, interest will vary depending on who’s in charge and how busy they are).

Come prepared with details like:

  • How many team members will be involved in roadmap creation and execution
  • Anticipated timeline
  • Projected budget
  • Your why: Why is digital transformation critical to the business right now?

2. Define a big, ambitious goal that scares your socks off

It’s important to define the right type of goal for each stakeholder. The initiatives included in a digital transformation roadmap can take a huge amount of investment, and building a roadmap to simply “play catch-up” is not a good use of money. 

Maybe your audacious goal is a large increase in revenue, in which case you’ll need to map out how spending money now will make money later. Or maybe it’s a major growth in reach and brand awareness. 

Get specific and quantify these goals to the best of your ability, based on current data and testable hypotheses. Again, you’ll want to make it clear how each of the milestones within your roadmap will lead to that end result. 

Think ambitiously, knowing they’ll probably meet you somewhere below what you’re asking for. 

3. Getting financed: It’s not just a matter of budget

Depending on the size of your organization, these initiatives can cost an enormous amount of money. The amount needed will greatly depend on how ambitious your goal is. 

If you’re wondering, “how much is enormous?”, Axa invested “over $1 billion over just two years.” This number might be even greater for organizations with outdated legacy systems

A survey of 1,200 mid to large-scale U.S. companies showed a still large but far less scary number. The average budget for digital transformation was $14 million in 2018. 

You can see by these numbers that the financial aspect of digital transformation is unlikely to simply be a case of securing a new budget. In order to protect profitability, outside investment may be required. This budget will not only be allocated to digital technology and staff but ensuring you can pull in outside experts, too. 

If you do raise funds with a venture capital firm that has domain expertise and experience with these initiatives, know that their focus will be solely on the financial, rather than your strategic, goals. Other options for scaling and executing your roadmap without venture backing may include partnering with startups, research organizations, or agencies.

4. Begin with a collection of pilot projects

We discussed earlier the hierarchy of milestones, objectives, and initiatives. Once you’ve mapped out each of your KPIs and all of the actions you’ll take to achieve them, prioritize your initiatives. 

If it isn’t clear yet, this is a massive undertaking, and while it’s important to always have your big goal and your why in mind, in actuality, you’ll want to focus on one initiative at a time. 

For this first stab at prioritization, think through which initiatives will generate quick, impressive returns. The ability to demonstrate quick results will get leadership more excited about the prospect while also demonstrating how to reduce risk. 

5. Build a team and bring together your digital transformation champions

With a plan in place, the next step is thinking through who you want to bring together to execute the work. In the early stages, you’ll need champions from within the organization to execute the pilot projects mapped out in the previous section. 

Build a cross-functional team so that the whole organization is looped in and has a chance to offer their unique insights. As SMEs are the ones on the ground dealing with the customer experience every day, they are best suited to provide feedback that will help you tailor your plan to the customer’s needs.

Project management is also critical to the success of your roadmap. This task can be especially difficult when working with members across different teams and offices, so it’s a capability or hire you’ll want to get right.

6. Present new organization structures without ruffling feathers

Beyond pilot projects, an initiative like this will likely lead to a restructuring of the organization. This will affect how people do their work over the long term, as well as the people they work with. 

Having a clear digital leader as well as providing employees with access to the roadmap and insight into relevant decision-making will be helpful for alignment and reduce surprise or uneasiness around this major shift in business strategy.

Whereas before a digital transformation, individual teams may have been responsible for their own tools and technologies, a digital transformation should create more cohesion and accessibility across the entire organization. 

Having a team solely dedicated to the digital transformation will look different than your previous org chart, but will ensure transparency and efficiency.

7. Stacking digital experience transformation initiatives for fast results 

Focus on prioritizing initiatives that are critical from a strategic perspective, but also yield fast returns while reducing complexity. This is where meaningful data and the ability to prove quick returns are crucial. 

When you’re thinking through which initiatives to prioritize and start with, look at your current tech stack and team to determine where your existing infrastructure can move the needle. 

This may look like something the team has wanted to do and is capable of doing but hasn’t had budget or bandwidth in the past. Or, an easy upgrade to existing tech, like adding an integration that takes over manual admin and frees up time to focus on more creative initiatives. 

8. Hiring and training a high-caliber team of superstars

The increased investment into new technologies will require new capabilities. We’ve covered the need for organizational restructuring, but with this comes a requirement for a new breed of talent. 

In your roadmap, it should become apparent where holes exist in both tech and talent that you’ll need to fill in order to reach your most ambitious goals. One example is a senior data professional. 

Since your roadmap is a living document that will evolve based on testing and trying, it’s important to think through who will be running and analyzing these tests. Someone (and likely a whole team) who can ask the right questions to glean meaningful data and then analyze and implement the learnings will be critical to your success. 

9. Fostering a future-thinking digital culture

No matter what your company’s culture or goals have looked like before, a digital transformation should adjust everything from the questions employees ask to how they prioritize their work. Part of this entire process involves rebuilding an organization’s structure from the ground up.

Harvard Business Review stresses the importance of having a culture of experimentation and we couldn’t agree more. It’s important to cultivate curiosity, listen to data (both quantitative and qualitative), value learning opportunities, embrace failure, and remain open-minded. 

This way, you live and breathe experimentation and evolution; two key aspects to building a successful and sustainable digital customer experience that centers customer needs and evolves with your business.  

Key takeaways

In order to move successfully into a more digital future, many companies are reassessing their digital capabilities and adjusting their business strategy according to more fast-paced, always-on customer needs. 

A digital transformation is an enormous undertaking and one that should be approached with the highest levels of dedication, perseverance, and critical thinking. 

By creating a digital roadmap, focused on the digital experience, you’ll more quickly achieve buy-in from stakeholders and a clear and strategic action plan for team members. A digital roadmap will help your team get clear on all aspects of the transformation and refine it according to performance and learnings.


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Author: Alex Corzo
Digital Marketing Tools Header Image
Alex Corzo

How to Evaluate and Implement New Digital Marketing Tools (Without the Fuss)

Digital marketing spend has consistently doubled every year for the past eight years. That’s because as society moves online, customer demand for digital access and convenience has steadily increased. 

Not only is it important to invest in your digital marketing in order to reach and communicate with your audiences, but it is crucial to invest in the right tools that will help you meet your goals. 

Doing so will result in an effective martech stack that compliments your user experience and ultimately the success of your marketing initiatives. 

In this article, we outline a practical approach to evaluating the multitude of available digital marketing tools. 

If you follow this process your business will be able to adopt a tech suite that is both cost-effective and optimized to help you achieve your objectives. 

We’ll even show you how to ensure boardroom buy-in and maintain momentum with successful training and integration. 

Table of contents

An overview of the martech evaluation process

Following a well-designed evaluation process is the best way to make an informed decision regarding your martech stack. 

For this reason, it’s important to create and keep a high-level checklist and product roadmap top of mind as you explore, test, and assess new martech tools. 

To do that, look out for the following attributes: 

Cost-effective and cost-efficient

When it comes to cost, the most common path is to consider tools that fit within your budget to avoid overspending. At face value, that makes complete sense.

However, it’s also important to assess how likely it is that the tools will help you achieve an optimal cost per acquisition in the long run. 

In essence, face-value costs matter, but you also need to ensure you’re getting the most ROI out of your marketing spend. And in order to do that, it may make sense to invest more upfront for a greater return down the line.

Let’s examine this a bit further: 

An email marketing tool might cost you $50 per month but produce conversion revenue of just $30/pm due to diminished capabilities (resulting in a loss of $20/pm). On the other hand, choosing a premium tool that sets you back $200/pm but integrates with your existing platforms, offers automation, and allows you to use all media functions might result in sales of $500/pm (+$300/pm). Thus, you must consider costs vs. returns when investigating new tools to ensure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck.

Visually and functionally customizable 

Your branding is paramount to all marketing activities as it:

  • Represents your business identity
  • Sets you apart from the crowd
  • Is what your audience remembers you by
  • Helps you build brand awareness and thus develop customer trust and loyalty
  • Boosts revenue and profits

In fact, businesses that are consistent with their brand positioning across every channel report an average of 33% revenue growth. Thus, you need to be able to consistently reflect your brand in everything you do online. 

This is especially pertinent when your brand is already well-known. 

Why? Because audiences expect to see your brand mirrored in all your external-facing communications. This instills confidence in the legitimacy and quality of your offerings. 

Maintaining brand consistency across all your channels also helps to reduce friction when customers consider adopting your new tool(s) as your brand is instantly recognizable and thus familiar. 

Brand cohesion is also important within your marketing team because it ensures everyone is on the same page and replicates the same message externally. 

As well as being able to customize a tool visually, choose one that offers flexibility in functional design. This will mean that you can manipulate tools to serve your specific needs. For example:

You have a membership scheme that allows customers to progress through levels and exercise different buying power. Therefore, you need a tool that will allow you to customize what this journey looks like and streamline how you communicate at each stage.

Capable of automation 

Automating your digital marketing tools will make life easier for both you and your customers. 

In terms of user experience, automation can reduce the number of steps a customer or prospect needs to take to reach conversion. Fewer barriers means they are more likely to complete the journey. 

You can use automation to identify specific characteristics, such as age, job type, or search intent, in order to direct a user through the funnel in a relevant manner. 

On the back end, automation streamlines efficiency for your team by taking over recurring tasks such as: 

  • Quick responses
  • Order confirmations
  • Updating sign-up lists 

You can also set up larger activities once and then leave campaigns to run, including automated email journeys, social media scheduling, and so on. 

This gives you and your team the opportunity to expand your marketing strategy because after the initial preparation you’re able to redirect your time and energy into other priorities. 

Geared for collaborative use

Your martech tools can be used to manage a number of platforms and team members in one place. 

This is incredibly useful, as you no longer have to check individual tools or data sources to get a high-level picture of your marketing operation. Additionally, managing communication in one place helps to streamline workflows, reduce mistakes, and boost efficiency.

Therefore, understanding how a tool can help you to collaborate is key when evaluating your options. 

To assess this, ask yourself:

  • How many team members does the platform allow you to add to your account? 
  • Can you assign tasks and delegate them within the dashboard?
  • What opportunities are there to increase collaboration as you scale?  

Make sure there will be adequate visibility for everyone involved in order to increase buy-in and ultimately successful implementation of the tool. 

Set up for multiple integrations

If you’re implementing multiple digital marketing tools it can be overwhelming to stay on top of them all. 

You can avoid this headache by ensuring that your new tools merge seamlessly into your stack and prioritizing integration with your most important dashboards. 

Email lists are a common example: 

It is essential that your email client tool is able to capture contact data from all your incoming traffic sources. Therefore, your website, social media, and affiliate tools should all funnel into your email lists. If they don’t, you’ll spend valuable time making manual updates (which are prone to human error). 

When you adopt integration in this way, you improve efficiency and monitoring tenfold. 

Optimized for reporting

If you do end up with several tools in your stack, you need to understand how each is working in relation to your goals. 

Reports should align with:

  • Your goals and KPIs
  • Organizational visibility requirements 
  • Evaluation periods and reporting frequency 

Consider also automating your reporting. Manually creating reports, especially on a regular basis, is time-consuming and can be inefficient. 

Your automated reporting will allow you to easily build data-led marketing into your strategy. This way, you can avoid disorganized data dumps that feel impossible to sift through and leave you prone to making decisions based on guesswork. 

It’s important to note that true insights are rarely garnered from reports alone. Rather, the benefit of good reporting functions is the ability to analyze your data from a high-level and uncover indications where further investigation is necessary. 

In essence, the insights you uncover in your reports are what lead to meaningful opportunities to dig deeper, make new hypotheses, and ultimately valuable optimizations. 

Reporting functions also provide the opportunity to keep your stakeholders informed regularly. Share only the key metrics that are important to each recipient by setting up customized dashboards or email reports. 

Built to scale with you

Ideally, you want to choose digital marketing tools that stand the test of time.

This means that the tools you use should be geared to grow with your business. 

We’ve already touched on the customizable options that make it possible for tools to grow with you, but scalability also needs to happen in line with your plans for product progression. 

Your product road map is the perfect indicator of how a marketing tool should align in terms of vision, direction, and planned development. 

In other words, can the tool go all the way with you? 

Also, think about the short and long term goals of your product roadmap to assess how a tool can help you get there. The most important consideration is to look at the tool’s roadmap to see how they are innovating and if their journey aligns with your needs.

The evaluation of agnostic versus industry-specific tools comes into play here. 

Consider that platforms designed specifically for your industry are likely to be familiar with your product requirements and workflow needs. While this can be incredibly helpful at first, the industry-specific angle may put you in a box as you scale. 

Agnostic platforms, on the other hand, are broader and thus have greater cross-compatibility capabilities. They also update their software often to keep up with market trends, which can give you a competitive advantage over smaller, industry-specific platforms. 

Therefore, instead of focusing only on the particulars of your industry, keep flexibility, agility, and innovation top of mind. 

How to practically evaluate your digital marketing tools in 7 steps 

Now that you have your high-level checklist for selecting digital marketing tools, it’s time to get specific.

Step 1: Define requirements by reverse engineering goals

A great place to start is to reverse engineer your goals. This helps you understand how to define the feature set you need when looking at your options. 

To do this, group your goals by category and consider the KPIs you’re tracking to measure success.

Growth goals 

Analyzing your growth helps you to determine not only your overall long-term gain but also the success of individual campaigns. 

To properly assess growth, look at how a tool:

  • Shows your achieved growth
  • Allows you to filter growth periods
  • Helps you to visualize where growth came from 

Coupled with insights into the channels and demographics that contribute to your growth, you can intelligently tweak your wider strategy to ensure continued improvement.

Engagement goals

Your engagement goals will be unique to each platform because each one has its own algorithm for determining engagement. 

For example, Instagram’s algorithm favors users saving content while Facebook places more significance on likes. 

Therefore, your marketing tools need to be able to show how engagement is performing in relation to your specific platform strategies. 

As such, tracking language performance helps you to determine the success of your messaging. 

For example: 

  • Low engagement metrics may indicate that your messaging is not resonating with your audience
  • High engagement with a particular message proves that your audiences’ pain points align with the way you are promoting your solutions

To ensure your language is consistently engaging, choose tools that give you clear visibility across your platforms and optimize your messaging as needed. 

However, be sure to maintain a holistic approach to analyzing your data. Although the metrics you track will be different, they are all part of your marketing ecosystem. 

Case in point: While high engagement may mean that your messaging is resonating, it could also mean that people are confused and trying to figure out how to get to the next step in their user journey. 

In essence, a wider understanding of your data is always crucial and may lead to more than one key takeaway.

Conversion goals

In order to choose tools that help you succeed against your conversion goals, consider whether they allow you to calculate and represent conversion values. 

These include actual monetary values and indirect gains, such as: 

If 20% of people who download your videos go on to complete a sale, then the conversion value of a video download action is 20% of your sale price 

This helps you to understand how each action you promote to your audiences contributes to your bottom line. 

In this case, you need a tool that will capture the download action and assign your chosen value, allowing you to edit as necessary.

Targeting goals

Your customer identities help you design better user experiences because you’re able to develop strategies that resonate. 

As time goes on, it’s important to retain a comprehensive understanding of these identities as they often shift and change. 

To do this, select tools that give you a detailed breakdown of the people interacting with and buying from your brand, such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Occupation
  • Education 
  • Ethnicity 
  • Relationship status
  • Job title
  • Goals
  • Desires
  • Challenges
  • Demands 

You can also track your success in specific geo-locations and discover opportunities in new markets by using tools to gain insight into audience location data.

A digital marketing tool optimized to help you achieve these targeting goals not only supports you in maintaining success but presents chances to correct any gaps. 

For example:

High engagement from an audience group you’re not targeting (but has found their way to your business) shows a need to redesign your focus 

Step 2: Calculate your budget based on time and ROI

Figuring out budgets is tricky and often determined by cash availability. 

Instead of focusing solely on available cash flow, it’s important to factor in elements such as time saved with automation as well as the ROI your chosen tools will yield.

Thankfully, your digital marketing tools make it easier for you to work out how your activities and campaigns affect your bottom line. 

Instead of calculating fairly arbitrary ROIs from traditional advertising like print and radio, you can see a clear journey from digital project to profit.

In order to do this, first, calculate your marketing ROI by determining the revenue produced by your online spend. Then, determine the cost of staff time to achieve that spend. 

For example: 

  • Your social media manager currently spends two hours per day scheduling ads within social platforms themselves
  • Each day your click-throughs result in average sales revenue of $300
  • You spend $30 per day on ads
  • You pay your social media manager $20 per hour
  • So, your daily profit for this activity is $230

If you adopt a social media tool at $100/pm, resulting in your social media manager spending only one hour scheduling per day, you save $340/pm for the same financial return. 

In this example, you have considered both time and ROI in order to achieve the best possible financial outcome. 

Once you’ve done this, you can work to steadily increase the gap between spend and profit. 

Step 3: Select vendors by level of service

Your decision-making process will also be impacted by differing levels of vendor support.

In choosing what help you need from a provider consider, for example, whether you need a SaaS product or a managed service to help implement and guide you through the process. 

If you have in-house experience, choosing a SaaS tool shouldn’t be a problem. Most SaaS tools also offer some level of troubleshooting and support should you need it. 

However, if you’re new to using SaaS tools or need them to perform fairly complex functions, you might consider account management non-negotiable. 

Even after making this decision and picking a tool that aligns with your goals, it still might not offer your desired level of support.

In this case, if the functional benefits are mission-critical, selecting an additional service to manage one or more of your accounts is favorable. 

For example:

Wyndham Vacation Rentals trusted Smart Panda Labs to take over the implementation and management of experimentation platform Optimizely In doing so, they completed A/B testing that increased annual revenue by $8 million due to better personalization.

If you do choose a managed tool or a third-party account manager, be sure to define who will be the liaison between your organization and the support function to ensure workflows and processes are seamless. 

Step 4: Evaluating martech options (navigating demos and trials)

Once you’ve determined what you need from your digital marketing tools, it’s important that you test in real-time by taking advantage of trial periods. 

During your trials and demos focus on testing your high-level requirements. In other words, ensure that your stack fulfills your ‘must-have’ functions. If you decide to move forward you can explore other benefits later.

As part of your test process, carve out time to walk through common issues. You should do this even if they don’t take place in your trial period to see how the platform would respond. 

You should also include as many people as necessary in the testing process by deciding who:

  • Needs to have first hand experience at this early stage
  • From the decision-making process needs this level of visibility 
  • Might be added to the platform in the future as you scale

Note: The people that produce tools are notorious for making their solution look easy (both in general and compared to the competition). They often state that it requires no internal or third party technical support. This is rarely ever the case. You will likely need technical support (both during implementation and ongoing usage) so keep that in mind as you delve in.

Ask the tool provider for help when you need it

It’s important that you take advantage of any support on offer during your trial. Doing so will help you get intimately acquainted with the tool as an expert is essentially on call.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to utilize available training tours and videos. These usually pop up at the beginning and are worth the watch as they help you make the most of the learning experience.  

Remember that it is much easier to develop your skills from the people who created the tool than to try and figure it out all on your own. 

Don’t hesitate to utilize third-party support as well. In most cases you’ll need a combination of the two in order to use your tools to their full advantage. 

Getting the right support means that not only are you equipped to make an informed decision, you are also able to hit the ground running if you choose to purchase. 

Dedicate time during the trial period to actually use the platform

It can be difficult to find time for testing while also keeping on top of your daily tasks.

To manage this, especially if you are testing a number of different tools, make sure you carve out time to meaningfully engage with each one. In other words, don’t try to undertake test periods simultaneously as this can be confusing for you and your team.

Instead, make sure to test how each tool performs both in isolation and when integrated with others in your stack. This helps you to weed out any tools that will hinder collaboration or lead to inefficient processes.

Keep a score sheet

Set up a simple checklist to rate how each of your trials performs. 

You may also find it useful to rank your required features in order of importance. 

This way, if lower quality actions perform badly on a platform that does tick your fundamental needs, you’ll be able to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision accordingly.

Step 5: Making the right decision

Even if you feel empowered up to this point in the evaluation process, making a decision is easier said than done. 

With a bank of information and data in hand, you now need to weigh up options, including factors such as: 

  • Potential downsides
  • Integrations capabilities
  • Influence on wider strategy and business

To do this, return to your testing score sheets and collate the results so that you can easily compare each platform. 

Use this in conjunction with your high-level checklist to determine which tool(s) came out on top for your business goals. 

Step 6: Getting boardroom buy-in

Take the time to plan how you will communicate with your company’s c-suite and other internal decision-makers in order to get your business case across. 

Doing so gives you the best possible chance of buy-in from those with the final say. 

In order to make your conversation more persuasive, use their language and focus on information that they care about. 

To do this, consider the high-level organizational goals and note which of your marketing KPIs align with them. 

For example, if your CFO wants to see an annual increase of $1 million in net profit, show them that your digital marketing tools and adoption initiatives will contribute to this goal by: 

  • Inciting repeat sales through targeting digital customer journeys that build loyalty and retention
  • Attracting potential customers with a multichannel marketing strategy
  • Encouraging purchase behavior through accurate messaging and targeted reach
  • Incentivising customers to attract further leads by operating a referral program

You can then move into selling your marketing tool choices by demonstrating exactly how they will help your team achieve the above. 

As part of this process, assign a monetary value to each initiative or tool by working out the percentage of actions that are likely to lead to a sale in a 12-month period. This helps your CFO to visualize how the customer journey contributes to achieving their annual goal.  

Then, when you are discussing budgeting requirements, focus on this ROI first. In other words, present the monetary gains a tool will afford your company before citing how much it will cost. 

You should also refer to how much the company will save by using a tool. To do this, outline for your decision-makers how much time your team members spend on small but essential tasks. 

Correlate this to their salary value and show how much of that time, and therefore money, your tool can save through automation and delegation. 

Top Tip: Getting boardroom buy-in isn’t only necessary when considering new tools. It’s also important to get the c-suite on board when discussing updating legacy systems. To learn more about how to consider whether the best route is to adopt new tools or update legacy systems, as well as more tips for how to get boardroom buy-in for digital adoption, read our guide on how to modernize your marketing legacy systems.

Step 7: Creating an implementation plan

With your decision made, the next step is implementation. A well-planned and executed implementation process can be the difference between success and redundancy for your chosen tools. 

That’s because your tools can only yield results and integrate seamlessly into your team’s workflows when implemented correctly. 

Make sure that this is a collaborative exercise, both internally and with any third-party organizations that are supporting the process, to ensure everybody is on the same page. 

Master the migration process  

This phase of adoption will look wildly different across organizations.

For example, the larger your business, the more data you likely have, and therefore the more complex migrating to new martech tools will be. 

But even in smaller businesses, it’s important to get this step right to ensure your tools run smoothly day by day. 

If you’ve chosen tools with adequate integration then it is likely that the migration process will be automated. 

But even so, you should utilize the expertise of platform vendors in order to migrate accurately and efficiently. Remember that this is part of their day job, so ask them for help if it’s needed. 

They can also advise you on the best way to organize and transfer information, as well as how to set up your account so it’s ready to receive it. 

If you’ve chosen to onboard a tool that does not include account support, consider working with a provider or consultancy to help manage the process with and for you. 

Consider if you can afford digital downtime

Whichever avenue you choose, a key consideration when undertaking migration is if your business can afford digital downtime. 

For digitally optimized companies this is usually prohibited because there is no ‘out of hours’ time period (e.g. customers access services online continuously). 

However, if your business operates strictly during certain hours and customers will not be inconvenienced by a maintenance period then you may be able to get away with some downtime. 

If your old tool must stay online while you migrate over to a new one, consider the following: 

  • Can you turn off some write functions and leave access as read-only? 
  • What kind of data will still be live-captured into your existing tool during the process? 
  • At what point can you download historical data for migration, knowing that from that point all incoming data will not yet be included?
  • In the event that the migration does unavoidably hamper the digital experience in the short term, what mitigation have you got in place?

In many instances, it may be best to take a phased approach so that if challenges arise you are dealing with less data correction. 

For example, if you are facing digital downtime on certain functions of your website, migrating functions one at a time will cause less inconvenience to your customers. 

To achieve this:  

  • Outline the elements that need to be moved to your new marketing tool
  • Map out any times when migration is not possible
  • Prioritize all the elements by those most impacted by the new tool 
  • Schedule the migration of each, allowing prep, test, and confirmation time as well

Train your team for success 

Your marketing tools are only successful if they are consistently used and interacted with as intended. 

For this reason, it’s imperative that you build team training into your implementation plan as positive staff buy-insignificantly impacts how successful it will be for your business. 

Therefore, during training make sure to:

  • Educate your team on why you chose this new tool and how it will improve both wider business outcomes as well as their individual roles and daily workflows
  • Train staff to use the tool in relation to their job, rather than bulk training everyone on the whole system at once
  • Allow time for team members to practice using the new tool without worrying about making mistakes with the live implementation (to assuage their worries, you should show them how to fix common mistakes)
  • Clearly communicate the support options available, and the path to reach them if help is needed

In the first weeks and months of using your new tool, it’s also important to schedule evaluation time to see how your staff are using and enjoying it. 

In particular, take note of any insights they bring and improvements that can be made. 

Key takeaways

Successfully evaluating and implementing martech tools will help you prepare for the already growing investment increase and customer demand in digital marketing. 

Don’t forget to start with a top-level checklist to make sure any platform you onboard is: 

  • Cost-effective 
  • Customizable 
  • Capable of automation
  • Collaborative 
  • Report-enabled 
  • Scalable 

Then, follow the seven steps laid out in this guide to intelligently evaluate, test, implement, and optimize your digital marketing tools.


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Author: Alex Corzo
Digital Adoption Header
Alex Corzo

Why Digital Adoption is More than Just Digital Tools

73% of companies report that if they don’t adopt new digital tools and commit to digital transformation they will soon be out of business or marginalized.    

Critically, respondents in the same report state that the two most important facets to a successful digital adoption effort are:

  1. Strategy
  2. Strong leadership

In other words, when it comes to digital adoption, it’s not just about finding the right tools. Rather, it’s about curating a comprehensive digital transformation strategy, led from the top-down, that provides a clear direction and goals.

This way, you can strategically leverage digital tools to enhance both consumer and employee experiences while setting a strong foundation and framework that you can continuously build upon. 

In this article, we identify why digital adoption is more than new technology, why it’s crucial that businesses embrace all aspects of it, and the steps you can take to maximize digital utilization in the short and long term.

Table of contents

Why digital adoption is more than new technology

Digital adoption is not about formulating a strategy to fit the technology you have (or are considering investing in). 

Rather, a crucial first step is understanding your business’s goals alongside your customer’s needs and building a strategy that supports them. In other words, successful digital adoption is about utilizing digital tools to complement and implement your business strategy and the customer experience. 

Too many businesses take an overly simplistic approach to digital adoption. For example, investing in a landing page builder to convert more leads and setting it live without considering the best practices for a landing page development process. 

As a result, it’s not uncommon for businesses to see a misalignment between their digital tools and processes and the goals they want to achieve. 

Continuing with the landing page example, if your goal is to convert more leads but your chosen function (i.e. design, layout, messaging, benefits, CTAs, etc.) doesn’t intelligently incentivize visitors to engage, you likely won’t reach your intended goals.

Ultimately, an effective digital adoption strategy will help you to:

  • Identify organization-wide business goals and ensure marketing objectives align with the big picture mission 
  • Empower your employees to do better work, which will boost productivity and morale  and induce more positive and meaningful customer interactions
  • Enhance the customer experience by ensuring that every digital touchpoint is taken into account, analyzed, and optimized as needed
  • Get a higher ROI on your digital investments
  • Remain competitive in your target market 

True transformation requires continuous and incremental improvements. Anything less fails to consider that meaningful change comes from a paradigm shift where strategy, not technology, takes the lead.

How COVID-19 has changed the consumer landscape

While the pandemic isn’t going anywhere for a while, we’ve certainly moved on from the reactive rhetoric around COVID-19’s effects on business.

That said, even after it’s gone, the pandemic has had a significant effect on customer behavior; the likes of which may take permanent hold. 

Data from McKinsey show that in just two months, COVID-19 has accelerated digital transition for both businesses and consumers by five years. Further insights from McKinsey also revealed:

  • 75% of people that used digital channels for the first time during the pandemic would continue to use them even after restrictions were lifted
  • 79% of people had used a different brand with the intent of continuing to do so
  • Online credit and debit card spend increased in all categories by 35% from January 2020 to January 2021
  • There was a 60% increase in curbside collection for both restaurants and retail stores, with 50% of people expecting to continue using these services

These facts don’t just highlight the urgency with which businesses need to adapt—they illustrate a shift in attitude towards brand loyalty with consumers prioritizing convenience and value. 

Another key statistic to be mindful of is that the third quarter of 2020 saw more than 1.5 million business applications made (2x the number compared to the same period in 2019). 

These start-ups don’t just showcase agile entrepreneurship, they represent another challenge for existing businesses that will have to compete even harder to gain and retain customers. 

To stay ahead of the competition, businesses will have to reply in kind and demonstrate the same agility and digital entrepreneurship. Yet again, this illustrates just how critical it is to have a comprehensive and considered digital adoption strategy that reconciles consumer pain points and delivers a positive customer experience. 

At Smart Panda Labs, we’ve seen examples of digital adoption initiated but subsequently not keeping pace with consumer expectations or competitor alternatives. Our case study on Wyndham Vacation Rentals illustrates this point well. 

Despite having a digital strategy in place, and attracting heavy traffic to their website, neither of these tactics were effective in driving revenue growth. We identified a number of reasons for this:

  • The existing website was slow because of outdated code
  • A lack of user metrics and analytics meant there was little insight into consumer behavior
  • Existing strategies had not taken into account the growing importance of mobile sessions (because of insufficient data on consumer behavior)

These points show how vital it is to stay agile. Remember, true digital adoption means making continuous and incremental improvements in order to meet business goals. 

In this example, our solution was to analyze behaviors and monitor metrics such as site visits and conversions. Using these data points, we were able to hypothesize and experiment with A/B testing. As a result of our work, we were able to:

  • Add $8 million in incremental annual revenue
  • Increase revenue per visitor by 5%
  • Increase mobile revenue by 11% per visit
  • Cut proposed operational costs by utilizing existing digital platforms in order to meet strategic goals

Identifying and implementing the right digital tools to fulfill your goals

Your digital tools are a way of empowering your fundamental mission; which should be to delight your customer, grow your business, and ensure employees have everything they need to do their jobs effectively.

Thus, using a digital tool to its fullest extent is certainly important (and far superior to under-leveraging an expensive or shiny new instrument). 

But if it doesn’t help you achieve your predefined goals, is negatively impacting employee productivity or morale, and is disrupting the customer experience, it can’t be considered a successful implementation.

In essence, turning on a new tool and utilizing all of its features only holds power if it’s aligned with your desired outcomes.

For digital adoption solutions to work, you need to clearly define your business goals first. For example:

  • Increase revenue by X% through leveraging online and mobile sales
  • Boost the number of opportunities to see (OTS) through social media marketing or traditional marketing
  • Improve conversion rates by X% by turning existing sign-ups on email databases or online followers into customers
  • Increase traffic by X% through SEO optimization, Adwords, or social media marketing campaigns

The importance of employee engagement shouldn’t be underestimated, either. Gallup research revealed that workplaces with highly engaged staff see 59% less turnover and 21% increased business profitability. 

This makes business-wide collaboration imperative in order to ensure everybody is on board and motivated to leverage digital tools to their fullest potential.

In order to identify and audit the right digital tools for your business, consider:

  • Assessing all business processes to see how current workflows interact with existing tools. From here, you can identify what is needed to improve those processes.
  • What tools will give your business and your teams the agility to transition between on-site and remote working, for example, adopting SaaS infrastructure and collaboration tools. 
  • How best to ensure continuous improvement that enables teams to fine-tune services for customers. For instance, this could mean investing in a digital adoption platform (DAP) that provides on-screen guidance in real time.

For example, after auditing your current email marketing efforts, you may find that the sooner an inquiry is responded to, the higher the close rate. Therefore, some email automation (or reactive processes) may need to be implemented. 

But as we’ve touched on, that isn’t as simple as turning on a templated canned response and calling it a day. Instead, start with your process. Consider:

  • Which types of emails (i.e. inbound leads, replies to cold outreach, etc.), show higher close rates when responded to quickly?
  • Once identified, look closer at the data to see how quickly those emails were replied to and what the replies entailed.
  • Also, look at the types of people sending those emails (i.e. senior decision-makers in the B2B world, or ideal customer profiles (ICP) in the B2C world), and figure out if different responses are necessary depending on the recipient.

Now, you can intelligently turn on automated responses that are personalized, segmented, and set to reply within a specific time frame (that you’ve uncovered based on data-driven research). 

If your existing email marketing platform doesn’t fit your new needs, you may want to consider switching vendors. 

Or, if you aren’t sure of how to leverage your platform to its fullest capabilities, bring in a digital experience consultancy to help you assess and create a strategy that aligns with your goals and follows a calculated roadmap.

Building processes to maximize digital utilization now and for the future

Once you’ve collaborated with your team, stakeholders, and a consultancy (if applicable) and identified the appropriate digital tools, the next step is to ensure those platforms are utilized to maximize output. 

Put simply, as alluded to in the previous section, picking a new tool without a detailed execution plan won’t get you far. 

Of course, you may get lucky and see impressive results at first, but that success will likely peter out in short order. And, once you lose your momentum or alienate your audience or staff due to a poor digital or work experience, it’s difficult to build back trust and confidence. This is where ROI decreases, brand loyalty takes a hit, and leadership cuts your budget because you can’t prove value. 

To avoid this outcome and ensure your business makes the most of its digital tools, both in the short and long run, key considerations include:

  • Building workflows to get the most out of your stack. Every applicable team member and stakeholder should be involved at this crucial stage so that everybody is on the same page, has a clearly defined role, understands how to use the tool to its full potential, knows which processes are best employed manually vs. automated, and so on.
  • Setting out a comprehensive digital onboarding program that plots a clear pathway to digital mastery. This could be through a DAP which acts as a training tool and as a mechanism to automate certain tasks.
  • Meeting SMART objectives, which will enable your business to continuously learn and improve based on findings (for example, through assessing customer behaviors)
  • Integrating regular audits of all organizational processes, and in particular, conducting marketing audits to check that overall business goals are aligned to the digital metrics analyzed.

Only by setting out clearly defined processes will your business be able to adapt and demonstrate digital entrepreneurship for the long term. 

Once you kick off your digital adoption process and lay the necessary groundwork, future audits and analysis should gradually become nothing more than business as usual to ensure that best practice is consistently maintained.  

Key takeaways

Digital adoption is not just about using new features on the latest digital tools—it’s far more strategic and process-driven than that. 

Fundamentally, it’s about understanding your current position, evaluating where you want to go, and building a strategic roadmap that will get you from A to B. 

This way, you’ll grab every opportunity to improve the customer and employee experience alike and leverage your technology to the fullest.

This is why we preach that digital adoption is never just about technology. Rather, it’s about how it can empower employees to help you achieve your business goals and fulfill customer demands at the same time.


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Author: Alex Corzo
New Marketing Platforms header
Alex Corzo

How to Build Processes Around New Marketing Platforms

The marketing technology landscape is evolving at a rapid pace. While a robust marketplace may seem favorable, this actually makes choosing the right tools for your business a challenge. 

Why? Because investing in a shiny new tool without an implementation and management strategy is like buying an expensive Ferrari and storing it in the garage. You may take it for a spin time and again, but you rarely harness its incredible power. 

In order to avoid this outcome, you must first understand what you need and why you need it. From there, it’s all about calculating what you will use your marketing technology for, how you will implement it, how it integrates with your existing systems, and the strategy for ongoing management and optimization.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to align your new and existing marketing platforms with your business objectives. We’ll also give you some unique tips for how to leverage your platforms’ capabilities to maximize output and improve your digital experiences. 

Table of Contents

Identify desired business outcomes for your marketing platforms

Knowing what you want from a new marketing platform is key when considering the technologies on offer. Ask yourself high-level questions (with short and long-term goals in mind) such as:

  • What do you plan to get out of this new technology?
  • What business outcomes will it help you achieve?
  • Is it possible to accomplish these goals with your existing technology stack?
  • If so, why did you choose this technology in the first place and what has gone underleveraged?
  • If not, is there a way to integrate new technology with your existing one to maximize output? Or, is it best to move on from certain platforms because they no longer align with your desired outcomes?

Once you have a clearer picture, figure out how you will center your processes and automation around your new (or existing) technologies to ensure your investment yields the maximum reward. To do this, follow three steps:

  1. Figure out your specific goals and objectives that go deeper than the high-level questions listed above. For example, do you want to increase your number of new leads per month by 20%? Or, reduce manual tasks by 120% through automation and reinvest your people power to drive growth? The more you lay out your specific goals, the better decisions you’ll make. 
  2. Identify the components you need to create to meet those goals. This includes building processes (or automation workflows) to get the most out of your stack. Consider which team members will be responsible for what, how you will center the customer experience, and how you will engender consistency across every channel. 
  3. Choose new technology platforms that align with your desired goals and processes (or invest your energy into leveraging an existing platform with these outcomes in mind). We’ll get more specific about how to choose the right ones for your brand in the next section.  

Audit your processes to uncover short and long term needs

Auditing your existing processes is key to uncovering future needs and opportunities. After all, if you don’t know what isn’t working, or has been underleveraged, you won’t truly know how to fix it.

The best way to go about this is to identify what gaps new technology can fill. The last thing you want is getting stuck with something you don’t need or that overlaps with an existing tool. In fact, you may already have what you’re in the market for and simply need guidance on how to get the most out of it.

As you audit your stack, consider the following:

Industry-specific vs. Agnostic platforms

Many businesses are presented with industry-specific options, such as real-estate customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. While these are certainly tailored to your specific needs, they may not have the capabilities of an agnostic platform like Salesforce

When considering industry-specific vs. agnostic platforms, keep the following in mind:

  • Price. Agnostic platforms, especially well-known ones, may come with a hefty upfront price. That said, high-costs often mean high-capabilities. Of course, an enterprise-wide platform like Salesforce may never meet your needs if you don’t know how to fully leverage its platform. On the other hand, industry-specific platforms may have a small upfront cost but hit you with hefty fees every time you need customization (which is often a frequent need). 
  • Integration with existing platforms. Agnostic platforms are likely to integrate with your existing tools, whereas industry-specific platforms may need custom integrations (if possible) or lack cross-compatibility. If you’re starting from scratch, industry-specific may make more sense, but you must consider the ability to scale.
  • Ability to scale. Can this tool grow with your business? Ideally, you should be able to implement a tool and stick with it long-term. Agnostic platforms often update their software to keep up with market trends or changing technology needs, which can give you a competitive advantage over smaller, industry-specific platforms. Flexibility, agility, and innovation should be top of mind.

Procurement and actual usage

Consider how these platforms will contribute to a better customer experience and business growth. Specifically, how will you actually use them, and to what end?

For example, if you’re investing in an SEO tool to improve the technical health of your website (and subsequently the user experience), how will you implement the changes needed to improve performance? 

Or, if you’re investing in a paid media tool to reduce campaign costs and improve click-through rates, what steps will you take to increase conversions of the additional traffic?

Related Companies, a privately-owned real estate firm, came to us with these very questions. They decided to invest in digital outsourcing to help get their digital efforts on track. We first assessed gaps in their existing platforms and user experience, ranked them by priority, and then recommended avenues to optimize and enhance. 

Ultimately, we helped them understand what tools they needed to procure in order to reach their goals, and then laid out a strategy for using them to their full potential. Check out the full case study to see the results

Without a clearly defined deployment, updating, and management plan in place, you miss out on long-term results. You may get lucky and cultivate short-term gains, but they likely won’t be enough for a substantial return on your investment.

Implementing and leveraging full platform capabilities to maximize output

Along the same thread, figuring out “how will we make this work” is the key to getting the most out of your marketing platform. This comes back to choosing the right technology to grow with your business and adapt to your changing needs. 

In order to ensure you are leveraging full platform capabilities to maximize output, make sure to:

Create documentation and formal training 

Your marketing technology is only as powerful as the people deploying it. Even if you choose to automate several functions across the organization, those still need to be set up in a way that aligns with your needs. Documentation ensures that everybody is on the same page. 

And training, whether in-person or video calls, adds context around your documentation and allows for follow-up questions and real-time feedback. 

Make sure to consistently update your training to ensure it doesn’t go outdated and answers FAQs and use-case queries as they arise.

Not use technologies for what they’re not meant for

This may seem obvious, but if you end up using technologies beyond their intended capabilities, you could damage the user experience and jeopardize your reputation.  

For example, investing in a chatbot to manage all customer inquiries, no matter their priority level, removes the human element that is absolutely necessary for customer service. Consider the point of the technology, what needs it fulfills, and apply it strategically. 

Avoid putting bandaids over leaks (so to speak)

If something isn’t working, don’t simply buy a new tool to fix the problem on the surface level. 

For example, if your landing pages aren’t driving conversions, don’t invest in landing page templates right off the bat. Instead, get to the heart of the problem to identify if it’s the copy, call-to-action (CTA), or a technical issue that’s hindering results.

Then, make the necessary changes and A/B test with a tool like ABTasty to see what sticks. If nothing is working, then you can consider investing in a new tool that promises to deliver.

Best practices to get the most out of your marketing technology stack

There are many best practices to keep in mind to help you get the most out of your marketing technology stack.

Automate at every opportunity

If you can find an avenue to automate, use it. This will help to reduce human error, save you valuable time, and cut costs. 

For example, if you buy an email marketing platform, manually setting up each and every campaign will eat up your time. Instead, leverage its automation capabilities (if applicable) to schedule outreach based on predetermined factors of your choosing (e.g. user behavior, triggers, segmentation, personalization). 

Deploy your technologies at the right time

Next, it’s critical that you bring in the right technologies at the right time. This is where a digital roadmap comes into play. 

For example, we helped UF Health Cancer Center prepare for the launch of a marketing campaign promoting an innovative treatment. We advised them to produce targeted educational assets to share before and during the campaign to create awareness and drive appointment requests. 

If they had simply launched the campaign without supplemental assets, it would not have met their audience’s needs. Further, the context and tone of the campaign itself were critical to get right, so we A/B tested headlines, subject lines, calls to action, design, and types of content to understand what resonated the most. 

This leads us to our final best practice. 

Keep the customer journey top of mind 

A seamless customer journey is one of the most important aspects of your marketing strategy. No matter what tools you invest in to meet your business goals and needs, you should prioritize the digital experience strategy above all.

That’s because your marketing stack is likely going to directly touch the customer. Thus, each tactic that you deploy should accomplish a purpose at a particular point in the customer journey. Your technology should be mutually beneficial to both your business and your customers to inspire loyalty, improve the buyer journey, and drive ROI.

These tactics will vary depending on your business journey.

Tips for early-stage organizations

This is about having the fundamental strategies, practices, tracking, etc. in place to leverage your new marketing platforms and drive modern digital tactics. Don’t try to grow too fast and skip out on laying the groundwork. You will rely on these strategies and tactics every step of the way. 

For example, how are you going to create awareness around a new campaign? Further, how will you support the buyer journey at each touchpoint?

As described in our UF Health Cancer Center example above, detailed strategies and practices to supplement a campaign (e.g. to get ahead of common objections and answer questions) is just as important as the campaign itself.

Consider every stage of the marketing funnel (awareness, consideration, decision, retention, advocacy) and build practical strategies for each stage of the journey. 

Tips for developing stage organizations

As you grow, you should build a framework to create the processes to analyze data, gather insights, and use experimentation to drive iteration, learning, and growing. 

For example, once you launch a landing page, you should constantly check your site analytics to see what’s working as intended and what, if anything, is interfering with the user experience. 

Automate reporting if possible to get daily or weekly insights for number of visits, click-through rates (CTR), bounce rates, conversion rates, and so on. If anything is impeding the customer journey, optimize, A/B test, redeploy, and continue analysis.

Never stop learning, testing, optimizing, and growing. The moment you do is the moment you stop leveraging your marketing stack to its fullest potential.

Key takeaways

Before you consider investing in new marketing technologies, audit your existing tools to identify gaps and opportunities. From there, figure out which tools align with your short and long-term needs and goals and build a procurement and usage strategy that will ensure maximum output.

Then, align your deployment strategy with your customer’s needs and keep the digital experience top of mind. If there is an avenue to automate, take it, and reinvest your people power in analyzing and optimizing your tools as needed.

Top Tip: A digital experience consultancy can be just what you need to unlock your marketing stack’s maximum potential. We partner with you to uncover your objectives, help you choose, implement, and manage the right tools for your business, and stick around to optimize your tactics for as long as you need. To get started, sign up for a free consultation today


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Author: Alex Corzo
Alex Corzo

How to Manage Digital Transformation in Community & Technical Colleges

Just as it has done with everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced educators to go all in on digital — whether they’re ready or not. 

All learning institutions have had to transform from physical hubs of learning to digital hubs, virtually overnight. On top of that, higher education institutions that have traditionally relied on in-person tours and events, have had to find new ways online to recruit new students and show their digital learning capabilities. 

The American Council of Education shows enrollment down 55% across the board, however, community and technical colleges have been hit particularly hard; in the midst of scrambling to transition 80% of their learning environments from in-person instruction to online, these institutions are also up against an 80% decrease in enrollment from 2019 to 2020. 

While the current health crisis has been an obvious contributor, these institutions have been struggling with low enrollment and retention for some time now. Federal funding cuts, shifting student demographics and economic opportunities have been eroding the student base since community college enrollment peaked after the 2010 recession; and that could happen again this time around. 

One of the big challenges for community colleges right now is the maturity of their digital operations. If they have the right technology, people, processes and analytics implemented already, scaling those operations is simple. Trying to scale without all four of those pillars in place is a temporary option with increasingly complex consequences as time goes on. 

We recently discussed this conundrum at length in a webinar with our friends at Salesforce. If you’re interested in the full discussion, you can tune into the full recording here: How to Organize and Scale for Digital Transformation in Community & Technical Colleges (Log into Zoom and use passcode: e+k%6uN8WW). Here are three of the key takeaways and tips from our webinar for improving digital maturity in community and technical colleges.

1. Assessing & Understanding Digital Maturity is Critical

Looking at two-year colleges, there are some early adopters that are well ahead of the curve with their digital strategies, but many are still in the early stages on the digital maturity scale. To be successful, it’s critical for every institution to measure and understand where they are to plan accordingly to implement a scalable data-driven digital strategy. At its core, the key to success with digital transformation in education is balance and strategy. This is something that all organizations have struggled with, especially as the pandemic has forced so many to completely reinvent their operating models overnight. Educators are not alone in their struggle here, just take it a step at a time and you’ll be surprised how much easier your life will be by putting in the work to get it right from day one.

Use our handy Digital Maturity Quiz to figure out where you stand today and where you need to go from here.

2. Don’t Cut Corners with the Fundamentals

It can be tempting to rely solely on AI and technology solutions that claim to do it all, but without the right people to manage that tech or analytics to collect feedback and track usage or results then you are flying blind when it comes to what’s working and what’s not. Even more important is coordination across the campus to get full adoption and buy in from every educator and student; otherwise, what’s the point, right?

The best thing administrators can do for their staff and students is to build the right foundation to support all digital operations. If that’s done right the first time then it’ll be smooth scaling from there. That goes for everything from online learning environments to digital marketing and advertising. Every online experience associated with your college needs to be seamless and consistent for enrollment and retention to flourish.

Here are a few fundamentals of a solid digital operations foundation:

  • Staffing: Establish leadership over your digital experience, not just marketing or digital marketing, with an understanding of the cyclical process of data > insights > action > data. Mastering the rinse and repeat with this cycle is a winning strategy.
  • Analytics: Implement data analytics measurements aligned with key business objectives and their key performance indicators. Start consistent tracking across advertising, the user experience, and communications.
  • Coordination: Lead an effort to establish the same vision and digital strategy across the institution. Think holistically about all digital experience initiatives. How will this affect the institution?

3. Challenge Status Quo & Get Comfortable Being a Little Uncomfortable

Resistance to change and maintaining status quo are major blockers for successful digital transformation. Finding the right people, technology and partners are critical to cultivate innovative thinking and creative problem solving for the new challenges created by the pandemic.

Learning is a lifelong process of trial and error. Community and technical colleges are valued by traditional and nontraditional students because of the convenience, flexibility and power they give students to attend higher education on their own terms and time. That very idea goes against the conventional college experience. That said, adopting digital and learning to adapt on the fly presents new opportunities for community colleges to do that more efficiently than ever before.

Key Takeaways

As mentioned above, COVID-19 could actually be the catalyst for community college enrollment to spike again as it did in 2010. This is an opportunity for all educational institutions to improve their digital maturity. By strategically investing in the right technology, people and processes they can attract more students and provide the best educational experience possible to retain them. Depending on how well these institutions reinvent themselves, and transform their digital operations in response to the pandemic, the better off they will be coming out of it.

To get more strategies and best practices on digital maturity and transformation specific to your needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a free consultation!


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Author: Alex Corzo
Alex Corzo

Smart Panda Labs Presents at and Brandeis University Marketers Meet-up

Orlando, FL – October 3, 2019 — Smart Panda Labs, a digital consultancy that leverages data and creative intelligence to drive customer lifetime value, today announced that Shamir Duverseau, the firm’s co-founder and managing director, will be a featured panelist at the first-ever and Brandeis University Marketers Meet-up on October 7 at Brandeis (Waltham, MA). The day-long program will examine engagement across the student lifecycle. Duverseau will discuss the digital strategies that higher ed marketers can use to effectively reduce ad spend for high conversion rates in marketing campaigns.

The and Brandeis Marketing Meet-up will bring together marketers from leading colleges and universities throughout New England to share in best practices across each stage of their customers’ journey – from recruiting to engagement to advancement. “Smart Panda Labs helps organizations optimize the customer journey in order to realize a return on their investments every step of the way. We are thrilled to share some valuable insights at the Marketing Meet-up and demonstrate how customized digital strategies and tactics can drive increased conversions while reducing costs in higher ed marketing,” said Duverseau.

Smart Panda Labs Approach – Creative Intelligence Smart Panda Labs uses a creative intelligence approach to developing digital strategies for their customers, which blends both art and science for increasing customer acquisition and improving customer retention. For example, working hand-in-hand with higher ed organizations,  Smart Panda Labs develops customized solutions based on a thorough identification and diagnosis of the digital experiences that result in increased costs and sub-optimal performance.  This allows Smart Panda Labs to partner on a solution and to test hypotheses, “ensuring we live up to the brand promises of reducing costs while also increasing conversions and driving lifetime value,” noted Duverseau.

About Smart Panda Labs

Smart Panda Labs is a digital consulting firm that drives customer lifetime value by optimizing every digital experience along the customer journey in a variety of considered purchase industries such as higher ed, travel and hospitality, healthcare, real estate, retail, and technology. MWBE-owned and founded in 2010 by digital strategy experts from Fortune 1000 companies, Smart Panda Labs is focused on the strength of data-driven and creative intelligence to increase their clients’ new customer acquisition and improve customer retention.  Visit Smart Panda Labs. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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