Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

The Customer Journey Optimization Process: Tips, Steps, and Strategies

Customer journey optimization is designed to help you capture more leads, maximize revenue, and improve customer satisfaction.

To get it right, you need to optimize every touchpoint along the customer journey, from awareness to purchase through to advocacy.

This is no easy feat, given the digital customer journey is no longer “linear”—touchpoints are everywhere (websites, social media, forums, comment sections, instant messages, reviews, etc.). 

Additionally, today’s consumers increasingly shop in “micromoments,” or whenever the mood strikes.

The best way to capture these “always-on” consumers across a sea of channels is to create tailored messaging that speaks to how they feel at every potential moment they interact with your brand.

To do this, you need to run extensive research to understand the context in which your audience shops so you can grab their attention and provide a convenient experience that simplifies their life.

In this article, I’ll help you understand why you need to regularly assess and improve your customer journey. Then, I’ll walk you through nine tried-and-tested steps for customer journey optimization.

Table of contents

The benefits of customer journey optimization 

Customer journey optimization involves regularly identifying, mapping, and optimizing key customer interactions to improve the end-to-end customer experience. 

The goal is for marketers to optimize their touchpoints so that their solution is top-of-mind, easy to find, and simple to interact with at every stage of the journey.

For example, a commercial real estate agency might learn through their customer research that their website visitors are bouncing off their website’s “Contact” page. Using this information, they can run tests to optimize their messaging, reduce form fields, or conduct further research to uncover what seems to be stopping people from submitting inquiries.

The agency might also uncover that their ideal customers ask a lot of questions on forum sites like Quora. Using this information, they might allocate resources to answering questions and point prospects at an optimized landing page (such as an FAQ page on their website).

The point is to make the digital experience so easy for your customers, there’s nothing to stop them from doing business with you.

Here are a few more ways customer journey optimization can help you improve the overall digital experience:

  • Lead re-capturing. Retargeting helps you push previously engaged customers over the finish line. For example, try targeting shoppers that have abandoned their carts and make it easier for them to complete their purchase.
  • Customer segmentation. Segmenting buyer personas allows you to create content that speaks to each cohort’s specific needs. Relevant, customer-centric messaging is more likely to resonate and, in turn, drive action (e.g., clicking on a CTA to learn more).
  • Increased “micromoment” capture. This requires a dynamic, multi-channel approach to examining your touchpoints. For example, if data tells you that a certain group of your audience spends time on social media in the afternoons, a timely targeted ad promoting your real estate business, for example, could be what triggers them to click and start a conversation.
  • Increased revenue. Think of the customer journey optimization process as a cycle of continuous improvements that add up to major bottom line results. The better your digital customer experience, the more likely people will convert and remain loyal customers beyond the initial purchase.

Top Tip: Done right, customer journey optimization allows you to identify friction points so you can improve the digital journey. To uncover those data points, you need transparent insights into every touchpoint from awareness to consideration and beyond. Here’s how to gather the key data that will drive your optimization 🐼

The elements of the customer journey optimization process

The first step in optimizing your customer’s digital journey is to define and map every digital touchpoint. 

Consider this the research stage. At this point, you’ll evaluate what your customers are doing, including:

  • Their most common touchpoints with your brand
  • Where things appear to be going wrong, or where you’re missing conversions
  • Elements in the customer journey that are adding friction

When Spotify began this process, it created a customer journey map that outlined seven stages of the “music sharing experience”:

Screenshot of Spotify’s Customer Journey Map

They further broke down these seven stages (visit, listen, discover, share, discuss, receive, respond) into five different elements:

  • Steps. These are the actions customers take at each stage. For example, a step at the first “Visit” stage would simply be opening the Spotify app on your phone. Steps are often the easiest part of any customer journey to define, as they’re simple to predict and track (there’s really only a few ways a customer can open up Spotify).
  • Thoughts. These are more difficult to define, and represent the reason behind taking a step. For Spotify, a user may think, “I love the curated playlists because they’re a personalized experience.” This thought would align with the “Listening” stage as it’s what triggers them to enter that part of their journey.  
  • Touchpoints. Spotify defines these as the interactions people have with the platform and their network throughout the listening journey. After a person chooses a song and begins “Listening,” for example, they may share it with a friend outside of the app to “Discuss.” This conversation begins a back and forth feedback loop that ends with “Receive” and “Respond.” Defining these touchpoints is key, as they help you understand how people interact with your product or service so you can skew your messaging to support these journeys.
  • Actors. To Spotify, these are the people that talk to each other about their experiences at the latter end of the listening journey. For you, actors represent anybody that interacts with your product or service along the way. Defining actors helps provide more insights into every other element, which in turn gives you ideas around how to position and message your communications. For example, if people interact with each other at the beginning of their journey, and these interactions prove pivotal to continued engagement, you could curate messaging, incentivizing people to share and talk in the Awareness stage of the customer journey.   
  • Emotions. These are the reasons that drive people to progress through the listening journey, in Spotify’s case. For example, they may choose to “Visit” Spotify because they’re eager to listen to music while working and later want to “Discuss” a song with a friend to see if they like it too. Similar to behavior, understanding emotional drivers helps you meet the customer where they are, with content that resonates and inspires action. 

Organizing the customer journey into steps and stages helped Spotify isolate the reasons customers engage at every touchpoint. 

Here’s how you can do the same across four main customer journey stages.

1. Awareness

The first stage of customer journey optimization is awareness. This is when the customer hasn’t heard of you, or perhaps has heard of you and maybe even engaged with an early touchpoint (like visiting your website) but doesn’t necessarily show strong buyer intent yet.

In the digital world, this can be an incredibly complex stage. With access to your competitors at the tips of their fingers, they may be vetting your business against others. Your job in the awareness stage is to capture their attention—and then hold it. 

Those who are ready to buy may quickly move through the next steps by initiating a checkout or contacting your business straight away. For those who aren’t yet in the decision-making stage, you’ll want to focus on helping your audience recognize and recall your brand. 

Here are three ways to optimize this stage of the customer journey:

  • Connection. Use your messaging to establish a connection with your audience. Let them know early on in their contact with your brand exactly how you solve their problem.
  • Consistency. Make sure your brand is consistent across all touchpoints (your social media bios, your landing pages, even your email footers). This will help your audience to recognize and enjoy your brand in multiple places.
  • Content. If your audience is in the awareness stage, they may not be ready to buy from you just yet. Position yourself as an industry expert with regular articles answering their unique problems, and your target audience will steadily become more aware of you.

2. Consideration

The customer engagement process has begun. At this point, customers might be walking down the purchasing path, even if they’re not quite there yet. Think of the consideration stage as the point when the customer thinks of your product or service as a potential purchase.

These are your customers watching your demo videos and engaging with your newsletters. They’ve already made the decision to engage with you. Now, they’re wondering if your solution is right for them.

Here are some examples of where you can optimize the journey at the consideration stage:

  • Service. Though many think of customer service as a post-purchase department, excellent, seamless customer support is critical before the purchasing stage, too. Optimize this stage of the journey to answer customer questions quickly, so you catch them in the moment of need and plant the seeds of a lasting relationship.
  • Social responsibility. Around 55% of customers will pay extra to shop with companies that are dedicated to having positive social and environmental impacts. If you’ve identified that this is important to your customers, one way to optimize at this stage of the journey is to demonstrate how you meet corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals through your email marketing, website banners, or dedicated landing pages.  
  • Reviews. Social proof is a powerful influencer. Use reviews, case studies, and video testimonials to show how you’ve helped similar customers solve their problem.

3. Decision

The purchase is a critical point in the customer lifecycle. It’s when a prospect converts into a customer—and someone who can potentially have a relationship with your business for years down the line.

To help this happen, you need to stay out of your own way. Reduce all friction in this stage to help customers go from A to B as easily as possible. 

For example, Amazon’s “1-Click” technology eliminates several stages of the check-out process for customers who have opted-in. It allows customers who have decided they want a product to initiate the purchase immediately.

There are many ways to optimize this stage of the customer journey, including:

  • Reducing check-out steps. Customers in the decision phase don’t want to go through several stages to make a purchase. Help them give you their payment details quickly by eliminating unnecessary steps.
  • Placing signup or login screens after checkout. If your service requires a login, place this after the checkout can speed things along.
  • Including security badges. Sometimes customers hesitate to do business with new brands, especially when they aren’t sure how you’ll handle their sensitive payment information. Providing payment protection badges and links to your policies can help alleviate some of this worry.

Top Tip: Learn more ways to enhance how your customers experience your brand in our post on creating an exceptional digital experience 🐼

4. Retention and advocacy 

Once your prospect becomes a customer, you’ll want to focus on nurturing that relationship to keep them coming back and encourage them to share their positive experiences.

To focus on retention, consider what and how you are communicating to customers immediately after they’ve placed an order. Depending on your product or service, how often do you reach out to them with new products and feature updates in the future, and how do you tailor that messaging to match their first experience with you?

If a customer has completed a sale and you’ve invested in the retention stage, you’re in a great position to leverage their delight (and create loyal brand advocates).

Respectfully approach customers for reviews, social proof, and star ratings. Consider how you can get your customers to work for you without it feeling like work. If your customer experience has been stellar, they’ll likely be willing to go the extra mile for your business.

There are some individual touchpoints after leaving the checkout page that are key to optimize in this stage, such as:

  • Thank You pages
  • Order confirmation emails
  • Shipping confirmation emails
  • The “unboxing experience”
  • Post-purchase check-ins
  • Product reviews
  • Engaging customers with a referral program

You may not engage a customer at all of these touchpoints, but any time you please a customer can be a unique opportunity to hold their loyalty down the line. 

9 steps for customer journey optimization

Now that you know why customer journey optimization is important and what it looks like from a high level, it’s time to dig into your unique customer journey.

Follow these nine steps to create a customer journey that delights your buyers throughout their contact with your brand.

Step #1: Assess your current customer journey

Your customers’ journey may look entirely different to another business’s journey. To start optimizing your own customer journey, you need data on what that currently looks like. This is the step in which you’ll gather customer data using a variety of tools, including:

  • User surveys
  • Customer interviews
  • Social media interactions, such as Twitter or LinkedIn
  • Experience analytics, such as session recordings and heatmaps
  • Website traffic analytics, such as bounce, conversion, and cart abandonment rates 

Data collection can mean everything from secondhand data (customer journey analytics that examines customer behavior on your website) to direct questions you ask your customers. 

Let’s say, for example, you’re a boutique hotel chain. You’ll want to gather data on the types of customers who stay at your hotels. You can do this through user surveys after the booking online, or one-to-one customer interviews with current, past, or regular guests.

It’s best not to rely on any single tactic. Instead, unify intel from each of the five data gathering methods above to build a comprehensive view of who your customers are and what gets them over the line to the checkout page.

Step #2: Identify bottlenecks and areas for improvement

Once you’ve mapped out your own customer journey, you’ll want to identify the key points of friction. Where do most of your prospects step away from their decision to purchase? 

Returning to the hotel chain again, let’s say you identify a lot of customers as one-off customers. They come, they stay, they report having a nice time in your survey, but they never return. You have identified a potential area for improvement (getting more customers to return).

Why is this happening? Perhaps your hotel is in a holiday destination that doesn’t attract repeat customers, and guests need a push to return (e.g., discounts on hotel rooms, group stay offers, or even partnerships with other local amenities, like spas).

Step #3: Set objectives based on your observations

After you’ve identified your friction points (and why they’re happening), you can now set specific, measurable goals to address them.

SMART goals are a popular tool to put realistic actions in place. According to the methodology’s creator, each goal must be:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
  • Attainable (agreed, attainable)
  • Realistic (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
  • Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)

The hotel chain above might decide they’re going to track returning customers over the next two quarters. One cohort might receive a discount via email that they can redeem if they decide to rebook within the next month. Another cohort might serve as a control group.

Step #4: Map your ideal customer journey

You’ve audited your current customer journey and identified friction points for your target audience. Now, it’s time to modify your current journey with those pain points and customer desires in mind. This will help you to create the customer journey that will capture and convert your ideal customers.

Some businesses might struggle with the step above, especially if they aren’t able to collect accurate customer data. In this case, you can construct an ideal customer journey. What do you want it to look like when a customer has a completely satisfactory experience? What steps can you eliminate?

Customer Journey Graph

If we take our hotel chain example, they want website visitors to book a hotel or spa stay.

But, they may be neglecting to cater to gift-shoppers. What if you want to book a surprise stay for a loved one? You shouldn’t have to wait until the checkout page to make this distinction.

To make this easy, the hotel may consider adding a “Gift Vouchers” option below the main booking feature to serve those buying spa breaks and holidays for their loved ones. They can then browse the range of available offers and decide whether to pick a date, or let the lucky recipients choose themselves.

Step #5: Create a roadmap of tactics you can build

After mapping your ideal journey, consider a roadmap of tactics you’ll use to execute your strategy.

What order should these tactics be in to optimize your customer journey? What data will you need to gather to optimize these steps? Are there any current existing technology gaps that you’d need to begin optimizing?

The hotel chain’s plan to email past guests with their offer to rebook will take (at the very least):

  • An email marketing platform
  • A copywriter
  • Resources to analyze the data from the experiment

Step #6: Bring the relevant departments on board

Once you’ve formed your plan and gathered your resources, you’ll need the various teams involved to be on the same page. Reduce silos by building new project teams that incorporate leadership from different departments. 

Try to avoid “segmenting” different parts of this customer journey to different departments, as this can hinder communication and add unnecessary friction. Instead, unite different teams by having them each focus on similar KPIs for measurable, specific results.

Step #7: Start experimenting and implementing

With your teams implementing the next steps, now’s the time to set up A/B testing. This is a powerful step in optimizing your customer journey. Small changes can generate big leaps toward goals.

When we worked with Viceroy Hotels and Resorts, we suggested implementing testing. We began with a simple button copy test, which weighed two call-to-action buttons against each other. This included the following options:

  • A: Reserve (this was the existing copy and acted as the “control”)
  • B: Start Your Reservation
  • C: Make Your Reservation
  • D: Reserve Your Room
  • E: Book Your Room

From this iteration, “Book Your Room” won.

But we didn’t stop there. We then pitted this copy against another hypothesis: “Check Availability.” The new button copy won by such a large margin, it increased room reservations by $30,000 each month. This is the power of testing even the smallest variables at each customer touchpoint.

Top Tip: Learn more about how we increased room reservations by $30,000 per month in the full Viceroy Hotels and Resorts case study 🐼

Step #8: Derive key insights from your data

Now that you’ve collected your data, it’s time to ask: “Where are the opportunities for improvement?” 

You can gather insights from sources like:

  • Demographics
  • Purchase history
  • Location
  • How they interact with you (e.g., on a tablet, mobile, or desktop)

When we worked with MIT Sloan Executive Education (MSEE), we asked questions about who the customers were and how their journey could be simplified. 

We used that data to decrease marketing spend and increase conversions by 67%. 

Step #9: Adopt an omnichannel strategy

About 73% of customers use multiple channels during their journey. If you want to maximize your reach, target customers across multiple (relevant) channels that your target customer uses.

It’s also important to ask what your customers are doing on each channel because intent isn’t universal. 

For example, a customer might find your landing page through a search query, but they may not be ready to buy yet. Knowing this can help you create informational content designed to capture this kind of traffic and mold them into potential customers.

Key takeaways

The customer journey is essentially the story of your ideal customer personas discovering your brand, making a purchase, and becoming loyal advocates. Optimizing the customer journey means taking the steps to make that story a happy one.

The best businesses are willing to conduct self-examination. They look honestly at their touchpoints across multiple channels and ask where the customer journey can be improved. What’s causing the bottlenecks? What are the pain points introducing friction? Then, those companies test new solutions until they find those that resonate best with their customers.

The customer journey optimization process is ongoing and never quite finished. Implement habits from the steps above and make it a regular part of your marketing strategy to strengthen your bottom line.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

What’s the ROI of Digital Transformation? (And how to measure it)

Less than 1 in 3 companies reach their digital transformation objectives.

What seems like a staggering data point makes sense when you learn what meeting them requires—leadership buy-in, a hefty financial investment, a reliable and capable staff, and a deep understanding of customer needs, to name a few non-negotiables. 

With such low odds, why are 80% of companies still planning to invest in a digital transformation?

Because if you get your digital transformation right, you can significantly improve the digital customer experience, streamline workflows, and enjoy a high return on investment. 

Done right, the reward is worth the risk.

In this article, I’ll share digital transformation success stories from two well-known companies, and what they did right. I’ll also share why tracking what you can measure is important (but not everything) when it comes to calculating your true ROI. 

Table of contents

Target and The New York Times demonstrate the power of digital transformation

Target and The New York Times are two companies whose digital transformations checked the right boxes and provided a tangible ROI. 

Here’s how they pulled it off.

In 2013, a data breach jeopardized the personal and payment information of more than 110 million Target customers. 

But through an extensive digital overhaul, they managed to go from a 40% drop in Q4 profits in 2013 to a 50% increase in their stock price over the last six years. This didn’t happen overnight—they strategically planned, pivoted, and innovated. Here are three major events that contributed to their success: 

  • They moved their IT team back in-house after they realized they were overpaying for outsourced, low-quality projects. This increased project quality and decreased turnaround time, allowing them to save and reinvest valuable resources back into their digital transformation efforts.
  • They acquired Shipt, an online same-day delivery platform, and managed the integration in-house. In 2019, this new platform alone accounted for 80% of Target’s digital growth.  
  • They launched the Drive Up initiative, which allowed customers to order through the Target app and get their items delivered to their car outside. This boosted Target’s app downloads and won the pandemic. 

Top Tip: Want the full story? Take a deeper dive into How Target Increased Their Stock Price by 50% with a Digital Transformation Strategy 🐼

Next up, The New York Times.

Flashback to 2013 again. It’s been two years since they introduced their paywall and they now have four main revenue streams. A step in the right direction, but there are a few issues.

Print advertising and digital advertising are declining, print subscriptions are stagnant, and digital subscriptions (what everyone was banking on to save the day) just began to plateau.

Eight years later, they nearly 10x’d their digital-only subscriptions from 600,000 to over 5.7 million and quadrupled their digital-only subscription revenue from $113M to $460M. 

Here are four tactics they used to achieve this:

  • They expanded their subscription offerings from one generic paywall to a tiered system, with a “Basic” subscription starting at just $9.99/month for unlimited access to NYT articles. A lower price point means a lower barrier to entry, which meant more subscribers in a short time frame. 
  • They cashed in on two of their most iconic sections: Crossword and Cooking. Part of their subscription expansion included options for Crossword or Cooking content access only
  • They launched a standalone cooking app, taking their beloved Cooking section a step further. This captured a new audience previously not interested in the “news” aspect of the brand.
  • They bet big on data analysis tools to figure out how and why people became NYT subscribers, then continued to optimize. 

Despite being two completely different companies, Target and The New York Times’ digital transformations had three things in common:

1. They didn’t rush the process

Crisis management requires quick pivoting. But the rewards Target reaped from its digital overhaul (prompted by the data breach) during the pandemic weren’t a quick win. They laid the groundwork three years prior with a $7B investment to revamp their supply chain, digital, and in-store experiences. 

The NYT experimented rapidly with product development. But they took their time (six months, to be precise) building their 14-person executive committee and finding journalists who could write and code. 

2. No distractions

Target replaced hundreds of IT projects with just a few high-priority digital initiatives to jumpstart their digital transformation.

In 2015, the NYT leadership team outlined their digital roadmap with their Project 2020 plan, clearly defining their priorities and objectives, plus specific goals and strategies to achieve them. Successful execution required this explicitness, as did support from higher-ups. 

Top Tip: Investing in your digital infrastructure requires approval from all of your stakeholders. Learn how to get boardroom buy-in for your digital maturity initiatives 🐼

3. The customer was at the center 

Target’s DriveUp program was both the MVP of the pandemic and a major piece of their digital transformation. However, aversion to shopping in crowded stores (especially with young children) didn’t start in 2020. Target knew about (and addressed) this pain point years prior when it launched its DriveUp program in 2018.

For The New York Times, leveraging customer data to learn buyer behavior drove their subscription increases. But this approach was just one piece in an overall strategy that favored creating content people were eager to pay for versus relying heavily on advertising dollars for revenue. 

How to determine your digital transformation ROI metrics

​​Metrics don’t matter if you’re not using the right ones. The best way to figure out what those are is by first outlining what you want to accomplish with your digital transformation project.

Establish your digital transformation objectives/focus areas early on 

Lack of clarity and specificity at this stage may cost you. So be sure to take your time and remain honest and realistic when establishing your digital transformation focus. 

Here are two examples of clear digital transformation aims:

  1. At the end of 2017, The Home Depot invested over $11B in a digital transformation with three straightforward goals: Develop a seamless omnichannel and in-store experience with access to the highest quality products and helpful resources, deconstruct internal data silos to see customer activity more clearly, and improve supply chain efficiencies. 
  2. UPS knew how to leverage new technology prior to its digital transformation, but their logistics and operations needed some revamping. In 2012, they set out to digitally overhaul this area of their business with two aims: speed up the delivery process and roll out real-time package tracking.

Notice how each company focuses on both optimization and innovation. This is key.

To be clear, optimization on its own can drive results. Just ask Hasbro and Unilever.

  • In 2012, the maker of the world’s most beloved childhood toys and games like Monopoly and Clue watched as cheaper and electronic alternatives devoured their market share. Taking a page out of the B2B handbook, they shifted their marketing strategy to target the key decision-makers: parents. By mining massive amounts of customer data, they optimized their digital media strategy with a more targeted approach resulting in a near $1.5B increase in revenue in eight years. 
  • Unilever started with margarine and soap products in the early 20th century before shifting to oils and fats and then to health and beauty a century later through countless acquisitions. Buying up companies has its benefits, but it can also weigh you down. So Unilever leaned on customer data to scale while remaining nimble. Instead of purchasing it from third-party market research firms as is common practice, they built their own database. The result was advertising campaigns with the same brand awareness impact at 20% of the cost and a 50% increase in the launch speed of new businesses. 

But the true digital transformation champions are those that innovate and respond to the customer’s ever-changing demands through a new tool, product, or even a brand new business.

  • Three years ago, CEMEX became the first cement company to build an end-to-end e-commerce platform. Born from a need to streamline complex workflows, deliveries, and purchases plus gain access to real-time data, CEMEX Go quickly grew to over 20,000 customers in 18 countries
  • Combining 500 brands operating in 50 countries with 27 different ERP systems into one centralized system meant one giant digital transformation undertaking for the world’s largest beer company, Anheuser-Busch InBev. The project seems to be on track (over 40% of decades’ worth of data has been transferred to the cloud as of last year), an impressive feat in its own right. But in 2015, they also launched a SaaS company, Bees, allowing over four million “mom and pop” retailers to order new inventory digitally. Small businesses weren’t the only winners—less trips for sales reps has meant more time to upsell new AB InBev products. 

When defining success for your digital transformation, keep in mind that triple-digit percentages may not just be impossible, but they may not be necessary to drive meaningful change. 

Digital transformations can pay dividends, but they’re not immune to the law of diminishing returns. It’s absolutely possible and not uncommon to overdo a digital transformation

Decide on your goals/metrics for each focus area 

Now it’s time to determine your key performance indicators (KPIs) or how you’ll measure the success of your digital transformation.

Paul Proctor, a VP Analyst at Gartner, suggests keeping it simple, developing between five and nine, and not using a hierarchy.

According to Proctor, the most effective metrics have these five qualities:

  • A clearly defined and defensible causal relationship to a business outcome
  • Work as a leading, not lagging, indicator
  • Address a specific, defined audience
  • Can be understood by a non-IT audience
  • Drive action when they change from green to yellow to red.

Clarity and a healthy dose of realism are critical at this stage as well. But I want to add another important component: staying in your own lane. 

It’s beneficial to objectively study other successful digital transformations (like we’re doing here), but it should be just that.

Seeing another company in your industry nail their digital transformation can be inspiring. Assuming you can replicate their success by just doing what they did, however, is dangerous.

What worked for one company, even if they’re a direct competitor, may not work for yours. 

After doing your homework, put your blinders on and keep your focus on your customers and employees.

Establish a timeline to measure ROI for each focus area/goal

What gets measured, gets managed. In order to effectively measure something, there must be parameters and consistency. 

It can be a fine line between patience and knowing when to cut your losses, especially when higher-ups are demanding results last week. 


That’s why it’s important to come up with agreed-upon deadlines ahead of time that answer the question: when do you need to see an ROI on your digital transformation to know if it was worth it?

Different objectives have different metrics, so they also need different time frames, even if all the digital transformation initiatives begin at the same time.

Consider a real estate company doing a basic digital transformation. We’ll use an SMB to keep the numbers simple, but the principle is the same for all businesses regardless of their size. 

After years of relying on word of mouth, a real estate company with ten employees is ready to clean up its processes and scale by leveraging SaaS products (like a CRM) and building an online presence (optimized website, landing pages, organic and ads, social media, etc.).

Top Tip: Thinking about a digital transformation for your real estate company? Learn more about how investing in one can expand your lead generation 🐼

Here’s a quick breakdown of their potential costs:

SEO traction in a competitive niche can take years, but smaller businesses may not have that kind of time. A 3-month deadline for impactful results from SEO would be shooting yourself in the foot, whereas that’s about how long it takes to start seeing results from Google Ads, for example.

To split the difference, let’s say this company set the deadline to see an ROI of 18 months after breaking ground. 

That means, after a year and a half, the above efforts would need to bring in leads valued at $178,250 or above:

$14,000 (initial one-time investment) + $109,500 (monthly investment x 18) = $178,250

In a perfect world, the story would end there. Except not all leads are created equal. A high-value lead that’s not a fit is not as valuable as a lower-value one that is. 

In this instance, and for most digital transformations, establishing “check-in” deadlines in addition to the main one to assess the quality of the leads would be prudent.

Allow for hiccups

Ambitious projects usually take longer than expected. The issue is in the expectations, not the inevitable bumps in the road. 

Add in buffers for things like learning a new project management tool, onboarding a new hire, testing a new website for bugs prevents minor issues from becoming roadblocks to meeting deadlines to avoid feeling blindsided by events that are par for the course.

Additionally, take the time to keep track of your processes in company-wide documentation, even if they are always evolving (thank you, Airtable), to keep everyone on the same page, get new teammates up to speed, and avoid reinventing the wheel.

This practice packs the added benefit of revealing gaps, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies that you wouldn’t see otherwise.

Continuously experiment across ROI goals & metrics

Digital transformations aren’t linear. There can be setbacks and detours that may look like an absence of progress when really it’s just part of the process. 

Hitting the sweet spot between patience and staying true to your pre-determined deadlines while not being afraid to try something new is a byproduct of clear and realistic KPIs and investing in a well-seasoned team.

They also don’t happen in a vacuum. Agility, humility, and remaining open to feedback and new data from other departments, customers, or new developments within the industry while planning and during your digital transformation is imperative.

Tracking what you can’t measure (at least not completely)

Done right, you may end up with a strong ROI when it comes to the hard numbers and outcomes. 

But regardless of your opinion of what’s on the spreadsheet, it’s also important to keep tabs on your brand equity. 

What are people saying about your company when you’re not in the room? 

What are they saying about your competitors?

What aren’t people saying about you?

The world has moved online. Monitoring channels and discussion boards such as Reddit, Quora, and Glassdoor and social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, conducting surveys, investing in focus groups, keeping an eye on search volume for your brand, and media mentions are helpful ways to answer these questions.

However, many conversations still happen where cookies, tracking pixels, or UTM tags can’t find them. Moreover, word of mouth is powerful.

That means you’ll have to make an effort to build relationships with customers and employees, develop ways to consistently source anecdotal data, and put the time in to analyze it. 

Many companies shy away from this type of qualitative data gathering because it’s hard and it takes time.

This is a mistake. If your company focuses mainly on quantitative ROI as a signifier of success or failure, your otherwise successful qualitative results that are adding value can get overlooked. Worse, management could pull the plug if they aren’t seeing traditional results fast enough. 

To ensure both quantitative and qualitative ROI is recorded, reported, and taken into consideration, track what you can’t measure alongside what you can, and make the case for both.

Key takeaways

Most digital transformations fail. But yours doesn’t have to. Take the time to establish well-defined objectives followed by clear ways to measure them that are tailored specifically to your business goals and tied to objectives. 

You will encounter obstacles, and new information will come to light that can impact the trajectory of your digital transformation. Make sure your project plans are flexible and generous enough to allow for these things.

While important for proving a business case and getting buy-in from leadership, relying solely on quantitative data to gauge success can backfire. Feedback from current and potential customers and employees can provide valuable real-time insight that numbers can’t communicate.

A foundation combining the right mix of people, tactics, and tools is a fundamental step toward digital maturity. And a mature digital customer experience will pay for itself many times over.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How The New York Times Recreated their Brand with Digital Transformation

The newspaper industry has been in a steady downward trend for decades now, but they faced their sharpest decline in 2020. It’s no surprise that print newspapers aren’t the household staple they used to be. 

Where readers once turned the thin pages of the latest issue over their morning coffee, they now get their daily news digest the way they get most other information—digitally. 

While many media companies have struggled to create a relevant, high-quality digital experience in the new business model, the New York Times continued to add paid subscribers to its online news product. They now have over 7.6 million digital subscribers.

In this article, I’ll walk you through how the New York Times has managed to cut through the noise and secure subscribers in a crowded media landscape. 

Table of contents

Proof that listening to the customer—and experimenting to find out what they want—pays off 

Transitioning a product to fit changing behaviors is challenging. Alongside the need for a shifting product, demands for top-tier standards also tend to increase. People still expect high-quality journalism; only, they want more of it. 

To create an effective digital strategy, the New York Times listened to the people who canceled their physical newspaper subscription in favor of solely consuming digital news. They also realized early on it wouldn’t be as simple as pasting their high-quality journalism onto a digital medium.

Of the transition to digital, former New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said

“The psychology inside the Times and other newspapers was that all you had to do was get a bigger audience and transfer the wonderful economics of print advertising to digital. I didn’t buy that. I think digital can be useful. I think it’s an important adjunct source of revenue. But I never thought it would save the Times. It had to be subscriptions.”

Understanding how to transfer paper-based readers over to digital subscribers would take a combination of listening to the customer, experimentation, and a willingness to iterate until they got it right. 

Leverage customer data

The Times uses data to understand why a person might come to their pages, how engaged they are once they arrive, and finally, their demographic profile. Based on this data, they then decide what actions they can take to create a meaningful experience for that person that eventually drives them to pay for a full-access subscription. 

I should also note that here, a subscription means paying to access different aspects of the New York Times content, whether that’s unlimited digital access to the times, digital access plus a print subscription, or add-ons such as the New York Times cooking app (more on that later). 

Getting to know their customers was step one to creating a digital media platform that could evolve with, and for, its audience. One period that proved particularly helpful in enabling the Times to get to know their audience was the very traffic-heavy first quarter of 2017. This increase was a result of the 2016 presidential election and Trump’s inauguration. 

Even since then, Thompson said the Times has become increasingly expert at understanding its subscribers at every stage of the marketing cycle, including retention and churn. He describes the entire organization as focused on the customer journey and the customers’ fundamental experience of Times journalism. 

By understanding where people spend time and how they navigate the site, you can begin to understand what your customer values and what makes them tick, both critical for figuring out what might make them become paying subscribers. You can get a basic understanding of user behavior in Google Analytics and then go deeper based on your findings. 

Top Tip: Customer loyalty is crucial to profitability and sustained growth. Here’s how to use customer intelligence to turn data into actionable insights 🐼

Experiment, analyze, iterate

Gaining digital subscribers was always going to look different from the tactics for gaining print subscribers. Fortunately, there are many more opportunities to grab the attention of many different types of people. The caveat to the wealth of access to people online is knowing how to even begin identifying who these people are and what they want from your brand or platform. 

Increased experimentation with product development has been pivotal to the New York Times’ digital transformation success (and new subscriptions). 

At the helm of new product development is Times’ internal team: Beta. Beta is responsible for now well-known features like the NYTimes Crossword, the Times’ real estate app, and NYT Cooking (more on that later). 

It’s Beta’s job to take the Times’ already excellent journalism and turn it into a digital experience that solves a specific reader problem. From helping people figure out what to eat for dinner to how to exercise and where to live, Beta helps make the Times a daily, trusted destination for its readers.

It’s also Beta’s job to understand where to allocate resources. If something isn’t performing (for example, NYT Opinion which failed to attract a sizable paying audience), it’s shuttered. For every failed Times product, there’s a slam dunk. The Cooking newsletter has over 600,000 subscribers and its weekday edition has a 50% open rate. 

Top Tip: In order to analyze and iterate, you’ll need data. Here’s our guide to digital analytics 🐼

Building and acquiring new products

One example is the Times’ cooking site and app. You’ve likely come into contact with it through one viral recipe or another. To access their comprehensive list of thousands of unique recipes, you’ll have to purchase a subscription: $5 per month or $40 annually. The product (including an app) has attracted over five million monthly users since 2014.

In addition to creating new products (other examples include podcasts like the highly popular The Daily and products like the crossword app), the Times has also acquired several external products—and their users. In 2016, the Times acquired Wirecutter, a product recommendation service, and it generates digital revenue through both affiliate links and a paid subscription version. 

Most recently (and perhaps most notably), the Times acquired global puzzle sensation, Wordle.

Players get six chances per day to guess a five-letter word. It may sound simple, but the Times knew it would appeal to its digital audience.

While the player count sat at an unimpressive 90 in November of 2021, it is now estimated that 14% of US adults are logging in daily.

Addressing the acquisition in a recent statement, the Times noted it “remains focused on becoming the essential subscription for every English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world”, supporting the company’s “quest to increase digital subscriptions to 10 million by 2025”.

According to Thompson, building and acquiring different products over the last several years was highly strategic. He said, “It was about trying to get a conveyor belt of improvements and ideas and things to develop and optimize that was constantly being added to—and that we were constantly exploiting.” 

Not every new product involves creating or buying an entire app. The Times has also experimented with creating content in different formats, like interactive long-form articles and digital advertising efforts like sponsored articles. These efforts may not correlate directly to subscription revenue but add to the high-quality experience someone may come to expect from the Times, which could lead them to become a new subscriber.

Testing different channels 

As mentioned, one of the new products the Times began testing in the past five or so years is podcasting. The end goal of any new channel is ultimately to increase digital subscriptions. But there are many different ways the Times can introduce itself to a potential subscriber. 

For example, someone may come across The Daily by browsing top podcast recommendations. After listening, they may be more likely to turn to the Times for other news, putting them in the top of the Times’ marketing funnel. Additionally, podcasts feature ads, so this channel is also a means of increasing and diversifying advertising revenue. 

Other channels the Times has tested include social media, like the Snapchat Discover feature and Facebook Instant articles, as well as 360 videos, virtual reality, and the popular messaging app, WeChat

Empowering the team to make decisions

Not every team will be able to build and buy products at the scale or speed of the Times. A takeaway most teams can relate to is that it’s important to give autonomy to team members outside of the boardroom to move quickly. 

Thompson said, “We moved to a matrix structure where the team leaders—often very young, late 20s, early 30s—have power over the product and tech road maps and can make decisions based on what they learn from the testing-and-learning platforms, without regard to senior leadership.”

By giving agency to up-and-coming decision-makers, the Times could test, gain insights, and pivot or scale rapidly. 

The importance of digital-first leadership

To accelerate digital transformation, it’s important to have the whole team on board—starting with leadership. While Thompson was replaced as CEO in 2020 by Meredith Kopit Levien, he was brought on board as president and CEO of the New York Times Company in 2012 to figure out how the Times could succeed in a digital-first world. 

Top Tip: The pressure is on for businesses to digitally transform. Here’s how to accelerate the process 🐼

Right away, Thompson and executive editor Dean Baquet saw an enormous opportunity in a digital-first newsroom, as well as experimenting until they got it right. 

Getting the rest of the leadership and stakeholder team on board took time. Thompson describes six difficult months of debating, but eventually, the right people were in place, and stakeholders bought into the strategy. 

The Times created a 14-person executive committee, one of whom (Roland Caputo) was tasked with keeping print on track. The other 13 (including EVP, Product and Technology, and Editor for Innovation and Strategy) have been assigned to think primarily about digital.

Another notable digital move came in 2015. “Project 2020” was a plan put in place to emphasize using innovative, high-quality digital content to attract and retain subscribers and double digital revenue to “at least $800 million” by the end of 2020 (a goal they surpassed in 2019).

Speaking on Project 2020’s digital goals, Baquet wrote, “Make no mistake, this is the only way to protect our journalistic ambitions. To do nothing, or to be timid in imagining the future, would mean being left behind.”

The Times’ focus on subscribers emerges from a universal challenge facing modern media: the weakness in the markets for print advertising and traditional forms of digital-display advertising. 

By focusing on subscribers, The Times also maintains a stronger advertising business than competitors. Advertisers crave engagement—readers who linger on content and who return repeatedly.

Thanks to their interactive graphics, virtual reality and Snapchat Discovery features, and Emmy-winning videos that redefine storytelling, The Times attracts an audience that advertisers want to reach.

Top Tip: If Thompson’s early struggle resonates, we wrote a whole article about how to get boardroom buy-in for your digital maturity initiatives 🐼

Reduce silos and get buy-in from the entire team

Baquet, who was managing editor before becoming executive editor, brought an enormous cultural change to the Times. He empowered conversation and collaboration between the newsroom and business departments of the company, with the teams now working side-by-side.

While this was a huge change for previously siloed departments, Thompson describes how Baquet had trust and buy-in because of his traditional news background. A former investigative journalist and experienced editor, Baquet is a “newsman down to his fingertips and is trusted by everyone because of that,” according to Thompson. 

Even with his traditional newsroom background, Baquet gave his blessing to radical digital change. But because of this very same traditional background, people trusted him not to compromise the integrity of the content or journalism in favor of digital growth. 

The role Baquet played in the internal buy-in is an important lesson: having a change leader like Baquet, who is both a trusted industry expert and open to radical digital change, helped create a path forward for the entire Times team. 

Transforming tools and aligning teams

Creating a cross-platform experience requires a lot of tools and often a complete rehaul of your tech stack. This isn’t a change that can happen overnight, and it’s important to plan for what you’ll need as well as rank in order of urgency. 

Top Tip: Building a digital roadmap that shows objectives, a timeline, and resources needed to achieve each goal will help you get organized 🐼

The Times has allocated a third of its budget to restructuring its data architecture and aligning teams on the proposed changes. This investment has gone into modernizing and integrating its data systems to enable the data-driven decision-making discussed above, and also machine learning capabilities. In today’s media and technology landscape, people expect personalization. We log onto Netflix and see shows recommended just for us, and we expect the same when we read the news. 

Similarly, the Times newsroom team decides which information should be displayed on their homepage or in push notifications using data architecture. The data team builds tools that help the newsroom understand a user’s behavior. Then, the newsroom can deliver the right messaging at the right time. 

The Times can also use data to personalize a reader’s experience. Leveraging behavioral analytics, the team can deliver relevant, fresh content or target them with the right messaging for the best subscription package for that reader. 

When it comes to teams, the Times has not only reduced silos but sought multidimensional hires who understand both great journalism and great technology. The Times boasted in 2017 that “no other newsroom in the world has more journalists who can code.” These are undoubtedly more difficult hires to make, but someone who can write a great piece and then code and publish it makes the entire operation significantly more agile. 

Assess your current team to determine where people’s primary and secondary talents lie. Understanding where and how you can lean on team members—and where they want to boost their own skills—will be mutually beneficial and help expedite your digital maturation process. 

Key takeaways

When print subscriptions became all but obsolete, media companies faced an uphill battle—one which the New York Times is winning. By rigorously analyzing customer data, the team can make educated attempts to deliver content their readers will love. That framework allowed them to create momentum to keep them moving in the right direction.

This process has worked because of rapid experimentation and team members with agency and autonomy over their products.

Also critical to the Times’ success is a leadership team that fully believes in their digital-first strategy, and that content quality need not be compromised for profitability. 

The Times put in the resources to get the right tools, technology, and team in place to create a superior digital experience for their audience. With such a strong foundation, they were able to build something that empowered their growth into digital maturity.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How to Build and Structure a Digital Transformation Team

There’s no question that the pandemic has supercharged the speed of work and adoption of cloud-based and remote work solutions. Now, organizations are looking to optimize their remote-enabling tech stack and processes.

From the consumer side, the race is on to enhance digital offerings and platforms as more and more companies pursue five-star customer experiences (both in-store and online).

To enable these improved experiences, and succeed in today’s business landscape, you need to set your team up with the right tools, skills, and roles.

In this article, I’ll explore how to set your team up for a successful digital transformation. 

Top Tip: As a marketing leader, you’re best positioned to get key stakeholders on board with your digital transformation. Check out our blog to learn how to get boardroom buy-in for your digital maturity initiatives 🐼

Table of contents 

  • First, take stock of what (and who) you have
  • Key roles to consider when building your digital transformation team
  • Once your team is structured, start planning your digital roadmap
  • Wrapping up

First, take stock of what (and who) you have

Before undertaking a project with the scale and magnitude of a digital transformation, it’s important to understand your current business landscape, what has to change, and why. 

Start by evaluating your current team members and their skills. Decide whether you would benefit from external help (new hires) or if you can work with the talent you have and swap roles around where necessary. 

For example, you may want to prioritize user experience on your website as you deal with a high volume of traffic. However, you may only have one person, or a very small team, in a UX role. If the goal is a complete digital transformation, you may need to hire additional team members or find an agency to supplement your current team. Don’t just assume what is needed; speak with this person or team to find out what gaps exist in their department. 

Depending on your foundational team and end goals, your team may change drastically. This can disrupt your company culture, so it’s important to make changes thoughtfully and map all changes toward business goals.

Once you’ve identified those gaps, talk to the department to find out how you can first fill them with internal resources. Ask each department to make a list of both necessary and nice-to-have upgrades. You can also ask if any of your current staff would be happy to fill these roles if developed in-house before hiring out to an agency. 

You’ll likely need a project manager to navigate these discussions. Taking stock across teams and determining what you need is intense and demands a lot of attention. A person or team who can navigate all of the moving pieces will be invaluable as you do your research and create your digital transformation roadmap. Going back to the UX example, consider the time needed just to find, track, and interview multiple contractors and agencies.

Top Tip: Target ceased all IT outsourcing and invested in their internal teams during their digital transformation. Higher wages, training schemes, and agile scheduling have since worked wonders for their talent pool. Learn how Target increased their stock price by 50% with a digital transformation strategy 🐼

Key roles to consider when building your digital transformation team

Once you’ve assessed your existing people and skillsets, it’s time to start thinking about expanding your digital arsenal. Digital transformation won’t happen overnight, so think through which role (or roles) you’ll need in place immediately and which can wait until later on down the road. 

Here are some roles you may want to think about, as well as how each contributes to a digital transformation strategy. 

Chief digital officer (CDO)

As you begin your organization’s digital transformation, you’ll want to have a chief digital officer. Your chief digital officer will work closely with your chief of data (more on this role later), using data to drive growth and make informed decisions on new digital products, platforms, and services. 

The chief digital officer will lead the charge on implementing digital upgrades that will help transform your organization to digital-first. This role will also be crucial for bringing updates and obtaining buy-in from the boardroom, acting as the bridge that brings everyday activities to executives whose focus may be elsewhere. 

Chief information officer (CIO)

Your CIO will serve as the executive connector between business goals from the C-suite and the IT innovations necessary to implement technological developments and updates. This role approaches everything from the technical perspective, accelerating the momentum of the transformation.

Because both CDO and CIO roles are essential to the changing business landscape and evolving company culture, some organizations may have a CIO concurrently serving as the CDO.  

Enterprise data architect (Chief of Data)

Perhaps the most critical role that your organization may not have before pursuing a digital transformation is chief of data. This executive-level leader is responsible for managing, gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data across the business. Depending on your organizational needs and structure, this role may include the duties of a chief data officer.

Data will be critical throughout your digital transformation. The person in this role will use data gathered from your CDP to inform early decisions and provide evidence of success to key stakeholders. So, it’s important to make sure this person is qualified and in place from the start of your digital transformation.  

Business processes expert

One of the newer roles to enter the digital transformation landscape is the business processes expert. This role is in high demand as it requires both business savvy and a deep understanding of the technological landscape. 

A business processes expert should understand your business’s current workflow and identify where processes need to be optimized to enable a digital-forward approach. They may recommend leveraging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation to catalyze workflows for your organization’s new digital strategy. 

Your business may handle large volumes of customer data, such as purchase and contact history. A business processes expert will likely enlist the help of a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to enable quick access to actionable insights and decision-informing data. If you run an online store, you’ll be able to spot popular products and buying patterns that can help fuel your marketing efforts. 

Security and compliance specialist

While making big changes to a business strategy involving data collection and analysis, it’s critical to ensure you adhere to security and compliance protocols. A security and compliance specialist will be responsible for the security and privacy strategy, ensuring data use meets all legal, privacy, and governmental requirements. 

They’ll also protect your company from data breaches and security threats. They may, for example, host a live anti-fraud and anti-smishing session for employees and teach them to recognize scams when they come in.

Project evangelists

While this may not be a role you hire for, project evangelists are critical to the internal buy-in of digital transformation. Ensuring that team members are bought into a digital-first strategy is crucial, especially at the leadership level. Project evangelists embedded within your organizational structure will increase adoption of and enthusiasm for your business transformation journey. 

Consider adding digital training to leadership development initiatives, and be transparent around the “why” behind digital transformation projects. Your team must understand the importance of the digital experience for today’s consumers and how it impacts broader business goals. Project evangelists will help this happen faster. 

You may want to select a project evangelist from within each team and decide on a cadence for updating them on your digital roadmap. Each evangelist can then provide updates to their teams in a way that is relevant to their roles and functionality.

Change leader

Like your project evangelists, a change leader helps your broader team see that a digital transformation will positively impact the company. When both culture change and changing business models are occurring simultaneously, it’s important to have a change leader who consistently highlights and proves the positive impact of digital transformation. 

Digital changes impact both personnel (e.g., reducing workload) and business performance, so having someone champion these positive changes is important for digital transformation success.  

Consider how and when the change leader will communicate with the broader team. Perhaps they write a monthly internal newsletter with updates or speak at all-hands meetings. The change leader should also help the company celebrate wins to establish a culture of positivity around digital transformation. 

Financial analyst

It’s more important than ever that finance works cross-functionally when it comes to a successful digital transformation. By partnering with more technical teams, a financial analyst can help evaluate the costs of new technologies and bring risk management awareness to strategy discussions. 

A financial analyst will help evaluate and track different tools from an ROI perspective. While there are other perspectives to consider, having someone look closely at cash flow is an important piece of the greater digital roadmap puzzle. 

Cloud architect

Once you have your digital transformation strategy in place, you need people who can execute it and bring it to life. One such function will fall to cloud architects: IT specialists who can develop, implement, and maintain the cloud strategies specific to your new operating model. Because businesses will continue moving applications to both public and private clouds, an ideal candidate will have experience that spans various elements of IT and is familiar with emerging cloud-native technologies. 

UX/UI expert

While the roles mentioned above are crucial to the internal team structure, a UX/UI expert creates your end-user experience. This role tends to be thought of as a “nice to have,” but in today’s customer-centric world, it’s a “must-have.” 

By understanding the business strategy and relevant data, this person or team will create user-centered platforms through which your customer interacts with your brand. Without this role, you could end up with great tech that no one uses because it isn’t optimized for the customer (we’ve seen this time and again). When this happens, ROI on your tech investment is painfully slow.

From the user journey on your website to social media and email, this team focuses on creating a cohesive, intuitive omnichannel experience that will continue to evolve based on data and customer feedback. 

Top Tip: Your UX expert will be a key player when delivering a stellar digital experience to your customers. Learn more about how to create an exceptional digital experience in 2022 🐼 

Digital experience optimization expert

You’ll also want to add at least one person to your team (or train existing team members) to focus on optimization and experimentation. The digital transformation will be ongoing and need constant attention for efforts to keep delivering value. 

This role will measure the customer experience (CX) and iterate improvements. If the right foundation of technology and tactics are in place, you can establish a framework of analysis and experimentation that continuously tests and optimizes this experience. With this in your back pocket, you can drive success despite marketplace disruption.

Once your team is structured, start planning your digital roadmap

Once you have the right team in place, as well as boardroom approval, it’s time to think about the next phase of your business transformation. Next up: planning your digital roadmap. 

Once leadership is on board, and a strategy is in place, it’s time to work toward cross-functional buy-in across the organization. Be fully transparent about goals and guidelines and be open to suggestions. 

If your data isn’t already centralized, different teams will have insights into various aspects of your organization. Getting input from across the organization can help fill in information gaps you may not even know you had. 

Your roadmap will outline objectives and deadlines, as well as people and teams responsible for executing and approving items. Consider your digital roadmap a living, breathing document and provide opportunities for team members to share ideas, concerns, and even frustrations. 

Here are a few ideas for mapping out your digital transformation objectives and communicating them. 

Top Tip: A digital transformation roadmap is the starting point for a team to get aligned on their goals (as well as the actionable ways they plan to achieve them). Learn how to create a digital transformation roadmap 🐼 

Start by breaking down big goals

You will need to meet many smaller goals and objectives before your team ultimately crosses the finish line. To the best of your ability and with the information you have today, start to break your big goals down, bit by bit, and team by team. Create objectives and identify the projects, tasks, and people that ladder up to them, including timelines for each. 

For example, one piece of your digital transformation could be developing a more personalized customer experience. Even this is a hefty goal; one sub-project might be creating a tailored rewards program, another a more technical cookies experience for tracking customer preferences. Work with leadership to determine how specific you want each breakdown to be.  

Get alignment by focusing on the customer (and the data)

Uncertainty can be scary, but if there’s one thing everyone in your organization will align on, it’s the importance of a positive customer experience. 

We live in a digital-first world, and customers are used to a personalized, intuitive, and simple experience. If they can’t get that from your company, they will look elsewhere. With this idea as the cornerstone of your digital transformation narrative, it will be easier to align skeptics toward your emphasis on digital business. 

Sharing data and metrics will also help get—and keep—the team on board. Sharing how a particular customer journey optimization strategy resulted in increased revenue, or how a machine learning recommendation engine increased engagement, will be invaluable in proving the competitive advantage of your digital transformation.  

Decide on how frequently you’ll update the broader team on the roadmap and who will be responsible for its project management. 

Create and maintain a collaborative, cross-functional environment

With all the right people in the right roles, the next step toward ensuring they have what they need to succeed together is a working environment that encourages collaboration and reduces silos. 

Here are some proactive ways to approach this:

  • Think through which teams need access to specific data. How frequently and transparently will leadership provide updates? People must know what to expect and when to expect it, so everyone is informed about the updates they need to do their jobs effectively.
  • Outline communication channels and frequency between teams. Whether it’s a Slack channel, a weekly meeting, a daily standup, an email alias, or a dashboard you can refresh every few seconds, or likely some combination of all of the above, consider how (and with whom) project communication will occur. 
  • Create space for friction and dissent. While a digital transformation is exciting, it’s a massive undertaking and will create organizational and cultural changes. Some team members may welcome change more than others, and some changes may elicit frustration. 

Create a Q and A once a month specifically for employees to voice anonymous concerns or ask the CDO or leadership team questions. You could also assign a member of the people team (ideally, one who is also a project evangelist) to host a retrospective meeting, where people can vent or share ideas about improving the process for the next project. Dissent will occur, but it doesn’t need to send shockwaves through your organization. Plan and create outlets for it proactively.

Know that there will be detours

With different plans in place for both sharing and receiving feedback, along with customer data and stakeholder input, your roadmap is bound to change. Work to create an agile environment where people feel comfortable experimenting and sharing their findings. 

Top Tip: COVID-19 has brought about 10 years’ worth of change in 14 months, so the pressure on businesses to digitally transform has skyrocketed. Learn how to accelerate your digital transformation process 🐼

Key takeaways

To maintain a competitive advantage in today’s digital-first world, many organizations will need a digital transformation. Just as the same strategies won’t always translate from analog to digital, it’s likely your team will also need to change. 

By first figuring out the skill sets you do have, you can begin to determine what’s missing and what hires you need to make. With the right team in place, you can begin your journey toward a successful digital transformation. 

Clear communication, goals, metrics, and a digital-first culture will help get buy-in. A digital transformation is a huge team effort, so company culture and processes will enable effective collaboration as much as possible.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How Target Increased Their Stock Price by 50% with a Digital Transformation Strategy

Today, Target is both a household name and a trusted destination for millions of American shoppers.

But, back in 2013, a serious, widespread data breach compromised the personal and payment information of upwards of 110 million Target customers. The breach resulted in a 40% drop in profits for that year. 

This nightmare scenario proved pivotal, as it inspired Target to invest in their digital future. With the start of the pandemic in 2020, they shifted gears once again, reinvesting in curb-side pickup and same day delivery projects they kicked off in 2017. 

Let this serve as a reminder to any retailer, large or small, that there’s always room to pivot and make a comeback. But critically, why wait for a disaster when you can proactively stay ahead of one? That’s why it’s so important to begin developing a framework for a modern digital customer experience (DCX) before something bad, like Target’s data breach, happens to you.

In this article, I’ll share examples of Target’s digital strategy—from centering the customer experience to personalized messaging and pandemic pivoting—that are bound to inspire any customer-centric marketing team looking to level up their DCX.

Top Tip: A successful digital transformation needs a starting point so that teams are aligned on actionable strategies and desired outcomes. Learn how to create a digital transformation roadmap 🐼

Table of contents

Pivoting with the pandemic

Last year, due to the pandemic, a record 12,200 stores closed, according to commercial real estate firm CoStar Group. Those who survived and thrived strategically and quickly pivoted to serve a consumer not keen on leaving their home. 

In other words, they went through a digital transformation. A digital transformation allows brands to serve customers personalized, intuitive, and seamless digital experiences. Even when not on their computer (for example, when a customer is picking up an online order at a physical Target store), the customer’s omnichannel experience is easy and efficient.

Target’s digital transformation in particular allowed them to serve their customers sensitively, efficiently, and strategically. 

Here’s an example of how Target tailored its digital experience to seamlessly fit the circumstances many retailers were struggling to navigate at the start of the pandemic:

screenshot target digital transformation banner

This friendly and inviting banner shows customers that it’s still as easy as ever for them to shop (and follow pandemic guidelines) at Target. Once they find their item(s), they can choose between three methods for receiving their order: Pickup, Delivery, or Drive Up. 

To leverage Drive Up, or the ability to place an order, drive to Target, and have your items delivered to your car, customers need to download the Target app. Target was incredibly clever when making this decision, as it allows them to boost app downloads, collect customer data, and thus provide highly personalized and relevant experiences and offers. 

Of course, it’s not enough just to encourage customers to download your app; you need to give them a reason why. By downloading the app, users gain access to app-only features, such as the ability to apply your savings to your purchases when you pay through the app, and, of course, the option to order with Drive Up, use real-time check-in, and sit back and wait for your items to come to you.

screenshot banner to encourage customers to download the target app

Critical to Target’s (and any) digital transformation is understanding the customer journey at every stage. It’s also crucial to be able to adapt to changes in the customer journey as new circumstances arise. 

With the pandemic, more customers were hesitant to shop in-store. Target needed to immediately adapt and include options that enabled customers to shop easily and efficiently without entering a physical storefront. 

Of course, these changes would be impossible to implement overnight. Because of Target’s 2013 data breach and subsequent dedication to its omnichannel experience and software development, much of the infrastructure was in place to make it simple for shoppers to buy online or pick up in person. Nevertheless, their commendable emphasis on the customer journey allowed them to quickly react when that journey drastically changed. 

Top Tip: The modern customer’s attention is split in so many directions, so to deliver the best results, you need to optimize each touchpoint of the digital experience. Learn how to create an exceptional digital experience in 2021 🐼

What has driven Target’s success so far?

As mentioned, Target’s success began before its pandemic pivot. It’s important to note that, especially after the data breach, Target could no longer afford to wait to digitally transform, despite the investment needed. 

But let Target serve as a cautionary tale—not everyone would survive a catastrophic event like Target’s data breach, let alone thrive after one. For this reason, we encourage businesses to think of digital transformation as foundational to a successful future, rather than a “nice to have.”

Target needed to move forward in maturing digitally by developing a framework for a modern digital customer experience. Many brands can relate to feeling limited by an existing infrastructure, not to mention the sticker shock executives may feel when they understand the time and money necessary to rebuild it. But if Target shows us anything, it’s that these investments can, and likely will, pay dividends in your future success. 

Let’s take a look at just what has driven Target’s success to date. 

Top Tip: Investing in your digital infrastructure requires approval from all of your stakeholders. Learn how to get boardroom buy-in for your digital maturity initiatives 🐼

Investing in employees 

Target brought its IT work back in-house after recognizing that outsourced IT projects were costing them a fortune, often ran late, and were of poor quality. 

Additionally, Target provides higher wages and better training than competitors. They raised their starting wages three times in three years, expanded family-focused benefits, invested heavily in training and career-building programs and offer agile scheduling to fit individual needs.

The long-term vision here is to be a sought-after employer, and therefore have more demand for positions so they can select and hire the best talent. This in turn has a direct impact on customers, as happier employees are often highly motivated to provide a positive customer experience.

Supply chain optimization and operations

To offset the cost of higher employee wages and better training, Target increased efficiencies throughout their supply chain. By supporting the warehouse team with robotics and artificial intelligence used to sort millions of products by store and aisle, Forbes reports that this enabled stores to avoid “out-of-stock” situations. 

With machines focused on sorting, humans have time to do what they’re best at—creating connections with customers and providing an outstanding experience. 

Another operational strategy Target has executed well is small store formats. You may have shopped in a City Target, which is often smaller and stocks only items deemed essential to urban life. 

Similarly, in 2018, Target opened 10 “Life on Campus” small-format stores near college campuses. According to Target, their team tailors each store to the needs of its surrounding community

Scott Timpani, store team leader at Target’s University Center, University of California Irvine location, explains one example:

“During the school year, about 10,000 students each day cross a pedestrian bridge that starts on campus and ends a few steps from our back entrance. Knowing these guests are often heading to class or simply in a hurry, we have four self-checkout kiosks next to the doors so they can quickly complete purchases and be on their way. And for guests who have more time to spend, we’ve created a cozy seating area near Starbucks complete with outlets for charging their devices.”

Once again, Target shows the importance of deeply understanding the customer journey. And it’s a smart tactic—by embracing young adults away from home for the first time and giving them the items they need, when and how they need them, they’re working to create life-long loyal customers. 

Vendor collaboration and strategic partnerships

Target has done an amazing job of introducing its customers to new products thanks to partnering with direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. Many of these smaller brands, such as dog wellness startup Jinx, come with loyal followings. Jinx’s loyal customers get to shop their favorite items with ease at Target, and both brands get to grow awareness by expanding into new markets. 

In addition to working with thoughtful and strategic vendors, Target focuses on customer feedback both in the design process and in selecting brands to work with. Through focus groups and creative apps, the design team can build products and initiatives that delight customers while fueling growth and revenue. 

Another strategic partnership that has fueled growth at Target is Shipt, which the retailer acquired in 2017 for $550 million. The purchase of this online same-day delivery platform accounted for 80% of Target’s digital growth in Q4 2019. Because of Target’s newly optimized IT team, the integration of the technology was efficient and able to show results and sales growth right away. 

Location(s)

With 1,900 stores nationwide, there is a Target store within 10 miles of the vast majority of the US population. This investment in physical stores gives Target a competitive advantage over retailers focusing either solely on a digital strategy or that don’t have many brick and mortar locations.

As with previously mentioned City Target and Life on Campus stores, not only is nearly every American located near a Target, but many are conveniently located to stores relevant to their needs. 

screenshot target small format stores near college campuses map

Target makes it easy to be a loyal customer

Through rewards, easy navigation of top discounts, and special offers, Target’s digital channels make it easy to become a loyal customer. 

How it works: Target Circle and RedCard Exclusives 

Just like Target unlocks curbside pickup when you download the app, customers must first sign up for a Target.com account before they’re able to join Target Circle. The loyalty program features 1% earnings, exclusive deals, community support, and a birthday gift for members. 

screenshot target app target circle benefits module user interface

The circle membership feels almost gamified, with chances to earn at nearly every touchpoint. Members can earn points by scanning their mobile number in store, shopping with their Target.com account, linking their RedCard, or scanning a Target receipt. 

In addition to Target Circle, Target has its own credit card, with its own set of benefits (of course, you get the most benefits when you have both). 

Your RedCard provides you with a 5% discount every time you shop at Target (including in-store Starbucks locations), free shipping, even more exclusive offers, and an additional 30 days for returns. 

How it shows up

This sizable, proudly displayed focus on customer loyalty, as well as gifts and rewards, would be enticing for just about any shopper who regularly shops at Target (or who doesn’t…yet!). 

screenshot everyday redcard benefits landing page

On all of its digital channels (including its e-commerce site, email, and social media), Target makes it easy both to identify what there is for loyal customers to gain, as well as join in and reap the benefits. 

Additionally, you may notice that all of Target’s messaging caters to the customer. This may sound obvious, but as marketers, we know it’s always more important to tout the benefits over the features. Target doesn’t just tell us why we should become loyal customers, it shows us time and again how becoming a loyal Target shopper will benefit our lives. 

On the RedCard landing page, they feature two common pain points that customers face: feeling overwhelmed by how much they spend on groceries per year, and being hit with tons of expenses for a newborn:

screenshot redcard landing page customer pain points

By stating exactly how much money you can save in those two scenarios with their RedCard, customers feel like their experiences are taken into account. They feel understood, relieved, and ready to save.

What’s next for America’s favorite big box retailer?

Target has a lot of momentum, and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. I mentioned earlier how robots have enabled faster picking and packing, keeping shelves stocked and employees focused on the customer. But that’s not the only way robotics and machine learning (ML) will impact the brand’s bottom line in the future.

Using predictive analytics, Target is able to forecast demand and in-store traffic. As Target CIO Mike McNamara explained to diginomica, “We’ve always had reasonable statistical models in the past, but ML just allows us to become increasingly sophisticated. I don’t know an exact number, but probably about 20% of our replenishment products are through some new ML models that we’ve created.”

In addition to artificial intelligence, customers may soon be receiving their Target orders even faster. Chief Operating Officer John Mulligan recently announced that new distribution centers will be constructed on each US coast in 2022. 

Key takeaways

Target has made an impressive amount of progress in the eight years since its security breach. Not only did it overcome every retailer’s worst nightmare, but Target used it as a catalyst for digital transformation and omnichannel success that not even a global pandemic could shake. 

In maintaining a customer first approach to its entire omnichannel experience, Target has excelled at gaining and retaining customer loyalty. I’m excited to see what’s next for the retailer, and I believe there’s much for our customers to learn from Target’s past success, as well as what the future holds. 

Whether your company is looking to improve digital sales or automation, building a roadmap, updating your business model, or striving for optimization or differentiation in a different way, there’s something Target can teach just about every retail business.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
cdp vs dmp header
Shamir Duverseau

CDP vs DMP: What’s Best for Customer-Driven Marketers?

Whether you’re looking to optimize your customer experience, strategize on how to spend your digital advertising budget, or centralize your customer data, you’ve probably come across two types of data systems in your research: a customer data platform (CDP) and a data management platform (DMP).

Investing in a new system demands a lot of your team’s resources, so we recommend starting the process by getting clear about what types of data you want, where data sets may already live within your digital marketing systems, and what you plan to accomplish with new or centralized data once you have it. 

With your organization’s objectives in mind, it will be easier to understand why and when you would choose a CDP or DMP. 

In this article, we break down the key differences and similarities between CDPs and DMPs. We also share our thoughts on when a marketing team might want to invest based on their priorities, goals, and overall needs. 

Table of contents

What is the difference between a DMP and a CDP?

Ultimately, whether you choose a CDP or DMP will depend on your organizational structure, existing tools and resources, and overall marketing goals. But before we dive into the specifics of what both a CDP and DMP have to offer, let’s take a look at some of the key differences between these two types of data platforms. 

DMPs are great for agencies working with multiple clients who each have different markets (such as a creative ad agency). While a CDP can help companies with a single customer base understand their own customer-centric data.

DMPs store anonymous data, while CDPs unify your first-party data

DMPs pull information from many sources (usually third-party data from online and offline) to provide anonymous data on market segments who may not already be your customers. CDPs pull information from all of your touchpoints, creating user profiles and unifying your customer intelligence

So, while DMPs can help you make sense of the data you already have, they won’t necessarily provide you with data completely unique to your organization’s audience. 

For example, a DMP might be helpful if your brand wants to start targeting women with household income over $100k living in the Midwest (a segment not currently in your existing customer base). A DMP can give you insights into this market so you can better understand their needs and pain points.

A CDP might be helpful if you want to know how well your existing customers are responding to your marketing efforts, such as how well they’re converting on a landing page. With a CDP, you can find out which of your current segments are engaging and which are bouncing off the page.

DMPs do not store personally identifiable information

DMPs do not store personally identifiable information (PII), including identifiers like names and email addresses, while CDPs do. DMPs work mainly with data sources like cookie IDs and IP addresses and then store  the learning anonymously. DMP data is usually available to other organizations that use the DMP, so it won’t help you understand your own customers on a granular level.

Data storage and retention differs in a CDP vs DMP

DMP data is retained for relatively short periods compared to a CDP. This is because a DMP is primarily used for ad targeting and needs the most relevant and up-to-date information. If a media agency is creating a video to target parents with newborns, they want to use the most recent data, not data from five years ago.

A CDP has a more prolonged and individualized approach to tracking and storing data. The more data a company has on their customers, the better they can understand their base.

Commonalities between a CDP and DMP

CDPs and DMPs can both be hugely effective in centralizing the data you need to reach more customers. Each has its specific use cases, but both capture insightful information that can be used to drive strategic marketing decisions.

CDPs and DMPs both analyze the data they collect and generate reports to make that data more digestible. Each system is designed to pull from different sources, but both will help you make sense of the information available.

Both CDPs and DMPs can help drive leads. Which tool you use in this case will depend on if you’re looking for leads in a new market or if you want more leads from your existing market. But both systems can help you gain insights to execute tailored campaigns. 

CDP: The window into customer behavior

A CDP is a tool that synthesizes your customer information from across multiple channels, so you can ultimately create a better digital experience for your leads and customers. It’s not the same as a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, which is mainly designed for customer-facing roles so salespeople can develop relationships.

A CDP may be better for your organization if you’re looking to ramp up a marketing strategy like personalization or retargeting. This is because a CDP tracks personal customer insights like email address, name, phone number, and location, whereas a DMP stores only anonymous data.

A CDP can effectively centralize user data from various sources like your website, email, and social media. Because a CDP keeps track of both demographic and behavioral data, you can see patterns more quickly than in a DMP, where accuracy of the data improves over time. 

So, with a CDP in place, you can get to know your customer faster and better understand their engagement and behavior. 

For example, a CDP can help you see that certain segments see a lot of customer engagement every time they receive a marketing email offering a discount. However, they never engage with marketing campaigns that include scarcity messaging (e.g., “only 5 items left in this style”). You can use this information to target this segment with more effective discount-based messaging.

Building a loyalty program with CDP data

While both CDP and DMP systems can be helpful in targeting new customers, CDPs tend to be more useful when building loyalty and retention. 

Modern marketers know that today’s customer expects tailored messaging and relevant ads. When we watch Netflix, suggestions appear based on a user’s personal viewing history—not just what others in our demographic may like. This level of personalization matters to today’s consumer, and is critical to building brand loyalty. 

Since CDPs store personal data, and DMPs don’t, it’s much easier to personalize and cater to individuals using this tool. You can personalize your marketing and advertising using a variety of methods in conjunction with your CDP data. 

Here’s an example of what that might look like in practice:

cdp tool usage example dsw website personalized for rewards members
Source: Shopify

In this example, we see that DSW personalized its website for rewards members. When this customer, “Danielle”, visits the website, she’s greeted by name and reminded of her exact position within the rewards program. It encourages her to shop by showing her how close she is to rewards. You can see how this level of personalization wouldn’t be possible without DSW’s data system knowing exactly who each customer is and how they shop. 

Of course, this group of loyal customers’ data becomes important to analyze. You’ll likely find information from them that will help you more effectively advertise and market to others.

DMP: Collecting audience data from multiple sources

A DMP collects and manages large amounts of information from third-party sources (data collected from various external sources) and sometimes second-party sources (first-party data sold to another company). 

It uses this information most commonly to create lookalike audiences for ad campaigns based on existing customer data.

So, if yours is a relatively new organization, a DMP can be extremely helpful in building your top-of-funnel audience and retargeting functionality. By inputting anonymized identifying characteristics for your ideal customer, a DMP can build lookalike target audiences to begin advertising to.

This might look like wanting to target women in their thirties who live in Manhattan. Of course, within that audience segment, there are tons of different backgrounds, motivations, desires, interests, and financial situations—all of which will impact whether or not someone within this segment is interested in your product. 

Ideally, a DMP can fit into your larger marketing technology stack, so that you can get more granular insights into your ideal customer profile and customer journey. 

One business may want a CDP for more personalized, loyalty-driven strategies that come into play lower down the funnel, while a DMP can help you get in front of more relevant potential customers. 

Which should you invest in?

You should begin to get a sense for whether a CDP or DMP is more relevant for your business. There is no right or wrong answer, just differences in capabilities that may make one tool better for your immediate needs. 

If you’re focused solely on growth—especially at the top of the funnel—a DMP might better fit your current needs. A DMP might also be a better fit if you’re trying to strategize ad spend or media buying. 

If customer loyalty or being more strategic with personalization is at the top of your marketing team’s list, you may want to look into a CDP. Remember that these tools can coexist and complement each other, so you may even find that you need both down the line. 

With third-party cookies being phased out, is a DMP worth it?

DMPs have been struggling to keep up with regulation. Both Google and Apple have made moves to abolish unauthorized harvesting of customer data. This makes it difficult for DMPs to collect the kind of data that marketers use to target their ads. But DMPs are also seeing marketers pull away from data collected in this way. More marketers want their data to be “responsibly sourced”.

However, all is not lost. Google is creating its own cookie alternative in an effort to compromise between consumer privacy and paid ads. And DMPs are beginning to shift against the disruption, too. Some, like Adform, are putting measures in place to use first-party cookies (a more accurate and helpful cookie) and are building data partnerships with publishers to gain access.

In answer to the question, is a DMP still worth it? If you’ve determined that DMP is the right solution for your business, then it depends. You’ll need to choose your DMP carefully and do a bit of research to see how their data is collected. The key will be to make sure your customers are always the focus. Put your brand in the best possible position for customers to trust you and want to do business with you.

Before you invest

Before investing in and implementing an entirely new system, it’s also important to understand the data you already have, where it lives, and how it affects your customer journey. When you can unify this existing data to the best of your ability, you can then more effectively demonstrate any gaps that exist to relevant stakeholders, and get buy-in from the rest of your marketing team. 

Showing where gaps exist and how aggregating data specific to either a CDP or DMP will help supplement your existing data, will help you and your team get clear on what you need, and get stakeholders on board

Key takeaways

Today’s consumer expects to see personalized, relevant information, whether they’re opening their email inbox, going to your website, exploring within your mobile app, or seeing an ad on social media. 

With help from tools like CDPs and DMPs, it’s possible to positively impact your entire marketing funnel with useful data to create relevant messaging at the right time, in the right place. The tool you ultimately choose to implement will be dependent on your immediate and longer-term marketing and business goals.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How to Get Boardroom Buy-In For Your Digital Maturity Initiatives

In today’s digital-first buying world, customer expectations have never been higher. As a result, companies are increasing their investments into digital transformation in an effort to improve their digital maturity. 

The global digital transformation market is forecast to grow from $469.8 billion in 2020 to $1,009.8 billion by 2025. Depending on where you are in the digital landscape, improving your digital maturity can be costly and resource-demanding. 

As a marketing leader, you may find yourself in a position to persuade stakeholders to invest in digital maturity. While it’s not a small or simple task, it has the power to transform your business. 

Here, we’ll discuss how best to approach stakeholders with a plan and strategy to improve your organization’s digital maturity. 

Table of contents

Collecting data to make an argument

It’s critical to begin this process by understanding your organization’s own digital maturity. Knowing how well you’re leveraging digital tools to optimize your customer experience is essential to laying the foundation of your argument. 

If you haven’t already done so, the first step toward crafting your pitch is centralizing your marketing data. Leveraging data to its fullest (which is necessary for personalization, a key component of advanced digital maturity) first relies on having easy access to that data. 

Top Tip: Learn how to gather and use data effectively in our guide to business intelligence for marketing 🐼

Once you have all your data in the same place, it’s time to dive in and unearth the most relevant insights that paint the picture of your organization’s digital maturity status.

For example, let’s say you deem your business to be in the developing stage of digital maturity, and you’re asking for resources to strategize moving to the maturing stage. In the developing stage, your organization is focused on a framework—everything that must be in place to personalize and tailor to users’ specific needs.

In the maturing stage, experimentation is crucial. Data from when, where, and how your marketing team has already made strides toward a more personalized user experience—and succeeded—would be hugely helpful in this instance.

You can also share examples of how competitors have optimized their digital customer experience; stakeholders will want to know where your business stacks up against the data you’re presenting to them. Let’s explore how to do this.

Compile a competitive analysis to show them how they might fall behind

Once you’ve helped reveal the general landscape and opportunities available to your own organization, it’s time to show examples of who is excelling because of their strong digital maturity. 

Remember to not only show stakeholders examples of what competitors are doing but why it’s working for those competitors. Validation can come in many forms: positive reviews, funding, vanity metrics, and more. 

You may not have access to their exact metrics, but you—or someone on your team—likely stays on top of monitoring the competition. Ask questions about your competitor’s recent movements, such as:

  • Have they launched any digital initiatives recently?
  • How are they personalizing their customer experience?
  • How are they building awareness for their brand in the digital space?

You can also gather qualitative data—things like reviews or social media comments—to show how they improved their customer experience by investing in their digital marketing strategy. Show how this data has changed because of their digital maturity by providing before and after evidence.

Share success stories to get them excited

There’s a balance to strike between demonstrating your organization’s room for digital growth and getting stakeholders excited to invest in the initiative. Finding success stories from brands who have implemented what you plan to do can help. 

Here are two examples from brands that were successful after digital maturation. 

Source: Business Insider

Fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle upgraded its mobile app to allow customers to more easily customize their orders, keep track of their loyalty program rewards, and collect gamification items (such as badges). 

Chipotle’s VP of Digital Marketing credits the mobile app and loyalty program for their $2 billion in digital sales in the first nine months of 2021.

As another example, Smart Panda Labs worked with Wyndham Vacation Rentals to improve conversions so they can achieve their annual revenue goals. We experimented with CTAs in A/B testing to find out what made their customers click. The result was an incremental $3.9 million increase in revenue per year. 

As we’ll explain later, neither of these changes would have been rolled out overnight. There was likely a lot of building, testing, and learning involved, all of which can be done through marketing tactics we use every day, just on a larger scale. 

Once these businesses learned the lessons and implemented changes, what they launched critically improved both their revenues and the customer experience. 

Improving your digital maturity strategy won’t just affect vanity metrics—it can transform your bottom line and customer satisfaction and retention. Share success stories to show how it’s done just that for other brands. 

Run pilot projects to demonstrate the impact it can make

No CEO or stakeholder will hand over hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars based on a hunch. 

While you may be proposing a complete tech stack overhaul, modernizing your marketing legacy systems, hiring an entirely new team, or building a new product altogether, try breaking down your big idea(s) into more digestible chunks. 

Ask yourself (and, importantly, your team of subject matter experts) questions like:

  • Where do we already have data that proves a concept, even if on a smaller scale?
  • What team members or tools do we already have in place that could take one of our ideas to the next level? 
  • Which of our bite-sized ideas can have the most significant immediate impact based on the company’s most pressing strategic goals?

When it comes to creating pilot project MVPs for quick learnings, at Smart Panda Labs, we always advise Lean thinking (a build, measure, learn feedback loop). 

First, build. Pick a pilot project to leverage as an experiment and create and launch it.

Next, measure. Gather feedback and data from both customers and internal sources.

Lastly, learn. Analyze the data and generate insights that you then use to make adjustments to build the next iteration. And so, the loop begins again. 

Each cycle iteration tells you to keep moving forward in the same direction (persevere) or to change course because something isn’t working as expected (pivot). Using the Lean model allows you to stay flexible while continually improving as you gradually increase your investment. 

In the Chipotle example, this may have looked like first rolling out the updated mobile app in select markets. If they’d launched the new app on the same day across the nation, there would be no room to learn from what worked and what didn’t. 

Their extreme success is likely because they built, measured, learned, and eventually persevered with a fully optimized implementation. 

Testing and optimization

One of the best ways marketers can make an impact quickly is by testing and optimizing content. At Smart Panda Labs, this is something we often do for clients. We aim to find out what their customers want and ensure it’s easy to take actions online to get it. 

For example, we worked with Related Companies on transforming their digital marketing strategy. We used a content personalization tool called Optimizely to see early results, then tested changes to ensure recommended optimizations lead to measurable improvements. 

By testing and adjusting assets like images, CTAs, and landing page copy, we increased lead conversion by 26%. 

Similarly, in working with Viceroy Hotels and Resorts, we once again saw how simple A/B testing can have a massive impact on ROI. 

For this experiment, we tested five CTA buttons that acted as a “submit” button and linked to the hotel group’s booking engine. Our goal was to optimize conversions by tweaking the button copy. In the end, there was a clear winner, and by changing the CTA to this version, we increased room reservations by $30,000 per month. 

Seemingly simple tests can have a considerable impact on revenue and larger business goals, as well as on helping you get buy-in faster. 

Presenting findings and data to the boardroom

Depending on your personality type (and the people in the boardroom), what comes next will either be the easy or the hard part. In our opinion, you’ve already done the hard work in gathering data and crafting a compelling argument. 

Now, it’s time to use all the data you’ve collected to make a sound argument, answer potentially tough questions, and get buy-in. Here are some tips for making the most of your stakeholder meeting. 

Remember that CEOs aren’t marketers

It can be easy to forget just how far we’ve come in our careers when you work with other marketers on a daily basis. So, make sure to lead with background information and high-level concepts—and have the data to support what you’re saying. 

This first meeting will likely be about setting the scene and making the argument rather than presenting a fully-fleshed out plan. Of course, be prepared with tactical ideas and execution strategies should anyone wish to dive deeper. 

Speaking to the high-level concepts, show how digital maturation will positively impact your organization’s future roadmap. Whether from a product perspective, company culture, expansion into new markets, or, of course, revenue. There are so many ways to show how exciting your company’s trajectory will be once you’ve reached a higher level of digital maturation. 

Top Tip: Learn how to forge the path ahead in our guide to building a digital transformation roadmap 🐼

Tie your goals back to the business

While you may also present your plan to the customer success team as a means to improve customer happiness or to your marketing team as an exciting up-leveling strategy, the boardroom audience cares about the bottom line. 

Be clear about how your objectives align with business goals and priorities. Think through how your digital maturity goals match what the C-suite cares about most, then share how it will improve those metrics (like net profit margins and sustained growth). 

In addition to potentially making your business a lot of money, digital maturity allows businesses to pivot faster to meet growing customer demands and market disruption. This can look like faster product improvement, or being able to react to society’s changing expectations of businesses when it comes to social and environmental matters. 

Aside from the bottom line, what matters to your organization right now? What are your goals aside from revenue? 

Maybe you have a huge green initiative or have made serious commitments around another social movement. Maybe your goals are internal, like providing better parental leave or increasing your workforce diversity. 

Whatever the specifics, show how the ability to pivot and move quickly will help free up internal resources to achieve these business goals, too.

Be ready to adapt 

While you know the ins and outs of marketing and why digital maturity is so important, not everyone in the boardroom may get excited about these ideas as quickly. We’ve already discussed the importance of data to support your ideas, but even the facts won’t always be enough to convince your audience.

The best marketers are flexible, so be prepared to get X and not Y. You may have to choose a few (rather than all) of the great tests you want to try if the budget is smaller than what you’ve asked for. 

Key takeaways

Digital maturity allows brands to pivot quickly, personalize often, and provide a superior user experience across all channels. Of course, accelerating the speed at which your company matures can be demanding on both finances and resources. 

Leading with data and showing how you can test and learn before implementing enormous changes is your best bet for gaining boardroom buy-in. Remember to map your digital maturity goals to broader business objectives to show the C-suite how hard a digital maturity strategy will work for them.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How to Create an Exceptional Digital Experience in 2021

The modern customer’s attention is split in so many directions. They’re going through various digital channels, such as social media, customer support, and email to find solutions to their challenges. 

What does that mean for brands and marketers? To deliver the best results, you need to optimize each touchpoint of the digital experience so that you can push prospects down the funnel and turn them into loyal, paying customers. 

Launching a seamless digital experience requires a solid game plan. It’s only by combining research, personalization, and an omnichannel approach that you can engage and attract the most customers as possible.

In this article, we’re going to show you how to create an exceptional digital customer experience in 2021.

Table of contents

What is the customer digital experience?

The customer digital experience refers to all of your target audience’s online interactions with your brand. It can include your social pages, your company website, or live chatbots. 

How you optimize the digital customer experience will set the impression of your brand in customers’ minds. Is your digital experience helpful for your target audience and solving their challenges? Or is it confusing and full of friction?

Top tip: If you’re wondering how to overcome the barriers and prepare your business to deliver a world-class digital customer experience, we’ve put together some advice in our article on how to accelerate the digital transformation process 💡 

The importance of a customer-centric, positive digital experience

How you optimize your digital customer interactions can make or break the success of your brand. Here’s why:

It boosts your customer retention

A common mistake that brands make is focusing solely on acquiring the most customers for their product or service. Unfortunately, many brands put so much effort into customer acquisition that they forget one crucial element to growing a business: keeping their existing customers happy. 

An effective digital experience strategy leads customers to come back hungry for more. As a result, it boosts your retention rate, customer lifetime value (CLV), and how loyal customers are to your brand (customer affinity). 

It increases revenue

What does a higher customer retention rate lead to? It leads to more conversions and growth for your company’s bottom line. An aging but widely-cited Bain & Company study revealed that even a 5% increase in retention could boost company revenue by 25–95%

Those effects appear to be consistent among today’s consumers. A more recent empirical study based on this paper found that a focus on customer retention over 12-18 months boosted revenue by 80%.

Customers will even opt for a premium-priced product if it delivers a better experience than the lower-priced competition. According to research by PWC, customers are willing to pay up to 16% more for a product that delivers a great experience. They’re also 63% more willing to give up their personal data (such as contact details) to a company that offers a positive experience.

It creates brand advocacy

Your brand’s advocacy and digital experience both go hand in hand. If customers have an exceptional experience with your business, they’ll be more likely to spread the word and tell their friends about it.

After all, who’s better to promote the quality of your product or service than your own customers? With the power of social proof (referrals, case studies, testimonials, etc.), you can welcome exponential deals. 

How to set up your digital experience strategy in 15 steps

So what does a compelling digital experience strategy look like? All experiences are not created equal. Returning to the PWC research mentioned above, customers value some experiences over others. Customers reported that they were more likely to pay more for efficiency, convenience, and knowledgeable service over brands offering charitability, automation, and global presence.

Here are the steps to ensure that you’re delivering the digital experience that increases brand loyalty and drives revenue for your brand:

Prepare your strategy prerequisites

There are a couple of things you must prepare first before you can launch your digital experience campaign. These strategy prerequisites include:

1. Define or revisit your company’s core purpose and business goals

Your core purpose  and business goals will be your starting line to set your digital experience campaign on the right foot. By revisiting both of these aspects, you’ll better understand which direction to take for your strategy. 

Your core purpose is the statement that reveals why your company does what it does. A famous example of a core purpose is Nike, whose brand statement is: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” 

When it comes to your business goals, think about what you’re trying to achieve this month, quarter, or year. For example, you may be trying to boost awareness around one of your new products. Or your current goal may be to get more customers to upgrade their memberships. 

Your digital experience strategy will be founded on your purpose and how you’re currently striving to achieve it. 

2. Refine your digital brand positioning

Brand positioning identifies how your brand is different from others and the image you want to project. It will help the messaging of your digital experience strategy and how you’ll communicate your products’ value to ideal prospects.

A big part of this will be researching your competitors and the market. You’ll need to have a solid understanding of their digital marketing strategy, what customers are saying about their products, and how your product or service holds up against them. 

From there, you’ll be able to identify weaknesses and showcase the value of your product to target customers through differentiation in your messaging. 

3. Have a clear discovery strategy

A discovery strategy allows you to identify product-market fit and plan out your budget. It ensures that even before you launch your digital experience strategy, there’s a need in the market for your product or service. 

Understand customer behavior online

You must get a clear idea of your customer’s needs to create a digital experience that matches their expectations. That way, you can create a more relevant, personalized digital strategy that will engage and retain the most customers as possible. Here’s how you can achieve this:

4. Create a buyer persona through a digital lens

To identify your ideal customer, create a list of their attributes such as age, job role, gender, goals, and the challenges they’re facing. It puts you in their shoes and helps you identify ways that your product can help them and achieve what they want. 

Make sure to also capture information that dives into how they behave online, how they seek information, where they spend their time, and so on. By understanding customer behavior, for example, you can identify which channels you should focus on to reach out to them.  

5. Collect data on your customers

Along with creating buyer personas, start collecting data around your customers. Here are some of the different ways that you can learn more about your audience:

  • User surveys. You can target your audience with surveys they can fill out to understand customer needs and expectations. To drive more customer engagement, consider offering customers perks for filling out the survey, such as providing access to exclusive gated content.
  • Conduct customer interviews. Collecting data on your customers can be as simple as talking to them directly. You can enable a team to reach out to your customers and start a conversation about their current experience and what they would like to see in the future. 
  • Monitor social media. Social media platforms can be goldmines when it comes to collecting customer data. Monitor your social pages regularly to get a sense of your customer’s opinions on your brand. 
  • Analyze website traffic. Your website traffic provides solid clues on your audience. It gives you insight into where your customers are coming from and which user segments spend the most time on your website. 

By combining all of these different tactics together, you’ll gain a clear picture of who your ideal customer is and how your product fits their needs. 

6. Encourage customers to drop feedback

Understanding the customer’s needs is as simple as asking them to drop their feedback on what they expect from the digital experience. On top of collecting their thoughts, it shows customers that you value them and want the best for them. 

To do this, reach out to them via email or use your social media platforms to collect their thoughts. There are also various tools you can use (which we’ll dive into later) that automate the process of asking customers for their feedback. 

7. Create a map of your customer journey

Based on the data you collected on your target audience, create a customer journey map consisting of all the typical customer’s digital touchpoints. You can then identify ways to optimize each stage by outlining each touchpoint as the customer goes through the funnel. 

For example, let’s say that your target customer’s first touchpoint is through a google search on their mobile phones. To optimize for this stage, you’ll have to make sure that all of your pages are mobile responsive, so they look good on all devices. 

Optimize the funnel

Once you understand your target customer, it’s time to get to action. Here’s how you can get the most out of your funnel and convert the most customers:

8. Adopt an omnichannel strategy

According to a study, 73% of customers use multiple channels during their journey. To maximize your reach, make sure to target customers on all the channels they’re using to discover solutions to their problems. It ensures that you can reach customers wherever they are and regardless of the device they’re using. 

9. Optimize your website for conversion

One of your digital experience strategy goals should be to drive conversions, such as lead generation, purchases, click-throughs, etc. Once you have settled your focus on a specific conversion, you can make adjustments to your webpages to optimize for this behavior. For example, if you’re trying to gain as many leads as possible, you can add forms to high traffic pages, include CTAs and gate high-value content (like ebooks). 

You should also make sure that the speed of your website is fast because the first five seconds of page-load time has the most significant impact on conversions. If your page is slow to load, you may be missing conversions before they’ve even seen your content.

10. Adopt clear storytelling

Leveraging storytelling in the customer experience allows you to build an emotional connection with your prospect and boost engagement. According to research by Capgemini, 70% of customers that feel emotionally attached to a brand spend twice or more money than less attached customers.

Your brand’s storytelling can come in many forms, such as social media campaigns telling your brand story, videos showing how customers overcame their hurdles with your products, and clever website design and copywriting.  

11. Deliver quality content marketing campaigns

Ensure you deliver content that speaks to the needs of your target audience and that you’re promoting it effectively. On top of ranking higher in search results, it helps build the trust of your target users, generate more qualified leads, and boost conversions. 

12. Create personalized offers

Customers are more likely to purchase when you include personalization as part of the digital experience strategy. It does so by adapting to your customer’s specific needs so you can reach out with the most relevant offers and optimize your digital experience strategy for conversion.

For example, let’s say a customer already purchased one of your products in the past. One way to optimize the digital experience and boost conversions is to retarget them with complementary products to their previous purchase.

Provide the customer with quality support (and identify support gaps)

If a potential customer has any issues or challenges during the digital experience, you must provide them with the support they need to push through the funnel. It reduces friction and ensures that they eventually convert into a paying customer. 

Here’s how to do that:

14. Provide self-service solutions

Including self-service solutions, such as a knowledge base, allows users to answer their questions without reaching out for support. Forrester found in their research that 53% of online adults in the US may abandon their online purchase if they can’t quickly find a solution to their question. They also found that phone calls are best left to one of the later stages in the evolution of problem escalation.

15. Integrate chat for optimum customer service

A chat feature on your website allows you to respond to user requests 24/7. Preloading a chatbot with FAQs can get your customers a solution while live reps are offline. It can also direct inquiries that require human intervention to agents when they return. 

Using automated chat and live chat ensures that customer experience includes minimal disruptions.

How to determine the success of your digital experience strategy

You’ll want to measure the results of your digital transformation strategy to ensure it’s effective. Here are some common metrics to measure to understand if your digital experience strategy meets your customers’ needs. 

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Your Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures how likely customers are to recommend your brand to others based on a score from 0–10. It’s a very straightforward metric that determines how well your product or service is good at generating brand advocacy. 

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

Your Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is a percentage metric that measures how happy customers are with your product or service. When analyzed along with your NPS, it can give you a reliable picture of your brand loyalty. 

When your CSAT is high, it means that you’re developing a healthy customer relationship with your prospects. However, if your CSAT is low, it could mean that there are issues about your product or service that you should look into and fix. 

Customer Effort Score (CES)

The Customer Effector Score (CES) measures the level of customers’ efforts to resolve their issues. It helps you understand various essential things about your customer support. 

First of all, it measures whether things are working correctly and identifies sticking points in your strategy. That way, you can enhance the experience by filling in any gaps. 

Also, it allows you to understand how your customers are engaging at each touchpoint of their buying journey. You’ll see why specific strategies lead to more conversions and whether or not you’re targeting the right segment of customers. 

Churn rate

Your churn rate is the percentage of customers that you’re losing across a timeline. It’s a vital metric to understand the health of your brand. 

While losing customers is part and parcel of running a business, a churn rate that’s too high is a sign that something is wrong with your user experience. For example, it could be due to not targeting the right customer, poor onboarding, or not providing customers with the support they need. 

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

Your Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is the amount of revenue that you bring in with each customer relationship. The better you’re able to manage the relationship between your brand and your customers, the more money you can bring. 

The biggest benefit of measuring CLV is that it helps you identify which segment of your customers are the most valuable to your company. You can then use this data to improve your future digital experience campaigns and attract more qualified customers. 

With these numbers, you can measure if your strategy is working as intended or what is broken. You’ll also be able to determine whether your digital experience is helping you work toward those business goals we spoke about earlier, so you’ll know if your business is growing forward.

The best tools you can use for your digital experience

Technology can make managing the digital experience much easier and efficient. Here are some of the best tools we recommend to optimize your digital experience while saving yourself time and money from manual work.

User onboarding

User onboarding is essential to the digital experience because it creates the customer’s first impression of your brand. It’s your job during this stage to educate them on the value of your product so they don’t churn in the early stages of using your product. Some possible  tools you can use for onboarding include:

Customer support 

Customer service software centralizes all of your tickets in one place. As a result, it allows you to better manage and track each customer request in the digital experience while saving plenty of time for your support agents. We recommend:

User feedback 

While collecting customer feedback is vital to learn more about your audience, doing it manually will cost a lot of time. So instead, it’s better to use tools that do all the hard work of getting data from customers thanks to automation functionality. Here are the tools we recommend:

Website analytics

Website analytics tools provide you with solid insights into each aspect of your website’s performance. With these platforms, you’ll get access to data such as who’s viewing your website, how long the average visitor spends on pages, and your conversion rate. We recommend:

Testing/Personalization

Launching the right digital experience strategy requires a lot of testing to identify what tactics work the best with your audience. The following tools help you test different aspects of your digital experience strategy in real-time, such as your website design and product, to analyze the reaction of your customers. We recommend:

Predictive technology

Predicting your customer’s behavior helps you identify which steps to take to push down the funnel in advance. These tools can help you better understand the customer journey to deliver more personalized offers thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning. We recommend:

With all we’ve just shared, digital adoption is about so much more than subscribing to an impressive tech stack. It’s about leveraging these tools alongside an effective digital experience strategy, so you can maximize their use and achieve specific goals. 

Key takeaways

Whether you’re a SaaS provider, ecommerce brand, or a mobile app owner, there are a lot of components that go into building a successful digital experience strategy. 

First, you need to research your audience and the various touchpoints they go through in their journey. With this information, you can start identifying ways to optimize each stage of the customer funnel with personalization and omnichannel experience tactics.

Then, you’ll have to measure your success. It includes considering metrics such as your NPS, CSAT, churn rate, and average customer lifetime value. 

Lastly, don’t neglect the power of technology. There are various tools you can use that help reduce your manual work to focus more on strategy.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How to Build A Martech Stack in 2021: The Complete Guide

Your marketing technology stack (martech stack) is a group of technologies used to prepare, conduct, and track your marketing activity. 

Combining various tools allows you to organize and streamline your marketing strategy and create more purposeful campaigns and user journeys. 

In fact, according to the 2019 Netskope Cloud Report, the average enterprise uses 120 marketing cloud services. 

But with so many on offer, building a collection of effective marketing technologies in 2021 is not as easy as it seems.

To navigate the process, it’s important to understand exactly how your stack benefits your business, and how to ensure you leverage your marketing tools to their fullest potential. 

Table of contents

The unique environment we find ourselves in during 2021, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, brings with it a particular set of trends. 

For marketers, these afford both benefits and challenges. Let’s explore four key trends in more detail: 

Post-pandemic digital dependence

The impact of the pandemic increased reliance on digital tools both for businesses and consumers alike. For marketing teams, this presented a new challenge—the need to reach audiences in a socially distanced world. 

Suddenly, teams had to find ways to operate and remain efficient from their bedrooms, kitchens, or kids’ playrooms. 

Businesses already operating modern technology bundles experienced smoother transitions. Others found themselves abruptly faced with the need to digitally transform. 

Top Tip: We may be biased, but as digital transformation was already on the rise (and has been given a 10-year speed boost thanks to COVID-19), prioritizing and investing in the digital experience now will benefit your business in both the short and long run. Read more about how and why in our guide on how to accelerate the digital transformation process

The rise of no-code tech

It is due to this newfound digital dependence that we’ve also seen a rise in no-code tech. 

By removing the need for coding skills to effectively utilize martech tools, a powerful digital stack is now accessible to even the least tech-savvy marketer. 

For example, you can use tools like Zapier to ‘open up’ APIs which allows almost all marketing tools to integrate and speak to one another. 

This means that with the adoption of just one platform, you can organize and consolidate all your channels. 

Improved influencer marketing platforms

The influencer marketing industry is set to hit $13.8 billion this year. However, this popular marketing channel remains in its technical infancy. 

Because of this, we’re seeing an increase in improved influencer marketing platforms and agencies. For example, in 2019 there were an additional 240 alone. 

This is reducing the difficulty for in-house marketers to find influencers, but since that remains the most significant challenge, we can only expect offerings to grow even further. 

Therefore, incorporating an influencer marketing platform into your martech landscape is crucial to help you take advantage of this channel. 

A focus on personalization

The benefit of the online space being flooded with customers is that marketers have a wealth of data to help inform initiatives and strategies. 

This helps you to produce more relevant and effective campaigns, which is a positive. 

On the flip side, increased personalization comes with heightened consumer expectations. As customers now expect to see unique and personalized content, you’ll be at a competitive disadvantage if you don’t follow suit. 

Truly relevant campaigns are not only based on audience data, but also a well-curated and optimized digital customer experience. 

The right marketing automation tools in your stack should help you to achieve personalization effortlessly. 

They also make it easy to automate personalization, such as using features like merge tags to address email marketing recipients by their names, or segmentation based on interests and preferences. 

The benefits of adopting a martech stack

An effective collection of digital marketing tools afford your business opportunities to:

Create data-driven and cost-effective campaigns

Technologies within your marketing technology landscape help you deliver data-driven and cost-effective campaigns.

This is important because it helps you achieve that highly desired personalized focus. After all, you need customer data to understand exactly how to customize your communications. 

In turn, your marketing processes are more cost-effective since you’re able to budget more intelligently. You can achieve this by directing spend towards initiatives with proven potential. 

For example, you can use analytics tools like Google Analytics to see which campaigns are driving traffic to your website. Based on this visualization, if it turns out that your main source of referral traffic is different than expected, you can redirect a corresponding percentage of your platform spend based on these key insights.  

Improve efficiency and experience through automation

Marketing automation is a key element of many technologies that make up your stack. It helps you operate more efficiently and constantly tailor your user experiences.

Consider this example of how your martech can automate your multi-platform management:

  • Incoming messages from social media can be automatically assigned within your digital marketing team without the need to find, delegate, and respond to messages on each profile. 
  • To do this, simply use tags to tell your dashboard what keywords or types of contacts should be directed to particular team members. 
  • Beyond this, you can even automate the follow-up itself by collecting frequently used terms to trigger simple responses. 

Automation also improves the customer experience by helping to provide personalized touchpoints. As such, you can automate tailored content by providing bespoke experiences based on the interests of specific audience segments. 

For example, if you choose an email technology that allows you to deliver specific content to users based on their actions you can:

  • Trigger emails to users that have abandoned their online shopping cart. 
  • In the email, you can remind them of their intent to purchase and provide an easy link back to the action. 
  • You can even include further incentives to buy such as a free shipping offer.

With automation, you remove the need to send many emails manually as your funnel is constantly working to move your customers along their personalized journeys. 

Show up where your customers are

Brick and mortar consumerism is dwindling. Moreover, even for businesses with tangible locations, the customer journey now often begins online. 

In fact, 45% of social media users access platforms mainly to research products. 

Therefore, whether your purchase point is online or in-store, social management tools help you target, reach, and inform your prospective customers about your offerings.

With the right tools in your martech stack, you have better insight and access to your ideal customers and can connect the dots between screen and door. 

How to build a martech stack

Building a successful marketing stack means designing an effective decision-making process and selecting the right tools for your business goals. 

Let’s explore the five steps needed to evaluate, adopt, and implement new marketing technologies.

Step 1: Internal decision-making

Get clear on the people and processes in your decision-making early on. 

This helps you develop a clear roadmap and ensures that all involved are adequately informed—resulting in stronger buy-in. 

To achieve this: 

  • Allocate team members to draw up evaluation criteria for each tool
  • Assign those that will use tools most regularly to provide feedback
  • Confirm who will decide on a shortlist of tools and how they will be ranked
  • Provide key information on benefits, pitfalls, and pricing to the final decision maker

Once you know how decisions will be made, keep track of the details you need to gather to support the process. 

The information you present at the boardroom level should include: 

  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Goal alignment 
  • Growth potential 
  • Staff impact

Step 2: Defining your core tools

With 8,000 tools to choose from in the marketing landscape, defining your core needs will help you to structure your options. 

This helps to stave overwhelm which could lead to signing on platforms you won’t actually use (or will go underleveraged). 

Instead, understanding your core technologies means you can easily see how each one fuels the achievement of your goals.

Separate your core marketing tech tools into three categories: 

  • Reach – how you find and contact your audiences 
  • Engage – how you relate to your audiences
  • Convert – how you turn your audiences into customers 

Let’s explore the types of tools that fit into each segment.

Tools for reach

Without the right tools, reaching your audiences is much more difficult, if not impossible. Look to include: 

  • Analytics platforms that allow you to interrogate data to find where and how to reach audiences
  • Audience targeting that empowers you to act on your analytics results to improve lead generation and customer retention
  • SEO and keyword tools to help you understand exactly what your audiences are looking for 
  • Paid search provides the opportunity to stand out from your competition and experiment with messaging through A/B testing

Tools that engage

After reaching your audiences, you must engage them in a meaningful way by providing information and incentives. 

Your stack helps you do this through the following tools: 

  • Social media dashboards help you streamline multiple social platforms in one content management system where you can create, schedule, and review
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) where you can store information on a platform like Salesforce about your customer journeys and progress people through your funnel 
  • Online customer service can automate and personalize your responses through chatbots and instance reply functions
  • Email client to build automated email touchpoints with your audiences to engage them with your brand
  • Survey tools to create an interactive user experience and learn more about your audiences

Tools for conversion 

Now it’s time to convert audiences into customers. That last push across the line isn’t always easy. 

The following tools help you simplify and target the process for better results:

  • Experimentation platforms like ABTasty and SiteSpect allow you to test various user journeys, analyze the results, and consistently optimize the user experience based on your findings 
  • Messaging/live chat makes it possible to be available 24/7 (and in real-time) to help customers make a decision with key information and speedy guidance
  • Review tools to gather positive reviews from your customers and help encourage new leads
  • E-commerce management to keep track of and process your customer sales data in one place 
  • Personalization to customize the user experience through personalized order confirmations and tracking options

Step 3: Designing your stack workflow

As well as understanding those involved at the decision-making level, before you onboard or roll out new tools, you need to design your workflow. 

This helps you to avoid confusion, increases the chances of buy-in from your team, and gives you the best chance of success with your implementation and ongoing use. 

To do this, ask yourself the following questions concerning your team: 

  • Who needs to use each tool in your stack currently?
  • Are they the right people? 
  • Are there others whose roles the tool improves?
  • Who should take ownership of tools, or tasks within them?
  • Do you need to bring in external support?

Outlining these considerations helps you build a sustainable workflow for your tool. 

Top Tip: To learn more about how to identify what your martech tech stack is for, who will use it, how to use it, how it integrates with your existing systems, and how you will properly manage it on an ongoing basis, read our guide on how to build processes around new marketing platforms

Step 4: Selecting the right technologies

Choosing the right technologies for your stack can be difficult because competition is rife. 

To make your evaluation process easier, determine your must-have and nice-to-have features. 

Find these by considering: 

  • What actions you could automate 
  • What KPIs you’re delivering against 
  • Who and where your audiences are 

Once you’ve prioritized what you need in your stack, you should also weigh up the pros and cons of going with one connected series of technologies, or diversifying between providers. 

One cause for comparison is integration. Tools from a single vendor are much more likely to have integration built-in as standard. 

However, this may mean that you miss out on capabilities not included in your pre-built stack. 

Choosing tools from a variety of providers, on the other hand, allows you to select based on very specific and possibly niche requirements. 

Even if you go with a connected series, it’s unlikely that your stack won’t need external data points, such as from your CRM, to supplement it. 

But you will be dealing with disconnected customer service, as opposed to the convenience of one support hub. 

Understanding your priorities when it comes to tool performance will help you decide which approach is right for your business needs.

Step 5: Future-proofing with effective re-evaluation

Although the tools on offer are evolving every year, endeavor to build a martech stack that is future-proof (or at least as solid as one can reasonably be nowadays). After all, with so many new tools, updates, algorithms, and trends popping out of the woodwork in the blink of an eye, we can only be so prepared.

The steps we have outlined previously will help you get most of the way there. Then, it is a case of implementing meaningful re-evaluation at key stages. 

To do this, map out points of assessment. For example, these could be quarterly, annually, or following major marketing campaign periods. 

In your re-evaluation, refer to your goal roadmaps and assess the performance of your tools according to: 

  • Do your tools overlap on functions? 
  • Are you underusing any tools that you could optimize? 
  • Do your staff need top-up training and do they like using the tools?
  • Can you still automate where you need to?
  • Are any integrations broken or missing? 
  • Are there any data gaps in your reporting and analysis?

 
These questions help to show any improvements or course corrections for your stack, including where you might consider changing a tool. 

Top Tip: To learn more about how to build marketing operations processes that allow you to maximize digital utilization in the short and long term, read our guide on why digital adoption is more than just digital tools.

Challenges to overcome when implementing a new martech stack

Prepare for potential challenges after building your ideal martech stack by outlining a strategy for long-term success. 

To do this, keep integration and scale in mind. Managing the implementation process, and maintaining your stack will help you achieve both.  

Setting yourself up for success with effective implementation

Two of the biggest challenges in implementation are integration and training. 

It’s important not only for each of your tools to communicate with each other but also for your staff to feel confident using them. 

For successful integration make sure you: 

  • Outline which tools need to integrate with what 
  • Who can make that integration happen 
  • What order integrations need to happen in 

With your martech stack up and running it’s now important to support your team to positively adopt the new tools through adequate training. 

To do this, utilize webinars, handbooks, walkthroughs, and service desk tickets to: 

  • Familiarize everyone with the workflow plan 
  • Train everyone on daily and potential tasks and issues 
  • Indicate how to access further support 
  • Gather feedback from your team on an ongoing basis

Maintaining your martech stack

As your stack settles into your routine, it’s important to maintain your tools to keep them up-to-date both in technological terms and in line with your business goals. 

Doing so means that your stack runs smoothly and supports your business growth at scale.

To achieve this, make sure you know when tools need routine upgrades and assign authorization to someone in your team to manage this process. 

In addition, have a system in place for introducing integrations into your stack, such as if you need to add or change something or make alterations to how information feeds into it (like from your email client). 

Regular maintenance reduces the likelihood that your business will outgrow your stack. 

Avoiding data overload

Initially, building a stack might feel complicated not only because there are so many options to choose from, but also because those you do take on all have their own data source. 

This is overwhelming because not only is there a lot to look at but there is a lack of consistency in how the data is organized. 

Therefore, it is much more difficult for you to efficiently categorize and compare your information to inform meaningful decisions.

However, a well-curated stack can help you to avoid data overload by organizing relevant information for you. 

Make sure that you’re not onboarding tools unnecessarily. For example, consider if you have multiple tools that can perform the same function and if one can replace several others. 

When you’re confident in your tool choice, include a tag manager. This helps to distribute tags on your website from one place, minimizing the need to code each time.  

As a result, you trigger and collate key data from a central hub, thus reducing data overwhelm. 

Key takeaways

Optimization of your martech stack results in data-driven marketing efforts that help you target your goals more efficiently. 

A wide range of tools and technologies are available to marketers in 2021. By defining the purpose of your core tools into those that reach, engage, and convert audiences, you set the building blocks in place. 

From there, creating strategies to re-evaluate the success of your stack as your business grows helps to future-proof your systems.

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