According to MIT Sloan Management Review, “digital maturity goes beyond technology … it’s about how businesses are adapting in a digital environment.” Organizations must strive to make digital core to their business—in all areas of their business—in order to succeed. As a marketing leader you have a key question to answer: Are you fundamentally adapting your customer experience to compete effectively in the digital era?
Answering this charge requires an understanding of what digital maturity looks like vis a vis the experience you are providing to customers—from awareness to conversion and beyond—as well as the ability to measure where your organization falls on the spectrum of digital development. The closer you can get to a real-time, 1:1 experience with each person, the more mature your digital experience. Why? Because the more personal the experience, the more likely someone is to take action in the short term and build lifetime value for your organization in the long term.
To illustrate the importance of the 1:1 experience, consider this example. Smart Panda Labs worked with a real estate development company offering luxury apartment rentals in metropolitan areas including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. As with many organizations, the homepage was one of most frequented pages on their website and featured general messages about the company and their newest properties. As we helped this brand mature their digital experiences, homepage content became more personalized. Direct visits to the site prompted location-specific content. Visitors coming to the site by way of a paid search campaign would see content related to their search query. Their behavior on the site further informed home page content, as they searched specific neighborhoods or property types. As this personalization increased, so did engagement and conversions.
Just as no child grows up overnight, no organization can become digitally mature overnight, either. The arc of digital experience growth can be summarized in four stages: Early, Developing, Maturing, and Leading.
The Early Stage
If your organization is in the early stage of digital maturation, the digital experience you are providing to consumers is not fully formed. Maybe you are still just talking about how to personalize the journey, but you have yet to put those wheels in motion.
To progress to the next stage, you’ll need to focus on clarifying your vision, goals, and strategy and communicating that vision across the organization. What are the fundamental ways you will build awareness for your brand in the digital space? How will you get prospects to consider your products or services? What can help them make a decision and choose your brand over the competition? How can you keep them as customers? And finally, how can you transform them from loyal customers into adoring fans?
As you answer these questions, focus on how you’re building your foundation—the elements necessary to execute, measure, and learn from basic tactics. The emphasis here should be on learning, which is a critical thread that must be pulled through each stage of your organization’s growth and maturity.
The Developing Stage
In the developing stage, your organization is focused on framework—the parameters and processes that must be in place to engage in slightly more advanced digital tactics. Not only will these more robust tactics begin to drive better results, they will also begin to provide more meaningful data, and data is the gas that will fuel the personalization to which every brand aspires.
While the basics afford you the ability to gather data, a framework enables you to gather meaningful customer data on which you can act.
It is this kind of data that positions you to explore personalizing the experiences you are creating, if not to individuals at least to groups (audience segments).
The Maturing Stage
Jeff Bezos once said of Amazon: “Our success is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.” In today’s digital world, more and more companies are turning to experiments to discover how best to create or improve online experiences. A maturing stage organization is concerned about having an organizational culture that promotes experimentation, and one where learning is part of every digital tactic.
Personalized experiences are driven by the needs and desires of your prospects and customers. Experimentation is essential to uncovering what those needs and wants are.
The mindset that fosters experimentation is one of trusting the process. It’s about the journey, not the destination. People’s circumstances and, therefore, preferences change constantly. Add to that the effects of the marketplace, and you quickly come to recognize that personalization is never fixed. Knowing an individual’s (or a segment’s) needs and desires requires constant testing, which can only be supported by a thriving organizational culture of experimentation. (Learn more about the importance of such a culture and how to achieve it in the Harvard Business Review article “Building a Culture of Experimentation”.)
The Leading Stage
When you have arrived at the leading stage, you’re focused on your team. You have invested in your organization, and your team has used that investment to build you a strong foundation, a solid framework, and a pervasive culture. Now it’s time to make sure you are investing in their learning and growth.
Remember, while data may fuel the digital experience, it is people who fuel your organization. The right team will not only enable your strategy to thrive, they will have the mindset and the skills to evolve and iterate that strategy in an ever changing world. Those iterations will necessitate changes to your foundation and framework to provide the proper support. It is your team that will lead and manage those changes. Furthermore, it is people who bring life to and maintain culture, so it will take the right people to live the culture you have built as a maturing organization.
Ultimately, the right people will bring you the greatest return on your investment.
Every organization is different, varying by size, industry, and market. However, the tactics that lead to a mature digital experience are fundamentally the same. How well you execute on these tactics, across all digital experiences, is what will win you loyal customers and increase their lifetime value.
Knowing where you are in this trajectory requires asking yourself some direct questions about the digital experiences you are (and aren’t) currently providing. Understanding your baseline is essential to your growth. Ready to find out? Take this quiz.
Once you decide you’re ready to evolve your digital experiences to the next stage, you’ll need a roadmap to get there. Understanding these next steps will be the subject of a future article.