Digital content includes the words, pictures/images and videos that we traditionally think about. But it also includes other things that haven’t always been traditionally at the forefront of content – it includes understanding how different technologies consume and display content, how that content needs to be architected to be able to be displayed and to be found, and how users want to consume that content based on devices and technology platforms.
Woah! Does that mean content is no longer king?
I fundamentally believe that content is king. But content can no longer drive other things – like layouts and designs and how it is consumed. WHAT???? (all the content people are freaking out right now).
So fundamentally – digital content is any content that exists in the form of data. But creating digital content has taken on some new meanings.
I’m not a know it all. In fact, I think that any one who wants to be considered digital can’t be a know it all. The space evolves way to fast for anyone to be an expert. I would actually consider myself a generalist, because as the space has evolved its driven deep subject matter expertise in things like content, analytics, AI/ML, voice, IoT etc. So I know a little about a lot of things and look for those who know a lot about minimal things to know that I’ve found a great partner. So for these reasons, this is a brief digital content history.
In traditional content, it was the content that drove the design and layout of pages. It did even in the first iteration of websites. To some degree it still drives some website or larger screened experiences.
There was the initial launch of the website. It could have some text and animated GIFs and maybe some photos. There was the abysmal digital magazine (gosh remember that?) – where we tried so hard to take an actual magazine and put it online. We calmed down and at some point were like “hey, let’s just PDF the darn things and put it up on the site.”
I recall the launch of parallax websites – because it was a way for imagery to be the true driver of the experience rather than the words. It was revolutionary and it was beautiful. Parallax websites were revolutionary because it got digital content out of this box that we were all stuck in, and closer to that magazine like experience we were hoping for online.
Then we realized content needed to be found and devices began to rapidly change and social media launched. Content as king became even more apparent, but what did change dramatically was how content’s ability to drive design took a massive shift.
Devices and technology began to drive layout and design and content design was now required to take somewhat of a back set.
If you don’t agree with me, it probably means you didn’t make the leap to what digital leaders are looking for when they are hiring. Just saying.
Here are some very real examples:
Remember flash? Well that has been a slow and agonizing death (yes, it’s still dying) – but what was most frightful for content creators when this became a reality at the time, was the basic ability to play videos and be able to view animation online. HTML5 jumped into be the saviour in this situation, but the truth was the death of flash was driven by technology and device changes. Video content was not at the forefront of that decision making. (The rivalry between Apple and Adobe also probably played a part in this – and the fact that iPhones weren’t going to support flash – but whatevs).
In 2005 YouTube launched and in 2007 the iPhone launched. Maybe a coinky dink – maybe market stressors provided ample opportunity to solve for the flash crisis. Whatever it meant – video content consumption changed. What it needed to be viewed changed. What it needed to be found changed. Decisions on using your own player or a social player changed. Whatever decision was made was driven by the technology changes and device changes and therefore meant that the content couldn’t drive the design.
Not true say you? I say try making a video that is longer than 45 seconds and see where you net out with that.
Usability changed as a result, and many content creators began to realize that social channels dedicated to videos were a better place to play than prop technology, because it made finding their content easier and it was where people who wanted to watch videos were. It was where they realized that they could try to make that 5 minute video all they wanted, but the costs and the consumption wasn’t really working out.
Twitter drove us to the 140 character limit – though newly expanded to 280. As it turns out, Twitter’s decision to extend the character limit on tweets has done little to change how people use the service. So um yeah – what was that about content driving design?
Realistically speaking, do you think that based on the size of your watch screen and it’s underlying technology that it is content that dictates what get’s displayed? I would argue… not really. However, I would also take it one step further and argue – how users use it and what they want to consume will have huge influence in driving design.
Welcome UX and IA teams.
We have screens on watches on fridges in cars and this is going to continue to evolve. What we are going to see, is an evolution in what ends up being the simplest way for content to be consumed unilaterally by all of these things. We are going to continue to push the concept of “publish once and be everywhere”, for cost reasons: companies don’t have limitless buckets of money to hire 8 million specialized resources because we have 8 million ways to display; for logical reasons: why do we need to do this 8 million times in 8 million ways; and for future reasons: things are moving to voice which means content is going to be forced to do different things online, and with the rise of AI and ML content is going to be shaped and designed at times without human intervention.
Because of all of the above – content cannot drive design.
However, though it cannot drive design it still is king. So fundamentally it does mean that you need to be better at creating compelling, unique content. It also means that you need digital content specialists (IA/UX/SEO/digital copy writers) to help you prep your content for digital consumption and to meet new legal accessibility requirements (otherwise you should probably just publish paper copies).
And while I make no claims in being a digital expert, I do know this – if you want to show digital professionals that you have evolved past paper thinking… it means that you need to know how to make content king when it no longer drives design. It means you understand that how it is consumed will be dependent on how the device and therefore the underlying technologies flexibility in its UI exist.
- Finding a vision when you don’t have anything concrete to go to
Firstly, take comfort in the fact that no one knew where things were going with digital disruption and didn’t have a clear vision to begin with. We are in the age of “we’re figuring this out as we go.” The fundamental question everyone will be asking you and your organization is why. Why is your organization going to actually go ahead and take this leap into whatever the heck “digital” is for you – especially if you are not traditionally a technology business. For some organizations it is clear – you are losing market share and money to disrupters. For some organizations, it might not be so evident (I know this sounds crazy, and yes we have historical examples of epic fails that should be enough) but depending on the kind of business you are in, and how your business has evolved – it might not be so obvious.
So what should you do?
Knowing that there is empirical evidence of organizational downfalls and why this occurred is probably the first start. Why is this important? It’s because you have to do some outside in scanning and understand the core business reason that it happened. Just because it is not your business exactly, doesn’t mean that the underlying issue can’t impact you (ego reasons, culture reasons, investment – or non investment decisions etc.) If you haven’t done it yet, you should perform a SWOT and PESTLE analysis. Take a look at the weakness/threats your organization has and the external things happening in your industry, nationally or globally that will at some point have an impact on your organization.
Next you have to determine whether you want to take an offensive or defensive (or both) approach to your transformation. There are a few reasons that are pretty standard that underlay digital transformation if you don’t consider it an imminent threat or if you’re not losing money… yet. You can choose from the below, what you think might be the most important to your organization and its future:
- Because the pace of technology change is quicker outside your organization than in
- Because customers demand better user experiences and access on all different types of technology platforms
- Because the world is going to be increasingly interconnected through technology
- Because you need to think about your succession planning and talent attraction/retention
Maybe its one of the above or maybe it is all of the above. But take your SWOT/PESTLE and any of the above reasons, as well as whether you think you should be going offensive or defensive. You now have your “why” and some places you think you should be headed as an organization. You have a vision of where you want to go and you can create an action plan around it.
2. Business Model Generation
Now the truth is – and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times – digital transformation is business transformation. What does this actually mean?
- It means how you invest your money will change, because you will need to bring in new talent, stand up new divisions and the biggest will be how you invest in your technology infrastructure and architecture to enable your organization.
- It means how your budgets are planned and allocated will need to change. People get resistant to having smaller head counts or having less money to do what they want. It might even change how you do your accounting in the business.
- It means processes are going to change. Areas that once owned a process, or where certain decisions happened will change. Often people translate this immediately too: job loss. But no. It just mostly likely means that roles get to change, or the ownership of certain aspects of the process are shifting.
You can choose a variety of models for digital: Decentralized, Centralized, Center’s of Excellence, Offsite (Labs, Mode 1/2). What you pick is really dependent on how your business operates and what you think will help you get early wins. What matters most is that best practices in change management are carried out, which include tons of communication and that processes, roles and responsibilities get ironed out to prevent conflict.
3. A willingness to admit that you may not have the right people at the table
Digital is one of these tricky things that didn’t happen with a school degree. Most digital professionals (myself included), didn’t have a digital degree option when we were in school – and had to go through the evolution of this industry in the school of hard knocks. You might (or might not) be surprised by this, but many digital professionals came from IT (development or product engineering) or marketing/communications – because digital really is the intersection of these functions.
There are numerous debates about whether Digital should be part of IT, or Marketing or on it’s own – but nonetheless it requires people who have real experience in delivery of digital products and experiences. More importantly it requires people at the decision making table with the experience to understand what the organization is being asked to do when it comes to becoming digitally enabled. It means having someone who is versed in digital who can inspire and excite, can see the future of where your organization could go digitally and who can ruffle feathers in a non-threatening way while pushing change in places with less resistance to drive the places with more resistance.
Why does this matter? Those who work in delivery know when someone does or doesn’t understand. You must have a leader that is able to talk to developers, engineers, UX pros, look at the analytics and understand what they are telling you. This is the difference between garnering real respect from your reports. Their belief in you as the beacon for organizational change rides on this respect.
It also requires someone who can speak to the rest of your business and build and nurture relationships for when the going gets tough (cause it’s gonna)! If you have someone at the table who can really understand the details of what is required to deliver digital transformation, it helps decision makers understand what they are getting into. Someone at the decision making table with these skills means the ability to create the endorsement, relationships and support needed to mobilize an organization to really make change.
Do you have the right skills in the right places with the right people to make your organizational evolution possible? It’s a tough call, and only you know what your organization needs – but it does mean you have to be willing to admit that you may not have what you need.
What are some of your lessons learned that you would be willing to share with other change agents?
This post is incredibly timely based on my discussions and posts surrounding customer experience. The Big Data talks is about all of this. Leveraging data throughout an organization to understand the customer journey, in order to enhance the customer experience. This is what is going to differentiate brands.
In October of 2014, Loyalty 360 reported that Mercedes Benz CEO advised that Customer Experience is the New Marketing. I am in fact a Mercedes Benz owner. I love my car. In fact, when I gotten into the market for an entry level luxury car 4 years ago Mercedes was my front runner. I test drove Audi, Lexus, BMW and Mercedes Benz a number of times. In the end, Benz won out anyways.
It was the first time in my life that I truly understood a man’s obsession and love for a vehicle. When my dad suggested that I go to Wal-Mart for all season mats and a snow remover, I looked at him like he has a third head. Was he nuts? I wanted all Mercedes Benz things for my baby. I wanted to be part of the Mercedes Benz experience. I wanted to be known as a Mercedes Benz owner, because to me it symbolized that I had the best. It meant that I was going places, and I was going places because I wanted the best out of life.
This is branding at its strongest. Having a customer associate their lifestyle and personality as a reflection of a brand because of what that experience means. I give leniency on the road to other Benz owners, I tend to look for parking beside other Benz’s because I already know those owners will respect my car, and should we happen to see each other getting in or out of our cars their is always a friendly nod and smile.
I recently had to switch banks because of an employer change. I took a day off of work and made sure to take care of it all because I wanted peace of mind. So you can imagine my surprise when over a month later my car payment bounced in my old account causing an NSF charge that pushed the account into an overdraft that I didn’t have.
Switching my banking information with Mercedes Benz was fairly simple compared to some other companies I had to deal with. I just had to send an e-mail with a scanned void cheque (unlike other companies that required me to fill out another PAP agreement, provide ID, a void cheque and either fax or go in in person).
Mercedes Benz claimed that they had not received the e-mail despite me forwarding through the e-mail I sent to them originally a month prior.
They needed more time to investigate and in the interim a second attempt for payment went through the old account with a secondary NSF charge. Thankfully this time my bank reversed the charge because I had put a stop payment on the account.
In the end Mercedes agreed to reverse the NSF. I felt really elated. So thank you Mercedes Benz Financial for doing so.
But what could have been done to make it a better customer experience for me and ensure customer retention?
- Mercedes Benz Financial could allow customers to change their banking information on their website. This is where customers go to check their balances and payment history, and would make tracking of online activity and confirmation so much easier.
- Empower customer services representatives to be able to to act immediately for the customer rather than confining them. By looking at the activity on my accounts, calls made, and the correspondence they would have noticed that I had been with them for 4 years, there had never ever been a missed or bounced payment, and that my finance was coming up for renewal.
- The data Mercedes Benz has on me would have given them pretty powerful insights into my behaviours, patterns and interests. They also have had call profile outlining the reasons I call them and whether I am difficult or easy to appease.
Using these insights and empowering their reps can save them thousands of dollars in efficiencies and provide a best in class customer experience. While I can’t say that I would change my car (because I do love the brand and the car), I do see great areas of opportunity for a beloved brand to kick things up a notch, to provide an even greater brand experience.
It seems that the big buzz word today is “Big Data”. Every where you turn someone, somewhere is discussing what “big data” means for companies, and digital teams, and business models! The questions is…is big data working? By that I mean, as digital strategists, planners, UX ers, community managers…. how does big data really work for us>
The aim of the game is that we are all supposed to be forward looking right? We’re supposed to be anticipating where we should take things for our brands and tightening that bond with our audiences. Analytics, for the most part – took place in the past.
Yeah -it already happened. And it’s not necessarily a predictor of where we should be going, no? Especially when you consider that people use technology based on what is given to them and not necessarily on how they would like to use it. I liken that to the debate that companies have around deciding whether to mobile optimize a site or go responsive based on the data around how users visit their site. If mobile devices show as a lower proportion of the audience visits, then what does that really say about the audience.
The questions becomes – are the users desk top users and therefore that is the user base to cater for, or is it that because the site is only built for desktop experiences, mobile users are frustrated and forced to use their desktops?
Big data means that we have to consider that this data from the past, may not actually be a true reflection of how users want to use our digital properties but rather how they try to use it based on its limitations. Our job is to think about the future and anticipate those changes or identify the gaps that big data just won’t give us.
We have to be creative in filling those gaps, through survey’s, mapping customer experiences, understanding drop off rates and the user flow that took place before a user leaves a site – to create the story of what that digital experience needs to be in the future where data doesn’t exist.
I was inspired to write this post because of taking a new role, and having had the opportunity (at this point in my career) to see all variations and attempts at different digital business models.
While digital is a technology driven field, I do think that there lies some significant differences between digital and IT. For these reasons, there are markers between the two and for the most part the people who play in these arenas are able to identify them while understanding where the blur is. At the same time we understand that we also need one another.
All that said, I think that digital taking on IT business models may no longer the most efficient use of time and resources. Digital is considered disruptive in nature. It surprises me just how much of an IT business model digital departments adopted in the push to centralize things, rather than looking for business models that challenged the traditional architectures of what frustrated digital people about IT in the first place.
Without a doubt there is need to have a centralized place where there can be an inventory of digital assets, and aligning with enterprise wide technologies, standards and securities. I agree that it makes sense to have guardians of the realm so that people aren’t running all willy nilly all over the place inventing broken experiences and orphaned or abandoned digital assets. I get it. I really do. And more than anything I am a big proponent of not allowing things like this to happen in companies because of negative brand impact, user experience and more critically adoption and engagement that is such a central focus of Digital ROI and big data.
That said, most digital departments really need to look at their business model. In small to mid sized companies a completely centralized digital business model makes sense. They are more agile and flexible, making adapting to change and new technologies less rigid.
However, once you move into larger organizations this stops being efficient. Now you have business units competing for dollars, shifted around as priorities of importance and girdlocked in process that allows technology and user experiences to become outdated and frustrating. This very quickly turns into brand trust and perception, things that take forever to develop and can so easily be broken.
Digital fluency needs to exist in all areas of the business, all the more reason why centralizing digital no longer makes sense as a business model.
Here is the structure I propose and why digital needs to become a more decentralized business model:
- Each business unit should have a dedicated digital team that controls, manages and governs their digital assets. This dedicated team needs to sit within the unit to best understand the business needs, audience and goals they are trying to achieve.
- Having a dedicated team means that there needs to be dotted line reporting. These roles should ultimately roll up into digital but have a dotted line reporting structure into the business unit.
- Vendor contract negotiation and relationship management for any technology that plugs into digital assets for the business unit, should reside in this group. Ultimately at the end of the day, vendor shortfalls impact the digital experience. Users have one experience. They can’t see the difference. If a vendor isn’t delivering which ultimately impacts brand perception and users, this group needs to have the authority to let them go and find better options.
- Digital Departmental budgets. More and more independent business units need to begin considering that their budgets need to be inclusive of digital spends. IT needs to take care of the enterprise wide infrastructure without a doubt. Parametres need to be set, however digital departments within the unit should have their own budgets to provide ongoing website maintenance, ad hoc campaigns, or added features that may not have risen to the top of the IT priority and budget chain enterprise.
- This structure should also remove lock downs on existing or new digital assets. It made sense in the past to have front end dev, CMS’s and SEO locked down in old world structures. People in the business unit were not digital or tech savvy enough to understand what they were doing or the ramifications of what an error on their end could cause. With digital people in existence, much of this has changed, therefore the ability to do front end things needs to be opened up to allow for customization and elements that may short term in nature.
- Lead the overall strategy with regards to device roll outs within the unit. Sounds insane right? But digital needs to work closely with the business unit and with IT to determine what makes the most sense. Otherwise you end up in what I call the digital “black hole.” That’s the place where your sales team all got new iPads that would enhance their abilities in the field all while the enterprise infrastructure and business unit technology was never optimized or able to support a mobile experience.
- Regular regroups with the enterprise wide digital team. Being ultimately tied back and part of the digital team, means that regular meetings need to happen. Weekly with the reporting manager, and monthly with the digital team as a whole. This would allow for idea sharing, resolution sharing, and identifying what the common trends are across the enterprise that may require deeper and more extensive research or dedication.
For those who love people watching, well – this is for you! Being able to observe and make deductive decisions assist in creating insights that will strongly benefit your overall strategy.
Here are 5 reasons why observation is necessary:
1. People have behaviours. These behaviours are usually habitual. If you are able to tap into a human habit digitally, it means that you have found a way of integrating into a users life if what you put forth provides a value ad or solves a problem for them.
2. Observing allows you to identify a problem that a user may not even know that they have. People tend to compensate a behaviour when they assume that there is no other way to do something. When you find what that is, you can create a product/service to fill a void people did not even know that they had.
3. You can better understand how the user actually uses something. Professions such as Information Architecture and User Expereince come from this. Understanding how people typically use an app or website means that you can design to make it easy to use or teach a new behaviour.
4. You can make it better. Apple is famous for this. Every year people camp out for a new iteration of something that is even just a minimal improvement.
5. Data alone does not provide you enough contex. Numbers in surveys or reports and analytics are just that. They are numbers. In order to be able to find insight and create a compelling story for those numbers having actual context and opportunity to obseve how these number fluctuate and for what reasons means that you can make stronger decisions for a better strategy,
This is what most companies – if not all companies struggle with. Content strategies can be complex at best, and when you tie in digital content – the level of understanding required takes things to an entirely different level.
Digital content strategies require a different line of thinking than traditional content stratgies – namely and primarly SEO and engagement (think time on site) in real estate that constantly competes for the users attention while encouraging them to go visit other things.
Here are 7 simples steps to take your digital content strategy to the next level:
1. Know your audience and who you are trying to reach: from television netowrks, advertisements, magazine content to the web. Everyone has always known that content is king, but only if it is talking to the right people. Know who you are speaking too, and who you are trying to reach. Use analytics, surveys and behavioural tracking to assist in defining who these people are.
2. Define you digital objecties: Do you need more visitors to your site? Do you want them to stay longer on your site? Do you want them to click around on more content on your site? Do you want them click over to other sites? Do you want them to comment? Do you need to improve your SEO? Do you want to grow your social following? Do you want to go responsive because your mobile audience is growing? Moving into ecommerce? Want to upgrade your technology platform or CMS? You can’t choose them all, but choose the ones that are most required for your current situation.
3. Ensure that you are properly resourced: What and who do you need on your team? If it is a specific CMS/platform, an SEO strategy, community management etc. you need to make sure that you have the right people in place to support where you are going Don’t forget your Information Architects and UX specialists! Prioritization of information, site layout and taxonomy play a critical role in content strategy for tagging and archiving reasons!
4. Plan your content: That’s right – the good old editoiral calendar. Know your dates, themes, company priorities and ensure our site and content managers are prepared.
5. Get geographic: Knowing your audience (point 1) also means knowing where they are. Region specific content/offers = awesomeness.
6. Think Like a Human Being: Based on your objectives and your audience, remember that you should probably make decisions from the perspective that your audience would appreciate. What are your CTA’s, are they continuing to ask your audience clearly what to do while at the same time driving to assist in hitting your objectives.
7. Assess content performance: Stay on top of what works for your audience and what doesn’t. Clean up your content, remove what is old, repurpose content that may be more relevant or previously performed well. Be the ultimate curator and historian of your own content.
Here is the thing… in certain regards it makes sense that you have individuals who are familiar with publications, or broadcast and of course digital. However, a well rounded practitioner should be well versed in all areas of communications. As we move forward with technology, more and more it becomes apparent that these mediums bleed into one another, and have become tripods with each one depending on the other.
Yes there are definitely shifts in the way organizations spend their advertising/communications/pr dollars, with more moving away from print and into digital. That being said, it does not mean that all the mediums disappear and one will emerge the champion. Audiences consume information in so many different ways, and the most important decision you need to make as a practitioner is where to find them, if that medium makes sense for your target and what you are trying to achieve.
When you divide the three mediums so specifically, you end up with departments that compete for dollar spends based on their specific “specialty”. I’m not disputing that it does not make sense that happens, but I will say that divisions like that mean that it becomes a personal interest on obtaining larger dollars, rather than whether or not it makes overall sense for a campaign or an organizational objective.
I firmly believe that at this juncture in the evolution of our industry, being a digital specialist should not exist. I’ve mentioned this before, and I will mention this again – digital is another medium. It is another tool in the tool belt for marketing and communications practitioners to use. There should be no reason why anyone on any team should not be familiar with all three mediums, have some exposure to all of them, and have a firm grasp and understanding how they all should be used.
Teams should be educated in all ways that each of the mediums change. That being said, I also believe that every professional should have a vested interest in self education and keeping themselves current and relevant as well. The future of digital in these professions is that it will be common place – as it is in every day life already.