We have entered a new inflection point for how organizations exist within a digital ecosystem.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve spearheaded many website redesigns, technology integrations, digital marketing initiatives, software development projects, you name it. Every five years or so, websites and technologies would suddenly feel very out-of-date, and unable to keep up with the rapid advancements occurring in the digital space. Clients would get in touch, we would take a look, and sure enough we’d see a website and CMS about to come off the rails, or a poorly performing team limited by strategy and software. Primarily, we would see a set of disjointed initiatives spanning an organization’s ecosystem, with no strategic roadmap to get them where they needed to be.
No longer is a website (along with all the things that are required for that website to be successful) something you should have, it’s something you must have. Additionally, the software needed to empower and direct your internal team is a requirement. The care and management of your digital brand and content across all channels (externally and internally) needs to be taken as seriously as you take your business in general. Leveraging technology to understand how your organization is engaging and succeeding, both internally and externally, must be a priority. That same technology should be interwoven into how you proactively communicate with your audiences as well.
Today, your website isn’t your front door — it’s your entire world.
This digital-first world has increasingly been flooded with a lot of junk and noise. This flooding has diluted both the experience and reliability of many solutions, even as we rely heavily on digital tools and interactions to propel us forward.
Software is purchased to offer the holy grail of “x” at work, just to gather dust in the corner because the experience of using it is so poor, or the value promised is not delivered upon. Websites are designed and built on top of complex CMS and CRM systems, only to quickly become stagnant because of poor planning for how to care and feed that website. Internal collaboration systems are rolled out only to garner limited engagement between staff.
Whack-a-mole is a deserved metaphor when most organizations are trying to figure out where to be, what to do, and how to manage everything when it rides atop a massive and confusing wave of digital platforms, software, and promises.
We’ve been thrust into a space that is constantly changing, competing for our time and attention in sophisticated and data-driven ways. We are challenged to not only adapt to new ways of working, but also utilize new tools and processes in ways that cut through all that noise in order to connect with our audiences in authentic and genuine ways.
This means “trust” has to be considered at every point in your digital ecosystem, at every touch-point between you and your audiences, both internally and externally.
It is a very delicate and complex balancing act that requires a completely new approach — an approach that is diligent, focused and well-orchestrated.
I believe most businesses and organizations need to rethink their core brand and marketing efforts through this lens of “building trust and engagement” with all audiences. Internal engagement is just as important as external engagement. Your team is the heart of your organization, and they can and should be considered.
Your body can’t perform if your heart is barely beating.
You have to consider where you may have once relied on in-person gatherings, events, social occasions, conferences, etc., to nurture and grow your clients and business — and how that can be accomplished in a remote world. Equally, how were you building team synergy and trust internally in the past? How were you engaging with your teams to empower and educate them to achieve their professional goals and help move the organization forward?
Even when Covid-19 is a distant memory, the likelihood of new pandemics forcing us back to remote existence is possible. Business will be permanently reshaped by a workforce that has embraced working-from-home and a corporate structure that sees big savings without the overhead of office spaces, hosting events, paying for travel, etc.
Now is the time to rethink and rework how your digital “presence” can transform into your digital “existence”.
If we strip away much of what we depended upon real-life to offer us when it came to doing business and communicating with our audiences, we can see the new landscape.
People will increasingly rely on first impressions digitally rather than person-to-person.
Most “warm intros” will happen within the digital space.
Word-of-mouth will no longer be conducted in person over dinner; rather these kinds of natural disseminations of information will occur digitally — which offers lots of opportunity, but also urgency for businesses and organizations to catch up.
“…along with the multiyear acceleration of digital, the crisis has brought about a sea change in executive mindsets on the role of technology in business. In our 2017 survey, nearly half of executives ranked cost savings as one of the most important priorities for their digital strategies. Now, only 10 percent view technology in the same way; in fact, more than half say they are investing in technology for competitive advantage or refocusing their entire business around digital technologies.” — McKinsey & Company
For many years, marketing and communication efforts were at the end of the train when it came to what mattered to an organization — reflecting to the engine what they believed they needed to convey about who they were, what they did and to support sales. However, this must reverse. Now, more than ever, the mechanics of marketing and communication should propel the train, aligned with sales — and be very focused on the digital engagement spaces and how we interact within them.
We should no longer be seeking sales and marketing team alignment. Rather we should be seeking to transform sales and marketing into “revenue teams” who work in synergy to propel the business forward.
Ultimately, your entire organization should be optimizing digital tools for most of your business needs.
A heavy emphasis within every business should be on user engagement and how to build trust between the business and its audiences and stakeholders. The conversation must start around trust — why the business deserves it, from whom, and what it offers in return. Trust champions should be nurtured. Trust should be measured and tracked whenever possible. Where else, beyond a transaction, is trust gained or lost, and in what ways?
In a world where we’ve become isolated, relatively restricted from interacting with others, and fed a conflicting cacophony of information from every direction — we must reframe how we engage with one another, and how we can build trust through our digital existence.
So, where should you start? If you’re not already on top of all of this, it can feel like a daunting task to begin the process to get you where you need to go. I recommend starting with a review of your goals, then an audit. Map your goals to the findings from your audit, and you’ve got the beginnings of your roadmap. From there, you can begin to assess the larger implementation plans and change management needs throughout your organization.
Before anything should begin — you must establish and articulate your overall goals. If a goal is to increase user engagement with thought leadership content in order to reinforce the brand reputation in a certain space — how are you currently striving to accomplish that goal? And where could you improve? The results from this will identify gaps and needs within your digital toolset and also within your organization.
An overall audit of your digital marketing, your internal digital tools, and your organization’s staffing will help to identify where gaps exist between your goals and your current state. A thorough audit should review all the places you are communicating with outside audiences, how you’re managing the process internally, and what tools and processes are in place to support this effort.
Digital Transformation Roadmap
Once you’ve gotten those ducks in a row — you should have a good start on a roadmap. Sure it will change, but at least have it as a rough plan. You’ve heard the term “digital transformation” thrown around plenty in the last few years — and it all starts with a roadmap. That roadmap should include how often your software and tools should be re-evaluated, future planned integrations or upgrades, etc. You shouldn’t try to do everything at once, but you can chip away at things and get a good foundation built that you can and should expand on. Any roadmap should identify where a proposed destination aligns with overall goals for the organization. In short, don’t put anything on the map that doesn’t get you to where you need to go.
A brand should be re-tooled to include a style guide and content strategy approach that touches on every piece of the digital landscape. Within that guide, touch-points and trust-building goals should be identified from a larger brand perspective. What does your brand promise? What does it deliver best on? Why should your customers care? Where and how do you support these propositions across the digital space?
Your Website / Content Management Systems
A website needs to be running on a content management system that empowers your team to be actively engaging with your audiences, and allows you to change your site to suit ever-shifting needs. I strongly recommend an easy-to-use CMS that gives you flexibility without headaches. There are a few great open-source solutions, and many very bad expensive ones. Choose carefully. Once you’re using one it’s very expensive and time-consuming to make a change.
Search Engine Optimization / Mobile-First Design
If search engine optimization was something that didn't light a fire under you before this pandemic, it should now. Search volume is up across the board, and much more of that searching is done on a mobile device. This means your website not only needs to be easily found for the search terms you should rank highly for, it also needs to be mobile optimized so it can handle the visitor’s needs once they arrive on your site.
Analytics / Customer Relationship Management / Content Strategy
Speaking of data, you need to have a good set of tools in place to give you the valuable data you need about how your site is being used, and how your audiences are engaging with your digital communications. Analytics need to be set up for your site, a CRM should be in place to help manage your pipeline and digital marketing efforts, and you should have even some basic KPIs established for each place you’re representing yourself online — your website, social media, LinkedIn, email marketing, newsletters, etc.
Your internal team structure (or your outside agency relationship) should have clear accountabilities and job responsibilities established for each aspect of your digital ecosystem, and calendars should be in place to ensure a fresh stream of relevant content or engagement is happening wherever you’re likely to be found. Nothing sends a bad message like a “News” section on a website that was last updated in March 2019. If you have dead sections or locations — get rid of them.
Don’t spread yourself so thin that you end up looking half dead.
Also critical is a clear structure and system in place for internal team engagement, mentoring, training and nurturing. Your organization needs to keep your people collaborating, interacting, and focused on the right goals. A healthy organization will have a strong internal set of digital tools to empower colleagues to connect, receive feedback and support, bond with one another, and have the needed human touch-points we all require to thrive.
If you’re ready to begin this process, there are a few important things to do before you begin. Gain internal support for the overall initiatives, establish budgets (creative, marketing, technology, staffing, training, support) for several years (this doesn’t happen in a few months), and create a team to help lead the efforts. Make sure your entire organization is made aware of the new initiatives, and why they are important. Ask for feedback early, and often. Decide if you can tackle everything independently, or if you need the assistance of an outside consultant or agency. And remember that outside perspective can be valuable if you can find the right partners. If you invite an outside group or consultant in to help — be sure they will give you and your organization the time and care they deserve, while also keeping you honest and ensuring the effort generates successful results.
We were fortunate we had the internet, zoom and our other digital communication systems in place before the coronavirus arrived and sent us home. However, this is likely to remain a changed environment going forward — and the emphasis and focus will increasingly move towards digital interaction. Make sure you’re in good shape now, and then outline a plan to keep you running smoothly as we head into the great next unknown. One thing is for sure — we won’t be spending less time online any time soon.
McKinsey & Company’s October 2020 report entitled “How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point — and transformed business forever” sums it up:
“The notion of a tipping point for technology adoption or digital disruption isn’t new, but the survey data suggest that the COVID-19 crisis is a tipping point of historic proportions — and that more changes will be required as the economic and human situation evolves. The results also show that some significant lessons can be drawn from the steps organizations have already taken. One is the importance of learning, both tactically, in the process of making specific changes to businesses (which technologies to execute, and how), and organizationally (how to manage change at a pace that far exceeds that of prior experiences). Both types of learning will be critical going forward, since the pace of change is not likely to slow down.”
Tracey Halvorsen is the Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer at Return Solutions. Return is a SaaS application for sales enablement and real-time business intelligence. She is also the Founder of Create Velocity. Create Velocity is a consultancy working with clients to embrace digital transformation and growth. Formerly Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Fastspot.