Discovery — The First Stage in Building and Running a Digital Strategy.
A lot of has been written about digital innovation, with companies like Apple and Amazon commonly used as case studies. What gets far less mention is how small and medium business (SMB) and Startups are winning at the digital game — For startups like Monzo, Deliveroo, and Made, digital is driving new sources of competitive advantage, business growth, and value creation for customers.
A study of successful SMBs and startups showed that the adoption of innovative technologies is one of the primary drivers of business growth and value creation, however for most SMBs, choosing the right technology is also one of the main challenges they face.
Gaining competitive advantage by adopting the right digital technologies that are impactful and delivers delightful customer experience at an affordable cost to the business is a precarious position for SMBs.
We deduced that this is because the focus when planning and building a digital strategy for most SMBs is on technology and how technology can grow the business, whether that means creating new products or redesigning current processes or customer experiences.
Undoubtedly, digital technologies are changing how customers interact with brands, with new rules and possibilities that were unimaginable a few years ago. Utilising the right technology offers businesses a huge opportunity to get closer to the customers with experiences that both delights and make a difference in their lives. But, as sophisticated and impactful as these new and emerging technologies are, they are not the goal to attain in a digital strategy.
The goal of a digital strategy should always be to move the needle by implementing a systematic framework that delivers consistent customer experience and brand values across all touch-points — ultimately moving customers along the brand engagement path, from awareness to consideration to purchase to loyalty and advocacy.
A digital strategy goes beyond websites, blogs, SEO, emails, social media, or mobile apps. It is a framework that enables businesses to interact with an audience and deliver an engaging customer experience that creates value for both the customer and brand.
In the last few years, there have been rapid advances in cloud services, artificial intelligence, data management, IT services, and more that can make an impact on your business.
You can now engage with customers directly via social channels to get real-time feedback rather than conducting surveys and focus groups, and thanks to mobile computing, customer engagement can be done on the go.
You can also know where your customers physically are located, using technologies like geo-IP detection and geolocation to deliver genuinely personalised experiences when combined with data analytics.
Supply chains are being reconfigured thanks to Industry 4.0, making it possible for SMBs to operate smaller, more flexible with fast delivery processes tailored to local demand.
As the pace of technology innovation continues to create substantial opportunities for businesses to grow and deliver incredible experiences — As an SMBs how do you know what technologies or platforms to invest in, from the tremendous amount of choices available, that is cost effective to the business?
The key is to discover the “needs” of the business iteratively — define the “right” solution to meet the needs (i.e. technology and user experience) — rapidly design & build the solution and lastly deploy and evaluate the solution to measure its effectiveness against key performance indicators (KPIs).
Identifying the needs requires running a discovery session to look into all aspects of the business to determine where new capabilities could be needed and what designs, trends, platforms, and technologies can be used to strengthen existing advantages or to tap new ones.
At DIGITALFLIP, we use this four-stage process in building and running a digital strategy for our clients.
We start every project or client engagement with a discovery session that brings together all the key stakeholders to build a shared understanding of the business, brand, and customer needs.
To be clear, we didn’t invent these strategies. Instead, the framework borrows from years of experience delivering digital projects, and from great thinkers in branding likes of — Marty Neumeier and various strategic brand management frameworks, including that of — Kevin Lane Keller and Dan Mortimer — CEO of redant.
In this article, we’ll explore the activities carried out during discovery to provide some insight into the process and also to emphasise why discovery is an important exercise for SMBs and startups to undertake, before designing and building a digital solution.
What is Discovery?
Discovery is a facilitated session with the key stakeholders or clients, to learn about the business and brand inside and out. More importantly, to understand the customers — who they are, what are their challenges, pain points are, where are they located, what are their expectations, not just the demographics but also the psychographics.
Discovery is strategic and a crucial stage in the development of a digital strategy.
A misplaced understanding of the business, brand, or customers within a digital strategy will at best lead to a misfiring campaign — at worst, it can lead to long term damage to the reputation of the brand.
Our discovery session typically consists of 15 exercises and requires at least two participants, these have to be company executives or stakeholders with authority — The CEO and at least the Co-founder, Head of Marketing and Head of product or design.
The first 4 exercises are to identify the motivation and focus of the business. The exercise includes understanding:
- Who are you? What is the shared passion and mission of the business — This helps define the long term roadmap of the company.
- What do you? — The purpose of the business beyond selling its products or services?
- What’s the vision? — An accurate picture of the future, what does the business aim to accomplish in 2, 5, 10 years?
- What are your top 3 values? To make your purpose more specific.
The next 5 exercises are to understand the brand in terms of the brand attributes, competitive advantage, and unique value proposition. With questions like:
- What trends are powering the business and industry? List of trends that can deliver a competitive advantage — social, technological, economical, legal, environmental, and so on.
- Who shares the marketplace?- Who else competes in your market category? Who comes first, second, and third in the customer’s mind?
- What makes your brand different? Your unique selling proposition (USP) and competitive advantage.
- What is your brand identity? — How should the brand appeal to the senses? What’s the look & feel, voice & tone, style & behavior of the brand.
- How do people experience the brand? Where does your brand exist online, your brand touchpoints
The next 5 exercises are to get an in-depth understanding of the customers — Their challenges, pain-points, where they are, and how best to talk to them. With questions like:
- Who is the customer — What are your customer segments and value of each segment
- What do they need to get done? What are the goals, tasks, and activities of the customer?
- What are their challenges and pain points? — What do your customers find challenging, where are the gaps you can provide value.
- Where is your audience located? Where geographically are they are located, where they spend their time online, what type of social or digital assets do they use in communicating
- How do they communicate? What do they already engage with (competitors), what has previously got them talking, how do they interact (the style, tone, and sound of their messages)
The outcome of the above exercises is a shared understanding of the business goals, the brand’s core values, brand identity, and the target customer segments and their needs.
The final exercise during a discovery session is brand alignment — Brand alignment is ensuring the brand positioning (the customer’s perception of the brand) aligns with the brand values and identity (who you want to be) across each digital touchpoints.
To ensure brand alignment, we carry out an end-to-end customer journey mapping exercise across each touchpoint to ensure consistent customer experience, messaging, and value creation.
At the end of discovery, the business, customer, and brand alignment needs are captured and determine the goal and objectives of the digital strategy.
The next section expands a little bit on goals, objectives, and the target audience to provide some insight into the format and what they entail.
Goals and Objectives.
Goals and Objectives often seem like two interchangeable phrases, when used in a digital marketing context, and it’s easy to misconstrue goals from objectives.
Here’s the difference between goals and objectives — A goal is the desired result you want to achieve and is typically broad and long-term. You typically derive goals from the business mission, purpose, and vision. Goals act as a guide for the direction of all the marketing efforts.
An objective, on the other hand, defines the specific, measurable actions you must take to achieve the goals. For instance, if one of your goals is to increase brand awareness, one objective might be to increase blog traffic by 15%.
Generic goals typically include increased awareness, building an audience and educating that audience, improving reputation, and ultimately making the conversion. Limitations in defining the goals, generally consist of conflict of interest with existing business practices, initial perception, and reputation of the brand, and budget.
While each brand will have its own specific goal and objectives, they can usually align with one of these four main groups:
- Brand awareness and demand creation
- Increased audience engagement
- Increase consumer drive to retail and purchase
- Process improvement through streamlined communications
The goals within a digital strategy typically have a broad or direct focus, aimed at raising awareness or driving conversion, with a long or short term length of engagement to achieve the goals.
As an example: A simple goal of ‘Increasing awareness of a new product’ has
- A broad focus
- Aimed at awareness, and has
- A short term length of engagement
Compared to a goal of ‘Developing an integrated campaign message to move an audience through the brand engagement path from prospects to customers to advocates’ which has:
- A direct focus,
- Aimed at conversion, and requires
- a long term length of engagement.
Identifying the audience.
One of the core propositions of modern digital strategies is the ability to move away for traditional one-side communications to directly engaging with an audience, a shift from a monologue to a dialogue.
The ability directly engaging with an audience is both an advantage and a disadvantage — customers are quick to share negative experiences more than they share positive experiences, which can snowball to a broader audience.
Audience identification is a critical factor in the success of a digital strategy. The first step is in the identification process is understanding the market segments.
Segmentating the audience
Market segmentation is simply a way of arranging your audience into smaller groups with similar characteristics.
You can segment an audience by subcultures using demographic trenches (i.e. age, gender, income, ethnicity, education) or psychographics (activities, attitudes, values) — Geography location, and Behavioral patterns, mannerisms.
For example, British Airways might segment their customers into the following groups:
- Single passengers (economy)
- Families (economy)
- Group passengers (economy)
- Avios passengers
- Premium economy passengers
- Business passengers and
- First-class passengers
The segments should be large enough to be relevant and small enough to be able to target a specific message that relates only to members of the segment.
Segmenting your audience enables you to identify the similarities between your different customer groups — and the differences.
After identifying your audiences, you need to bring them into the structure of the digital strategy. You do this by identifying the value of each segment against the goals and objectives of the digital strategy.
A valuable exercise is to rate each segment against the value and size of the segment. Ask yourself — Who in my audience will be best suited to delivering the goals and objectives of the digital strategy.
The segment with the highest rating is the most valuable customer segment and should be prioritised.
Understanding the customer.
Building personas are great because they help understand the customer to better solve their problems. Ideally, you should create four or more personas, covering each segment.
Once the personas in place, they should be used as a guide during the design and build stages to ensure the campaign messages are specific and targeted to the needs of the customers as identified.
The results will be a better experience for the customer and a more engaged user for your business.
Finding the audience.
One of the benefits of digital strategy is the opportunity to segment activity and directly target an audience by location. You can use targeting by location to reduce costs while increasing the efficiency of the marketing message for each of the channels.
You can further identify niche locations by segmenting personas based on interests.
Depending upon financial return for each goal, targeting locations that contain small audience numbers and low barrier to entry can be a viable digital strategy leading to high profits.
Some helpful tools to identify and locate an audience are; Google Analytics, Google Trends, Think With Google, Google Keyword Planner, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Semrush, Buffer, Hootsuite, Ahrefs, Clicky.
Audience location and persona building, in theory, should be a relatively simple task. In practice, however, it usually is more complicated.
Engaging with the audience
As mentioned earlier, the approach is the shift away from monologue to dialogue by engaging directly with audiences.
How should you engage or talk to your customers?. The most natural way to know what to engage over or talk to the audience about is carrying out research. Some areas to research over are:
- What messages have previously got them talking?
- What are competitors doing successfully, and what does not appear to be working?
- What do they currently talk about in each channel?
- What is their communicates style within each channel?
- What is value or need does the messages within the channel serve?
- What are the tone, phrase, and linguistics used?
Also, some research across potential key influencers would highlight common user-generated content patterns.
For example: How personal is the communication between the members of the audience? How much do they share? What is the average level of engagement? What are their social styles? Are they;
- Analytical — do they ask, they seek facts?
- Driver- do they take the risk, have strong opinions, or influence?
- Amiable — do they support or avoid risk?
- Expressive- do they tell, share, and feel?
At the end of the discovery session, all parties should have a clear understanding of:
- The mission, purpose, vision of the business
- The brand’s core values, differentiator and competitive advantage
- The audience segments and the value of each segment to the business
- Who are the customers and their needs, tasks, challenges, and pain-point
- Where to locate the target customers online
- How best to communicate and engage with the audience across all touchpoints
- The desired goals and objective of the digital strategy
- The scope and timeframe of the digital strategy