Modern Marketing Briefs Recap

I am pleased to report that after I conquered my normal pre-class combination of impostor syndrome, fear of laptop failure, and over-caffeination that the Modern Marketing Brief training session was a success. We had a smart and engaged group of marketers in the session that focused on how briefs (and briefings) need to evolve to become more impactful. There was plenty of rich discussion and super-useful perspectives shared among the class. I think I scribbled down the most notes of anyone in the room.

Pre-Session PIcture for Bootcamp.jpg

Over the course of the morning, we covered the role of the brief and the qualities of a strong briefing (which have not changed). We then explored the nature of modern marketing programs and marketing processes (which have changed). The bulk of our time focused on 10 key changes that marketers can adopt to make their briefs (and briefings) more relevant and valuable for 2019 and beyond – with plenty of examples and applied group learning.

When I started to design the course, I had a great conversation about briefs with my friend and fellow strategy consultant Hilton Barbour. As usual, Hilton shared a point that really resonated with me – that we have become so fixated on the briefing document that we miss the larger picture of what that document is meant to enable. This rings true with my experience, and I structured the course accordingly. During the session we zoomed out to consider the work and changes that need to happen before and after the creation of a brief. Additionally, we explored the context of the brief, as marketing programs exist in a dynamic business environment connected to other briefs - not in an isolated vacuum. Orienting the session to focus on ‘how to start a marketing program effectively’ vs. ‘how to complete a template correctly’ helped immensely (thanks Hilton!)

Modern Marketing Briefs

After I pack-up at the end of every training session, I take a deep breath and review the participant evaluations. I was really pleased to see that participants found this brand-new training session valuable - 100% would recommend to a friend - and I received some great tips on how to tweak the curriculum (all of my participant evaluations are posted online and unfiltered here). I look forward to running the Modern Marketing Briefs course again in 2019, hopefully this time with a few less pre-class jitters.

Modern Marketing Briefing: Survey Results

To prepare for my new Modern Marketing Briefing course, I sent out an informal survey to my network asking for marketer’s perspectives on their current briefs (and briefings). The purpose of the survey was to help me refine and validate some of my course material – and see if I had any blind spots. Overall, 32 people provide responded from agency-side and client-side marketing organizations. While not statistically significant, I found the results and comments quite insightful. I thought they might be of interest to others, so I have posted the key findings and takeaways below. If you would like a copy of the full results you can download it here. Thanks again to everyone who participated in the survey, and I hope to see a few of you at the Modern Marketing Briefing course next month!

Highlights from Survey Responses:

Participants were asked 13 questions, and some interesting similarities and differences between the responses from agencies vs. brands emerged:

  • Completing Briefs: The sections of the brief that respondents feel are completed least effectively are a measurable goal(s) followed by a single-minded proposition.

  • Briefing Attendance: Many respondents indicated that technology representatives and ‘final approvers’ are not consistently present at briefing meetings.

  • Lessons Learned: Respondents from agencies and brands indicated that lessons from prior marketing campaigns are not regularly shared in briefs and during briefings.

  • Digital Projects: Technology representatives appear more involved for client-side projects, and both groups reported that they often brief digital projects differently.

  • Briefing Information: Many agency-side respondents indicated that they are not receiving enough information from clients in the brief and during the briefing process.

  • Integrated Briefs: Respondents from agencies and brands indicated that some projects continue to be briefed separately, where others are briefed in an integrated manner.

  • Overall Effectiveness: On average, respondents were fairly neutral on the effectiveness of their briefs and slightly more negative on the effectiveness of their briefings.

Highlights from Participant Quotes:

Participants were also asked a few questions about the main challenges that they currently experience relating to briefs and briefing meetings and some common themes bubbled up:

  • Not enough time spent upfront to define and align to measurable business goals.

  • Teams often do not invest enough time in preparing a clear and effective brief.

  • Briefings can feel disorganized, and people often do not show up and/or tune-out.

  • Budgets often are not realistic given expectations, and are not clearly allocated.

  • Digital and social is often included in as simply a ‘box to tick’ within marketing briefs.

  • Lack of insight around the customer, particularly relating to the customer journey.

  • Briefings often have way too many people involved, and politics can be disruptive.

Modernizing Your Marketing Department

What should a marketing department look like in 2018? This is a question that I have in some shape or form been helping clients answer over the last few years. It is a question that arises due to a number of overlapping internal and external factors facing marketers today:

  • Digital Marketing: the need work more effectively with technical tools and teams that enable marketing activities

  • Omni-Channel Strategy: the need to orchestrate a number of offline and (increasingly) online channels together

  • Agile Processes: the need to find ways of working that are more responsive, efficient, and ‘always-on’

  • In-House Models: the need to re-examine the mix of responsibilities to be taken in-house vs. outsourced

  • Data Science: the need to build greater competency in data science, for insight and accountability

  • Corporate Strategy: the need to better align marketing to support larger organization-wide strategic initiatives

Many organizations are tackling these needs through large change management initiatives under the banner of Digital Transformation. Marketing plays a large role within these programs, with a focus on how the marketing department itself needs to modernize. My role within these programs typically involves a blend of digital strategy training and organizational consulting. I love this type of work as it allows me to get into the weeds with a marketing team and see first-hand the positive, tangible impact that marketing modernization programs can produce. I recently completed such an assignment with a company (and team) that I admire greatly – Lee Valley. This is a retailer that has a long history of modernization through new products, categories, markets, services, and channels. While I cannot divulge any of the specifics from my work with Lee Valley, I can share 10 general lessons from my experience working with organizations that have successfully modernized their marketing departments:

1. Demonstrate a burning business platform (not just a marketing one)

Make sure that your marketing team understands the underlying business drivers for change and why the status quo is not viable. These drivers should relate to changes in customer behaviour, competitive actions, or other significant business realities – not marketing trends. Communicate these in a clear, specific, and relatable way. For example, illustrate how your customers have traditionally engaged with your business / brand and how they do so now – dramatizing the gap to be closed.

2. Clearly state the outcomes that you need to achieve

Invest the time upfront to identify and quantify the outcomes that any changes to your marketing department need to produce to be successful. These outcomes should be used to drive all of your decisions around changes to people, processes, and tools. Communicate these outcomes openly throughout the organization, with performance targets to hold the program accountable. For example, one of my clients stated an innovation goal of “15% of our marketing budget will be used on tactics we have never tried before”. Be specific—stating the goal of “Becoming More Digital” is not good enough.

3. Ensure executives show their support and alignment with the big picture

Marketing leaders who are modernizing their departments need the support of their executive teams, and members of the marketing department need to see evidence of this support. For example, I have found that having an Executive Sponsor introduce and conclude an in-house training program to be a simple and effective way to demonstrate this. It provides the program with greater credibility, and it allows the marketing department to understand how changes in marketing are required to support what the larger organization is driving towards.

4. Make sure that everyone understands what ‘good’ looks like

If your marketing department is modernizing, what does modern marketing actually look like for your business or brand? While you may have goals for your overall modernization program and performance targets for your campaigns, it is helpful to have a shared understanding of how your marketing programs should generally look going forward (and how that is different from today). More content? More direct? More testing? One exercise that I have found helpful in workshops is a Show & Tell—encourage marketers to share out-of-category examples that inspire them. Make time to discuss what can be applied to your future marketing programs, and keep the conversation going.

5. Get real, and show how everyone will play their own part

If you are asking members of your marketing department to change what they do and how they do it, make sure you do your homework. Everyone will be processing these changes through their own personal prism of ‘what does this mean for me?’ You owe everyone clear and specific answers to how these changes will affect and benefit them (including becoming more marketable outside of your organization). Invest the time in working through revised job descriptions, process flows, RASCI charts, and other necessary documentation. Make it personal.

6. Put skin in the game, and invest in training and support

The surest way for a marketing modernization program to fail is to not invest in external training and support for the people actually changing what they do and how they work. It is like telling a plant to grow without providing water or sunlight. Bring in the right mix of subject matter experts to partner with. Demonstrate your commitment by openly sharing the investment that your organization is spending (time and money) to ensure that the change is successful. Work with HR to make successful completion of training mandatory.

7. Attack silos and counterproductive patterns of behaviour that exist today

Marketing departments are modernizing in part by embracing agile principles like prioritizing frequent face-to-face communication across multiple disciplines. This runs counter to traditional waterfall processes that connect separate departments. Training can help address this challenge by focusing on those moments in your new process where things will most likely break down. Design group exercises and create job transfer tools that demonstrate these new patterns of behaviour. Symbols also work. For example, a client that leads Digital within a large agency recently gave up his office and works in different physical places throughout the building every day to demonstrate the importance of fluid collaboration.

8. Spark productive conversations and enlist multiple voices

A pillar of any change management program is communication. People not only need to understand why and how things are changing, but also need to be heard. This can be done formally through workshops, message boards, and other feedback loops. In digital training, my clients often like to sit in to see who appears particularly engaged and where support lies (and does not). This can give some insight into where barriers for adoption may exist, and who might be enlisted as ‘informal leaders’ in driving change across the department once training is complete.

9. Admit that you will not ‘nail it’ right out of the gate

Humility goes a long way when modernizing a marketing department. You may (and should!) start with clear goals and a detailed plan but some things will not work and other things will be missed. Let people know that this your expectation upfront, and that they are expected to play an important role in identifying where and how adjustments can be made. From a marketing standpoint, this is where Beta Projects can play a valuable role – to test-drive your hypotheses and socialize learnings. When done well, these Beta Projects can be woven into training programs as group exercises and – even better – demonstrate quick wins for team.

10. Make sure that people understand that modernization is never ‘done’

While marketing modernizations programs may take place over a fixed period of time, it is important that they are viewed in the context of how an organization continues to evolve. Ensure that steps are in place to regularly measure and learn from the impact of the program. Look ahead and schedule training tune-ups and feedback loops to check-in. Lee Valley has been so successful because it does not look at modernization as a project, but a journey that everyone is on together.

New Course! Modern Marketing Briefs

Since I started Kickframe almost (gulp) 5 years ago, I have worked with a number of organizations (agency and client-side) interested in becoming stronger in digital strategy. My work with these clients typically considers how processes, tools, and people must evolve to bring more impactful ‘digital thinking’ upstream.

One area that I always focus on in these assignments is ‘the brief’ – how marketing initiatives are framed and shared by teams before execution begins. Despite all of the changes in the marketing landscape, briefing is an area that has not changed for many marketers. It should.

As I have written about before, there is a great opportunity for marketers to modernize their briefs to be more relevant and useful in the age of data, technology, and social media. Marketers can also evolve how they manage briefs to be more agile, integrated, and accountable. I have seen the positive impact from modernizing marketing briefs first-hand through my consulting work and strategic planning experience. So (drumroll please), I have decided to introduce a new course that trains marketers on a new set of planning tools they can use to modernize how they create and activate marketing briefs.

Unlike other courses that do a great job of training planners how to properly write creative briefs, this course focuses on how the brief and the briefing process needs to evolve to lead to more effective outcomes in 2019 and beyond. We will cover topics relating to different types of briefs (conceptual vs. tactical) and changes to marketing planning workflow. The course is ideal for marketers that have some experience creating or managing marketing briefs in marketing management, strategic planning, and account management roles.

The first Modern Marketing Brief course is scheduled for a half-day on November 27th in Toronto at The Spoke Club. If you are interested in more information, check out the course outline or contact me directly at and I can give you more scoop. Early bird tickets are available now. I am really excited for this new course – I hope to see some of you there :-)

Bootcamp Recap & Analogous Thinking

Last week, we hosted our sixth Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp in Toronto. It was another sold-out session (thank you!) attended by a fantastic group of marketers. For a sunny Friday afternoon, the participants brought an impressive amount of energy to the class and we had a lot of fun (post-session participant surveys are posted online and unfiltered here).

One of the most challenging parts of designing the Bootcamp is ensuring that it is relevant for all participants. We typically have folks attending from a variety of industries, company sizes, departments, and backgrounds. How can one class be relevant for everyone? I try to address this challenge by focusing on strategic principles and frameworks that do not change even when the digital landscape inevitably does. The principles and frameworks are applied through a set of group activities that are based on ‘analogous’ problems that all marketers face – even if that is not obvious at first.

Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp

Analogous thinking refers to using information from one domain to help solve a problem in another domain. I use this approach in my own strategic consulting work, and try to infuse it into the Bootcamp exercises as well. The exercises incorporate different brands, personas, and goals that are not seemingly connected to where any participants work – but are focused on problems that all participants face.

I have found that having students work on problems that are outside of their day-to-day professional settings can be surprisingly valuable. It allows them to step outside of the constraints imposed by their own knowledge of existing solutions to explore new ideas. During the Bootcamp, we had B2B marketers working on B2C brand briefs and Non-Profit marketers figuring out how to market a new mobile app. When participants shared their ideas with the class, we connecting the dots between the core problem that they were solving in the exercise with challenges that they were facing in their own organizations. Within a professional development setting, this approach can also reenergize creative thinking and – as one participant shared – “cleanse my marketing palate.”

The other benefit of having a group of smart marketers work on problems outside of their own fields is inviting a guest client to provide ‘real-world briefs’ to solve. This time, we were extremely fortunate to have the awesome Michael Oliver from BMW as our guest. Michael brought in a range of different briefs that, while relating to BMW, focused on core problems that all marketers must address. When groups shared their thinking with Michael, it was amazing to hear the novelty of ideas coming back. Participants drew on their own experiences outside of the automotive category to solve briefs for BMW in new ways. It was a great exercise – a true win-win.

Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp

Outside of the Bootcamp, I think all marketers can benefit from embracing more analogous thinking. Reframe some of the problems that you are facing by stripping out the domain-specific details. Write up a problem statement that can more easily relate to other industries or companies. Explore how others outside of your conventional field of view are approaching this problem. Collaborate with others outside of your industry for fresh thinking that you can bring back and apply. Take time to cleanse your marketing palate.

Thanks again to everyone who attended the Bootcamp and to Michael for his involvement. I feel reenergized after spending time with all of you!

Mapping Your Competitive Brand Position

One of the things that I am preparing for my upcoming Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp is a reference guide filled with handy strategy frameworks.  Some of the frameworks are very well-known (i.e. created by someone else), others much less so (i.e. created by me).  Either way, my hope is that this reference guide will be useful for participants in a way that a binder full of slides can not be.


A well-known framework that will be included in this reference guide is a competitive positioning map.  This type of tool is used to visualize differences among competing organizations and brands across various dimensions.  These maps are often used in brand strategy work and can be presented as spider graphs, comparison tables, and scatter charts.  The format used most often is a matrix that illustrates competitive differences against two axes.  An additional layer of performance data (e.g. revenue or market share) is often included in the matrix in the form of different ‘bubble’ sizes.


Creating an accurate and useful positioning matrix can be surprisingly challenging.  You need to first identify the market that you are analyzing to ensure that the right organizations or brands are included - without overlooking new and non-traditional competitors.  From there, you need to identify the most meaningful comparative dimensions to include as axes.  Often, axes are chosen to ‘lead the witness’ by dramatizing a particular white-space for positioning a brand.  To avoid this pitfall (or temptation), make sure that the comparative dimensions for your axes are:

  • Broad: Must be able to apply across all competitors
  • Salient: Must matter to how customers distinguish
  • Contrasting: Must be perceived as polar opposites
  • Measurable: Must be able to place on a single axis
  • Objective: Must not be inherently good or bad

A few years ago, I was working with some friends to help refine the positioning for an advertising agency (the irony being that the last thing an advertising agency wants to position itself as is an advertising agency).  To do so, we created a competitive positioning matrix and analyzed 100 different agencies.  This led us to identifying 20 different ‘positions’ in the market.  This competitive positioning map was helpful for us to understand how various agencies tended to focus on a few key areas.

One of the benefits of doing this work was that we were able to revisit the positioning map and plot the same 100 agencies after 3 years.  It was interesting to see how agency positioning (and the expression of that positioning) had changed:

  • Established agencies becoming more digital.  Digital agencies becoming more integrated.
  • Consultancies becoming more creative.  Creative agencies becoming more strategic.
  • Out with technology, CRM, advertising.  In with experiences, product, engagement.

I could go on, but will save that for another post.  My point is that by taking the time to structure a matrix based on meaningful dimensions and completing the analysis with a robust group of competitors can be a useful exercise for the present and the future.


P.S. If you are interested in agency positioning, I highly recommend following Tim Williams who literally wrote the book on the topic.  His writing was immensely helpful for this work.

Creating Effective Customer Scenarios

Over the years I have taken a number of different writing courses.  One that I particularly enjoyed was a screenwriting class at Ryerson.  We learned the basics of developing strong characters, creating dramatic scenes, and structuring entertaining story arcs.  It was fascinating to deconstruct famous movies into their component parts.  While my Hollywood career has yet to take off, the lessons I learned in that screenwriting class have served me surprisingly well in my marketing career – particularly when creating Customer Scenarios.


Customer Scenarios are used to describe how a new product, service, or feature will work through a fictional story about the person experiencing it.  The Scenario typically takes place in the future, and brings to life the benefits of a new functional idea in a compelling and concrete way.  Customer Scenarios are different than User Stories (documenting requirements) and Customer Journeys (visualizing moments & phases) in that they are most often used to sell a vision to a group.  That is why they are commonly included as part of concept presentations and new businesses pitches.


I have had a hand in creating countless Customer Scenarios – some good, some bad, and some ugly.  When good, scenarios humanize the benefits from complicated technology solutions.  When bad, the audience is confused, distracted, or bored (ugly is a combination of all 3).  While Scenarios can be produced through any combination of sketches, storyboards, mock-ups, and video, the best are all:

  • Believable: Feature people acting in a natural way within a relatable and real-world context
  • Focused: Include the most important features and benefits in the most concise way
  • Feasible: Incorporate features that have been vetted for business value and technical complexity
  • Magical: Dramatize a future state vision that is surprising and appealing for the audience


My role in creating Scenarios has largely been creating the scripts (a point strictly and lovingly enforced by the Creative Directors I have worked with).  Strategic ‘stick to the script’ Planners draft Scenarios that align product vision, supporting features, customer insight, and business value into compelling and realistic narratives.  Below is a framework that I have used to help with strategic alignment.  Hopefully it helps you in your own work.  After all, there is no phrase more powerful than ‘let me tell you a story’. 

Do We Need A More Digital Brief?

I have heard some version of this question asked many times over the last decade.  It usually happens when a senior client-side marketer feels that their campaigns are “too traditional” or when an agency president feels that their people “don’t get digital”.  The first moment typically leads to the second.  In an effort to address this crisis of digital confidence, the conversation then leads to changing the brief – the document that has changed the least over the last 50 years. 


“If we make the brief more digital then the work will follow.  Right?”  This is when a Planner transforms into a live boardroom version of Munch’s The Scream.  “The brief is about the idea, not the execution!  The brief needs to be media-agnostic!  The brief is about the problem, not the solution!  What is digital when everything is digital?  The brief needs to stay brief, adding a new field will MAKE IT TWO PAGES!”  And so, it goes. 


I get it.  There are many good reasons why the brief has more or less remained the same.  It is a critical document that bridges strategic thinking to creative execution.  The brief also needs to be fit for purpose, and that purpose is not always creating conceptual ideas only.  Many times, the purpose of a briefing document is to provide some executional direction for teams.  In these cases, I have found that there are a few tweaks that can be made to document (the brief) and how the document is used (the briefing) that can lead to stronger and more creative digital marketing solutions.


1. Involve digital specialists upstream as collaborative thinkers, not just technology doers

People in digital roles are typically involved after a brief has been written, to vet or cost a technical solution (and this usually happens far too late).  Digital SMEs can provide valuable strategic input prior to digital tactics being identified.  They are closest to customer data, technology trends, and Internet culture.  Collaborating with your digital folks early on can sharpen your customer and marketplace insights.  Including digital folks upstream can also help build internal relationships that help when projects get thorny in development.


2. Include what you want people to do, as well as the message that you need to say

The beating heart of most briefs is the key message – what needs to be communicated.  Briefs often include more direction on how we want to change customer perception than how we want to change customer behaviour (beyond driving sales).  It is critical to understand what exactly we want customers to do when identifying the right mix of digital tactics.  Do we want to drive social sharing, conversions on a website, search volume?  The more specific that briefs can be about behavioural goals—often proxies or contributors to financial goals—the more focused digital marketing can be.


3. Include insight into what is being discussed in social & search relating to your points of engagement

Understanding the social landscape is not only relevant for informing social media-focused campaigns but can also provide valuable insight into how people think and feel about a particular topic.  What are people talking about?  What do people find valuable?  What do the community norms tell us about how this group interacts with each other?  Search volume and competitive search bidding can also provide useful clues into the ebbs and flows of customer interest.  Including a few of these data points can help shape the description of the marketplace in your brief and can provide inspiration for downstream content ideas.


4. Provide insight on moments and contexts that represent new opportunities to influence and engage

Incorporating aspects of user experience design into briefs can lead to fresh digital creative work.  By highlighting what a customer is thinking, feeling, and doing at key moments helps teams to build empathy and explore more service-based ideas.  For example, if the brief includes common customer friction points, teams can identify new areas of content or online self-services to help resolve.  Highlighting the mindset of a customer can lead to new media ideas that align with context / emotional state.  As UX Designers are becoming more involved in strategic discussions, including this type of input in a brief can help them to orient themselves and contribute quickly.


5. Provide guidance on those digital tactics that are relevant and should not be overlooked

While Account Planning tells us that briefs should be about the idea and not about the execution, I have yet to work with a creative team that does not appreciate some direction on digital media and technology.  Getting Digital SMEs to provide an early perspective on what seems to fit helps - especially if the brand/ organization has deep technology capabilities and a number of owned digital properties.  Make sure to present this input as a starting point and not a prescription.


6. Create a big brief for the brand that can nest tactical briefs for specific digital initiatives

Allowing for smaller tactical briefs ensures campaign briefs do not need to be ‘catch-alls’. These smaller briefs can be focused on specific tactical projects (i.e. new website section, a new customer acquisition campaign, a new triggered email) and do so in a way that ladders up to the larger brand brief.  Having these smaller briefs can provide more specific insight and direction for what needs to be executed (more useful for the teams), and don’t need to include everything (more efficient to produce).    


7. Incorporate relevant learnings from past campaigns and testing goals for the current brief

What have we learned before that we should consider?  What do we want to learn this time?  These are two great questions to ask yourself when putting together a brief.  Too often, campaign lessons are (at best) captured in campaign post-mortems and not applied to future work.  Hardcode a field into your briefs to allow teams to understand what has been tried / learned before.  Also consider incorporating a field for ‘what you want to learn’, and include a hypothesis, test, and implications.  Utilize the brief and marketing technology to get smarter and more effective over time.

What Problems Can Voice Help Solve?

I have been fascinated by smart speakers and conversational interfaces ever since I spoke to my first Echo.  It reminds me of the first time I browsed the web or used a native iPhone app.  It feels like a completely new medium, with its own set of strengths, weaknesses, and possibilities.  And like any new technology, there is a lot of attention being paid and pixels being typed towards new ideas and bold predictions.  To help frame my own thinking and avoid the trap of ‘technology looking for a problem to solve’, I have created a set of use case parameters.  These are based on how voice is actually being used by people, rather than starting with technical product specs. 


So how are people using voice?

It is staggering how quickly voice is being adopted, as close to 10% of North American households now own a smart speaker.  Drivers for growth include a low-price point, ease of access and usage, strong word-of-mouth, and familiarity with voice search on smartphone—50% of all searches by 2020 will be voice (comScore, 2017).  The reasons people want a smart speaker include listening to music, asking questions without typing, listening to news and information, and making it easier to do things (Edison Research, 2017).  Most importantly, current owners are largely satisfied as 50% say they use it more now than they did during their first month of ownership, and 63% plan to purchase another (AnswerLab, 2017).  So smart speakers are being adopted, owners are pleased, and usage is expected to increase—what types of use cases make the most sense for voice?


1. When it is difficult to use your hands

Let’s start with the most obvious.  There are certain situations where it is not possible or practical to use your hands to access a smartphone, such as when you are cooking, driving, or multi-tasking.  Voice is a natural channel to help serve people in these environments and situations. 

Focus on contexts where smartphones are not accessible: 64% of smart speaker owners are interested in having the technology in their car (comScore, 2017).


2. When it is easier than using a mobile app

There are certain types of tasks that are typically completed through a mobile app which can be made more convenient through voice, such as converting measurement amounts or playing a specific song.  Voice commands can help simplify some complex interactions and take away multiple screens that a mobile app may require for the same function. 

Focus on specific moments of need: “brands need to find their own raw chicken on the hands moments where they make a task 10X easier via Alexa” (via Econsultancy).


3. When the need frequently and regularly arises

There are certain repetitive needs that people regularly encounter which often are part (or become part) of their regular routines, such as checking local news and traffic for commuting.  Popular voice applications today include Flash Briefings and real-time content– such as traffic, weather, and news – that people look for to start every day.

Focus on recurring daily or weekly needs: 72% of people who own a voice-activated speaker say that their devices are often used as part of their daily routine (Google, 2017).


4. When the need is clear and easy to express

There are many situations where a query or task is very clear and simple to communicate through natural language, such as setting a reminder or adding something to a shopping list.  Voice users are frustrated when devices do not understand their queries, so topics that are more nuanced and discussed using various taxonomies do not work as well as conventional queries.

Focus on needs that people can easily communicate: 70% of requests to the Google Assistant are expressed in natural language, not typical keywords used for web search (Google, 2017).


5. When the required input is simple

There are certain types of questions and tasks that do not require much input from people, such as when you are setting a timer or asking for the local weather forecast.  Voice interactions do not work well when a user is required to provide more than one data input, such as completing multiple fields in a form. 

Focus on requiring the minimal amount of input necessary to complete a task: 59% of people who do not own a smart speaker feel that the devices are intrusive and seek too much personal information (Capgemini, 2017).


6. When the desired output is simple

There are certain types of questions or tasks where people are looking for a single answer or action rather than options or details, such as when you are looking for a movie time at a specific theatre.  Voice users typically do not expect to spend much time during a single interaction and are not taking down notes from a voice-delivered response.

Focus on needs where a ‘single best answer’ is acceptable: 45% of voice-speaker owners report that they do not make purchases through the device because they cannot see product details (comScore, 2017).


7. When it is socially acceptable and additive

There are certain situations where an activity or answer might add to a conversation or group setting, such as accessing a trivia game or finding an answer to a question that may resolve a friendly debate.  People are hesitant to share potentially embarrassing questions or information in a social setting and may not trust smart speakers with keeping information secure.

Focus on use cases that do not require personally-sensitive information: 89% of voice-speaker users agree that they are comfortable talking to a voice assistant when they are alone vs. 47% comfortable in a social setting (Capgemini, 2017).


8. When the need involves a specific location

There are certain queries or tasks that are specific to different rooms in a person’s house, such as scheduling a morning alarm in the bedroom and controlling the thermostat in a living room.  Voice applications may be designed to the specific needs associated with different rooms, as evidenced by the popularity of recipes being used via smart speakers placed in kitchens.

Focus on use cases that may arise in popular speaker locations: 21% of owners of smart speakers have the devices in their kitchen, and 19% have the devices in their master bedroom (Edison Research, 2017).


9. When it involves quick status updates

There are certain instances where a person may be interested in accessing a quick and current update, such as when a package will be delivered or when a person is expected to arrive home.  Voice is more natural channel to receive an update, rather than browsing for a product or completing a new transaction that involves product photos and credit card payment.

Focus on servicing over transactions: 49% of customers would like to interact with smart speakers to check delivery status vs. 35% making a purchase (Capgemini, 2017).


10. When a digital service already exists

There are a number of digital services that people frequently use through multiple access points including browser and mobile app that present new use cases, such as streaming audio, wearable fitness devices, and ride-sharing.  Voice applications have gained traction where people have a relationship with an existing digital service, particularly smart home devices and audio content subscriptions.

Focus on combining voice with screens and other access points: 65% of owners of smart speakers listen to more music, 28% listen to more news, and 20% listen to more podcasts (Edison Research, 2017).


Bootcamp Recap: Playing to Win

This past Wednesday, we wrapped up our latest Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp in Toronto.  As always, my favourite part of the event is the final exercise of the day: The Guest Client Brief.  For this activity, I bring in a senior marketer from a different organization to provide students with a ‘real-world’ problem to solve through digital marketing.  The students work in groups to apply the lessons from the day in order to address their particular brief and share their responses with the class.  The Guest Client (and I) provide feedback to the students and—painstakingly—select a winner.  The Guest Client Brief has proven to be a fantastic exercise to engage students after an intense day of training.  Why?  It turns out we all want to win.

Digital Strategy Bootcamp

For this past Bootcamp, I fanned the flames of our intrinsic human competitiveness by inviting Jordan Markowski of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) to join us.  Jordan is a Digital Strategy Lead for MLSE and has overseen many impressive programs for the Leafs spanning social media, CRM, augmented reality, and in-venue digital activations.  He shared with the group some of the unique challenges that MLSE faces and a number of valuable ‘digital’ lessons that he has learned along the way.  Having Jordan as our Guest Client also allowed us to create teams rather than groups, and the competition was fierce!

Jordan - Digital Strategy & MLSE

Participants were divided into different MLSE teams (e.g. Leafs, Argos, TFC), and assigned team-specific briefs.  In a short period of time, a number of smart ideas were generated that spanned the full playing field (pun intended) of digital services, content, social, advertising, and direct.  In addition to the competitive group dynamic, I find that it is also motivating for students to work on briefs that are aspirational and outside of their own day-to-day roles.  Seeing how your own experience readily applies to solving business problems outside of your own company or comfort zone can provide you with a renewed sense of confidence.

Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp

In the end, the scrappy Raptors Team was victorious—but we all won.  Thank you to Jordan for your participation in the Bootcamp, your involvement was instrumental to its success.  Thank you as well to everyone who attended and supported the event.  The Bootcamp was another sell-out and 100% of participants would recommend the event to a friend (all completed surveys are posted unfiltered here).  I am currently finalizing plans for another Bootcamp in Toronto before the summer, until then – game on!

How To Assess Your Needs For Digital Marketing Training

The first step that any organization needs to take when considering digital marketing training is to assess 'the gap' between the current and the desired state.  Where do you need to be, and how far are you away from getting there?  For marketing departments, this requires a clear understanding of the changes that need to happen (covered in a previous post).  It also requires an accurate assessment of the current ‘Digital IQ’ of the marketing team as it relates to these changes.  This is where assessment tools come in.


When designing in-house digital marketing training programs, I work with clients to probe the current state Digital IQ of their teams by considering different dimensions:

  • Knowledge: Ability of an employee to recall specific facts or general digital marketing concepts
  • Interest: The specific digital marketing topics that an employee is motivated to learn about
  • Confidence: Employee’s personal subjective evaluation of their own ability in digital marketing
  • Comprehension: Employee’s ability to demonstrate a level of understanding of digital marketing


There are a number of assessment tools and techniques that can be used to collect this valuable data that are relatively quick and painless way for employees.  Selecting and customizing an assessment tool requires an understanding of the learning goals, as well as input from a subject matter expert in digital marketing.  The following is an overview of a few different assessment tools that I have used, often in combination with each other, to assess current state Digital IQ (digital marketing questions and topics are included in the examples for illustrative purposes only).


Background Knowledge Probe (Assessing Knowledge)

The purpose of this tool is to assess how familiar employees are with important terms, tools, tactics, and concepts required to be proficient in digital marketing.  This probe is administered anonymously, employees self-report, and results can be tabulated and shared.  It is an effective (and non-threatening) way to gather a snapshot of current state employee knowledge.

Self Assessment11.jpg

Learning Goal Matching (Assessing Interests) 

The purpose of this tool is to assess the learning goals that employees have related to digital marketing and to ensure there is alignment with the training goals of the program.  The tool can be administered anonymously (or not), and the results can be used to shape curriculum.  It is an effective way to enable employees to input into training and for training leaders to flag areas of potential misalignment.

Learning Goal Matching

Self-Confidence Survey (Assessing Confidence)

The purpose of this tool is to assess an employee’s level of confidence in their own ability across different areas of digital marketing.  The survey is administered anonymously and the results can be used to identify topics to potentially focus on.  It is also an effective tool for employees to reflect on their own ‘current state’, and it frames the training as a way to build confidence through learning.

Self-Confidence Survey

Multiple Choice Test (Assessing Comprehension)

The purpose of this tool is to assess the level of understanding that employees have relating to different terms, tools, tactics, and concepts.  While these tests are often administered after training, they can be used as a way to baseline comprehension and identify gaps.  Such tests should be administered anonymously (with results shown individually), to ensure that employees understand that their test scores are not being used for their professional performance evaluations.

Multiple Choice Test

If you are interested in learning more about assessment, I highly recommend the classic book Classroom Assessment Techniques (Angelo & Cross).  My dog-eared copy was given to me by the best teacher I know - my Mom, who also happens to have a Masters degree in Adult Education :-)  And if you are interested in conducting a digital marketing training assessment for your organization, I would love to hear from you.

Digital Advertising Planning Canvas

“As soon as it’s printed, it’s out of date”


The most challenging part of designing digital marketing training is ensuring that the curriculum is up to date with relevant changes in the technology and media landscape.  When I was preparing content and exercises for my last Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp, the areas that required the most updating related to digital advertising.  The tools and tactics available for marketers to reach audiences with even greater precision are increasing exponentially.  New products and terminology are also being constantly introduced, which makes planning (or even talking about) digital advertising even more challenging.


To try and bring some clarity to the topic of digital advertising, I put together a digital advertising planning canvas for Bootcamp participants.  It organizes different aspects of digital advertising into core strategic questions that are familiar to marketers when planning a new program. 

Advertising Planning Map_FINAL.jpg

My goal with these frameworks is to help marketers focus on those areas that are foundational to designing marketing programs, without being first distracted by the latest digital buzzwords and advances in marketing technology.  I have shared a few other planning canvases in the past that I still refer to in my training and consulting work:


I find the process of organizing digital marketing tools/tactics into strategic planning frameworks helps move my thinking from ‘what it is’ to ‘what it can do’.  Hopefully these canvases can do something for you, too.

Bootcamp Recap: Start-ups & Strategy Training

Last week we held our ‘Rebooted' Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp event in Toronto at The Spoke Club.  It was a great day, as we had a sold-out group of 30 fantastic participants from both client-side and agency marketing roles.  The Bootcamp session covers a lot of ground, and the participants did an awesome job of staying engaged and contributing throughout the day.  I was pleased to see that the tweaks that we made to the Bootcamp translated to even better outcomes for participants, as seen in the post-event surveys (100% would recommend the session to a colleague :-)  


My favourite part of the Bootcamp is always when I bring in a surprise 'client’ at the end of our session, and participants break into groups to tackle individual briefs.  Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to have guest clients attend from established organizations like the TSO, McDonald’s Canada, TIFF, and WWF.  This time was different, as we had a pre-launch start-up join us—which made the activity even more interesting.


Sameer Hassan is the co-founder of the Shonin Streamcam Security Camera.  It is a fascinating new product in an emerging category.  The Shonin Streamcam has been covered widely in the technology press, partly due to a very successful Kickstarter campaign.  Sameer and team are currently manufacturing the product, with plans to launch in 2018. 


Developing strategy recommendations for a pre-launch start-up is a different experience than providing recommendations for an established brand—particularly when the start-up founder is in the room.  Unlike working on briefs for well-known brands, participants now must consider a product that is new with a marketing strategy that is less defined.  Which, it turns out, makes the whole thing a lot more fun.


Strategy Discussions in Real-Time.  The briefs that participants are tackling are based on the actual problems that the start-up is solving.  Sameer is super-smart (trust me, I have worked with him) and has his own marketing plans and hypotheses.  That said, he is at a point in time where it is valuable to hear new ideas and different perspectives.  During the Bootcamp, there was a really rich discussion around brand positioning that everyone benefited from.


Unencumbered Creative Thinking.  People can't have informed opinions about a product that does not yet exist.  For our Bootcamp exercise, this meant that there was more time required for participants to learn about the Shonin Streamcam, but less time spent trying to figure out how recommendations fit exactly with an existing marketing strategy.  This ‘openness’ allowed the teams to develop new ideas for Shonin that may have been constrained otherwise.


Unleashing Your Inner Entrepreneur.  It is inspiring to spend time with start-up founders like Sameer—their drive and imagination is infectious.  I loved seeing how engaged participants were during this activity, and how big and bold their ideas were.  Digital media and technology unlock many possibilities for new businesses, and it was fascinating to explore this with the group. 


I'm going to give some more thought to how I can incorporate start-ups into my training programs.  The exchange of ideas between seasoned marketers and start-up founders is really rich, and both benefit from each other.  Who knows, maybe my next guest client will be a past participant of my Bootcamp.  Hope so.

Structuring Your Strategy Story (Part 2)

This is the second of a 2-part post on how to add more clarity and drama to your strategy presentations.  The first part covered different structures Strategists can use to effectively present the core problem that they are facing, and this second part focuses on how to present the solution.  In true Hollywood parlance, consider this post the second act in a two-act structure (not to be confused with a sequel).


Once you have effectively presented the core problem that you are intending to solve, you should have your audience leaning in to ask, “Ok, how?”  This is where structuring your recommendation becomes critical.  The last thing that you want to do is to walk your audience through a long list of seemingly disconnected ideas.  You need to establish the right frame to present your recommendations in a way that is:

  • Complete: includes all of the key recommendations that you are proposing
  • Balanced: describes all recommendations in a similar manner and depth of detail
  • Organized: displays relevant relationships between recommendations
  • Aligned: points all recommendations towards the overall mission or goal

The structure that you use to tell this part of the story will depend on the nature of the problem you are solving, the context of your audience / presentation, and how your recommendations will ultimately be evaluated.  The following are five different structures that I have used:



This structure involves framing your recommendations in a way that overtly supports a clear and overarching business goal.  This traditional structure works best for presentations that are focused on solving a specific business problem, with an audience evaluating recommendations based on business returns.  Recommendations are driven down from the overall business goal, from strategy to supporting tactics.      

Blog post 2-p4.jpg


This structure involves framing your recommendations in a way that supports an overall value proposition.  This structure works best for more conceptual presentations, where you may be proposing a new brand / program idea or product / experience design.  Recommendations are presented as strategic pillars supporting this overarching proposition, supported by related tactics.

Blog post 2-p3.jpg


This structure involves framing your recommendations within the construct of a journey or path-to-purchase for a customer.  This structure works best for marketing or user experience presentations, where the goal is to engage with customers in a way that positively impacts behaviour or brand perception.  Recommendations are presented as engagement opportunities that intersect and serve customers at key moments, to the benefit of both the customer and the business.

Blog post 2-p2.jpg


This structure involves framing your recommendations in a sequence of phases that increase in impact over time.  This structure works best for presentations that are focused on building capabilities, including technical programs that involve platform maturation and release planning.  Recommendations are presented as sets of activities that enable future phases, which deliver increasingly greater sophistication and impact.

Blog post 2-p1.jpg


This structure involves framing recommendations in a way that describes how your solution will change the current state.  This structure works best for presentations that are intended to be more emotional, where the Strategist can describe in broad-strokes ‘how we will change’ or ‘where we will go’.  From-To statements are thematic, and can set the stage for more specific tactical recommendations (that may be presented in one of the earlier structures).

Blog post 2-p5.jpg

I hope that you have found this particular strategy story useful, and that these structures help you to shave off a few hours the next time you have to design a strategy presentation.   If I come across any others during my next 10,000 hours, I will be sure to share.

Structuring Your Strategy Story (Part 1)

I was catching up with my friend Rob a few weeks ago, and told him how I was helping a number of clients build presentations for strategy recommendations and new business pitches.  As Rob and I have known each other and worked together for many years, he told me that I should “call Malcolm Gladwell and let him know that you’ve now reached 10,000 hours of PowerPointing”.  I would have thrown my pint at him, if I didn’t need it to drown the fact he was probably right.

Over these 10,000 hours, I have come to appreciate the importance of establishing a solid structure for telling (and selling) strategy. A poorly structured presentation weakens your argument, undersells your ideas, and bores your audience.  Strategists play a pivotal role in building presentations, as we are typically responsible for providing insight into the problem, framing the core opportunity, and proving why our recommendations are sound.  In fact over the past few years, I have spent as much time structuring strategy presentations as I have developing the actual strategy recommendations. 

So with the hope of shaving off a few thousand hours for other Strategists, I have outlined a few different structures that I have used to build strategy presentations.  I will break this topic into two posts: (1) Presenting the Problem, and (2) Presenting the Solution.

Blog post-p1.jpg

Presenting the Problem

For this initial ‘wind-up’ portion of a presentation, a Strategist often shares insight into the problem space by exploring factors such as customers, culture, competitors, channels, technology, and business areas.  This initial insight needs to establish credibility with the audience, but most importantly needs to lead to the crux of the problem to be solved—propelling the rest of the presentation into the resolution (i.e. your recommendations).  The structure that you use to tell this part of the story will depend on the nature of your content, profile of your audience, and your own personal presentation style.  The following are four different structures that I have used:


1. Synthesizing Data Into A NEW Insight

This structure involves presenting a number of different points of data and pulling them together into an insight that appears fresh, actionable, and inevitable.  It fits best for presentations where you have data that ideally the audience has not seen, and you have an audience with enough time and interest to listen to a longer set-up.  The drama comes from connecting seemingly disconnected dots.

Blog post-p1.jpg


2. Reframing The Original Question

This structure involves setting up an argument for how the audience may be approaching the core question a wrong, or at least in a limited way.  It fits best for presentations where you want to be more provocative with the audience, and set up a ‘zig when others zag’ story.  The drama comes from challenging convention in a thought-provoking way.

Blog post-p1 (2).jpg

3. Illustrating The Gap To Be Closed

This structure (Duarte’s Sparkline) involves contrasting the current state from a future state that is more desirable and possibly attainable for the audience.  It fits best for presentations where you have a clear and compelling vision to sell, and sets up a ‘how to get there’ story.  The drama comes from tantalizing the audience with the size of the prize.

Blog post-p1 (1).jpg

4. Dramatizing The Burning Platform

This structure involves illustrating that there is a significant issue on the horizon for the audience that they cannot ignore, and that they may in fact be able to use to their advantage.  It fits best for presentations where you need to build a sense of urgency, and can set up an ‘innovate or die’ story.  The drama comes from describing danger ahead that can be addressed now.

Blog post-p4.jpg

Once you have effectively presented the problem, your audience should be leaning in to ask the inevitable “Ok.  How?”  For Part 2 of this post, I will outline a number of different structures that I have used for presenting the solution.  Hollywood screenwriters refer to this point in our current structure as “the cliffhanger” :-)

Mapping New Customer Engagement Opportunities

“Our relationships are no longer with the service providers”

A few years ago, Tom Goodwin (@tomfgoodwin) wrote this in a popular and thought-provoking piece called “The Battle Is For The Customer Interface”.  I have returned to it a few times over this past year while helping clients interested in creating greater levels of engagement with their customers.  As Mr. Goodwin clearly describes, new digital platforms are being adopted en masse, and traditional businesses (travel, telco, banking, automotive, media) are being left behind as the “dumb pipes”.  Taking this concept down to the marketing level, I see a similar challenge.  Brands are getting further away from the customers they want to directly engage, and the gap is being filled—and in many cases caused by—new digital platforms.

  • Services: Financial planning and budgeting is being managed completely through Mint (vs. RBC)
  • Marketplaces: Consumer products are being researched and bought completely through Amazon (vs. Kitchenaid)
  • Advice: Hotel, transport, and destination planning is being completed through TripAdvisor (vs. Starwood)
  • Expertise: Fashion brands and beauty products discovered through influencers and Gilt (vs. Macy’s)
  • Activities: Fans are following teams through news, trivia, and betting via DraftKings (vs. NFL)
  • Resources: Recipes and food advice is being found and shared through Pinterest (vs. Kraft)
  • Support: Electronics owners are learning from enthusiasts and each other through Mac Forums (vs. Apple)

Depending on your organization and industry, different combinations of these forces and seemingly parasitic players are making it increasingly difficult for you to engage customers directly.  Your products are their widgets to sell, your content is their assets to publish, and your data is their APIs for new services.  Marketers need to determine how to address these challenges in order to be present in the lives of customers in more meaningful ways, through experiences that they can more fully control.

One way that I approached this challenge recently was by sketching out a mind-map of engagement points for a brand.  What I tried to do was open to open up our aperture and identify out all of the ways that someone might engage with the underlying passion area related to the brand.  This way, we could start exploring different tangents and adjacencies that might represent new ways to create connections with customers without being trapped by traditional conventions of the category. 

For example, airlines are quickly becoming the “dumb pipes” for travel now that people have adopted services such as Expedia, Kayak, and Skyscanner.  We can explore new ways for an airline to connect with customers by widening our frame to how people engage in ‘travel’ instead of how people ‘buy flights’.  From there, we can research and identify different ways that people engage in the underlying passion area of travel, and review these more abstract points of engagement. 

Engagement Map

Where are we today?

Creating such a map can help clarify where a brand is present today, and where new opportunities may lie to create a new connection.  Where are those areas where you provide value to customers today?  Where are those areas where you are becoming dis-intermediated from your customers the most?

Where can we play?

Many of the areas in this engagement canvas may be well served by other brands, organizations, and services.  In some cases, this may be to your benefit—such as having your news or content being shared by other platforms.  The point is not to cover the board like a game of Risk.  Ask yourself, are there other areas here where your brand can provide value to this network in a way that no one else can?

How can we win?

Considering these spaces where you may want to play a greater role, what can you do?  As a travel brand do you want to compete in a new area by launching a new platform (like AirBnB launching a new travel magazine)?  Do you want to partner with a complimentary brand to extend your reach (like Starwood SPG members earning points through Uber rides)? Or do you want to extend your existing services to provide even greater value over time (like Air France allowing passengers to finish movies after their flight lands)?

By creating your own map, you may find new ways to bridge this widening engagement gap between your brand and your customers.

Rebooting the Bootcamp

One of the most interesting aspects of putting on my own training events is figuring out how to make them even better.  I have the opportunity to reshape everything from the format, curriculum, exercises, venue…right down to the type of chocolate and coffee served (Soma and Balzac’s!)  In-class participant feedback is immediate, always useful (and often humbling).  Post-event surveys are also a valuable way to get a handle on the overall satisfaction of participants (posted unfiltered here).


Over the summer, I reviewed all of my past surveys and notes to see how I could further improve the Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp.  Now that I have delivered the course for over 200 participants, there was plenty to learn from.  Two big opportunities emerged:


1. More Participant Networking

Something that I did not fully appreciate when I started hosting my own training events is that many participants are interested in attending for the opportunity to meet others in the digital marketing industry.  In fact, during my first event a few participants unexpectedly started their own class contact list, which is something that I now regularly provide (CASL-compliant, of course).  Given the trend of training programs moving to online platforms, there seems to be an opportunity to help marketers better connect with each other within the classroom and beyond.


2. More In-Depth Cases

The biggest challenge in delivering a digital marketing strategy course is not that the space is constantly changing, it is that it is constantly expanding.  More technology, tools, and tactics.  More opportunities, challenges, and questions.  I have developed a framework for the Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp that incorporates all of the key facets of modern digital marketing within a 1-day format, but participants are looking for more comprehensive case examples.  Given the need for marketers to create increasingly complex integrated marketing programs, its no surprise that there is an opportunity to provide a course that remains broad but goes even deeper.


So, it is time to reboot the Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp.  I have now restructured the course to maintain what people value, while incorporating this valuable feedback (at least that is the goal).  The Toronto event will now be held in The Portland Room at The Spoke Club, which will give participants an even greater opportunity to network during group exercises, breaks, and after-class cocktails.  The curriculum is also being updated to (1) provide more background material prior to the session, (2) include more integrated marketing planning tools, and (3) demonstrate key strategy points through more in-depth case studies.


Our next Toronto event is going to be held on November 2nd , and I am really excited to run this restructured course.  The Bootcamp events sell out and seating is limited, so if you are interested reserve soon at the Early Bird rate here.  If you have any questions (or have even more ideas on how to improve digital marketing training), please do not hesitate to reach out.  I’d love to hear from you.

Making Change at Scotiabank

“What behaviours are we trying to change?”


This is a question that I always ask clients when discussing in-house digital marketing training initiatives.  It is a critical question because it focuses our conversation on the specific outcomes that we want to achieve, versus the different topics that we may want to cover.  Without being clear on specific outcomes, training is at best interesting and at worst a waste of time and resources.  Being clear on outcomes is particularly important for digital marketing training, since these programs often need to support larger digital transformation shifts within an organization.


One organization that is leading the digital transformation charge is Scotiabank. I recently had the pleasure of providing in-house digital marketing training for the Scotiabank Global Targeted Marketing Group, along with my good friend and frequent collaborator Michelle-Read Kulig.  Michelle and I designed a full-day training session for the entire department of 30+ people that focused on digital marketing strategy. 

We worked closely with our awesome Scotiabank clients to ensure that the session supported a vision for the group (organizational change) and how teams needed to support this transformation (individual change).  While I cannot disclose specifics from our session, I can share a simple 3-step workshop exercise that we used which focuses on making change.


1. What does the future look like for our group?

To start, it is important to establish a clear understanding of the future-state for the group in order to then explore the specific changes required to get there.  If this vision already exists, simply present it to participants (ensuring comprehension) and move on.  If it does not exist, create a Vision Board with workshop participants.  This exercise involves asking participants to describe what the future of the group looks like by writing characterizations on post-its.  This is best done together as a large group where participants read-out and post their descriptions on a highly visible Vision Board.  The facilitator then asks challenge questions (e.g. “how do these align with the digital transformation goals for our organization?”) and clusters common themes to achieve a high-level consensus or ‘North Star’ for the following exercises.


2. What changes are required to make this happen?

Next, shift from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’ by exploring the specific changes required by the department to support this vision.  To do so, use a Stop-Start-Continue exercise to examine the gap between the current and future state.  This exercise involves asking participants to identify key behaviours that need to stop, start, or continue within the marketing department in order to achieve the vision for the group.  This is best done in small groups with participants discussing and writing their responses on cards.  Leaders from each group then read-out and post their responses on another board.  The facilitator then asks further challenge questions (e.g. “what do we need as a marketing department to be able to action all of these changes?”), highlights conflicting responses and prioritizes specific actions with the group.


3. What can I personally do (tomorrow) to get started?

“But what does this all mean to me?!”  This is the question that will be swimming through the heads of every participant throughout the exercise, if not the entire session.  At this point, you are able to shift from the bigger picture to small individual actions.  To do so, use a Commitment Board exercise and have participants record the actions that they can do to support these larger shifts within their marketing department.  This is best done individually, with each participant taking 5 minutes to write down a few actions that they can take in the short-term, in their current role and within their day-to-day tasks.  Participants then read out their actions, and take their cards with them for reference.  The facilitator then concludes the 3-part exercise by showing how individual actions ladder up to higher-level digital transformation goals for the organization.

Digital transformation is such an ambiguous term, that many marketers are unclear (or threatened by) what it actually means to them and the work they do every day.  Digital training can not only play a big role in helping people understand what the term means to the marketing department, but can also leave participants inspired by what they can do to make it happen.

McDigital Bootcamp

Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of providing in-house digital marketing training to the McDonald’s Canada marketing team.  It has been a fantastic experience, in large part because McDonald’s Canada is already such a strong digital marketer and is recognized as such.  Working with the esteemed Digital Team to develop the curriculum reinforced to me just how important it is for organizations to continue to invest in great people, as well as training to keep raising the bar.  Given the importance of digital marketing training today, I thought I would share some tips based on my ‘McDigital Bootcamp’ experience that you may consider when planning training within your organizations.


Include Participants from Different Departments

As marketing is becoming more digital and complex, organizations require greater collaboration among a larger number of departments and agencies.  Providing training to people across a wider range of these groups (vs. only a single department) can make this collaboration more effective as more people can start to share common concepts, tools, and language.  Including folks from key ‘non-marketing’ roles like Legal, Regulatory, and IT can help spark new ideas as well as gel relationships and new ways of working.  Bringing both client and agency representation into the same training program can also help communication and lead to creating better work faster.  As a former colleague of mine use to say, “it takes a village to get digital”.


Explore Different but Relatable Industry Examples

When designing curriculum and exercises for your digital marketing training program, it is important to include lessons and case studies that extend beyond your own industry and current set of challenges.  When the material focuses too closely to your day-to-day reality, it can be difficult for participants to think beyond current constraints (real and imagined) and shake-off limiting groupthink.  Incorporating out-of-category examples for group activities gives participants more permission to think freely and laterally, to explore how approaches from other categories can be applied to your organization.


Extend Training Beyond the Classroom

One of the benefits of the McDigital Bootcamp was that it was delivered in 6 separate sessions over 6 successive weeks.  This structure allowed us to take advantage of the time in between the sessions by sharing links, readings, and micro-homework assignments in a way that a single day session cannot.  Incorporating space between sessions also allows participants to apply in-class learnings throughout the program, and come armed to their next session with new questions and a more informed perspective.  On an inter-personal level, this structure also allows the group—particularly those intimidated by digital—to get more comfortable over time and ask questions in a ‘safe place’. 


Showcase Your Digital Marketing People & Plans

In 2017, all organizations have marketing team members with digital marketing responsibilities—even if this is not reflected in their official titles.  In-house digital marketing training programs provide a great platform for ‘Digital Teams’ to introduce their plans to the broader organization in a more broad and strategic context.  Including internal digital marketers into your training program also allows you to connect the more academic aspects of the training curriculum to the reality of what is happening and planned for your organization.  Internal digital marketers can also use digital training programs to introduce some of their key priorities to their colleagues in a more grounded and motivating way.


Focus on Changing Individual Behaviours

The most important part of planning a training initiative is to first identify the specific goals for the program itself.  These goals need to drive the design of the curriculum, the exercises, and the job transfer tools to create the desired impact.  One aspect to consider for your training initiative is to enable participants to reflect on how they will change their own behaviour in their day-to-day jobs after the program is completed.  Providing a concluding exercise designed to let participants reflect on the lessons of the program and to identify the changes they will personally make can be a powerful way to affirm commitment and see immediate results.


Finally, thanks very much to the awesome people at McDonald’s Canada for the opportunity to take this learning journey with them.  As we continue to collaborate together, I can sincerely say that I’m lovin it (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Bootcamp Blog-Post-Mortem

Last week, we hosted our fourth Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp in Toronto.  We were fortunate to have another sold-out event, with a fantastic mix of marketers and strategists from agencies, brands, non-profits, and start-ups.  The secret sauce of the Bootcamp really is the free exchange of questions, learnings, and ideas from conversations among the participants.  This time, we had some rich dialogue around the role of social (engagement vs. reach) the value of measuring engagement (worthwhile vs. worthless), and the right budgeting mix (media vs. production).  It was a super-smart group, and we learned a lot from each other.  As always, post-event participant surveys are posted online and unfiltered here.


One area that we change for every Bootcamp is the group exercises.  My goal is to ensure that participants find our training to be actionable and directly applicable to their day-to-day roles; the group exercises work to make this job-transfer possible. For this event, we focused the group exercises on using different strategic frames to explore various digital marketing opportunities:

  • Needs: How to develop service-oriented solutions by addressing key customer needs, challenges, and annoyances.
  • Moments:  How to develop direct-targeted communication by identifying meaningful and impactful moments for customers.
  • Intelligence: How to develop more creative and relevant messaging by using different facets of customer data.

It was powerful for participants to see how different frames can lead to different thinking and solutions, even when used for the same marketing brief.  It was also rewarding to overhear a few mentions of “I’m totally stealing this for my next meeting!”

Digital Bootcamp Exercises

One area that I do not change for every Bootcamp is the Dragon Den’s-style client brief at the end of the day.  It’s an effective way for participants to put the concepts and ideas discussed throughout the day into action, and it’s a fun way to end the event.  For this event, we were lucky to have the awesome Jon Chiriboga from McDonald’s Canada in as our surprise guest client.  He provided the participants with several different ‘McBriefs’, and helped guide the groups to new digital marketing strategy solutions.  Jon then had the unenviable task of selecting a winning solution from among a number of creative and smart responses.  Gift cards for the winning team, free Big Macs for everyone else (beat that Dragon’s Den!)

McDonalds Canada Brief

Thank you to everyone who attended the session, and to Jon for taking the time out of his busy schedule to help out.  And thank you again to those who continue to support and spread the good word about our Bootcamp events and digital marketing training services.  If you’re interested in attending a future Bootcamp or putting on in-house training event for your company, please reach out—we’d love to hear from you.