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.

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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. 

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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 :-)  

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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. 

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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. 

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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).

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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:

 

1. LADDERING UP TO A BUSINESS GOAL

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.      

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2. SUPPORTING AN OVERALL VALUE PROPOSITION

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.

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3. ALIGNING WITH A CUSTOMER JOURNEY

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.

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4. SEQUENCING STEPS OVER TIME

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.

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5. EVOLVING FROM CURRENT TO FUTURE STATE

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Taking a Stand

“If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.”  - Bill Bernbach
 
Over the last few years, the debate surrounding if and how brands should engage in news and politics has intensified.  While some brands have a long history of advocacy, many more are now asking themselves (or are being asked by their customers and press) if they need to pick a side.  A number of factors are working together to make this a high-priority discussion topic in marketing boardrooms today:

  • Culture: More hostile and politically-charged, with greater polarization between groups
  • Media: More 24/7 news stories that are clearly opinion-based, with a shorter shelf-life
  • Brands: More marketers embracing and activating purpose-driven strategies for their brands
  • Social: More people sharing their own beliefs and affiliations within their social graphs
  • Advertising: More brands posting real-time cultural content through their social platforms
Examples of Brands Taking a Stand

For marketers trying to ‘become part of culture’ and ‘create relevant connections’ with customers, the prospect of using a brand and its social channels to jump on a political issue or piece of fake-or-real news can be enticing.  After all, doing so successfully may increase positive exposure with fans (at a low cost), differentiate brand values from competitors, and make the brand (and marketer) seem more modern and on-trend.  However, the practices of ‘news-jacking’ can backfire badly if the marketer is viewed as hypocritical, inauthentic, tone-deaf, or overly attention-seeking.  In such cases, the cost may be negative PR, employee backlash, and customer boycotts.
 
So is the benefit of engaging in news and politics worth the risk?
It depends (sorry, I am a strategist).  There are a number of factors that marketers need to consider to answer this question for their own brands.  The following framework outlines some key strategic questions to help guide your discussions and decision-making.  If you answer 'No' to any of these questions, it may be prudent to stand down.  Answer ‘Yes’ and it may be a new opportunity for your brand to utilize social media and take a stand.

Discussion Framework For Your Brand & The News

More, Better Questions

Lately I have been working with a number of organizations that are taking a fresh look at their strategic planning tools, particularly their marketing briefs.  These organizations are examining the impact of digital media and technology on their own processes for defining, documenting, and sharing marketing briefs with their agencies and teams.  Plenty of pieces have been written about briefs: how they are essentially the same, how briefs need to evolve in a digital world, how briefs need to become more social, more experiential….or might not be necessary at all.  Brand strategy, channel planning, service design, and business models are all clashing into each other these days, which makes conventional planning processes and tools feel less relevant and complete at times. 

 

In helping organizations solve this puzzle, I have become borderline-obsessed with the power of questions.  Specifically, what the question is and how it is asked. I have come across a few things lately that have really inspired me, and made me start to question my own questions.

 

A More Propelling Question

A Beautiful Constraint is a fantastic book by the folks from eatbigfish.  Their thesis is that a constraint should not be considered a limitation, but rather a stimulus for finding a better way to do something.  The book outlines a clear methodology to identify and link a Bold Ambition with a Significant Constraint to create what they term a ‘Propelling Question’.

Source: http://www.abeautifulconstraint.com/

“It is called a propelling question because the presence of those two different elements together in the same question does not allow it to be answered in the way we have answered previous questions; it propels us off the path on which we have become dependent.”

 

The authors use an example from car racing.  When a Chief Engineer from Audi gave directions to his team to prepare a car for the famous 24-hour Le Mans race, he did not focus on the obvious question of “how can we build a faster car?”  Instead, he asked the propelling question of “how could we win if our car could go no faster than anyone else’s?”  This question forced his team to think in a new way, and they focused on fuel efficiency rather than speed.  Audi ended up winning the race for the next 3 years because their car did not have to make as many pit stops.

 

A More Magnetic Question

Neil from Brightworks was kind enough to invite me to his fantastic Innovation Day last week, where he had Eric Beynon from the Sustainable Growth Company speaking.  Eric is behind the famous Carbon XPRIZE competition that awards $20M for an innovation that helps to tackle climate change.  He explained that one of the keys to motivating people to enter a large R&D contest (beyond awarding $20M!) is to frame a challenge question in a way that massively piques curiosity.  In the case of the Carbon XPRIZE, this meant not posing a general challenge focused on the familiar goal of “reducing climate change”.  Instead, he reframed the question to be much more clear and provocative: “How can carbon dioxide be turned from a liability into an asset?”  I’m sure the answer is not simple, but understanding the question is.  The response to this question has been phenomenal, and 27 teams were recently selected to proceed to the second round.  According to Eric: “a good question is like a magnet.”

 

A More Beautiful Question

How can you create a propelling or magnetic question if you are penalized for even asking one?  Warren Berger explores this challenge in depth in his book A More Beautiful Question.  It is a fascinating study of the power of inquiry to spark ideas, and the challenges facing those who dare to ask big questions.  The book describes how traditional schooling discourages students from asking questions, and instead focuses on enabling the ‘right answers’. 

Source: http://amorebeautifulquestion.com/

Businesses then in turn discourage big questions by being focused on “the doing”, and viewing big questions (usually starting with WHY) as a potential disruption to efficiency.  Worse is the trap of “the knowing”, and the culture of assuming that all answers have already been discovered.  Asking big questions requires stepping back from both “the doing” and “the knowing”, and it can take brains and guts.  I love this quote from an IDEO Creative Director on how he breaks through these barriers:

“I position myself as a relentless idiot at IDEO.  And that is not a negative, it’s a positive.  Because being comfortable with now knowing—that’s the first part of being able to question”.

 

It is a great time for marketers to step back and re-examine their own strategic planning processes and tools.  In doing so, it is important not to become distracted by the digital technologies that can lead to new creative solutions.  It is more important to focus on how to better identify and frame the underlying strategic questions that these technologies may help to answer. 

Trending: Digital Disruption & Non-Profits

I recently had the pleasure of working with an organization that I support and greatly admire: WWF Canada.  The mission of WWF Canada is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.  The organization is led by David Miller (environmental leader, former Mayor of Toronto, and die-hard TFC fan!) who oversees a number of offices and initiatives all across the country.  WWF Canada has active support from over 150,000 Canadians and contributes millions of dollars each year towards invaluable conservation work.

 

Non-profits like WWF Canada are facing a number of new challenges and opportunities due to ongoing changes in digital media and technology.  The rise of crowd-funding, mobile giving, social media activism (among other trends) have forced organizations to re-examine long-held practices for recruiting donors, raising funds, and sharing results.  My work with WWF Canada focused on examining these trends, and determining how to best utilize digital channels to maximize fundraising efforts.  The following is a Trends Matrix that synthesizes some of my initial research work.  It is a simple framework to summarize insights from different categories (vertical axis) across a time-horizon (horizontal axis).  I find it to be a useful tool for recognizing patterns, speculating on future developments, and brainstorming new opportunities.

As you can see from the Trend Matrix, there are a number of different ways in which digital media and technology are impacting how non-profits need to operate in 2017 and beyond.  And I can tell you that the fantastic team at WWF Canada is well-placed to take advantage of these emerging opportunities.  You can find out more about WWF Canada (or even better, donate!) here.

Bootcamp Recap: 3 Great Group Exercises

Last week we hosted our third Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp in Toronto.  Like our previous events, the Bootcamp was sold-out and attended by a fantastic mix of folks from client-side marketing departments, agency account/planning teams, and freelance/start-ups.  Having such a diverse group of participants makes the day so much more enjoyable and valuable, particularly for the group exercises.  This aspect is mentioned often by participants in their post-event surveys, which I proudly post online and unfiltered here.

 

For this past event, we incorporated three different exercises for participants to apply the curriculum and to learn from each other.  I was very pleased with how the exercises worked out, as we had great engagement and some terrific ideas.  Below is a snapshot of the exercises that were used, some of which you may want to consider incorporating into your own organizations and project work.

 

Exercise 1: Customer Problems

The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate how focusing on a specific customer problem can lead to new types of service solutions that are enabled by technology.  Participants are split into groups and assigned different brands, customer personas, and contextual goals.  They are then instructed to identify a specific problem to solve—something that this persona finds particularly challenging or annoying in achieving their goal.  Participants then invent, sketch, and name a new digital service to address this narrow and tightly defined problem.  This exercise reinforces the importance of designing solutions based on real (and often overlooked) customer problems, and exploring functional service solutions (as opposed to strictly communication ideas).  Based on a few of the participant sketches below, it also gives marketers a newfound appreciation for UX designers :-)

Exercise 2: Customer Moments

The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate how exploring a customer’s journey to accomplish a goal can lead to new moments for engagement.  Participants are again given brands, personas, and contextual goals and are instructed to explore what is happening before, during, and after a particular event.  They then focus in on key moments where there may be an opportunity to reduce a point of friction or introduce a new moment of delight.  Participants then determine how digital technology/media may be used to address this moment, by identifying the opportunity, the tactic, and the appropriate digital channel.  This exercise highlights the opportunities that marketers have to engage with customers in new ways at different (and often overlooked) moments over time and the possibilities of connecting different tactics and touchpoints more elegantly.  Filling in Opportunity Cards also stimulates a valuable discussion among participants to select the most appropriate set of digital activation channels.

Exercise 3: Client Objectives

My favourite group exercise comes at the end of the day (coinciding with the serving of cocktails!) is when our ‘guest client’ arrives.  This exercise is focused on having participants put all of the lessons of the day to use in order to solve a set of real-world marketing challenges. This time we had the awesome Carey Suleiman from WWF Canada as our client.  She inspired all of us with an overview of the great work that WWF Canada is doing and introduced the various marketing briefs.  After each team developed and presented solutions, Carey had the unenviable task of selecting a winner among some very innovative ideas, and awarding a prize (hello symbolically adopted animal plushies!)  Often when I conduct in-house training for clients, I will develop exercises based on brands outside of their own category.  It can be a great way to unshackle participant thinking, and explore new solutions.  We then have the opportunity to reflect back on how this new thinking can be applied back to their own brands and challenges—often with surprising relevancy.

Thank you again for all of those who attended the Bootcamp.  None of these exercises would have worked had it not been for your enthusiasm and teamwork!  For those interested in possibly attending a future event, I am currently scheduling a few more 2017 dates and will announce the details shortly.