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’.


“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’. 


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.

Digital Strategy Challenge Questions

Am I even asking the right questions? 


A situation that I often come across when speaking with senior marketers is that they often feel unclear and/or unconfident in developing their digital marketing programs.  Since senior marketers are typically responsible for overseeing all aspects of their integrated marketing programs (among many other things), they do not have the time to get into the weeds and contribute heavily towards the different digital aspects of their marketing programs.  This lack of bandwidth, combined with a lack of regular exposure to new technology and trends can limit senior marketers.  Often, they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of (a) accepting the direction of their agencies/teams without challenge or (b) challenging digital marketing decisions without confidence. 


A large part of the training that I provide is to equip such marketers with a greater level of competence and confidence in guiding their digital marketing strategies.  One transfer tool that I often use to in this area is a list of ‘Challenger Questions’.  These are strategic questions that senior marketers may ask their teams and/or agencies when developing a digital strategy.  The answers back should be clear and sound.  Digital Strategists may also ask themselves these questions, to ensure that their recommendations are complete and defensible (before their clients ask them first).  The following is a synthesis of a few Challenger Questions, some of which are focused on specific facets of digital marketing and others that are of a higher-order.



Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp: Recap

On October 20th, we hosted our second Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp in Toronto.  Despite a rainy day (preceded by the Blue Jays being eliminated the night before), we welcomed a particularly sunny group of 25 marketers to the sold-out event.  It turned out to be a really fun day that included smart discussions, great networking, and lots of fresh ideas.  Our yummy lunch at Pizza Libretto and the afternoon cocktails didn’t hurt, either.

The Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp is designed to provide agency and client-side marketers with a greater level of confidence and competence in the area of digital marketing strategy.  A significant portion of the curriculum includes strategic principles and strategic planning frameworks.  During the session, we reviewed how different principles and frameworks applied to well-known real-world examples.  By deconstructing these successful digital marketing programs as case studies, the group was better able to apply these tools into their own work.

The event is designed to be very interactive, as we always include a number of group activities throughout the day to apply the strategic principles and planning frameworks.  I am a big believer in getting people out of their seats and working together, as it gives everyone the opportunity to learn from each other and reinforces the need to work collaboratively to build marketing programs today.  The activities for this event focused broadly on customer-centric design, and we utilized personas created for the groups based on their own favourite brands.  From these personas, we were able to explore digital marketing opportunities based on both customer needs and customer moments.

To end the day, we again brought in a surprise ‘guest client’ for the class to work with in true Dragon’s Den-style.  Our client this time was the Toronto Symphony Orchestra!  Our awesome guests David Postill and Morag Johnson distributed a number of strategic briefs for the different groups to solve, using the lessons from the day.  David and Morag then had the unenviable challenge of judging the responses, and awarding a prize to the winner.  Luckily for all participants, our friends from the TSO channelled their inner Oprah Winfrey and gave everyone a free pair of tickets for an upcoming show. 

Overall, I was really pleased with the session and based on the post-event surveys the participants did as well.  On that note, I have decided to take my own advice and embrace the principle of transparency in marketing.  Going forward, I will be posting all of the post-event surveys that I receive online and unfiltered for anyone to see (you can access them here).  I know that marketers today have limited time and dollars for professional development and there are plenty of training options.  Hopefully by providing these ratings and comments by former participants will help folks make a more confident and informed decision. 

Finally, thanks again for everyone who attended the event—I loved your enthusiasm, ideas, and having the opportunity to meet you all. For those that have asked, I am planning another Bootcamp for early 2017 in Toronto and in Vancouver.  More on that later.  For now, thank you again for making this past event such a success.

Making Friends and Keeping Your First Job in Planning

There is a wonderful event taking place on October 21st-27th in Toronto called The Griffin Farley Search for Beautiful Minds.  The event is named after a Strategy Director who dedicated much of his time to helping aspiring planners, and died in 2013 of mesothelioma.  The event started in New York, and local planning wunderkind Margarita Marshall brought it to Toronto last year.  It is a great opportunity for young planners to network and practice their craft with the help of mentors, speakers, judges, and peers.  I love how this event honours someone who valued giving back, by providing a vehicle for others to do the same.


In the spirit of this event, I thought that I would share some perspective for young planners starting out in their first jobs (adding to my growing list of posts that I should tag “things I learned 10 years too late”). While good young planners all focus on trying to create strong insights and strategies, many do not focus enough—or in the right way—on how they relate to others in their agencies that they work with.


In a typical agency environment, a planner’s life is influenced (if not completely and absolutely controlled) by 3 different people: Account Directors, Creative Directors, and Planning Directors.  Many young planners relate to these different roles in ways that actually limit them in terms of what they are able to achieve and how they are perceived within their agencies.  Planners can be more successful if they can figuratively (and as seen below, illustratively) turn these relationships to be more mutually beneficial.

Creative Director

Creative Directors are under a great deal of pressure.  They are not only considered responsible for the creative output for their clients, but also for the creative reputation of their agencies (not to mention their own careers).  As a result, many agencies are structured, at least informally, so that everyone and everything services the creative idea.  For junior planners starting out, this can easily be interpreted as everyone and everything serves the Creative Director.  The trap here is to consider the Creative Director and their teams as The Client, which results in a barrier being placed between Planning and Creative.  This leads young planners to focus solely on building a polished insights deck to be handed off to the Creative Team or a single strategy set-up slide for a client creative presentation, with no meaningful collaboration.


As a young planner, you should reframe your relationship with Creative teams to be a Partnership.  You involve them in the development of insights and the brief, and you get involved in the ideation and refinement of creative ideas.  While establishing this partnership may be challenging and stressful in some agencies with tribe mentalities and rigid ways of working, it should nevertheless be your ambition.  Reframing your relationship with Creative Directors from the Client to a Partner will provide you with:

  • A better understanding of how your planning work can be most valuable and actionable for creative teams (by seeing how it is used, or ignored)
  • The ability to create stronger work through more critical feedback from Creative Directors (who are often very strong Planners)
  • The opportunity to become more connected to the work itself, and the overall success of the agency


Account Director

Account Directors have the most thankless job in an agency.  Everyday they are on the frontlines trying to balance how to make clients happy, make the agency money, create great work, lead account teams, pitch new prospects, and meet deadlines.  Since great Account Directors can balance all of this and more, internal teams constantly turn to them for answers and fixes for seemingly everything.  Seeing this, junior planners often consider Account Directors as their Guides and pepper them with a flood of clever questions (often in the form of carefully crafted 500-word emails) everyday and for every assignment.  This all makes a hard job even harder.


Instead of considering Account Directors as Guides, consider them your Clients.  Make it your job to make their lives easier, as their success is ultimately your success.  Find out what they need (not just what they ask for), how they like to work (not just what everyone else does), and what their personal goals are for their clients (not just project deadlines).  Earn their trust, meet your commitments, and genuinely help them succeed.  Reframing your relationships with Account Directors from a Guide to a Client will:

  • Create demand for your services, after all Account Directors are the ones ‘buying’ your time for their client work (and you need to keep busy)
  • Build your reputation, as Account Directors are influential figures in providing feedback and shaping how you are perceived in the agency
  • Provide you with important presentation opportunities to practice your front-of-the-room skills, as they control access to their clients


Planning Director

Now take this one with a grain of salt (or a spoonful, like everything else I write), but framing your relationship with your boss is critical and tricky.  Planning Directors in agencies often end up wearing a lot of different hats, but at the core of what they do is solve problems.  This can be through developing insights from research, facilitating opportunities through workshops, or creating POVs and strategic recommendations.  The trap here for young planners is to consider Planning Directors as Partners, as many are collaborative and are there to support their staff.  The result is that Planning Directors end up solving the problems that their young planners are working on, and are ultimately responsible for.


As a young planner, you should reframe your relationship with your Planning Director from a Partner to a Guide.  Utilize the experience of your Planning Director to help them direct your work, without making it their task to complete.  Arrive at your meetings with a draft for your Director to review (not a blank sheet), and pointed questions that you want their specific direction on.  Then leave, and do the work yourself.  Reframing your relationship with your Planning Director as a Guide is critical as it:

  • Ensures that you actually do the work and learn, as opposed to shifting responsibility to a ‘Partner’—cheating yourself out of the opportunity to solve the problem
  • Creates a more productive working relationship with your Planning Director, who is now able to focus on providing direction without the frustration of doing junior-level work
  • Builds your reputation as someone who loves to solve problems, which is what your Planning Director is looking for in the first place


So to you young planners with your Beautiful Minds, I hope this all makes some sense and serves you well.  I look forward to meeting a few of you at the event later this month.

Five Fave Frameworks

“It’s not about the boxes, it’s how you fill them in.”


I still remember this quote from a conversation I had with a colleague about strategic planning and using frameworks and facilitation tools.  While there is no replacing strong strategic acumen and rigor, having the right boxes to start with certainly helps.  Throughout my career, I have used a variety of different planning frameworks to structure how to approach a particular problem and to present solutions.  I have used a number of my own, many of which I have published here on my blog or in my newsletter.  I have also used a number of other frameworks that many great marketers, strategists, and professors have shared through their own publications.  Below are five of my favourites. 


I am a big fan of Strategyzer and their books Business Model Generation and Value Proposition Design.  While they are best known for their Business Model Canvas, Strategyzer publishes a number of other planning tools that are very useful.  One is a simple set of cards that help marketers or product owners to effectively run tests. The Test Card and the subsequent Learning Card are great tools that force people to take the time to codify what they want to achieve in a test, and how the resulting learnings will be used constructively going forward. 

Another tool that Strategyzer has in the Value Proposition Design book appears simple, but is powerful (like all good frameworks, really).  It takes an ad-lib format and forces those developing a new product or service to very specifically and succinctly articulate its value proposition.  As a planning tool, it really cuts to the core and removes the linguistic-fluff that so often surrounds and clouds defining a new proposition.


Gamestorming is a book from Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo that is chock-full of exercises that facilitators can use across a number of different areas.  I picked Gamestorming up 5 years ago, and I still refer to it often when I’m considering how to structure workshops.  In addition to the 100+ exercises outlined, the book does a great job of explaining how to structure a collaborative session that diverges and converges.  I often refer to Dave Gray’s great illustration of this approach when communicating a plan for a workshop with a team.

101 Design Methods from Vijay Kumar is a fantastic resource for exploring different tools focused on the broad practice of innovation.  Like Gamestorming, it is a great resource to turn to for a skim in order to find that perfect tool for the planning job.  Here is a simple one that I have found really useful in framing trend research and analysis.  While much of my work focuses on digital trends, having a broader canvas to explore different aspects affecting a client’s business can be really useful and clear way to summarize research. 


The best book that I have read on how the discipline of CRM is evolving with the changing digital media landscape is Managing the New Customer Relationship by Ian Gordon.  One metaphor that Gordon uses is a Relationship Ladder, and he explores how marketers can move different customers into higher value segments (or rungs).  He captures this in a framework that focuses on what exactly makes a segment more valuable, including attributes which are not necessarily traditional or transactional in nature.

Well, those are a few of my favourites.  If you are interested in any of them, I highly recommend picking up the books as I am not really doing them justice in this post.  If you have any go-to frameworks or 'sets of boxes' that you use, I'd love to hear about them.

Kickframe Goes To The Movies

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of providing in-house digital marketing training for the amazing folks at TIFF.  As a film nerd growing up in Toronto, this was a huge thrill for me.  I love picking my films for the Festival every year and spending time hanging around the Lightbox.  It was also thrilling for me to work with TIFF as a digital marketing nerd.  The organization has built TIFF into a strong and well-respected international brand, and is also a savvy digital marketer.  The content that they share through their digital platforms and social channels is very impressive (and addictive), see for yourself here.


One of the reasons that I was invited to TIFF was to talk about how brands can better integrate digital tactics more effectively within their overall marketing plans.  Many organizations find it challenging to ensure that all of their digital content, platforms, and activities (not to mention people and investments) are working together cohesively and align with a larger marketing strategy.  This challenge is compounded as digital touchpoints grow, marketing priorities change, and ownership of “digital” begins to be shared across the marketing organization.


There are a number of facets to tackling this challenge, but a good place to start is by ensuring that everyone is looking at digital marketing in the same way.  Investing the time to train teams to use common frameworks and terminology when planning digital marketing can dramatically improve communication and results.  Here is a simple slide that I used to propose how digital can be placed within a larger marketing context. 

It illustrates how digital marketing strategy must serve an overall marketing goal and strategy.  It also demonstrates how an effective digital strategy must provide structure for organizing tactics and measuring results.  Often these basic frameworks help to provide clear and common grounding for marketers to ‘connect the dots’ in digital and beyond.

Escaping the Digital Ghetto

At the beginning of all of my digital marketing training sessions, I ask participants to share why they enrolled in the first place.  The majority of students come from marketing positions and choose to attend as a way to advance their careers on a more digital trajectory.  However, there are some students that come from digital production backgrounds and are taking the session as a way to move into more strategic marketing roles without ‘digital’ necessarily in the title.  As one such student recently explained: “I’m taking this class to try and escape the digital ghetto”.

Now as someone who has spent many years working with/in “digital ghettos” (and looks forward to many more), I find this characterization extreme, but understand the point.  Breaking into more strategic and integrated marketing roles can be a challenge for someone with solely a digital production background.  Training can help, but there are a number of other important steps to take.  Over my career I have seen a number of colleagues successfully transition from tactical digital roles to increasingly senior integrated marketing positions.  Here are a few things that these folks had in common that helped them in their “escape”.


Become a bridge for integrated marketing

I once worked with a Digital Project Manager in an integrated agency that was passionate and knowledgeable about process and delivery.  She worked closely with other disciplines on integrated assignments and really shone through her collaborative approach that focused on the big picture, while artfully introducing new ways of working from her software development background (e.g. sprints, stand-ups, bug tracking, and other tricks of the trade from the “digital ghetto”).  She quickly earned the trust and respect of all of her colleagues, and is now the Head of Integrated Production.


A key challenge that continues to fester for many marketing organizations today is the ongoing schism between marketing teams and digital departments.  Many marketers view digital teams as “technology doers”, while many digital team members view marketers as neophytes that “don’t get digital”.  This messy cultural divide can actually provide you with a great opportunity to plan your escape.  As someone that knows digital production, you can be the bridge between departments and establish new ways of working and valuable relationships along the way.  Doing so will also allow you to demonstrate how your digital production experience, skills, and ways of working can transfer and benefit an integrated marketing context.  You can also help your marketing colleagues “get it” and learn something valuable, too. 


Create your path and fill the gaps

When I was running a Digital Strategy Department I hired a new Digital Analyst straight out of school.  While he was quickly learning the digital ropes, he made it clear that he would like to ultimately be involved in broader brand planning work.  Together we worked out a plan that, among other things, included him going back to school to take a non-digital marketing course on his own time over an 18-month period.  He completed the course, continued to develop his strategic chops, and is now a Planner at a leading integrated agency with a very bright future ahead.


Like any other goal, successful career planning starts with the end in mind.  Once this is clear, you need to honestly and objectively identify what you need to advance.  There will be gaps.  What experience do you lack?  What training do you need?  What relationships will help along the way?  Book meetings with people who have the job you want and get their advice.  Speak openly and constructively with your manager to understand how they will support you in transitioning from a digital production position to a new more strategic integrated marketing role, as this may be a new path.  Look elsewhere if they won’t. 


Always start with the business context

One of my all-time favourite creative collaborators started as a copywriter for digital advertising, but you would never know it from your briefings with him.  He was laser-sharp in his strategic questions and challenged any ambiguous or weak points in any briefing material.  Clearly, if he was going to invest his time in developing a solution, he needed to first clearly understand the challenge (he kept Planners up at night).  Senior managers across the agency took notice, and he quickly moved up the ranks to become an SVP/Creative Director at a large integrated agency.


If you want to be viewed as someone who is capable of contributing to marketing strategy, always begin your conversations, briefings, and planning meetings for digital assignments by focusing first on what the business is ultimately trying to accomplish.  Don’t rush to scope, timing, budget, or panic about executional details—this will place you firmly in the ‘doer’ box.  Take the time to demonstrate your appreciation and understanding for the business context for the project, and work down to the solution from there.  Your senior marketing colleagues will also take notice.


Friend, I wish you the best of luck with your escape.  Remember that you are always welcome back here with me, in the “digital ghetto”.

Presentation @ Service Design Toronto

A few months ago, Linn and Elina from Service Design Toronto invited me to give a talk at one of their great events.  Service Design is a fascinating field that shares plenty with the disciplines of User Experience and Customer Experience Design.  If you are interested in more background on how these fields relate, or just enjoy a good ‘ol messy Venn Diagram check out this Forrester post.

The focus of my presentation was on how to use customer experience mapping to identify insights that can lead to digital marketing opportunities, among other things.  I used my work with the TSO as a case study—an organization that is receiving well-deserved praise of late for truly embracing a digital-first approach to marketing.  I presented this work along with a few of my awesome collaborators on this project, Alex Grunwald and Rob Tilley.  It was a lot of fun.  If you’re interested in this type of thing, follow @servicedesignTO to find out about their next event and / or tap through our presentation below.



Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp: Recap

On May 12th, I hosted The Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp in Toronto.  After spending 5 years providing training directly to in-house clients, this marked the first time that I opened up a session to the public and managed all aspects of the experience.  The event was hosted at Brightlane, along with a delicious lunch excursion to Pizza Libretto next door.  I am pleased to report that it was a success on all fronts (and I have the exit survey results to prove it :-)

Thanks largely to positive word-of-mouth (from people like you, dear readers), I was able to sell-out the event and have 25 passionate, smart, and engaged marketers in attendance.  Together, we worked through a mix of content and interactive exercises designed to increase our collective confidence and competence in digital marketing strategy.  At the end of the day, groups applied the curriculum by solving a digital strategy brief from a “real client”.  Palak Dave and Malcolm Gilderdale from TIFF attended the session (coincidentally around the time cocktails were being served), distributed the TIFF briefs, and chose the winner.  It was an awesome group, and a fun day.

One of the aspects that I find valuable when facilitating training with a larger group from different organizations is the in-class discussion.  It is always fascinating to hear what different people are working on, interested in, and struggling with.  It is also a great opportunity for fellow marketers to learn from each other and to share.  There were a few key topics that bubbled up for the class that generated some great discussion:

  • Content.  How do marketers produce enough high-quality, on-brand, impactful content to fuel marketing programs?  A few client-side marketers discussed the benefits from partnerships and creating new positions for full-time in-house editors.
  • Organization: How do marketing departments best organize to deliver stronger digital marketing programs?  Many discussed hybrid models that focused more on alignment and communication, and less on channel ownership.
  • Measurement: How can marketers best measure the results from investments in social media marketing?   A few folks responsible for social media spoke about the importance of educating senior management and mapping measures to larger marketing goals.

Finally, thank you to everyone who helped me shape the event and supported me along the way.  Your advice, LinkedIn shares, referrals, and words of encouragement meant a lot to me and made for a better event.  For those that have asked, I am planning another Bootcamp for the Fall.  More on that later.  For now, thank you again for making this past event such a success.

In-Store Digital Experience Design

I recently had the opportunity to work on an assignment for a large retailer that focused on bringing new digital services into physical store locations.  This is a significant area of focus for retailers today as they try to meet the ever-changing shopping habits and expectations of connected customers. While I have worked with a number of retail clients, most of my assignments have involved a mix of digital marketing and e-commerce—increasing customer traffic to stores and transactions online.  This was the first time (for me) where the focus was exclusively on the in-store physical environment, and it was a really interesting challenge.

As part of this assignment, I came to appreciate a number of specific nuances to designing in-store digital experiences that I thought I’d share:

  • It can never really be just about the store.  So much is done by customers through digital channels before and after visiting a physical store. It is important to understand these larger cross-channel patterns and design in-store experiences to fit within them.
  • Never let technology get in the way.  It is critical to respect what customers appreciate about in-store shopping today, and not introduce friction into their experience.  This goes double for the in-store staff and management who need to support any new service. 
  • Great experiences can never stand-alone.  In-store digital services need to provide a unique proposition that integrate with other related channels and services.  It is crucial to not only understand how to integrate with retailer technology, but also how to potentially integrate with customer-owned technology like mobile devices and wearables.

Over the course of this assignment, I sketched out a framework that helped me get my head around many of the important dimensions to in-store digital experience design.  I wish I had this at the start of my project, hopefully you will find it useful at the start of yours.

Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp

I have some exciting news to share: I will be hosting my first Kickframe training event!  Over the past 5 years, I have designed and delivered hundreds of hours of training for a number of clients and on behalf of marketing organizations.  This time, I will be overseeing the training experience entirely and opening it up to any interested participant.  The Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp will take place over a full day on May 12th in Toronto.

Designing the session has been a fantastic process.  I have incorporated a number of elements that I know from past experience work really, really well.  I have also tried to design the overall experience to be refreshing for participants, by addressing a lot of the things that I find frustrating or underwhelming from typical training courses.  Specifically, the Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp has been designed to be:

  • Interactive: the format will be live and in-person with a high degree of participation from everyone, to encourage shared learning and professional networking.
  • Strategic: the training materials are based on strategic marketing principles, rather than starting from the latest digital tactic or digital buzzword.
  • Actionable: the guidance and tools provided are practical for marketers, and the session will involve participants working together on a brief from a visiting guest ‘client’. 

Finally, the session is designed to be really enjoyable—with no cold sandwiches or stale coffee served on a boardroom table.  If you are spending a full-day at a Kickframe event, it is important to me that you feel that it is a great investment (hence the 100% satisfaction guarantee).

The detailed course description and enrolment form can be found under my fancy new Events tab or my Eventbrite Page. If you know anyone interested in increasing their Digital Marketing Strategy IQ, please share.  And if you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I hope to see some of you there!

Do We Need Digital Strategists in a Post-Digital World?

Over the past few years, there has been a debate in industry circles about entering into a post-digital age in marketing.  I hesitate to call it a debate, since I have actually never heard anyone argue that digital and ‘traditional’ marketing should be kept entirely separate from each other.  What I have heard, amidst much industry navel-gazing about job titles and terminology, is a healthy discussion about how organizations can best exist and operate now that digital is interwoven into all aspects of our day-to-day lives and marketing activities.  This is where things get a lot more tangible and complicated. To help untangle the subject and the questions that arise (at least in my own mind), here is my kick at the can.


Are we truly in a post-digital marketing world?

Yes, but to quote Douglas Gibson: “The future has already arrived. It's just not evenly distributed yet.”  All client and agency leaders I know believe that marketing needs to be planned and activated in a holistic and integrated manner, but are at varying points along their journey to making it happen.  It is difficult, particularly for larger and more established organizations.  The most significant challenges that I have seen remain lack of executive-level commitment, resistance to organizational change, and lack of critical in-house skills. But it’s here, and it’s happening.  If you need more convincing, Tom Goodwin has evidence.


In this new world, does the digital department exist?

Yes, in a new form.  Marketing is both broadening to include a greater number of potential tactics and channels, and deepening to involve a greater degree of underlying technology, UX, and data analytical know-how.  Marketing organizations, now more than ever, need people who understand what is possible and how to enable effective marketing using these increasingly sophisticated tool sets and skill sets.  The new post-digital group (title TBD!) will own marketing empowerment, not marketing strategy.  The group will accomplish this through capability building, operational governance, and tactical innovation.


In this new world, will the ‘digital strategist’ exist?  

Yes, in a new form.  In our post-digital age, we will abstract out the nature of media and focus instead on the nature of solutions.  Agencies will be defined by how they solve problems, not by what they actually produce.  And to think that a single agency can do it all, given the scope and complexity of marketing today, is absurd.  The new Digital Strategist (title TBD!) will need to become both more of a generalist and more of a specialist.  A generalist in the sense that formerly Digital Strategists will need to become capable of leading or contributing to overall marketing strategy planning rather than exclusively contributing to a digital sub-set.  A specialist in the sense that Strategists will also need to become more focused on a particular area of marketing, in the same way agencies now have to do.  Strategists, particularly those starting out, will need to ‘major’ in one of 4-different areas: Services, Connections, Content, or Canvases.

Planning in the post-digital age requires strategists that are far more T-shaped, capable of crafting ‘Capital-S’ strategy while understanding how programs can be empowered by core medium-agnostic marketing disciplines.


In this new world, how do I exist?

Good question.  I will become either (1) a Post-Digital Strategist or (2) Post-Employed Digital Strategist. 

Check back soon, and see.