The purpose of the framework is to comprehensively capture the digital marketing strategy of a company, brand, product or service or a mere campaign and effectively align it towards the ultimate objective of generating a voluntary customer referral that leads to organic and unpaid customer acquisition, growth in revenue and profitability.
This framework has a simple and unique nature. It captures all the elements of a successful digital marketing enterprise and allows the strategist to understand the relationship between the elements. The purpose of this is to identify and eliminate any misalignment between the elements and make the process of generating a customer referral smooth and efficient. In a successfully executed digital marketing campaign or strategy, all the elements will complement each other and amplify the benefits of each other and at the same time, nullify the negative effects. The elements should work together to provide process enablement and product enablement that will result not only in customer engagement but also customer enchantment, the essential factor in generating the referral.
The word enchantment is relevant here since engagement is not enough anymore since the customers’ expectations from the brands are rising day by day. The result of customer enchantment is proactive customer evangelism or voluntary un-paid customer referral and brand advocacy. Of course, throughout the process, customer is made to pass through the natural cycle of Awareness, Adoption, Repeat Purchase, Retention and Loyalty and this journey is managed well within this framework.
Since this is a strategic framework, execution level details may not be covered in this note, but that doesn’t make them any less important. At this stage, it would be appropriate to take a brief look at each element and its role in the greater scheme of things, i.e. in the framework. As for detail explanation of each element, I will be posting material on each one shortly.
By no means should I claim that the framework is perfect or universally applicable but through a collective endeavour and the generosity of my readers, we may aspire to reach there.
So let’s take a look.
I am of the opinion and this has been agreed by several thought leaders in the digital marketing arena that the term “target audience” doesn’t accurately capture the personality of the customers to whom marketers want to sell their products and services to and obtain an organic referral.
Demographic information very broadly defines the customer at a superficial level and doesn’t take into account soft aspects such as likes and dislikes, experience with the brand or personal preference, opinion or behaviour. It is rather difficult to quantify the soft aspects. Better methods of audience segmentation include socialgraphics, behaviourgraphics etc.
A more effective way to capture the personality of the customer is to use the concept of ideal customer. Here marketers can build a persona based on how their customer should go about his business. For instance, where is he/she likely to be found, which website are visited, what is the online behaviour of the customer, what competitor’s brands is he exposed to, what need is he trying to fulfil, what might be his expectations etc.
Other customers resembling this ideal customer persona can be captured in the fold of target audience.
Product marketing should focus on solving a specific problem that a customer has. Whether the customer is B2C consumer or a B2B client, there is always a higher chance of purchase when the customer is looking to solve a certain problem and product or a service satisfies the need.
In this era of limited available customer attention, it is a solemn duty of the marketer to clearly articulate the solution the product or a service offers, the need it satisfies or in more general terms, the differentiation it offers.
Failure to articulate the product or service differentiation clearly in a very limited amount of time, which may practically be seconds as far as the online or digital world is concerned, is sure to cause distraction and dilution the marketing communication. In a nutshell, the online marketing communication should articulate differentiation as quickly and clearly as possible.
The marketing communication or content will have to be the most attractive part. Relevant compelling content, clearly articulated differentiation and appropriate formats go a long way in enticing the customers.
Whether it is a blog post, or a whitepaper or a viral YouTube video or a banner advertisement or a text ad, or social media message or tweet or an update on Facebook brand page, the choice of media and its content should be well aligned with the above two factors i.e. ideal customer and differentiation.
For instance, a whitepaper is better suited to demonstrating thought leadership to a corporate client as regards an evolving technology, but to entice the same customer into purchasing software, a limited time discount promoting email may be more effective. Similarly promoting a consumer product on social media website may be more engaging that running display campaign offering discount on it. Choice of content and media depend on the objectives of the campaign, the nature of product or service, nature and requirement of the customer and various other factors.
Once the ideal customer, differentiation and content/media are concretely established in alignment with the business objectives or marketing objectives, the choice of platform becomes easier.
Although multiple platforms may be used for single objectives (for instance, to solve customer problems, a toll free number and a call centre set up may be as useful as a twitter account or a website chat window) or one platform may be used to serve various objectives (for instance a blog may be used to promote products, offer discounts, engagement of customers with thought leadership material, land people on transactional or lead capture pages or address customer issues), the challenge lies in selecting the most effective and efficient platform that is best suited to a specific objective and optimising the process.
The composition of the team that runs the social marketing enterprise of a company is very different from the one that runs say accounting or costing or manufacturing operations or shipping for that matter.
In these times when almost everyone is online, it can be challenging to hire people with the right digital mind set. People are a crucial piece of the puzzle and there is rarely a margin for error here. Besides the fact that some level of technical expertise is needed, the team should have a service mentality. Customer is the reason for our being. Digital domain needs people who live online, understand technology and its evolution, adaptable, smart content creators, people who are experts in generating idea and ready to put them into action immediately.
Hubspot calls them digital citizens.
Building a social media team is as interesting as it is challenging.
As far a digital marketing concerned, it is difficult to find one agency or company that offers everything and yet is best in the business, perhaps cheapest as well.
As my fellow digital marketers would know, even isolated marketing campaign needs collaboration between client, agency, supplier, infrastructure provider etc. Usually it is the configuration of the ecosystem and how well it collaborates that defines success than one company with one great idea, however brilliant it may be. Hence, choosing who participates in the enterprise activity is crucial.
For instance, an IT service provider expert in building intranets isn’t the same as a search marketing company, expert in keyword research, although it may have search marketing services in its portfolio. I didn’t use the word “partner” here because the participating agency or provider should not only partner but also create value help in co-creating value to say the least.
This is arguably the most important part. Every marketer these days seems to be obsessed with the ROI and spends half of his time in figuring out how to measure ROI.
Usually ROI would stand for Return on Investment, but I would go a step further and call it Return on Involvement.
Investment connotes emotionless expenditure and a shareholder mentality whereas involvement encapsulates passion and ownership. Merely throwing money at the problem and expecting a percentage above the breakeven level is a parochial approach. Intangible benefits derived by a passionately advocating the brand has a longer lasting monetary value.
Having said that, it is also essential to establish how we define success in financial terms. It is essential to establish revenue drivers and cost driver and hence profit drives. Some may also want to establish contribution drivers. It is important to look at campaigns a series of steps to make the customer loyal and invest accordingly instead of thinking of short term revenues generated by one campaign.
Customer’s life time value is more important than cost of one click or impression or lead. Same is true with the cost of product or service.
Technology / Analytics
What gets measured gets done. The beauty of digital marketing precisely lies in the fact that it is measurable.
Having established all the above elements, it is now time to create marketing metrics. What will be measured in marketing depends on the objectives. Digital marketers usually measure website traffic, ad impressions, searches performed, clicks, conversions, leads, opened emails, click through rates, fans, friends, blog views, comments, brand mentions and a whole gamut of things.
But how about measuring visibility, reputation, influence, and sentiment? How should we measure them? Here is where a range of software systems come in. Some of better known system include: Google Analytics, Omniture or Adobe Online Business Optimization Suite, Webtrends, Meltwater, Radian6, Alterian, Visible Technologies, Neilsen-BuzzMetrics, StatsCounter, HootSuite etc. All of these are used for measuring specific metrics and which one to be used depends on the activity pursued.
The way all the elements interact with each other to create process that runs the routine business operation successfully is critical. The process entails the entire gamut of activities that are directly or indirectly responsible for creating a customer experience. The configuration of the set of activities that create a customer experience extends well beyond a mere consideration of multiple touch points. It operates at a cross channel level. Whether the customer purchases the product at a retail store or pays for it online; complains using a toll free call center number or rates and reviews in social media; recommends it over twitter or compares prices using smart phone, the process is designed in way that enables or facilitates a pleasant customer experience. To design the experience, it is essential to establish the ideal customer profile and day-in-the-life-of-ideal-customer scenarios. Establishing multiple such scenarios and aligning the element that creates the process which engages the customer meaningfully either online or offline, in a meaningful and engaging way, is the objective of this framework.
The importance of the product itself, its features, functionality, price, availability, quality, its perceived value and ability to fulfill a customer need cannot be overemphasized. This is the most important aspect. The art of marketing is not so much about selling what you make but knowing what to make. All the elements align to create a process that engages the customers meaningfully over multiple online and offline touch points, to solve a problem that the customer is trying to find a solution for. A product fulfils a need or solves a problem. Hence product enablement is about satisfying customer’s need and all the factors working collaboratively will ensure successful product enablement.
At this stage, there is not much left to be done by the company and it is more about how the customer feels about the brand, what he experiences, how does he react and what impression is left on him. All the previous steps must be aligned towards this step. The right questions to ask before the start of the process are: What is the desired response from the customer after he experiences our product or service complete? Is the customer engaged? What indicates his engagement?
Defining the engagement metrics may be useful at this stage. These may be different for different products or services. For instance, engagement may be indicated by:
1) Customer visiting the website, spending time on it, learning about the products
2) Watching product videos, demo videos, clicking on links that lead to detail product information
3) Reading reviews, comments by other users on review sites, company websites, social forums, etc.
4) Comparing prices, comparing features, comparing value against price
5) Asking questions, calling up customer care, participating in online chats and asking meaningful questions
6) Submitting email address, filling out forms, transacting, downloading whitepapers
7) Reading blogs, commenting and participating in discussions etc.
8) Making a purchase or showing a strong purchase intention
For details on enchantment, I strongly recommend reading Guy Kawasaki’s blog post on “How to enchant your customers”, but for the sake of this framework, let’s just say that enchantment goes well beyond a mere engagement. With the onslaught of marketing and advertising, with dwindling customer attention span, the digital world extending into infinity and content being produced in volumes every millisecond on the web, it wouldn’t be unfair if the customer to expects something more than just exposure. The customer wants to be enchanted. If he is to pay you money for what you have to offer, he expects to be intrigued into believing that you are really the best, the most value for money and easiest option available to him.
Enchantment results into the formation of a strong intangible bond that isn’t really captured by management terms such as “Customer Loyalty” or “Customer Retention”. They are all a part of customer enchantment. Enchantment, being so subjective, is hard to define. Enchantment encompasses customer’s trust, belief in the quality, affordability, friendliness of customer service, functional value, loyalty, social acceptance, interest, need, etc.
All the above done well will result in customer enchantment, which forms the basis for customer evangelism. Once a customer becomes an evangelist for your product or service, he offers a voluntary referral. This applies to the whole range of products and services ranging from FMCG products to complex B2B softwares. The referral can be offered either online or offline thorough various channels.
But the work has not finished yet. Giving a reason to the customer to make a referral is not the same as facilitating his giving a referral. Companies that depend on customer referrals to generate new business should also make it very easy for them to create referrals. Creating technological capabilities that make the referral process easy goes a long way in increasing volume and frequency of the referrals. Simple things such as submit review section, recommendation and rating, commenting on blogs, linking to review sites, social networking sites, social bookmarking and content sharing site etc. will make the referral generating process quick and easy.
In summary, to create a successful digital marketing plan that generates customer referrals,
1) Ensure that all the elements are well defined and clearly established
2) Configure the enterprise that all the elements complement each other, work in tandem, amplify benefits and nullify deficiencies
3) All the elements work together to create a digital sales and marketing machine that delivers the benefits of product and experience of the process
4) All the above comes together to not only meaningfully engage the customer but also enchant him so that he is compelled to offer a voluntary organic referral and the company realizes his lifetime value
Note – The structure of this framework is based on the Service Star Framework developed by Dr. Stefan Michel, presently at IMD Switzerland. To a limited extent, some ideas have also been used as “inspiration” from John Janstsch’s famous book, The Referral Engine.