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Digital strategy deconstructed: key considerations, part. 1

In a previous post about a digital marketing lab in Singapore, I realized I should probably structure and share some of my thinking and learnings having discussed, presented, debated, consulted on, workshopped around and taught digital strategy.

So, the reason for this first of a few posts is for a number of reasons:

1) Deconstructing a couple of slides used in workshops and talks, in order to structure what I believe is often overlooked and missed. It’s good for myself to do it.
2) If we’ve had a workshop together or if you listened to a presentation I gave – Hello! Here are some things we touched on if you feel like a refresh or if there was a language/speed problem. You should have the full presentation already.
3) Basically, why not share it beyond rooms of people.

So here goes number 1.

The first, and most important, thing to reflect on when approaching digital strategy

the blogpost Can you invent something new if your words are old, Deborah Mills-Scofield highlights the power words have over us. She’s a consultant in innovation. But not only in innovation is that important. It goes for politics, pedagogy, and our dear subject digital strategy.

Part 1 touches on slide 2-4

Because – what do we think when we think digital? Words and definitions, knowingly or not, frames and maybe even dictates, how we think. And how we think, well, that very much guides what we do and don’t do. As Kevin Spacey put it, TV is simply episodically punctuated video streams. From that, what can you (and disruptors did) imagine?

Add to that, you’ll be in a room of people, perhaps from different parts of and organisation with different agendas, ambitions and painpoints. This further necessitates a discussion around, and a common view on, what it is we’re digging into.

– So, what would you say digital strategy is (yes, that’s how rudimentary my question is)? Take 3 minutes and try to articulate it concretely. Write it down if it helps.
Silence, looks, twisting in the chair. A few smiles. More looks.
– Would you care to go first?
– Hrm, well. It’s about how we communicate with the different target groups in different channels and social networks.
– OK, good. And what did you write down?
– Well, I don’t know. I wrote that it’s basically everywhere around us. It’s everything today.
– Wow, that’s quite all encompassing and massive. Personally I can nod to that. You?
– Actually, I would say that it’s our future business. Our business strategy.
– OK.

A typical conversation about the word digital and digital strategy. Often taken for granted as self explanatory and clear. Not so clear anymore.

Some people implicitly are talking about communication and channels, while others seem to understand it as something that’s basically everything. While some are very clear about the fact that it’s the future business strategy. Digital definitely affect communication and the communication landscape, but maybe that’s communication strategy that just happen to be hightly “digital” today? And surely we can agree that “digital” is effecting more or less every aspect of society today, and hence is everywhere. As a consequence it has to be taken into account when thinking about ones (future) business model, revenue models and business strategy. It’s all obviously correct, but until the whole room realises this, and recognizes the complexity (but also opportunity) in this observation, getting constructive and solution focused is useless.

The reality in which we strategise is networked. Networked is a very useful word as opposed to digital because it more clearly stresses the fundamental shift, change and impact (probably not the originator, but the guy I associate with stressing the benefit of using networked is Mark Comerford, @markmedia) in a way that we can feel and see as we mention it. If I’m in a store shopping and I’m all connected – is there brick and mortar vs e-commerce? Yes. Is there offline vs. online? No. From a networked perspective, that dichotomy is flawed and reframing this makes all the difference.

This is why the great variety in response to digital strategy is so natural. We see it from different angles. It’s like the proverbial elephant and the blind men. PR people see one thing, service design folks another and e-commerce managers yet another, and so on. The solution to this is to discuss ones business and reality from a networked perspective. This way, you’ll see the integrated and holistic nature of digital strategy.

These two activities are my suggestion for a start.

  • Mind the words you use (in general) in this case digital strategy specifically. Dig deeper into what we take for granted (I’ll touch on that again from another perspective). Understand the lens through which you see the concept, and understand what you don’t see.
  • Approach the project as strategic thinking in a networked world. That means departments, stakeholders, business units and even the business model itself, will reveal those clear connections and the need/power in approaching everything as an integrated totality. This can come across as massive and frustrating, but it’s also where the true power of a digital strategy lies.

More on that in the next post. Thoughts and comments are more than welcome.

Digital marketing in a laboratory?

Photo from Digital Marketing Lab in Singapore, 2014
On of the many active, collaborative, parts of the Digital Marketing Lab in Singapore, 2014.

Earlier this year I was in Singapore running a 4-day lab on digital marketing. Running it as in collaborating with Hyper Island (and the wonderful Maria, who’s responsible for the Labs within Hyper Island) in tailoring the different parts of the content around which to, well, lab.

Other labs include rapid prototyping and social – both very suitable to do hands-on lab type of workshops, especially rapid prototyping of course. Our first collective challenge with this lab was actually figuring out the labs ingredient.

A laboratory (/ləˈbɒrətəri/ or /ˈlæbərətri/; informally, lab) is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific or technological research,experiments, and measurement may be performed.

We were definitely in a controlled environment. For 4 full days in a large, open, area approximately 20 people with different backgrounds worked together. Representatives from Google, business consultants figuring out what to do next, community managers, account directors, digital creatives and even recruitment professionals. We were experimenting with propositions, hypotheses and opinions – all open for debate. Hypotheses around how organisations needed to, perhaps, rethink and reorganize how marketing was viewed, budgeted and executed. Very much perceptions of what has been true, but not necessarily anymore.

One key challenge we gave the participants was a hands-on assignment – a brief – from a multinational brand, very much recognized for having momentum and guts to rethink its existence and purpose. Both from a consumer product/brand point of view, but also from an organizational sustainability point of view. This assignment was evaluated by key representatives from the company (the measurement part). My role very much being that of a nudger, suggester, questioner. Without digging into the ideas – there were some really great stuff, some of it actually already in the pipeline within that organisation which says something about its commercial viability. Impressive.

A participant’s recap and reflections on the digital marketing lab

I’m not going to share anything detailed, because one of the participants has shared a quite extensive summary of the digital marketing lab. It’s one individual’s summary, and someone else might recall it differently. But what strikes me is how some of the content that I shared (Simon Kemp of We Are Social, Singapore also shared his) is obviously referred to and has thankfully been helpful. I like that.

Posting your video on YouTube does not make it Digital Storytelling. Building a story of your brand, creating an experience, a feeling, a journey (that holds together across platforms), something worth remembering – and telling others about. That’s digital storytelling

But. If I were to highlight a few key nuggets that I keep coming back to as fundamentally important, from the digital marketing lab but also from doing presentations and workshops (and everyday work) around digital strategy (challenges), they’d be a bit different and framed in another way. Which brings me to the conclusion that I probably need to get my stuff together and share it in a properly packaged and connected manner. Easy to share with more people. Easy for people who have been in workshops to access and refresh or get clarification.

So, in a while I suppose this will be a link to the first of a series of post. Which means this post about a lab participant’s post is a trailer for posts to come.

Robinhood and the disruption of financial services

The financial service sector is one of the most interesting ones in terms of burgeoning disruption. A sector up until fairly recently not seen as especially dynamic – mainly because the sector itself seemed, and perhaps still is, largely uninterested in advancing things – is now rattling, shaking, squeaking and bustling in every way.

Simple Bank sold to BBVA. Tink, a Swedish company, raises more capital and claims 2% of the swedish population holds an account. In the same area, that of personal finances and money management, is another Swedish start-up in Dreams, helping individuals better save money.

This kind of stuff is natural when you think of the meaning of banks (or whatever we’ll call it). Why individuals need them in their lives. Entrepreneurs focusing on user value, solving problems and seing unmet opportunities, create these things because they should exist. They make sense. And as living our lives involves money and financial services, and technology allows for it, that industry is now booming. Great for almost everyone.

From private finance to investment and trading

Many of the new players in financial services have focused on payment and personal finance. At least the user facing ones. Robinhood takes it in another direction, that of trading.

If I were part of the old school trading industry, I’d be paying close attention as the waves of disruption come rolling in. But, what struck me in the Wired article on Robinhood, is the quote below, where the founders paint a picture, a usage scenario, that really helps us see the viability in the service, and hence potential democratisation of trading.

We all know how toilet breaks, queuing in line, bus rides, ad breaks, just-after-eating-up, micro breaks etc and so on are devoted (more by some) to not only instagram and Facebook – the status check of the collective also known as group of friends – but candy crush, poker, casino and other game like apps, providing that micro fix of excitement. Every gambling company I’ve come in contact with knows (and struggles to perfectly articulate) that intersection of fun/excitement and risk/benefit tickle. But it’s right there in the middle, which is why trading – when made accessible like this – might very well find its way into that usage occasion. I think Roobinhood perfectly exemplifies the importance of looking at behaviours in combination with technology and business vision.

Standing in line for coffee may seem like an awkward time to trade stocks. But for the makers of the new app Robinhood, those casual moments are exactly when they want to reach a new generation of potential investors who might otherwise feel the markets are closed to them.

Robinhood - democratizing stock trading
Screen grab from Roobinhood

From 2009 to 2014 – the deal-breaker that is APIs

an rfid and twitter powered cat door via

Back in 2009, the above twitter/rfid cat door surfaced in my feed. I remembered that me and a colleague of mine (a brilliant digital director now at North Kingdom) had an interesting discussion about possible futures of APIs in general and connected physical things more specifically. It’s really ever since (and before that) that I’ve been bookmarking and in other ways saving and reflecting thoughts on what I label “offline/online”.

If the internet as such is now finding its way into the minds of the less technically advanced, the second revolution re: internet is the physical one.

I often get “oh shit” reactions when I let my thoughts wander. I had one while preparing a deck and a few workshops around the subject of brand strategy and digital strategy considering the new reality that is networks and the dramatic impact it has on businesses, communications, great ideas etc. I had completely missed the Watson API. I mean, Watson computer. Cognitive powers. AI. API. When that evolves. Oh shit. My head hearts.

An API for the Watson computer by IBM
The IBM Watson API, over at Programmable Web.

Meaning based brand development

For quite a while, I’ve been using Ford as an example of a brand that’s redefined itself (or rather refocused) from car manufacturer to what they refer to as a mobility brand. I think it makes all the difference.

What they did early on was team up with ZipCar on US campuses, getting young drivers (note; drivers, not car owners) to get into Ford cars. Stats on that car selling challenge here. Now, of course the meaning with owning a car is transportation and mobility (not taking into account the, to be honest, not so small addition of signalling something about you as a person, which I think sits equally much in what you choose to drive and not just what you own). Hence a new business model. You may come from manufacturing and selling Ford cars, but that’s not necessarily the business for ever after. If Ford viewed their meaning market like Avis do (Avis bought ZipCar), they’d step past the competition by way of a business focused on getting people transportation – whether that’s a BMW, Volvo, Ford or whatever car brand. Potentially pretty drastic from a scaled up business model perspective .

Envisioning freely what Ford could be doing and what the larger meaning market could be, and what offers and services fit in, you touch on selecting models and vehicles. So I’m always thinking why not be able to buy the sporty one – but get 5 free rentals a year for when the family needs a larger vehicle for soccer games or something like that. You know, bake that in as the augmented product. Relieving difficult choices, in a way. Because it’s not about buying a car, it’s about transportation, mobility – even family logistics, when you think about it.

So now I found this similar offer/service/nudge from BMW to make the decision of buying the i3 easier. Good one.

The exercise of thinking Product (category) vs. Meaning (value of the (bigger/multiple) market(s)) is one that I stress every brand and organisation to do in a recurring manner. It sits in the project/process/challenge of figuring out the digital strategy, mind you. It’s because technology and digital, if we allow ourselves to refer to it as loosely as that, is driving societal changes. That means what you do, who you are and how you do things – can, and will, drastically change. Meaning your basic existence is the topic. That’s a cultural question, not a technical one. And that, dear reader, is the most importan distinction to be made when getting an organisation of not-so-tech-interested people to start pulling in the same direction. To feel ownership in a question that they, hence, understand and grasp (culture and meaning as opposed to that “digital stuff”).

I use meaning* and not purpose. I might seem like semantics but I think the two are distinctively different. With brands defining their purpose, I think often we see an inside/out perspective still lurking there. It’s our purpose (for us) vs. the meaning (for users). Meaning is about the new markets (and business ideas, models and revenue models) that can be identified and that may not resemble anything your used to from before (scary). The value they provide and generate. Purpose is centered too much around a statement about the brand and doesn’t get “verbified” as well.

Have you phrased, framed and begun the cultural transformation that is the result of technological change yet?

* I am aware that if you are looking at the word meaning in the context of brands and consumption, we also have another definition in the consumer culture research discipline. I use meaning markets more in a business development sense, where function/utility takes precedence over the development of signaling powers of brands, although the two are intertwined.

A Ted Talk where Bill Ford Jr shares some thinking on the future of transportation and mobility (2011).

Medieorganisationers större roll i samhället

Tidningar, nyhetsorganisationer, journalistiken (?), mediehus i en bredare bemärkelse har problem. Utmaningar drivna av teknisk utveckling, och med detta förändrade beteenden med betalningsovilja betyder grus i maskineriet. Knappast en nyhet för någon. Men som en mycket intelligent man påpekade, så kan man inte lösa problem på samma nivå som problemet skapades.

I många fall betyder det att dessa tekniskt drivna förändringar och utmaningar inte nödvändigtvis löses med hjälp av tekniska lösningar, utan lösningen ligger på en djupare, mer fundamental nivå. Från två medieorganisationer kommer två exempel, inte på lösningar, men intressanta steg som vittnar om en utvärdering av sin roll i samhället. Sin mening ur ett större perspektiv och därmed nya möjligheter att tackla utmaningarna.

Det jag enkelt kallar meaning markets (och skrev lite om här) är ett förlösande koncept/metod/arbetssätt. Absolut besläktat med begrepp som brand purpose men mycket mer aktiverande än så. Brand purpose är en form för att, som så ofta, kort och koncist utrycka ett varumärkes kärna och syfte. Ett viktigt konstaterande, men inte så speciellt drivande i sig. Att aktivt arbeta med meaning market genererar riktning, idéer, förhållningssätt och även nya/alternativa affärsmodeller eftersom det hela tiden söker slutvärdet för användaren. Inte ingångsvärden. En verbifiering av purpose helt enkelt.

Medieorganisationer tycker jag är extremt intressanta ifrån detta perspektiv. Vad har vi dem till? Vad är dom för oss i samhället? Förr i tiden väldigt tydligt nyhetsförmedlare. Mycket papper. Initierade, inlästa, ifrågasättande och granskande. Men varför?

Medieorganisationer beskrivs medievetenskapligt utefter ett gäng parametrar så som organisation, medieteknisk beskaffenhet (etermedia, print etc), juridiska aspekter, affärsmodell och så vidare. De skiljer sig på olika sätt, men hur man än vänder och vrider på det så är medieorganisationer det (starka) klistret i samhällskittet som ju förutsätter insatta och upplysta medborgare, och aktiva kanaler mellan samhällets deltagare.

Betyder det då “bara” rapportering eller har detta av historiska (och medietekniska) skäl varit så bara för att…?

The Guardian har en väldigt framåtlutad och offensiv inställning till deras roll i framtiden. Globaliserad organisation med exempelvis satsning på USA. Digital first-initiativet är mycket tydligt. De är erkända som bland de bästa på nyhetsvärdering, men inte nödvändigtvis de bästa att snappa upp och rapportera. De kan alltså inta en mer faciliterande roll, med samma slutmål, och gör också detta genom tydliga initiativ kring citizen journalism.

Guardian Reporting

Det är då ett naturligt steg att för ett mer kollaborativt arbetssätt (och globaliserat perspektiv) börja utbilda. Inte journalister, bredare än så. Vad de kallar Guardian Master Classes har växt till sig.

Att arbeta för att stärka samhällskittet, inte själva bara rapportera och granska. Samma mål, mycket större mening. Större marknad, ökad och bredare relevans samt möjligheter att generera nya typer av intäkter och bättre knyta användare till sig (lock on, som en kollega utrycker det).

SvD tillhandahåller “SvD Läs och Skriv”

Även SvD har reflekterat över sin roll bortom rapportering och ett samtidigt konstaterande av minskande intresse ibland yngre personer. Med “Läs och Skriv” agerar man proaktivt och inte endast efter ett rapporteringsfokuserat syfte. Man spelar en aktiv roll i skapandet av intresserade (och läskunniga) medborgare. För det är målet med rapporteringen, men därmed inte sagt att rapportering är den enda aktiviteten eller metoden. Intressant, och förhoppningsvis mer än en sidosyssla.

Här finns sådant som är relevant för tonåringar. Jag läste en krönika om skolor som slösade pengar på reklam; det var något som jag inte hade tänkt på förut, säger han.

– Alexander Willemsen, 15 år

Att få engagerade samhällsmedborgare är ju jätteviktigt, säger hon och tillägger att ungas läsförmåga och samhällsintresse är centrala frågor för en demokrati.

– Madeleine Ellvin, lärare

Det är inte svårt att komma att tänka på mängder av företag – varumärken – som kämpar för sin relevans, momentum, betydelse(fullhet) och lönsamhet. Hur många är inte de som tuffar på, bakbundna av det man alltid gjort? Vad kan de göra? Vad skulle de kunna vara? Jag påmindes att posta de här raderna som legat och skrotat som lösa reflektioner när följande citat dök upp på en skärm nära mig.

“Every organisation eventually becomes inward looking, bloated and loses sight and becomes pretty much useless”

– Steve Forbes


Business transformation report, by Tieto

My work is never dull. I frequently get involved in workshops and discussions with stakeholders from different industries, all battling the same core challenge. That of change and transformation. Recently I got a taste of private banking. I’m not going to share any of that, but it struck me how true much of this Business Transformation Report, from Tieto (a leading Nordic IT Service Company) and Kairos Future (Strategic Futures Consultants) is spot on and true based on the conversations. Some excerpts:

“Hand on heart: Is your prime goal with adopting new technology incremental change or radical innovation?”

”The reason we do not invest more in transformation is not lack of resources. It’s because we simply don’t know what to invest in”.

– Major Bank executive (Tieto report)

“Even though they might have a rough idea of where the market and technology is heading, they are uncertain of how the business models will play out and what the consequences will be. The questions those executives need to ask is: Will you be more certain if you sit waiting, or if you invest small in exploration and low-cost experimentation?”

Easier said than done, transforming and changing. But waiting to be sure isn’t the route you want to bet on.

Don’t just stand there (chapter):

  1. Do you have a clear view of where the future of your industry is heading over the next 3-7 years?
  2. Would you describe your company as an active future-oriented reallocator?
  3. Do you have a process for scouting and acquiring promising companies or technologies?
  4. Do you actively engage your partners and customers in co-creation activities to find the future for you?

“Consequently, having a culture where people are embracing or at least not rejecting changing behaviours (my marking), practices and attitudes is necessary if a fundamental transformation will ever take place.”

That’s an interesting distinction when working with change. You don’t have to focus on loving change, start by not disliking it so much, and from that position you can do things slightly different. Doesn’t sound as a big difference, but it is. Don’t go for daring to do things differently. Go for not being afraid of trying some things differently.

“As neurologists and neuroscientists say, we become what we constantly do. This is true not only metaphorically. Even our brains are being transformed and rewired as we start to use them in different ways. So fundamental transformation in terms of new practices and behaviours is – literally – fundamental.”

End of block quotes…

Full report accessible here.

Patagonia, are you asking us not to buy?

I recently bought a Patagonia jacket. Which made me think of this. Worn Wear. Not just the fact that they do in fact become stories and memories, but the reaction from a lot of people when Patagonia explicitly encourages people not to buy their clothes.

I can hear proponents of the concept of brand loyalists scream. Of sales people squirming in their chairs. But it all aligns beautifully with how brands grow, and how brands can resonate, if we think about it.

Aware Patagonia loyalists, because it’s quite likely one of the fairly few brands who actually have real loyalists. Those who go quite far to stick to Patagonia. But those people are few, and they’re most likely very environmentally conscious already.

Another thing is about the message here. It’s not so much about the message, even though it’s very clear, true, and firmly positions the brand as a true “do good brand” with a purpose beyond making quick bucks. But it’s also about how they make this public. It’s so real. There’s not an ounce of fake in here even coming from a brand. I wrote/commented a few lines on how brands publicise themselves creatively here.

And with this in mind, lets just remind ourselves that there’s always people out there, however environmentally conscious or unconscious they might be, in the market for a new jacket and pants. And those people can buy from a number of brands (except for the exceptionally small group of die hard loyalists), all of which would suit their needs. The question is about who do they come to think of first? Who resonates more?

A few of those people might take you up, reconsider, and get used clothes or maybe even repair what they have. That’s a win for Patagonia. But enough people will get something new.

So, as Byron Sharp and other myth-busting researchers have pointed out to us – go for penetration, because the potential buyers are everywhere. They’re not loyal, they’re just likely buyers, to a varying degree.

What Patagonia does isn’t risky, it’s doubly good (and they’re f***ing awesome).

Mt. Gox, official systems and a parallel CEO profile

There are some hilarious quotes and secions in this story in Wired, about Mt. Gox and its fall. Simply hilarious, even though there is a serious side to it.

The 28-year-old Karpeles was born in France, but after spending some time in Israel, he settled down in Japan. There he got married, posted cat videos and became a father. In 2011, he acquired the Mt. Gox exchange in from an American entrepreneur named Jed McCaleb.

But soon, McCaleb was getting wires for tens of thousands of dollars and, realizing he was in over his head, he sold the site to Karpeles, an avid programmer, foodie, and bitcoin enthusiast who called himself Magicaltux in online forums.

That’s exactly what I would do with a burgeoning financial empire, sell it to a cat-vid-poster.

No, but seriously. As with everything that has a future affect – before it comes, it comes in numerous versions. This (sort of thing) might do something with how we view the more traditional structures and systems. More positively. Or it might not. Regardless, It has shown that official systems aren’t nessesarily a rule.

connected intentions

“When you use Buycott to scan a product, it will look up the product, determine what brand it belongs to, and figure out what company owns that brand (and who owns that company, ad infinitum). It will then cross-check the product owners against the companies and brands included in the campaigns you’ve joined, in order to tell you if the scanned product conflicts with one of your campaign commitments.”

We want to do good, make the right decisions. Eat green, wear helmet, give to the needy. What we say and want to do doesn’t always (almost never?) equal what we actually do. Attitudes and intentions might be there (I said I’d start wearing a helmet, and really meant to, for about a year) but behaviour is held back by barriers often ridiculous in nature.

The Buycott app, covered here in Springwise, is an example of a phenomena where those barriers, standing between intentions and behaviour, are lowered. When intentions are enforced and supported effortlessly, things can get interesting. Users/consumers tend to forget, but if forgetting gets harder, there’s even more pressure on brands.

Brands need to think harder (and try harder) to operate in a world where active and intentional (strategic) brand building more frequently is done through operational actions, decisions, etc, and less so through intentional brand communication.

Doing bad stuff has always risked ending up in the news or search results, but it (generally) demands momentum, a high “shittiness level” and a collective outrage. We’re alerted (and reinforce) though common sentiment and mass behaviour in a connected society. Connected information like this, which helps our intentions by becoming connected intentions, doesn’t. It becomes as individual as the wine suggestion app in a bottle store.

That doesn’t mean groups and social pressure doesn’t exert power on brand choice/decisions, but an added – again comparably effortless – nudge and reminder is potentially big. In a way it’s what connected and quantified self is/will be for daily health decisions in general.