Digital real estate: who’s in your neighborhood?

The word digital has come to mean different things to different people, and the various parts of the digital ecosystem are often managed in different parts of an organisation. Does bringing it all together make sense? How do you land the right operating model and instigate a change to the current one?

It is not uncommon for a company to have its digital assets managed by different teams across the organisation. In fact it’s quite rare that they are all in one place. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but it does introduce some complexities from an operating model perspective. More importantly, it can also lead to a fragmented user experience for customers.

First let’s bracket the traditional (can we say “traditional” yet in digital?) elements of the digital ecosystem:

  1. Websites – still the cornerstone of a good digital proposition, these may be purely brochure-ware or they may have a more functional, transactional purpose
  2. Social Media – hard to find an organisation without a presence (good or bad) on social these days. Very important for customer engagement and a great tool to bring an audience to longer form content on your website
  3. Apps – an optional part of any digital real estate and will vary hugely in functionality and purpose. May be native (specifically coded for a particular device, such as Android) or wrapper (looks like an app but really just a website wrapped in an app shell)
  4. Email – don’t forget this one. Researchers into the effectiveness of email continue to contradict one another but this still remains a powerful part of a digital marketeers kitbag, if used well

Ask yourself where each of these tools are managed from in your organisation. Marketing? IT? I’ve seen many variations, up to and including a corporate LinkedIn account being managed exclusively by HR (admittedly, that was a weird day).

Whilst a case can be made for almost any operating and ownership structure when it comes to these assets, my experience is that, were you to walk into most organisations and ask why the current model exists, the answer is usually linked to evolution rather than design. It’s just how it is.

Difficulty with communication and consistency of design, tone of voice and customer insight aside, the impact on the customer is usually a fragmented and non-sensical experience. Why can I do this on their website but not on their app? Why is it really easy to navigate the app but the website is a pain? Why do I get an answer on Twitter but not on Facebook? Why do I keep getting these emails on the same day as the notifications from my app?

We’ve all experienced this kind of frustration with services that we use. One way to make sure that these kinds of inconsistencies don’t find their way to a customer is to bring together the different parts of your organisation that manage these assets into a single digital team. That way, you can bring together the design, development and marketing skills that are necessary to create, test and promote your digital services into one team. This gives them a much higher chance of collaborating successfully.

Doing so presents different challenges of course, not least that those existing structures probably won’t want to let go of what they have. However, it does cement a centre of expertise within your organisation for digital customer experience. Finding the right person to lead that team, someone who is respected and can think laterally across all of these digital arenas, is absolutely crucial. They need to be truly customer centric when it comes to the experience – to obsess over the details that transform an experience from just being ok to being something that excites and surprises.

And that, ultimately, is what it’s all about. The better the experience your customers have across your digital estate, the better they will feel about your brand. However you measure yourselves, be that NPS scores, complaint volumes, revenue targets or some other measure, defending the customer experience by seeing and treating your digital real estate as a single entity is, in my view, the most sensible step to driving those measures in the right direction.

A perfect storm: the dreaded website redesign

Well your website design is a little dated, your content is somewhat stale and the content management system you have in place is so cumbersome to use that it takes three days and an IT engineering team the size of NASA to change an image on the page. So how exactly do you go about running a large website redesign?

I faced this exact challenge recently. In hindsight, whilst we knew the fundamental elements of what we needed to do, the project really didn’t have the emphasis on the right problems, nor the resource focus in the right areas, at the right time.

From my experience, a large-scale website redesign project can be bracketed into three main themes:

  1. The technology – the replacement or upgrade of the existing content management system
  2. The design – the user experience and look and feel of your new shiny website
  3. The content – the words, images, video, documents and tools that users will interact with

Asking yourself at the outset how many of these three elements you want to significantly change in one go is hugely important to defining the success of the project. It is also essential in keeping the expectations of your senior stakeholders, and indeed, the anticipation of the wider organisation, in line with what will actually be delivered.

If possible, I would strongly suggest changing a maximum of two of these three elements at once. It significantly reduces the number of chicken and egg problems you need to solve and reduces the risk of the project dramatically.

For example, if I were switching to a completely new content management system (basically, building a new website), I would probably look to overhaul the design at the same time, but keep the content the same. This might still require a rationalisation of the existing content into a different site navigation, but at least it reduces the number of people across the organisation that need to be involved, which reduces complexity.

The trickiest two to change in parallel are the design and the content. When these two are thrown up in the air together, it becomes a difficult juggling act to keep everyone’s expectations aligned, and almost impossible to hold a project plan together once content and design start bouncing back and forth.

Beyond the primary three there are two other important elements that must not be forgotten.

First, how will the site be monitored and analysed? Whether it’s Google Analytics or another package, take the time to think through what you’ll be reporting against. This fits best into your technology stream.

Secondly, your SEO strategy. This should fit strongly into your content stream. Take the time to consider who your site and content is for and how you are going to monitor how successful you are in bringing that audience to your content.

Ultimately, any large-scale site re-build carries risk. As much as possible, reduce that risk by focusing the effort into those key elements that are going to give you the biggest possible benefit in the fastest possible time. Focus on the authoring experience and the user experience equally, and don’t forget that everything you implement needs to be monitored and tracked so that it can be continuously refined.

Who needs a website anymore?

In the age of social media, apps and the ever increasing investment into wearable and virtual reality technology, you could be forgiven for thinking that the humble website’s days are numbered. Think again.

In 2001, I was just starting out at college on an Information and Communication Technology course. Course topics included database management, spreadsheet design and of course, website design. Smartphones didn’t exist, I was still carrying around an mp3 player the size of a small house and it was still possible to get a single result from a well-crafted google search.

Needless to say, even the thought of a website becoming obsolete would have made very little sense back then.

Fast forward over 15 years and I find people beginning to raise their eyebrows when I talk about a website centered content strategy. Why would anyone bother? Just create an app. Or a Facebook page.

The wonderful simplicity and flexibility of website still offers a vast array of benefits. Apps are fantastic – well, some are – but the absolute control over both content and experience that you get with a website, irrespective of device, makes it a much more cost-effective option in the long run.

Social media channels also offer many unique benefits, but the limitations of design and experience mean that you quickly lose control over what content you can present, or how it will be consumed. Again, they have their place but ultimately, I see these as being additional channels, rather than the core. If you accept that Google remains the primary means by which people find new information on the internet, then having a website remains extremely important as part of your content strategy.

If it isn’t on Google, it doesn’t exist – Jimmy Wales

And so, when outlining a content strategy in 2017, I still start with the website as the central ingredient, around which I will look at which channels my target audience is using (rather than whatever seems “on trend”) and look to utilise those channels to draw traffic back to my website.

Once the traffic from my social media posts has landed back on my website, I’m then looking to provide effective calls to action to help bring them through a deeper journey, exploring further content, services and, if relevant, products. This gives me control over the user journey and, ultimately, a richness of data points to understand how people are consuming my content in order to further develop this to be more effective in the future.

I love a well crafted app. I’m a fan of social media and I am definitely all for exploring new and innovative ways to distribute content and engage an audience. But, for now, I’ll stick with a simple, brilliant website at the core of my content strategies.