January 31, 2017 by Michael Greenberg

5 Questions for Getting Started with Digital Marketing and Personalization

The first time a marketer sits down with their tech team after a new web platform is implemented, everyone typically looks around the table and says “now what?” Having a nice shiny new tool to use can be daunting, no matter how much experience the team has. Here at Hedgehog we’ve found the crucial first step is to get the obvious on paper (or file or whiteboard or Trello or Slack or post-it notes).

Our first step for any client is to answer 5 basic questions on digital strategy. These help provide the foundation for building out the personalization needs for Sitecore, a powerful marketing platform, although they work for other platforms that can be personalized like Drupal.

  1. How do you measure success, and what values of these measures do you need to achieve?

    This may sound very obvious, but many companies have difficulty finding internal agreement on digital marketing objectives. In digital, website conversion often dominates the discussion which lends clarity to the charter of the marketing organization. But many other views may be just as correct. Defining measures of success needs precision. Saying “site conversion” without defining what a conversion is, which visitors are measured (and which are not counted), how interim conversions are handled, or any of a half dozen other issues is not productive. And once agreement is reached, understanding the current levels of that measure and what the targets will be often leads to more rounds of discussion.

    In the end you should have a simple document that anyone in your organization will understand, stating which measures matter, their definitions and their targets. For example, your measure might be “anonymous visitor identification” where the definition is the percentage of non-identified visitors performing an identifying action such as signing up for the email newsletter, setting up a site profile, or registering for an event. This would filter out visitors whose identity is already known and allows for multiple endpoints.

    But what about job seekers? Their traffic might skew your results. So you might define the audience as anonymous visitors who do not end up in the job seeker classification, which means your real analysis takes some time to figure out, since job seekers might take a few visits before they are classified properly. Refining this down to a number where everyone is laser-focused on improvement frees up the organization from argument and conflict. This allows for better and faster decision making, which is the crucial factor in iterative improvement and a critical step in getting started with digital marketing.

  2. What information, if you had it, would best influence your decisions around customer engagement as measured by #1?

    Marketing succeeds or fails through the quality of decision making. Marketers and systems make vast quantities of decisions; systematically improving them is what drives success as measured by #1. But many organizations do not have a clear understanding of what information would allow improvements in the decision making process. Would separating high potential website visitors from low potential make a difference? Or is knowing their gender more important? How about location? If you are not authorized to sell outside the US, knowing a visitor is non-US lets you shift marketing spend elsewhere and filter analytics data. Ideally there is pre-existing analysis to draw from, but that is not always the case. The team focused on your success metrics needs to work together to develop the information needed for good decisions, whether this is customer profile information (gender, location), web metrics (source, path) or enterprise data (transaction history, predicted churn risk).

  3. What of #2 can I do today or in the very near future?

    As great as it would be to live in an ideal world, we don’t. So next you need a reality check on the information you actually have and can use. Investigating what data is in production systems and can be utilized by your web platform will be sobering, but you need to confront reality here. It doesn’t make any sense to build your operations around anything other than what you can actually do.

    This can be fertile ground for unexpected insight. Maybe when examining your CRM system for customer attributes you find someone has added a predicted value model that would streamline personalization rules. Or someone has added a few microservices that enable searches with up-to-the-minute specialist information across hospital locations.

    A byproduct of this effort is your capabilities roadmap. Benchmarking digital marketing capability needs and defining the access to data and systems needed for better decisions can drive development, application and integration efforts for the foreseeable future.

  4. Given what I can do in #3, how should I define my customers to optimize decision making?

    It might seem odd to wait on customer persona development until after a technical capability assessment is completed. But it is far easier to adapt to what’s available than to build out new capabilities. So while you wait for your development partner, you can leverage the technology already in place. We see this all the time with Sitecore, which many of our clients use, where personas and personalization can be quite powerful with just the data currently available. Sitecore’s profile cards, pattern cards, engagement values, and engagement plans can transform your digital marketing strategy long before you address the gaps you may have found (in the answers to question #3 vs #2).

    Defining customer personas is both easier and much tougher than you would think. It’s easy to come up with ideas that make intuitive sense, and it’s easy to implement useful initial ideas that will have some impact. But it’s hard to define personas in a way that can be executed well and that enable good decision making. So hard, in fact, that we will have a separate post much longer than this one on the challenge of persona development.

    A quick example helps illustrate the challenge. Let’s say you sell marketing software. How many different types of visitors will you have? Some are easy to list – researching prospects, technical validators, executive sponsors, consultants, interested stakeholders…the list of involved parties can be long. But others unrelated to a potential deal look a lot like the others – finance, students, marketers who will be users, trainers (who would need to roll the solution out), testers (who would be recruited from who knows where in the organization), or other employees from target organizations. Defining personas in a way that helps accomplish your goals as defined in #1 can be done quickly for some effect, but the full effect will need to tease out the small percentage of visitors that are extremely high value from very similar visitors that are not.

  5. What will I do differently based on customer definitions from #4?

    Ultimately this is the foundation on which your day-to-day marketing operations will be built. Since your goal is to reach the objectives defined in #1, understanding how you will iterate content, testing mechanisms, design, navigation, search, social, imagery, or infrastructure to reach those goals will fill your days, nights, and weekends. This list will change over time, but we strongly recommend putting your first 10 hypotheses down on paper so that everyone knows how your organization is planning on improving. This is also a big enough topic to warrant a separate post, but a few ideas include comparing long form and short form content, testing different hero feature message types (qualitative vs. quantitative, advantages vs. benefits, people images vs. product, etc.), placement of registration components or the number of items in forms, to name a few options.

    But if you’ve followed the process down to this point, you should know the paths in the logical chain to make a good hypothesis: “I will improve (measure of success by some amount) by focusing on the (specific needs) of (customer persona), who will (respond differently in this way) through (changing this part of the experience).” If, for example, you’ve settled on location-based personas, the daily operations should reflect that. Life stage-based, journey-based, role-based, attribute-based, value-based…each would suggest different actions to take to improve your measures of success.

Putting The Pieces Together

It helps to take a day or two away from the daily grind in order to put the plan together. A consultant or agency can help, both through moderating the effort and providing expertise from other clients. We at Hedgehog, of course, do this all the time. So if you feel stuck and need some help getting started with digital marketing, give us a shout and we can get you on the right path.

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