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Category: Digital Strategy

Improve Your Customer’s Experience: Creating Business Value through Transforming Customer Journeys

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An excellent example of how organizations should go about setting their digital strategy and executing it comes from IBM. Any organization looking for some tips and motivation on how to do it should look at how IBM started to address this a few years ago. In IBM’s example, we learn the importance of setting a formal digital strategy (IBM calls them strategic imperatives), establishing a roadmap for its execution, putting in the commitment (dollars and management accountability) behind those initiatives and finally in executing those strategies. For IBM, the proof has been in the double digit returns that they have seen from most of the strategic imperatives that they had charted.

A few years ago, as the world had started to grapple with the waves of digital disruption, IBM recognized the far reaching impact of the cloud platform, and Big data and analytics. As a consequence, IBM established certain strategic imperatives to guide their plans for the next few years around those disciplines and started to invest (and divest) heavily to attain the vision underlying those imperatives.

Fast forward 3 years and we see that after investing billions of dollars to build its cloud platform, IBM is nearing 50 data centers worldwide that are delivering cloud services (Iaas, PaaS, DBaas, and SaaS) to its base of worldwide customers. Accordingly, they also invested in analytics (based on their Watson platform) and now have APIs ready where enterprise customers are able to incorporate ‘cognitive’ capabilities in their  solutions by calling in those APIs. More impressive is the fact that these investments resulted in double digit returns the year after IBM started to invest in these strategic imperatives.

The digital services mentioned above is not a complete listing of the digital opportunities that IBM has been able to capitalize on over the past 3-4 years since they formulated them. The point is for enterprises to take note from the lessons learned, which can be summarized as follows:

  • The need to establish a formal digital strategy based on the disruptive trends in one’s own industry and market
  • Creating a roadmap to execute those strategies
  • Ability to execute those strategies and monitoring the progress
  • Being bold to invest as well as divest accordingly in executing those strategies.

As I have asserted in the past, how organizations are able to execute effectively in the next few years to get through the digital transformation that the world is going through will determine their success and position within their industries.

 


 

What is SEO and its definition?

SEO refers to Search Engine Optimization. This discipline refers to a number of techniques and methods that are meant to place a site higher in organic search engine rankings. More specifically, we can say that SEO is about optimizing organic search for a website and any online business.

SEO and Online Business Success

Most businesses, especially the ones that fall under the category of Small and Medium Businesses (SMB), equate a business’s success to their SEO efforts. This perception is even truer for those businesses that are in the early phases of digital transformation and are attempting to reach the large audience of the Internet to maximize their reach and sales.

I get asked this question by many small business owners. This group of entrepreneurs believes that SEO can solve all their customer acquisition problems. However, those of us who have tread these waters before know that while at one time SEO had a major impact on a business’s success, the equation has gotten more complex with more variables. (Online training on successful online marketing)

SEO and Online Business Success Factors

Here are some of the reasons.

  1. Based on its definition, SEO, is meant to optimize a website to pull more organic search engine traffic. That traffic may or may not be a large piece of a business’s traffic. The truth is that with social media platforms in play, a business’s primary target audience may not be as active on search as on other platforms.
  2. SEO reflects only one dimension of an organization’s overall digital marketing strategy. An organization’s digital properties such as websites, etc. may also find more valuable audiences by pulling in traffic from PPC, social media, and other sources and thus SEO solely may not be as impactful in pushing a business to great heights. However, we can say that success in digital marketing overall can be more impactful as that means an organization is able to target the right audience, focusing on lead captures and sales conversions, etc. – all factors that together have a much larger impact on the success of a business than just SEO.
  3. Zooming further out, marketing, again, is one part of a business’s operations. Other aspects of a digital business play a role in its success as well. That includes the ability of an organization to create the right products for its market, selling effectively to the right digital audience, agile delivery, customer service, and so on. For example, no matter how much traffic you are able to pull in, if your products and services are not on par to your audience’s preferences, you will have difficulty converting that traffic. Gone are the days of the mantra “if you build it, they will come”.

In conclusion, your vision and focus should always be larger than simply making SEO work for your website or other digital properties. Your ultimate goal should be to deliver on the differentiating value proposition for your business and that means looking at all aspects to make your digital business a success.

Read about Digital execution for digital transformation


SEO importance business

 

The ‘digital domain’

Before devising an appropriate digital strategy, we must recognize the overall domain of digital. The broader thinking and conversations in the boardrooms should be focused on the following:

  1. Digital landscape
  2. Digital ecosystem – What will be our organization’s digital ecosystem?
  3. Digital channels and media – What digital channels and media platforms will be part of our organization’s strategy? For example, will your organization be active on Facebook? If yes, in what way?
  4. Digital devices – What digital devices will be at the center of our business? What is our mobility strategy? What about BYOD and other related initiatives?
  5. Target audience – Do we know our digital audience? Do you know how your traditional audience has transformed to the digital landscape?
  6. Digital assets and properties – What digital assets and properties (websites, apps, etc.) will be at the center of your digital strategy in terms of serving both the customers and the internal organization?
  7. Digital Platforms – What digital platforms (IT platforms) will be at the core of your organization’s digital transformation?

How should an organization set its Digital Strategy?

Digital Drivers

More  specifically, an organization should address the following when devising its digital strategy.

  • Digital channel strategy – What is your digital channel strategy? What type of engagement do you plan across channels? It’s not about simply having a Facebook strategy or a Twitter strategy but rather a strategy that transcends various digital channels and considers the global digital audience, its needs, and engagement goals.
  • Organizational culture – What specific methods has your organization taken to transform its culture to that of digital?
  • Organization business processes – What specific business processes will change to potentially disrupt the internal and external operations of your organization.

 

Organizational transformation is more than introducing a few digital devices and becoming active on social media. The overall domain of digital transformation is broader and encompasses much of the organization and the broader ecosystem that its a part of. Specifically, digital transformation encompasses a change in organizational culture, products and services, and its business processes enabled by digital technology and people with a new mindset.

Advances in consumer technology is one of the primary factors driving this transformation. Today’s consumer requires advanced services on a mobile phone, wants interaction on social media, and develops perception about brands at different levels of the complex digital universe. Serving audiences in this complex universe of digital requires a new organization with new platforms, agile and technologically advanced delivery capabilities, innovative business processes, and overall a new organizational culture the likes of which didn’t exist earlier.

In general, organizations are becoming digital by taking on a number of initiatives. These include the following:

  1. Mobile – Organizations are porting their external facing systems and the products and services they offer on those systems to their audiences by making them mobile responsive.
  2. Social – Wherever applicable and value-added, organizations are turning to social media. This may include moving their customer service and marketing processes to social media and related channels.
  3. Analytics – Organizations introduce analytics and data driven feedback in all aspects of their  operations.
  4. Digitization of business processes – This involves automating business processes by using mobile, social, cloud, and analytics as the primary drivers.

The move to digital, therefore, needs to be strategic and transformational in nature. Implementation of that strategy then requires a longer term road map with clearly defined goals. The road map should lead to a clear organizational digital maturity positioning the organization to handle the new consumer of today and tomorrow.

 

During the course of a number of my consulting assignments, I am usually asked what in my view is the most important factor for growing online organic traffic. This question usually comes up as the clients are struggling with creating content, publishing content, marketing on social media, trying to create backlinks to their digital assets, and so on.

In my view the most important factor to  grow organic traffic is to create captivating original content that delivers real value to your visitors and customers.

Content that is value added many times doesn’t need the push of search engines to get your traffic. The digital space and its users will do that job for you. More often content that users share and talk about by commenting online such as on social media gets more traffic than search engines can send your way.
important factor to grow organic trafficAnd that’s something that shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. Living in this digital world, we see the power of viral messages.

In my view, this question should be asked at even higher levels and not just by the marketing specialists trying to fix the SEO state of a website or another digital asset.

Creating value added content is a critical part of growing any online business – not just to have a site better rank from a SEO perspective.

 

In this article, I will focus on the topic of delivering business value in the realm of the digital world. First, let’s revisit the definition of business value. Business value refers to any activity or results from that activity that is aligned with the strategic objectives of the organization. Within the digital context this means that the activities that an organization engages in the hopes of achieving certain results must be aligned to the overall digital strategy of the organization. The results are about what we normally would discuss in the context of basic business fundamentals such as increasing revenue, improving profit margins, optimizing business processes, improving shareholder value, and so on. However, when discussing business value in the context of the digital world, we usually mean getting the basic business fundamentals to work in the context of the overall digital world in which the business operates.

In an earlier post, we discussed four components of an organization’s digital strategy. They are as follows:

  1. Digital Channels – Refers to the channels of the Internet and the digital world through which audiences (customers, visitors, etc.) touch an organization.
  2. Digital Audiences – Refer to customers, prospects, visitors, users, etc. of the digital world.
  3. Digital Experiences – Refers to online experiences that digital audiences experience while interacting with digital assets and properties of the digital world.
  4. Digital Platforms – Refers to the digital systems, apps, websites, blogs, etc. that organizations build to serve their audiences.

The figure below illustrates delivery of business value in the digital world. The business value in this case depends on the interplay of the four components through the internal business processes and its organizational culture.

digital business value delivery

This diagram on delivering business value in the digital world essentially forces an organization to ask the following questions:

  1. Do your digital audiences like your products and services?
  2. Do your digital audiences trust your business enough to conduct business transactions?
  3. Are you reaching out to your audiences and potential customers on all possible digital channels where they may live?
  4. Are you offering the right digital experiences to your digital audiences on all the digital channels on which you conduct business?
  5. Are your digital channels up to the task of delivering the above in an optimal fashion?
  6. Have you re-engineered your internal and external business processes to align with the above?
  7. Have you established an internal organizational culture in line with your strategic objectives and the realities of the digital ecosystem in which you operate?

By taking a hard look at these questions will help you formulate appropriate business strategies that will help you in growing your digital business.

A few points about maximizing business value in the digital world are mentioned below:

  1. Optimal digital business value delivery is about using the traditional practices of leadership and discipline – only in a different environment.
  2. Competition in the new digital environment has necessitated new rules for delivery that include agile and lean practices.
  3. Business value in the digital environment is about defining new business capabilities that are relevant to the digital world. The newly defined business capabilities must be aligned to an organization’s strategic objectives.
  4. The new digital environment (including new digital processes, etc.) necessitates new ways of measuring business value that must be done at various levels of the organization.

 

Not long ago, growing an online business was considered the same as increasing organic traffic from search engines.

Although more organic traffic from search engines can help a business boost its business and clients. But simply focusing on organic traffic from search engines is a myopic approach and involves much more than that.

The reason the two used to be confused with each other is because the digital space was dominated by search engines and most digital activity used to lurk around search engines. However, with the explosion of social media, digital platforms, and larger digital ecosystems, that is no longer true. Millions of people now live and breathe within a larger digital space than that earlier provided only by search engines.

So, growing an online business must be tackled from a number of dimensions. Let’s consider some of them below.

Revisit your business model

digital business model - grow online business

If you have an existing business, you must revisit your business model. A business model is a representation of how your business creates and delivers value to your customers and audiences. It includes all the key components required to deliver that value. With the ongoing digital transformation, if you are not keeping up with the trends, that may have changed and may have changed dramatically. So, revisiting your business model and going back to the drawing board can help you re-validate your purpose, your audiences and customers, and how you plan to deliver value to your customers in the digital era.

Look around and consider for a moment those businesses who failed to keep up with the digital transformation. Remember Blockbuster? They were unable to see the digital tsunami that annihilated their business overnight. Do you see what’s going on with the shopping malls across many parts of the world? People may be visiting them more for their food courts rather than to shop from the shops of those malls. Shopping malls may be providing a place for people to hang around more than a hub for shopping.

So, before you venture into growing your online business, take a look at whether your business is positioned along the right digital pathways and pointing in the right direction. Once you have established that, you can start pushing it along those pathways of digital success.

Know your digital ecosystem

digital business ecosystem - grow online business

As you reassess and validate your business model, you will discover how your business environment has transformed. Your discovery would lead you to the following:

  • The way your business’ value chain has transformed
  • The new competitors that have entered the marketplace, many of which may have gotten ahead in some ways due to the way they are leveraging the new digital capabilities of the digital landscape.
  • The digital interplay between market participants that you may not be aware of and that may leave you behind if you don’t get on that bandwagon. For example, your competitors may be exchanging value and goods with suppliers in new ways that may be more cost effective than the way you have conducting business. If you don’t catch up, your competition may be able to deliver more value for the same price that you are offering to your customers. Moreover, if you don’t catch up in time, this may be a major blow to your business.

The bottomline is that you need to know your digital ecosystem and how value is being exchanged in that ecosystem between various entities. You, then, need to get clear about your overall position in that ecosystem and how you will deliver value and then have a clear strategy to grow that value over time (in digital ways and others.)

Get to know your new digital audience

digital audience - grow online business

To grow your business online, you must know your digital audience. This audience may not be the same as those that you interact with in the non-digital world.

Here, it would be prudent to take a segue and distinguish between the digital and non-digital audiences. Simply using a mobile phone or a device doesn’t necessarily make your audience digitally savvy. By digital audience, we mean audience that has adopted certain digital behaviors and are driven by those behaviors to make critical decisions of their lives. Those habits and behaviors may involve the following:

  • Do comparison shopping,
  • Read and research on various subjects before deciding on certain aspects of their lives,
  •  Use various apps for different activities such as banking, personal development, etc.
  • and so on.

Depending on your business and the audience that you serve, your prospects and customers may not have all gone digital. You, therefore, need to assess that crowd and determine that breakdown.

Once you have done the exercise to know that breakdown, you can then move forward in planning and investing in both types of audiences. Accordingly, that will impact the systems and processes that you will need to build and support those various forms of audiences. (see the discussion later in the article).

Read The importance of setting a formal digital strategy

Formulate your digital business processes

digital business processes - grow online business

Once you know how you want to serve your digital audiences in the digital world, you can then start formulating your digital business processes. For example, if you discover that your audience is digitally savvy and lurks around Facebook more than anywhere else, you can start offering customer service on Facebook and invest less on a call center for example. Similarly, if you know that your retail customers are more into coupons, you may start offering them digital coupons through online channels. If you don’t, your competitor next door may already have started to offer them online digital coupons and taking your foot traffic away from your brick and mortar store.

Build the right digital  systems

digital business systems - grow online business

One can’t grow their online business unless they have the right systems to help them do that. You may or may not remember the many companies that emerged during the dot com boom in the late 1990s and 2000. Although these companies showed a lot of promise to deliver value to their customers, many were unable to follow through. etoys.com is an example of a toy retailer who didn’t go out of business because they didn’t have the business but failed simply because their systems and business processes were inadequate to handle supply chain, inventory, and customer fulfillment issues.

So, therefore, once you know your digital audience and your digital business processes that you will need to serve those audiences, you will need to build the right digital systems. It’s easy to say, for example, that you will start to offer your audiences digital coupons but it’s another thing to build systems that will help you create those coupons, maintain them, track their use, expire them, and so on. Furthermore, you will need to track and assess their effectiveness as well. All that requires good online systems and you must have the right digital strategy in place to offer them to your customers and visitors.

Conclusion

The article reviewed some of the critical areas that an organization must address as it looks to boost its digital presence in the new digital world. One thing is for certain and that’s that an organization must look at this question more strategically rather than as a tactical one.

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Gone are the days when ‘going digital’ simply meant rolling out an app or marketing on Google and Facebook. As all facets of the economy, businesses, and their business processes have gone digital (or are going digital), an organization needs a sound digital strategy to compete effectively in the market. The following are some of the steps that an organization can take to formulate a digital strategy.

  • Formulate a specific strategy relevant to your business: Rather than formulating a high level pie-in-the-sky type of a strategy, an organization should formulate a specific strategy related to its business model, and should reflect an organization’s intent to position itself in the new markets with the new players.
  • The strategy should be specific to point out how an organization would be creating its ecosystem, the structure of that ecosystem, and its positioning in the new ecosystem for creating value.
  • An organization should be clear about its competitive strategy and a clear understanding of how that strategy will create value for its shareholders and the overall marketplace.
  • An organization should chart out a transformation strategy to the new business model and strategy and how it will adapt to that change internally and in the marketplace.
  • Articulate a clear strategy for creating value in the digital world: A strategy should stipulate how an organization will create value through its linkages with the external players in the ecosystem, its expectations, and how it will establish those linkages.
  • An organization should be clear whether it expects any shifts related to the market segments that it will operate in or whether the shift will carry it to different markets.
  • A strategy should be specific and clear enough to help the senior leadership realize and measure those strategies.

Read more about Strategic imperatives of IBM’s digital strategy

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