Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Working Backwards from Digital

Working Backwards from Digital
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Is it time for agencies to rewrite their manufacturing processes around the most responsive and data-rich medium?

Designing an identity around a logo is as strange a notion as building your house around a sink. It just doesn’t make much sense to allow one small part of a system to dictate the overall course. The same insight needs to be brought to marketing campaigns.

Many organizations have missed the boat by treating digital as an add-on to an advertising concept. But this is starting to change. Instead of trying to plug in a technology, or throw away the traditional part, we need to bake in digital from the very beginning. It might even be time to put digital at the core, and then work everything else around it.

Nobody puts baby in a corner

It’s more difficult to establish a system (such as a campaign) than a one-off of something (such as an ad). That’s why it’s wise to determine the requirements of the system before implementing anything. Doing otherwise leaves you stuck in a corner, unable to make choices that might benefit the overall goals of the campaign (and client).

Case in point: the “brilliantly creative” ad campaign that now seems impossible to mush into a banner ad or website. Suddenly, the idea that had everyone smiling in other implementations turns out to be broken. What do you do? Stick with the idea and not worry about digital? Toss the whole thing and start again? Call home and say that you won’t be home tonight because you don’t know what to do? (Ugh.)

Digital is the most complex/dimensional component of the campaign system; therefore, we must give it special attention. We’ve found it important at smashLAB to start with flowcharts that map each touch point and interaction in a campaign, to determine what visitors will encounter over the campaign’s lifespan. This allows us to explore how to best engage them. At first, I worried that this meticulousness might be overkill. I’m now convinced these measures are essential.

All roads lead to digital

I don’t want to create single impressions. They don’t result in anything. Instead, I want to hammer and hammer and hammer and hammer and hammer and hammer and hammer messages across until some kind of response is achieved. I can’t imagine any marketer arguing with this thinking. I also can’t imagine them not wanting to collect as much information as possible about their audiences and their behaviour.

Because of its data-collection possibilities, the digital implementation of a campaign has to be one of the first, most important, considerations. Every piece of bait must lead back to a digital property, to be tracked. This helps us to understand what’s making people click, and allows us to strengthen our approach and make informed decisions.

From there, you need to keep hammering. This means finding ways to nudge folks with your message. Perhaps you’ll do this through email opt-ins, or by getting them to subscribe to social feeds or something altogether different. Whatever you choose, success increasingly depends upon lengthening the brand engagement—the only way to establish a relationship.

Numbers, experiments and hacking

Metrics scare the shit out of me. Clients task agencies like ours with ambitious goals, rarely considering whether or not they are even achievable. Meanwhile, it’s not like we’re baking cakes here: there’s no foolproof recipe guaranteeing success. Fair enough, we all like our challenges. When we don’t make it happen, though, the numbers serve as damning evidence of our missteps.

Putting bellyaching aside, the ability to measure the impact of our work is quite remarkable, especially when you consider how responsive it makes you. If traffic dips, you seek out patterns. If traffic spikes, you find the catalyst. Curious which method is going to work best? Try three and keep the one that sticks. All the answers are out there. But it’s critical to keep moving quickly. You need to implement variations, back-up plans and wholly new alternatives on the fly should things not be working. Sure, this can mean extra work, but it also gives you the latitude to act that an earlier generation’s agency would have killed for.

But making the most of this responsiveness requires a shift in perspective from a creative one to a hacker’s: instead of getting upset about a campaign underperforming, we must use every necessary means to make it work.

None of what I’m proposing here is rocket science. The tough part is that it’s a change from how we used to do things, and it demands restraint. Before we allow ourselves to obsess over any one part of the puzzle, we have to take our time and consider the whole.

This article originally appeared in Applied Arts Magazine.

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