“Synergy” is perhaps the most overused business and marketing buzzword in existence. It has become a mainstay of jokes told at the expense of corporate America. But, perhaps the biggest joke is that, even though the word “synergy” has become so closely associated with big business, the concept of “synergy” has had very little impact on business as a whole. Unfortunately, the disconnectedness and disorganization that plagues modern businesses when it comes to their digital operations costs so much money and manpower that it’s hard to laugh about it anymore.
noun; the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.
noun; the proper positioning, integration, and harmonization of aims, practices, technologies, etc. within a group or organization.
The concept of synergy is crucial to business success but, more and more, we’re finding that synergy doesn’t go far enough. It’s not enough that all of your business elements are combined to produce success. They all need to be pointed in the same direction and at the same goals. In a modern business environment, where multiple technologies and communication platforms (your digital properties) are in play, you don’t just need digital synergy – you need digital alignment.
The greatest benefit to digital alignment is a dramatic increase in efficiency. When all of your digital properties are aligned, it takes less time to get things done across those digital properties – and, as the old saying goes, “time is money.” When all of your messaging is aligned, there is less confusion (and less work) and your communication – both internal and external – is more effective. When all of your digital properties are connected and aligned, you can actually automate a significant portion of the day-to-day work, saving precious manpower. Processes that were, at one time, fully-manual – like customer/client nurturing email campaigns, lead scoring, lead remarketing, business reporting, and even social media interactions – can be set up to run automatically, intelligently, and largely unaided.
The second, and nearly as important, benefit to digital alignment is the ability to see the big picture when it comes to your business processes. When you have a combined vision and universal business goals across all of your digital properties, and when all of your systems are interconnected, you start to see trends in the data that are invisible when everything is siloed. This data is powerful and can help you to not only explore new avenues for revenue but, perhaps more importantly, will let you see which avenues have dried up or are simply not working.
As business leaders, strategists, and marketers, we tend to rely heavily on our gut feelings to make decisions. The unfortunate truth is that, even with all of the experience and knowledge at our disposal, our gut is often wrong. This is why we have to measure and respond to data even when that data tells us that we need to STOP doing things that “make sense.” Though a tactic may have seemed like a good idea when we implemented it, it may not be producing the results that we need. If we stop putting our efforts into tactics that aren’t working, we can save our companies time and money that would otherwise be wasted. When we take a scientific and data-focused view, our business efforts can and will become more refined and more effective over time. Sometimes, things just don’t work. That, in itself, is data to be used to make better decisions. But you have to be able to SEE what does and doesn’t work in order to move forward efficiently and effectively.
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford
Modern businesses use a lot of modern technology – but they don’t all use the SAME technology. Every company has its own mix of systems, tools, programs, websites, and networks that are tied up in their everyday operations. Because of this, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution for digital alignment. Every organization has to be evaluated individually and an alignment plan needs to be created specifically for that organization and its unique business goals.
That said, here is a list of digital properties and processes that should be considered when putting together an alignment plan.
The Customer Journey
Ironically, the most important part of a digital alignment plan is your people. Specifically your customer service and sales people – the people in charge of your customer journey. Yes, we know that people are not digital. But, in the modern business ecosystem, more and more of the customer journey is completed online – via chat, email, social media, online stores, or text messaging – and, while nothing can replace person-to-person interaction, those communication channels are digital and have to be a part of your alignment plan. That is going to require “buy-in” from your customer relationship team members. They need to not only understand the goals of the system but believe in them and work towards those goals. They need to be aligned along with everything else or the whole system will fall apart. All businesses revolve around people – your customers and your customer care team members specifically – and people must form the core of your digital alignment plan or it is doomed to fail.
Source: The Belding Group 2015
Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM)
Your CRM contains (or should contain) the most important and detailed data about your clients, accounts, and customers. This is the information that your sales staff uses to understand their leads – the people that they’re trying to sell to. A CRM allows you to track warm leads, sales, open quotes, salesperson activity, and successes along with vital, personal information such as name, organization, past sale history, etc. Now, imagine if you could augment that data with information about that particular customer’s interests, research patterns, possible budget, and urgency level? Most salespeople start salivating at the mere thought of having this kind of ammunition. With digital alignment, data from other tools such as marketing automation, social media, SEO metrics, and even your internal business tracking tools can all be brought together to give you a clear picture of your individual clients and customers.
If you’re interested in learning more, we have an article on this type of integration here: Building a Digital Sales Ecosystem.
Every website exists for a reason. Some websites are purely informational – they exist to provide contact information and a bit about the company for those who are curious. Some websites are complex information and resource delivery platforms designed to serve the needs of their users. Some organizations use their websites to sell products. Whatever it is, you had a reason for building a company website. But is that reason aligned with your overall business goals? Often, we find that companies have a reason for their websites but their websites don’t have purpose. By integrating technologies like responsive design, marketing automation, customer chat and text support, website analytics, smart phone numbers tracking, or digital advertising, we can use the website to support sales teams and nurture the customer relationship. When a website is aligned with business goals, it starts to become a viable tool for generating leads and revenue – it starts to serve a purpose.
Content marketing is 62% less expensive than traditional marketing.
Source: Demand Metric
A great website and killer content aren’t worth much if potential clients and customers can’t find you online. Paying attention to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is crucial but making sure that your SEO efforts are aligned with your overall digital strategy is even more important. Using keywords and unique content that are in line with your target audience and business goals makes the difference between being found and being found by the right people. It’s the difference between wasted money and high-value conversions. Statistics reveal that SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) have a 1.7% close rate. (Search Engine Journal).
Marketing Automation + Email
Marketing Automation Adoption
large companies (>100 employees)
mid-size companies (10-100 employees)
small companies (<10 employees)
Source: Raab Associates
Marketers have been preaching the value of social media as a marketing channel for years but very few companies have a social media strategy in place – and even fewer understand HOW to maximize their social media channels to generate sales. This is partly because audiences are constantly changing how they engage with social media, but it’s also partly due to a mistaken impression on the part of marketers that people will engage with companies over social media in the same way that they engage with each other. The fact is, most customers see social media as a customer service channel more than a marketing channel. An integrated and aligned digital strategy takes this into account and maximizes this expectation to increase conversions.
Source: NM Incite Social Care Survey
Promoted Tweets have shown average engagement rates of 1 to 3 percent—much higher than traditional banner ads.
The first AdWords ad ever bought and run was for live, mail-order lobsters.
Source: Business Insider
(You just can’t make this stuff up.)
Business Management Software
Inventory management, point-of-sale, and accounting software may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking through an aligned digital strategy but a shocking amount of money is tied up in these systems – the equivalent of 7% of the U.S. GDP! Leaving that kind of money OUT of your digital strategy is just foolish. These business management systems are not only crucial to everyday business operations – they contain absolutely invaluable information about your customers and their purchase behaviours. If you can get these systems integrated with the data coming out of your CRM and marketing automation systems, you suddenly have access to a much more complete picture of your customer’s decision-making process. And when you understand that process, you can track the money, stock the right products, and organize promotions in much more efficient and effective manner than ever before.
There is more than $1.1 trillion in cash lying idle in inventory, accounts receivable, and accounts payable systems in publicly-held U.S. companies. (Source: REL)
Mobile marketing is critical to the success of any digital strategy. The statistics don’t lie – more people own a mobile phone than a toothbrush (5.1 billion versus 4.2 billion, respectively). 60% of that 5.1 billion people use their smartphone as their primary connection to the internet. But, even with this information in their hands, most companies don’t have an aligned plan for text message (SMS) marketing. Text messages are, by far, the most immediate and powerful way to engage with customers via mobile. But SMS marketing has to be used correctly or it becomes invasive and can actually work against you. It’s CRUCIAL that SMS marketing be a part of – and aligned with – your overall digital strategy.
Text Message Usage Data
- 70% Of Mobile Searches Lead To Action On Websites Within 1 Hour (Source: Survey Monkey)
- Text messages have a 98% open rate, while email has only a 20% open rate. (Source: Mobile Marketing Watch)
- 90% of all text messages are read in under 3 minutes. (Source: Connect Mogul)
How do you not only integrate but align all of your digital properties? Well, the first thing you have to do is take stock of what pieces and parts you already have in play. Make a list of all of your marketing channels, all of the business software that you’re using, and all of the content that you’re generating. After you’ve made your list, you have to figure out how well they’re integrated (or whether they’re integrated at all) and how well they’re aligned with your overall business goals.
Make a Plan
Once you know where all the pieces are and what state they’re in, you’re ready to start creating a plan to get everything aligned. The first step of the planning stage is basic triage. What’s the most crucial piece to your digital strategy? What is in the worst shape? What will take the least amount of effort to get on track? You’ll need to create an action plan based on this information and your available resources. Once your implementation action plan is in place, you can start rolling out updates and changes to bring everything into alignment.
Implementation is where most alignment plans fall apart. It’s important that you set challenging – but achievable – goals for each step of the implementation plan. Identify milestones and set due dates for each step leading up to those milestones. Make sure everyone on your implementation team is aware of his or her tasks and responsibilities. Set regular touch-base meetings so that there are no surprises and so timelines can be adjusted if necessary. Efficient implementation ultimately leads to effective alignment.
Measure + Evolve
Creating an effective digital strategy isn’t a “set it and forget it” scenario. Your customers, clients, and company will all change over time – your digital strategy will have to change too. You will have to measure your results, determine what works and what doesn’t, track effectiveness and change tactics when they stop delivering the results that you want. And they will. Change is constant and quick in the digital world. If you’re watching your data, you can respond just a quickly and create more effective strategies than you started with.
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occaisionally look at the results.” – Sir Winston Churchill
As with any machine, pieces will drift out of alignment. You will have to get in there and realign things from time to time. But if you’re proactive about measuring, adjusting, and tweaking, you will find that your digital strategy will become more and more efficient and effective over time and your business will grow because of it.