I have some friends who are Web designers. I hate them.
OK, not really. But I am jealous that they produce beautiful work over which clients unfailingly "Oooh!" and "Ahhh!" I, on the other hand, produce stuff that by comparison resembles a tooth extraction. It's not fair.
And it never fails that as soon as I get a new client, the first question the client asks is, "When will we actually be able to see something?" Ugh. Enter yours truly, the strategist, to talk about data, analytics, and user behavior. I'm like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon: "Mwah, wah, wah... strategy... wah wah wah... analytics... wah wah wah... user behavior."
Even if it's boring to go through a discovery and strategy-development process, plunging headfirst into a Web redesign without doing so can result in solving the wrong problems—an expensive and time-consuming outcome. What's more, it leaves fewer resources for solving problems that could have a significant positive impact on your organization.
So, I do my best to get new clients through discovery and strategy development and on to the fun part (i.e., design) as quickly as possible. (I'll try not to let the door hit me in the strategy on the way out.)
The first step is to have a new client—usually a marketer like you—provide me with a variety of data inputs that will help me formulate a clear picture of the client's organization and its key business drivers. I creatively refer to that phase as the "documentation review" phase.
You can actually help expedite things by packaging some things for the project team in advance. (Try not to yawn while you're doing it; it might hurt my feelings.)
1. Your Strategic Plan
Your strategic plan is probably a total snoozer to read... but it does tell me the direction in which all your people are (in theory, at least) rowing, and why. The digital strategy we develop, therefore, should align directly with it, and each tactic of the digital strategy should contribute toward one or more of your key performance indicators (KPIs).
What we really want to know is the following:
- What are your organizational goals for the coming year and for the next five (or so) years?
- What are the most important business drivers for your organization?
- How will the KPIs you've identified be predictive of your success?
- What are the specific metrics (i.e., numbers) for each KPI that, if reached, will indicate success?
- How are the various pieces of your organization lined up to collaborate in meeting those numbers?
- Are there major organizational changes on the horizon? New leadership? Financial shifts?
2. Your Brand Strategy
This is what some people refer to as the "touch-feely stuff." Personally, I find it somewhat less Lunesta-eque to read your strategic plan. It tells us how you have packaged your organizational aspirations, your relative positioning in the marketplace, and your mission for public consumption. It typically includes a brand statement referred to as your "promise" to your customers. The pertinent questions to ask include the following:
- What is the story of your brand promise?
- What are the points that resonate most with each of your key customer segments?
- What are the proof points we should use to illustrate how your brand lives up to its promise?
3. Your Marketing Communications Plan
Like your strategic plan, this document is not exactly beach reading. A marketing communications plan is typically a combination of strategy and tactics, focusing on the relative near-term (12-18 months). It may include direct marketing, SEO, social media, pay-per-click campaigns, TV, radio, print, and so on. Here are the key questions to ask your client:
- What means do you intend to use to promote your organization and its offerings considering your strategic plan?
- What aspects do you prioritize and invest in most heavily considering your strategic plan?
- Have you considered how your key messages and proof points might be brought to life across various media considering your brand strategy?
- What media channels have historically been most effective in promoting your organization? Are you considering new options?
4. Market Research and Business Intelligence
It's sad, but I actually like reading market research. (Then again, I'm no designer. So what do I know about a good time, right?) Market research helps me learn what you know about your customers, your industry, and the market in which you are operating.
If you have enormous amounts of business intelligence data, focus on the following important issues:
- What do you know about your customers? Who are they? How are they grouped, and do you have a segmentation strategy? What issues and "tasks" are most important to each group?
- What do your Web analytics indicate? Are there trends in site usage? What are your conversion rates?
- How satisfied are customers with your offerings? Have you ever used focus groups to get more qualitative feedback on what your customers think? Do you have quantitative data such as numerically rated survey responses?
- Who are your competitors? How do they compare?
- How do people use your products/services after they buy them? What is the current lifespan of your customer engagements?
5. Industry Benchmarks
And we're right back to Sleepytime Tea with this stuff. Benchmarks show how your organization performs relative to the rest of your industry vertical. In particular, we want to know the following:
- If you aren't scoring as well as you would like, have you identified where the gaps are?
- Do you have a reputation within the industry for specific brand attributes? Are you more exclusive? More cost effective? More friendly? More innovative? More diverse?
* * *
Bottom line: OK, fine, strategy is boring. But don't let your eagerness to get to the fun design stuff overshadow the benefits of a thoughtful discovery process and a strategy based on data.
Get that important information packaged for your project team so you can move on to design... and so my designer friends can show me up yet again. Grrr.