The Strategic Use of Use-Cases

Often, use-cases are reserved for the requirements gathering phase of a marketing technology project.  The strategy has already been developed; the platform selected, bought, and paid for; the design and branding wheels in motion; and then a technical project manager starts talking about what happens when a visitor arrives on the web portal and clicks the next button.  It’s discrete, as if the visitor just appeared there magically — it’s self-contained, as if the interaction didn’t take place in the context of a broader marketing campaign — and it might just be too late in the process to avoid costly rework and/or a less than elegant implementation of the vision.

You might even have complex diagrams and detailed text outlining some special content for returning visitors posted on the site…

In my experience, the importance of use-cases and the supporting involvement of a technical specialist is under-represented in the strategy and planning phases of a project because other concepts are more dominant.  Strategy and planning is largely the providence of marketing personas, research and survey results, focus groups, engagement maps, customer journeys, and, if a technology platform is involved, a long list of features required.  Ironically, while these materials can be quite a bit more detailed and polished than a simple use-case, that’s one of the reasons things can fall through the cracks.

I’m the first person to admit that questions like this might not be as exciting as white-boarding a blue-sky customer journey, but they can be equally important…

For example, one of your target personas might be a returning customer, and your engagement map probably notes they are going to receive a personalized email prompting them to visit the campaign portal.  There could be complex diagrams detailing the chain of interactions, and detailed text outlining some special content for returning visitors posted on the site, but what you probably won’t have is something that leads to a plain language description of how the different systems you are using — CRM, CMS, MA or even BI — are supporting a coherent journey and the associated result metrics.  That description starts with a use-case, especially in the capable hands of a technical project manager, that reads something as simple as this:

  • An existing customer received a personalized email and is driven to a portal with custom messaging

A marketing strategist might find that redundant to a (poor draft) of a marketing persona plus an engagement map, but a technical project manager will immediately begin asking questions such as the following:

  • What is the source of the customer record? The organization’s CRM or a separate list?
  • What content in the email is personalized?  Is the content personalized based on the individual customer’s record or simply the fact that they are a customer?
  • What content on the web portal is personalized, and is it specific to the customer themselves?  What is the source of that customization, the CRM or something stored in an eCommerce Application?
  • Is there a persistent user account?  Should we try to recognize returning customers if they arrive on the site directly outside of the email?  If so, how so?
  • If the user is prompted to take an action, who receives the transaction and acts on it?

I’m the first person to admit that questions like this might not be as exciting as white-boarding a blue-sky customer journey, but they can be equally important to determining whether or not the strategy envisioned can be accomplished with your existing technology and staff.  They can also help ensure an elegant end-user experience, and that actions taken by customers will be acted upon and real ROI will be generated.  Generally speaking, the strategic use of use-cases can help you get ahead of the curve in the following ways:

  1. Exploring a broader range of ideas.  Journeys, engagement maps, etc. are usually complicated, detailed documents, often passed through the hands of a strategist, content creator, and designer.  Use-cases are simple text, easy to create, and can help expand the scope of the strategic ground covered by the ideation sessions.
  2. Ensuring that the “how” of a project is discussed along with the “what” and the “why.”  The goal here is not to limit your ideation process or reduce the scope of your marketing technology dreams, but rather to enforce a holistic approach that includes all relevant aspects of an implementation, and increase awareness of any ideas that might require changes to your infrastructure.
  3. Engage and expand a broader team from the beginning.  The complexity of modern marketing technology projects requires a wider, more diverse mix of skills than ever before, and while we don’t want to burn through hours unnecessarily, we do want to ensure ownership is shared by all members involved, and time spent in the planning phases usually results in less time during implementation.
  4. Focus on action instead of reaction.  This item is primarily in reference to the ubiquitous user requirement lists that generally govern platform selection.  These requirements tend to be developed in a very passive voice that fails to capture both the action being performed and its relative importance.  Use-cases can help change that dynamic by focusing on the output and potentially highlighting unmet needs.
  5. Identify testing needs sooner rather than later.  Use-cases are a great start towards user acceptance testing, and understanding the behaviors expected early in the process will help your technical team members develop thorough quality assurance cases and improve the overall delivery.

Ultimately, use-cases are a very engaging way to brainstorm and develop complex ideas.  Simply put, their simplicity tends to be their strength:  They are easy to create, evolve, update, re-imagine and reinvent.  They don’t require fancy presentation or large teams to support, they are easy for both technical and non-technical users to understand, and while they focus on “what” happens, they help illuminate the “how” in an integrated fashion that produces real results.

If you give them a try early and often, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the results.  They can also help with a technical RFP process, a topic we will revisit in an upcoming post.  In the meantime, happy use-case creating.

 

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All I Want for Christmas is a Fully Functioning CRM

Every marketer knows the dream: Let’s imagine we work in the hospitality industry for a moment, and we excite a potential customer with a Facebook ad for a weekend getaway.  The ad was displayed to an entirely new lead based on similarities to an existing customer’s profile; metrics you predicted using sophisticated analytics software. She clicks on the ad, and books her stay at your hotel. You send her the initial thank you and the follow up the next day with a promise of special offers if she downloads your app.

By this point I’m sure many marketers and marketing technologists think I’ve veered too far off into fantasy land…

As we’re dreaming, let’s assume she downloads the app the first time and there’s no reason to send the automated follow ups (text message option included) you’ve planned for the customer journey. Instead, she opens the app and completes a brief survey about her interests – she likes the gym, but isn’t a fan of spas, she’s a foodie, especially if the dishes are internationally inspired and the ingredients are locally sourced. You also ask a couple of questions about what kind of trip they prefer – spontaneous fun or every detail planned? She answers spontaneous fun.

You might even be right, but how’s that going to help achieve your marketing dreams?

After the survey, you prompt her to take a virtual tour of the facility, specifically how easy it is to check in. You also asked her planned arrival time and anyone else traveling with her. She’s going to be staying with her husband, and you prompt her to share the app with him to help plan their itinerary. Of course, he accepts as well and both are now set up for a successful stay…

…by this point I’m sure many marketers and marketing technologists think I’ve veered too far off into fantasy land. You’re busy thinking of your own infrastructure where reservations are in a different system than app users, and neither system knows anything about what’s being served at the restaurant. And you might think it’s like that for everyone else because the last time you called customer service at the cable company even they had to look up your record in multiple systems, resulting in time wasted and aggravation endured.

The best news for marketers heading into 2017 is the sheer number of platforms and services that can get you started down the path to marketing technology perfection…

You might even be right, but how’s that going to help achieve your marketing dreams this holiday season? To borrow the old phrase, the simple truth is that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and everyone needs to get started somewhere, making the really important question: How can you take the first step without having all of the pieces in place?

The best news heading into 2017 is the sheer number of platforms and services that can get you started down the path to marketing technology perfection.  The specific solution for your organization is going to vary based on what platforms you have available and where your data resides, but, as I mentioned in a previous post, a lot of these systems are converging on several key features.  The chances are very good that you have access to options to advance your marketing starting immediately.  The important thing is adhering to the right principles and having the right long term plan to align yourself with the ideal solution for your organization’s needs.

As you plan for the new year and beyond, here are a few tips to help jumpstart your success:

  • Measure and repeat — even if the numbers aren’t entirely complete. This should go without saying, but there often remains any number of reasons why we can’t precisely, perfectly measure the ROI of a specific campaign, and we end up running place instead of moving ahead. In my opinion, the answer is to measure everything you possibly can this time around and make improvements next time. Once you start presenting more detailed metrics, you will likely start to see your colleagues providing the information you need to improve the accuracy of the calculations.
  • Embrace the journey philosophy — even if your initial attempts are short and sweet. In today’s competitive marketplace, we can’t rely on consumers making a decision after a single brand experience, and we need to make sure we have the tools in place to re-engage. Therefore, all campaigns should include both a re-targeting component and multiple request more information forms tied to an automated email series however brief. This will help ensure you maximize your initial demand generation spend by encourage repeated engagement and also provide additional measurements to improve future campaigns.
  • Implement A/B testing — even if you’re already convinced of the ideal approach. This is another area where we can get into the habit of testing our assumptions, increasing our usage of the powerful new tools available, and generate more measurements. It’s also helpful to demonstrate to leadership the full capabilities of your marketing infrastructure and how data-driven you are making your initiatives.
  • Plan for continuous improvement – even if its incremental and the light hasn’t appeared at the end of the tunnel, the sugar plums not yet dancing in your head. In my opinion, this is the area where a lot of us get sidetracked. It’s easy to wait on technology perfection, but the truth is that we are missing out on opportunities to advance our techniques, infrastructure, and results. Instead, I feel we should push ourselves ahead a little further each time. It’s certainly going to taste sweeter than falling behind.

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Customer Journey or Engagement Pyramid?

It’s no secret that customer journeys are all the rage in the world of marketing technology.   Go to any trade show or listen to any sales pitch, and just about every company will inform you that they’re experts at implementing journeys.  There will be other companies happy to sell you software that supports an undoubtedly critical aspect of the journey.  Others will inform you of the imminent need for data scientists to understand all the information being captured.

The entire industry seems obsessed with them.  Therefore, it seems like it might be a good time to ask if a “journey” is really the right metaphor for how customers interact with brands.

When a person undertakes a journey, he or she plans the trip based on the destination they desire and the places they want to see along the way…

In some instances it makes perfect sense.  Merriam-Webster defines a journey as an “act or instance of traveling from one place to another,” and marketers are using the approach to better understand how prospective customers become actual customers and ultimately advocates, steps that can proceed from one to the next like moving from one location to another, or — forgive the mixed metaphor — following links in a chain.

In other instances, however, it can seem rather prescriptive for a series of interactions that isn’t actually directed by the customer themselves.  Normally, when a person undertakes a journey, he or she plans the trip based on a destination they desire and the places they want to see along the way.

In the case of a customer journey, the company is making the plans and leading them along, while the “explorer” might not even be aware that they’ve taken the first step or have any idea where they’re going.  He or she just ran a few search terms to learn a bit about a topic of mild interest, and now they find themselves in a corporate video game they never intended to play (to use yet another metaphor).

Journey diagrams so ridiculously detailed that the result was more impressionist painting of spaghetti thrown against the wall…

Are we at risk of over prescribing a potential prospects behavior and trying to fit the complex world of brand interactions that blend emotional and rational responses into neat and tidy boxes?

It’s a difficult question to answer, but I would make two points.  First, anyone that’s been in marketing for more than a New York minute can probably remember a fad that proved to be more inside baseball than anything else — Web 2.0, for instance?

Second, most of us have probably seen a few journey diagrams so ridiculously detailed that the result was more impressionist painting of spaghetti thrown against the wall than any actual marketing plan, maybe we even said to ourselves that there is no way anyone was ever going to finish this thing regardless of where they began.

Of course, I’m not trying to minimize the inherent value in organizing where a prospect or customer stands in relationship to a brand.  I’m only trying to suggest that, like many things in marketing, we need to be careful to question our own assumptions.  Returning to the comparison with Web 2.0, that phase didn’t turn out exactly as we planned in the early 2000’s, but many of the principles still apply in what ultimately became social media marketing and crowd sourcing.

In my opinion, it’s time to revisit the concept in conjunction with customer journeys

The question then becomes:  Can we better describe it without losing any analytical value?

In this very article, I’ve used the metaphor of both a chain and a video game, and both of them can apply to some extent (gamification being very apt if you are using sophisticated lead scoring), but perhaps the ideal metaphor is to pick up something that has been more prominent in social activism, namely the Engagement Pyramid.  It’s been used in marketing at times, specifically by Forrester Research and Charlene Li in describing social media activity, but to my knowledge has never really gained much traction in consumer marketing.

In my opinion, it’s time to revisit the concept in conjunction with customer journeys.  I believe there is a framework where journey terminology is used specifically to describe actions that follow prescribed steps like an automated marketing campaign, while the pyramid concept provides a more holistic approach to organizing your prospects and customers from general demand generation in broadcast or display media, to actively researching (retargeting ads for example), hot prospect (repeat website visits), customer and advocate (exact steps to be determined by organizational need, of course).

This approach appears to provide a number of advantages that we can expound upon in good time, but I feel they generally fall into the following two-part framework:

  1. Journey’s are inherently made shorter, more precise, and potentially more goal oriented, especially if we assume that an individual journey is explicitly designed to move a prospect up a step on the pyramid.  It also allows to envision multiple journeys on each level, as we will automatically expect that the levels comprise a range of behaviors with a similar audience profile.
  2. Engagement Pyramid levels inherently illustrate the variation in the actual people that occupy each level, preventing marketers from viewing individual customers and prospects as overly defined personas and enabling us to visualize a broader range of behavior.  This can be further fleshed out if we consider each level as a kind of spectrum and expect that unique individuals will exhibit unique behaviors and prefer to be engaged in unique ways.

What do you think?  Given the ongoing excitement around customer journey’s, I’m sure we will be returning to this topic in the coming days.  In the meantime, there are two other articles in progress before the end of the year, All I Want for Christmas is a Fully Functioning CRM and Have we Arrived at the Marketing Technology Singularity? 

 

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