Managing a Global Digital Proposition – A Framework to Help You


These days digital is a large and complex beast requiring a broad range of skillsets – and even more so when managing globally.  And that alone is a big problem to solve and very few digital agencies will have the experience or capability to support you in the grander task – they’re simply not big enough and haven’t been there.  So, here’s a guide from the front line for you, the person who has to carry the can.  The attempt is to be broad in approach but also to pick out some of the nitty gritty issues that you read about less often but which you absolutely must address.  Some of it is blindingly obvious (but still not always done properly), some of it is downright tedious but nevertheless imperative.

Most global organisations will have a digital capability that touches the areas below but the question is: how well does it address them?   You can use this framework to review where you are and what you might need to pay attention to.   

  1. Business Objectives – even if you’re working in an organisation that doesn’t have a fully fledged business strategy, there will be an implied one.  Understand it.  What does digital mean here?  What are our expectations of digital?  Is it primarily a point of sale or awareness or both?  Then think about the market, do some competitor analysis.  Know the brand. What are its messages?  Who do we want to communicate to?  Who do we need to?  What is its scope?  How does it work globally?  What is the degree of global brand coherence or is it little more than a badge for different offices around the world.  This can be really tough as sometimes digital is the one place where things must come together globally, even if that isn’t how the organisation works.  Think globally.  Are their local flavours?  What does this mean culturally?  What should it mean?  How is this enacted in terms of design for real?  If you’re from an Asian country you’ll likely enjoy some strong colours.  This may not appreciated the same in Europe unless it’s intrinsic to the brand.  So what visual accents are allowable that bring the brand to life for local audiences but without compromising it?  This is so important if you want global buy-in internally.  Know your stakeholders, speak to them, engage them, update them and keep the wheels well oiled.  Consider also your ongoing governance at the strategic level: this means you not only do things right but, let’s be honest, give people little comeback if they’ve signed up to something in the first place.  People are people.
  2. User Experience (UX) Strategy – a misunderstood term which is often equated with usability.  It’s a whole lot more than that. Think of UX as a mentality required to achieve the successful communication and processing of information through technology.  There’s a definition you won’t see too often.  Think of it as meeting your audience’s underlying – as well as expressed – requirements.  Think also of UX deliverables as the body language surrounding the verbal content.  How do you communicate?  You step outside of yourself and understand the other’s perspective.  Firstly, then, you absolutely need to know: who are the audiences?   Don’t ignore traditional marketing territory: it’s there for a reason.  A starting point should always be an understanding of your customer segmentation and/or channels.  But don’t forget the other stakeholders: the shareholders, the journalists, the prospective employees and so on.  What do all these audiences want?  What do they do?   How is this different globally?  Is it really just a matter of translation?  Research, research, research.  This is the part which is most likely to give you your digital USP, whether you regard yourself as a digital business or not.  Get at the underlying requirements, get into users’ heads, research the information architecture (IA) and design it around them, make content as intelligible and findable as it can possibly be.  People always focus on the execution of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) but that’s the easy bit.  Designing your IA around the thinking of your users will solve the problems later on.  It’s no good skipping the foreplay.  Look at your current analytics and see what people are doing.  Ask them what they need.  Observe them using the site (to find the requirements that they won’t/can’t verbalise).  Typify user types as personas to guide design thinking.  Map out the priority user journeys.  Allow for the hygiene factors and follow conventions where they make sense (Logo top left, About Us and Contact Us are standard wordings, search should be top or top right, etc.).  Redesign as necessary and test, test, test.  Don’t get lost in the research, prioritise.  If you can’t talk about it without referring to a complex segmentation model/persona map, then you’ve gone stupid by being too clever.
  3. Content – You’d be forgiven for thinking this is the easy bit but the fundamental issue here is to structure your approach by designing a content architecture and content lifecycle.  Analyse what content you have now and what you could or should be putting out there and organise it into a coherent map/diagram that is simple enough for senior colleagues to point at and discuss meaningfully.  Focus on themes and purpose and audience and shelf life.  Then have a think about governance.  Who owns which bit of content and who needs to sign it off and how often should it be reviewed?  Do you have a legal and compliance team that need to see it?  Do you need to keep records?  How do you identify content opportunities and how can you be sufficiently responsive to make decent use of social media?  What does this mean globally?  Is it just a matter if translation or is it different content?  Can it be translated internally?   If it’s just a translation, how do you make sure the original language and its variations or all updated at or near the same time?  Who will manage and publish this?  Do you need publishing responsibility in each time zone?  Think of it as a strategy of responsiveness, planning to be reactive.   Don’t ovedo it, think devolved authoring, controlled publishing.  On the social media front, it’s healthy to know which outlets are for which marketing discipline.  Start with the obvious: Twitter for PR, crisis management general brand awareness and thought leadership, Facebook is for fun, LinkedIn is about brand awareness, thought leadership, recruitment, Wikipedia – just the facts, etc.  Start simple and map your content to its purpose and its output.  Wrap the governance around that and ensure you have a mechanism to identify opportunities.   Once you’ve done this you also need to plan your website architecture for a global proposition with the goal of making it easy to maintain and quick to add to, ie simplicity is the goal.  A typical model will have the global, corporate site with country or regional level satellite sites addressing the local audiences.  Draw it out for your organisation and kick the tires on it with senior stakeholders before implementing anything.
  4. Capability (resource/process/technology) – you need to design and implement an operating model for efficiency, robustness and responsiveness.  This piece is large and pretty chewy in places but you can’t ignore it.  Map out the processes (governance, content, compliance, record keeping, campaigns, lead management, change, etc) and align resources to them.  Think about direction, ownership, design, execution and what should be in or outsourced.  It should be obvious but ownership should always be inside the organisation.  That said, you’d be amazed at what people think they can outsource.  There isn’t a single right answer to outsourcing however there will be a single right answer for your organisation.  Mistakes are costly so try to get it right first time.  Think what should be core and what is non-core specialist.  An online-only business may do everything but infrastructure and probably with good reason. Outsource the specialist stuff (which may be design and hosting to one organisation or SEO and PPC to another).  Then comes the real teccy stuff.  I know I said you should seriously consider outsourcing hosting but make sure that your set-up has sufficient ‘redundancy’ and no single points of failure (your infrastructure folk should help you prove this – invite them out of the basement with promises of lunch, sunlight, etc.), disaster recovery capability, denial of service protection, and of course a sensble time to market for publishing content. Don’t insist on real time but longer than 15 mins is no good.  Don’t forget to get the final build both penetration and performance tested.  For global performance you should seriously consider paying for a Content Delivery Network (CDN) which saves you putting infrastructure all round the globe at great cost and ongoing overhead.  If you don’t bother then your customers in other parts of the world won’t thank you as performance will be rubbish.  On top of that infrastructure will typically sit your content management system (CMS).  If you haven’t already got one then write your requirements, look at the Gartner magic quadrant and get those in that are best fit.  Think about what you want to do, technology fit, existing skillsets, the support model and so on. Select carefully and ensure you run your own proof of concept to establish comfort on the user experience within.  Your governance and content lifecycle identified in point 3 will be key in making this a success – don’t skip it or you’ll regret it big time.  Regarding record keeping, use a cloud solution as there’s loads these days and it saves you having to worry about backups or rewinding your CMS.   The last honourable mention is customer relationship management (CRM), in particular lead management.  A key aim of marketing is to establish qualified leads.  Define what that means in terms of measurable touchpoints (website visits, email open rates, roadshow attendance, etc.) and design a governance process for exploiting opportunities, be it a hand off to the Sales folk or gearing up your digital response to closing the sale, sending saved checkout reminders, special offers, whatever is your online closure model.  For everything in this section, think 24×7 – availability, publishing, audience responsiveness in different parts of the world at different times, support, the lot.
  5. Delivery/Execution – Once things are in place then this is all about planning and co-ordination.  Digital, if done right, is part of your integrated marketing activity.  It all needs orchestrating, particularly when it comes to campaigns.   I won’t go into all that here but don’t forget co-ordination of the other things like company results, job ads, Twitter posts, etc.  The other key think here is measurement.  Measure everything you can but be very selective about the measures you choose and what they mean.  Absolutes are tough here but relatives are easier (benchmark your email open rates against the previous product launch, industry averages, etc.)  Go for awards as well and shout about them when you win or are shortlisted.  Celebrate your plans and wins with posts to your Intranet – involve your colleagues.

And that’s about it.  If you follow the above you should be all done in a couple of weeks.  I jest of course.  Running a global digital operation is a significant undertaking which needs to be addressed in phases by different resource and skill sets.  Hopefully, this gives you a few pointers on where to focus your energies, if only some things you might need to review .  Best of luck!

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Innovating in Technology: Connecting the Old with the New Through Metaphor


Heavy!  But if you stop and think about it, the whole of our technological world is pervaded with metaphors, both verbal and interactive.  Metaphors aren’t just for writers but with technology it’s the hook with the now that takes people into the future and that’s the clever bit so I’ll call these ones ‘innophors’ (innovative metaphors) for now.

I’ve previously emphasised the importance of convention and familiarity with user experience but doesn’t this sound at odds with technology and innovation?  How can we innovate or differentiate if people don’t like change, if they only seek the familiar?  Familiarity comes in many flavours and the charge of technology and computing is so often through metaphor – to such an extent that the metaphor becomes the new reality*.  Think how much we scroll, cut and paste every day without paper, scissors or glue?  Does anyone care about that publishing metaphor?  How many people know?  Last time I talked about Excel and the spreadsheet metaphor that goes way beyond the balancing acts of accountants.  Maybe some of it was chance but I do wonder how many Excel spreadsheets are actually used for accounting purposes these days.  The keyboard is a metaphor for the typewriter and in 50 years most people that remember what the return key meant will be dead and gone – maybe along with the keyboard!  Now people expect to consume information in different ways and explore information spatially through touch.

In user experience design the lovely wireframe (a plain, low fidelity mockup of a web/system screen) is a metaphor for the initial shape of something, like a sculpture, before it gets built out.  Some metaphors are a bit unusual and you wonder at their effectiveness given how many people knew what wireframe meant in the first place!  It doesn’t matter in this case as the end user does not care so much as the ux practitioner but it does emphasise the importance of the creative concept and getting it right and knowing when to name it right.  Tim Berners Lee’s hypertext concept for the web is one of the greatest innophors ever invented and people quickly caught on to the idea of hypertext links and the implications for a highly connected network of information.

Ok, so what…..how does this help us?  It’s important because the gateway for change and innovation is typically through metaphor, be it the interface or the name of some service that relates to some previously understood idea but breaks it into a new one.  It can be as significant as tweeting on Twitter or as specific and non-verbal as flicking through album covers on your ipod.  The point for the user experience is less about something being new and more that it must be obvious.  If people don’t get the idea or the functionality then it’s no good, try again.  But this doesn’t mean that you can’t bring about radical change, it just has to make sense by connecting with people’s current understanding.

So whatever you want to bring about, design or conceive it must link to the now but it does not stop it being new.  Look to connecting a new idea to an existing one and use innophors.  People need a hook into the idea to take them on the journey and the concept – be it a name or a piece of functionality or a device – is what makes something take.  It has to make sense.  Keep pushing the metaphor into new bounds to define a new reality and user experience.

*Curiously, the metaphor can take over the original reality so you’re more likely to see a mouse in a plush office than on the street, we’re better at fighting computer viruses than real ones, etc.  It’s that lovely word ‘simulacrum’ that French postmodern intellectuals talk about in cafes.  I once spoke to my daughter about what we decided to call ‘cocktail’ words on the assumption that the colourful drink concoctions were called such things because of peacock tails but when we talk of cocktails we first think of the drink variety or we bend the word to some new end, cocktail of drugs, molotov cocktail, etc.  These things become meta-metaphors or something like that.  Amusingly, it turns out that I was wrong and that the origins of the meaning of ‘cocktail’ are not clear – which kind of proves me right!  It doesn’t matter what a word originally meant, it’s how we use it that counts.  Language and symbols should not just be seen as systems to help us map reality in some fixed and finite way but instead are tools to help us define new realities and new concepts (a journey in understanding courtesy of Ludwig Wittgenstein).  Symbolic power is so often the key to making technological innovations and doing them in a way that people understand.