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November 27 - 28, 2017 | Center City, Philadelphia, PA

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Attention C-Suite: Well-Crafted Digital Experiences Aren’t Cheap

I spend a lot of my time working with marketers and the technology they are using to create compelling digital experiences. In many cases, businesses still operate in a world where digital is considered the “other thing.” It’s that cheaper thing that we’ll do when more traditional means of adding customer value become too hard to do.

It’s not true.

Two ideas came together for me recently – one from one of my class attendees in Boston, another from an article I read. The article was a wonderful piece at Harvard Business Review from Craig Borowski, the managing editor at Software Advice. In it, he discusses what a great digital experience should look like. My favorite part is where he talks about how a business’s digital initiatives should complement the existing journeys:

“Many companies clumsily add digital components to customer journeys that don’t directly benefit the customer or are superfluous to the company’s value proposition … ‘digital’ and ‘online’ are not synonymous with convenient.”

He goes on to use an example of a physical sandwich shop that invites customers to take a survey online. For whom is that survey convenient? The business.

The conflation “digital” and “convenient” in the minds of business leaders has implications beyond ignored surveys. This mindset (let’s call it the Easy Button mindset) often leads people to underappreciate – and under-support – the effort required to plan and manage digital content as an asset.

This brings us to the conversation I had with a frustrated director of content at our Content Marketing Master Class in Boston. He was telling me that while he understood the concepts of both content marketing and content strategy, he was truly having difficulty making a business case for spending more time on content initiatives:

“We’ve created one of the most industry-leading research reports quite by accident. It’s unbelievable how well we’ve been able to repurpose this research data and content automatically to print, online, and even in an app. It now accounts for 20% of the new subscribers to our marketing database. Yet, we’re allowed to spend only a fraction of time creating and optimizing it. In fact, the C-suite views it as a side project.”

When I asked why, he said, “Our company’s leadership sees digital content as the easy part. They think it should be faster and much cheaper than anything else we do.”

I empathize.

Over the last 17 years, everybody selling a “digital over physical” solution as a disruptive part of whatever marketplace they’re in has extolled the value of digital being easier, faster, and cheaper than the alternative – and requiring less effort. Guess what? It worked. Now many senior leaders view digital costs through a much more critical eye than any alternative.

A television ad should be more expensive to produce than a YouTube video. Right? Isn’t an e-book easier and cheaper than a “real” book? It must be. And, of course, a strategy to distribute content across web, accommodating all kinds of mobile devices and social media, has to be much more tactical and less important than a brand communications strategy.

Digital content – created and published from any number of functions in the business – has a common goal: to create a positive customer experience. As Craig points out, these digital experiences should be consistent with people’s offline experiences and make life better for them, not just more convenient for the business.

Planning for and managing digital content is a multilayered discipline that needs to be worked at a company’s highest levels. It’s not a separate department run by the “young digital people”. Digital isn’t necessarily faster, cheaper, or more convenient. It’s not less strategic. It’s not a channel. There’s no Easy Button.

We have to make much more strategic cases with content as part of a business strategy. As I’ve been saying at my Master Classes these days, we’re not building a content strategy for business. We are building a business strategy for content. Our organizations’ C-suites need to understand that this takes time and investment. We have to change the well-embedded beliefs. Digital content isn’t a side project. It’s the project. We’re going to have go back to that old song by Ringo: “I don’t ask for much – I only want your trust, and you know it don’t come easy.”