Putting digital first: from ‘tick-the-box’ to business driver

By Julie O’Donnell

October 11, 2018

October 10, 2018 – As a strategist with more than a decade of experience in health-focused digital and marketing strategy, I believe in the power of digital channels to change lives, and am inspired by combining business strategy, digital marketing and technology to maximise engagement. This time of year, when people are deep in annual planning, there are several digital trends that I believe should be front-of-mind for folks, and can help ensure you stay ahead of the digital curve.

We’ve been talking about digital and social media for so long, people could be forgiven for thinking that things might have stabilised. That maybe there are ‘tick the box’ tactics that will be effective in their strategy. However, recent reports (1) show that people are still increasing the amount of time they spend online…and in particular, their time spent on mobile. The speed of technological disruption is actually accelerating. I read recently that it took 80 years for Americans to adopt the dishwasher, but we embraced the Internet in less than a decade. We’re seeing similar trends in relation to voice technology with devices like Amazon Echo taking off.

That said, people tend to be too focused on having the ‘new shiny tool’ or technology integrated into their strategy and neglect to do the basics well. In fact, doing the basics well consistently and at scale can be truly differentiating for any company or brand as other teams tend to have patches of innovation but lack that foundation of digital best practice across teams or across markets. It’s difficult to capitalise on emerging technology or emerging trends unless you’ve got that foundation in place. To do so, there are some pervasive trends you can exploit:

  • Actionable data – There’s still a lot of hype around big data, but what we see more commonly is that people struggle to leverage the data already at their fingertips. So, it’s actually less about ‘big data’ and more about having the right data and being able to interpret it and execute against it. Increasingly, people are enriching their audience understanding through digital tools – taking an omnichannel view to build out a picture of how these people live their lives and, as a consequence, where and how you can best engage them. This has been done in the past through straightforward social listening, but this is an area that is maturing. A well-informed strategy has not only this audience and market insight in place, but also targeting data (using audience insight to develop criteria to reach them on key channels) and performance data (putting in place tools and tactics to ensure we can track how well did we do). An area that is rapidly evolving is predictive analytics – using data from various channels and platforms, coupled with artificial intelligence (AI), to predict a customer’s future behavior based on past activity to inform when, where and how you engage them. This can be transformative in your strategy. You can use predictive data in many ways, not least of which is to look at likely results from particular tactics to predict results and return on investment to allow you to reevaluate your approach, reallocate budget or to support key performance indicators.
  • Information overload – We’re starting to see the effects of more than a decade of digital adoption and people are starting to realise the effects of being ‘always on’. Fear of missing out (#FOMO) which causes people to be hyper-connected across channels is now being balanced by ‘digital holidays’ where people unplug from devices and social networks for a day, a weekend, a vacation. People are also becoming more and more discerning – embracing an ‘on demand’ mentality in all respects. They want things on their terms – when, where and how they like it. We see this shift everywhere – from people changing from buying albums to selecting songs on iTunes and Spotify and from buying newspapers to selecting articles in their feed. We also see it in the growth of niche networks and messaging apps – many people want to communicate and share with key people and groups versus broadcast on channels. There are many simple and effective tactics companies can employ to help their target audiences combat information overload – helping them cut through the noise through curation and co-creation of content.
  • Content that will have an impact – We’ve long since heard that ‘content is king’ and this remains true. When it comes to your content strategy the cornerstone should be visual content – images and video. By 2020, 84% of communications will be visual and 80% of Internet traffic will be video content. Typically, this is a point of weakness in most organisations. They struggle to develop creative visual content that resonates with their target audiences and to do it consistently month-by-month. Getting better at this is a strategic imperative – as your average stakeholder becomes more accustomed to visual content across platforms from the New York Times and the BBC through to Snapchat, Facebook Live and Instagram Stories, their standards are raised. They expect visual content and they crave the same speed, relevance and authenticity they’ve grown accustomed to. Hospitals, patient groups, medical associations and others are taking notice and diversifying their visual content. This is leading to live streaming of surgeries through to video Q&As which again raises the bar for the sector. Anyone working in marketing and communications should, in my opinion, be setting aside a few minutes out of each week to ‘play around’ on a new website or app, to walk a mile in their customer’s shoes. This is free insight and can be really eye-opening.
    • Apart from visual content, integrating voice should be another cornerstone. Month after month, podcast listenership rises thanks to smartphone penetration and increased Bluetooth connectivity in cars and homes. On top of this, ComScore estimates that more than 50% of searches will be voice-based by 2020. This all adds up to a growing opportunity for companies to tap into the potential of voice. Lastly, when it comes to content, we need to switch off autopilot. Too many teams are churning out content without tracking the true impact. Basically, quantity without the quality. This adds to the noise for your audience. Taking a step back, evaluating what’s working or not, and creating a sustainable content strategy that works across channels should be on top of everyone’s to-do list
  • Personalisation in ‘the moment’ – Personalisation is probably one of the most over-used and most frequently misunderstood terms in the context of digital marketing. Personalisation in your strategy should go far beyond ‘Hi John’ emails and support you personalising your approach to individuals depending on where they are in their journey (their disease journey, education journey, buyers’ journey, etc.). Google talks about reaching people in ‘the moments that matter’ to them. Breaking down a person’s disease journey and even their typical day to consider the right content and right channel to reach them in these micro-moments. Every organisation, every team, should know what the moments (big and small) that matter for their strategy are.
  • Partnerships that break the mould – Today, we see online and offline world’s colliding – people watching TV while following along on Twitter; at a concert but live streaming it on Facebook to their friends at home. Digital is now part of all our lives and with the growth in technology, we’re seeing more and more innovative partnerships in communications campaigns, but also in the delivery of healthcare services and disease management. Looking at partnerships through a different lens is critical for success going forward – Who already has the attention of your audience? Who has skills/technology you don’t? Who has common, but not competing objectives? Thinking in this way is leading to partnerships such as Boston Children’s Hospital, Circulation and Uber; the NHS and Google’s DeepMind Health and many more.

These trends can act as a guide and a checkpoint as you review your 2019 and 2020 plans. Above all, reflect on your plan and consider if you’re providing value to your target customers – meeting their needs and addressing their preferences – whether you are active on one channel or twenty-one channels. At the end of the day, real engagement with your customers is the differentiator.

(1)Tech Crunch. “Here’s Mary Meeker’s essential 2018 Internet Trends report.” https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/30/internet-trends-2018/ Accessed October 2018