“A digital strategy is the who, what, when, and where of listening and responding to consumers, bridging brand experiences, iterating offerings, and collecting and activating consumer relationships in order to accomplish an actionable and measurable objective.”—Digital strategist Bud Caddell
Simply stated, a digital strategy is a plan for how to support business goals through the benefits of digital tools. Strategies guide us in major decisions by providing a sense of direction and cohesiveness to our work. Having a well defined and clear digital strategy ensures that decisions about digital channels are not made on impulse (“let’s make a new app”) or merely in response to available technology (“let’s use QR codes”) but rather as part of a coherent plan that enhances the user experience and maximizes business opportunities. However, we can only have a sense of direction after we have properly oriented ourselves—and this is where the ecosystem map helps.
Through ecosystem thinking, we can leverage business opportunities while at the same time providing better experiences for customers. The aim of this article series is to show how to apply ecosystem thinking in design projects. In the first article of this series, Digital Cartography, we discussed ecosystem thinking and how to draw ecosystem maps. In this second—and last—part we will look at how to use ecosystem maps as tools to guide us in designing digital strategies.
Digital strategy vs. business strategy
Before we get into building a digital strategy, it’s important to identify what this strategy is not.
A digital strategy is not a business strategy. A business strategy provides a long-term roadmap and budget forecasting. But technology moves too fast for a digital strategy to give an accurate 3-year plan or budget. Digital strategies are, therefore, less detailed than business strategies and they are more focused on creating a framework—consisting of policies, priorities, and people—for making strategic decisions.
Digital strategies should be based on what we know about the users from our user research and the business strategy of the company. To make sure that the intersection between user needs and business goals are taken in consideration during the design process we need a digital strategy that can guide the design and development team.
The anatomy of a digital strategy
A clear digital strategy can ensure that we build profitable ecosystems, resulting in a cohesive user experience across multiple touchpoints. The ecosystem map shows at a high level who the users are and how we might address their needs. Next, as part of the digital strategy, we identify the specific path to reach our goals. A digital strategy should identify:
- A digital vision and objectives. Rather than focusing on a single product or service, we should look at how we can meet the needs of users through several interconnected products and services. The company GOQii, for example, provides a wristband that monitors physical activity and sleep. They also have an app that tracks nutrition and lifestyle. In addition, they offer personal follow up advice from coaches; all of these products and services fit into an ecosystem designed for helping users achieve a healthier lifestyle.
- The target audience. We began thinking about users when we drew the ecosystem map. In the strategy, however, we need to define our target audience much more precisely. This is also the time to prioritize the primary user: is it a working woman in her 40s, or is the product more suitable for teens?
- Actions to reach the objective. Here, we are defining what we will do to reach our objectives: this will become the final ecosystem of products and services. We made assumptions when drawing the initial ecosystem map, and now we choose concrete paths, and identify when we aim to design and launch different products and services.
- Success metrics. To track our progress, it is important to define measurable objectives. Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be measured continuously to track if our chosen strategy is working. Examples of KPIs include everything from the number of site visits, to the number of customer support calls (hopefully few!).
- A delegation of roles and responsibilities. To ensure the digital strategy is implemented, it’s important to have a clear, shared understanding of who is responsible for what. Some clear guidelines, and even a full responsibility assignment matrix can save everyone involved a lot of frustration.
To help us reach decisions about these aspects and specify them in a strategy, it is useful to analyze the map from different angles.
Analyzing the ecosystem map
Let’s design an ecosystem map for a fictional online home-listings company. The company also provides mortgage calculators and links to online mortgage applications, as well as price statistics for listed areas. In the ecosystem map, the functions and services the company already provides are listed as “inside activities,” whereas the activities that users have to do are labeled as “outside activities.”
During the moving process, users make many decisions—where do we want to live? What is our price range?—and use a number of services—real estate agents, inspectors, movers, and so on. The steps are complex, and the timeframe can vary significantly. Our ecosystem map matches this, with no specific sequence of events, and no timeline. Nevertheless, the map presents the main elements of finding, buying and settling down in a new home.
The company wants to expand their business by offering more services related to purchasing a new home and moving. Their target audience consists of private buyers, 30-60 years old, looking for a place to live (not professional real estate investors). When people move, their ultimate goal is not just to buy a house or to move physically, but to settle into a new home. The company has therefore decided that their digital vision should be “to help people find and settle into their new home.”
To take advantage of the many user insights we have illustrated in the ecosystem map and use those insights strategically, we need to analyze the map through multiple lenses:
- Pain points. The first thing to consider is troubles the users currently experience. Pain points represents business opportunities, since they show us where we can make a difference. But we also need to investigate the nature of the pain points: How often are they experienced, by how many people, and what emotions do they evoke?
For example, home buyers are often concerned that their new neighborhood will be safe, and have easy access to services like parks and supermarkets. They can explore the area near open houses, but this is time consuming. Offering an overview of the area integrated in the online listing will ease this pain point.
Another pain point is scheduling. It takes a lot of time and energy to visit open houses, and it can be frustrating to keep track of the different homes and remember their unique features. An app showing schedules for open homes and suggesting the best travel route between several would be a useful tool, particularly if the app made it easy to save personal notes and pictures from each house.
- Relevance. Which of the “outside activities” should our solution provide? We can analyze which features are essential, which would be nice to have, and which would add an insignificant value.
There are myriad services and functionality that people could use in the process of finding and settling into a new home, but it can’t all be provided by a single company. For an app intended to track upcoming open houses, calendars and a map will be essential, neighborhood information for the listings can be nice to have, whereas a checklist of questions to ask is less significant. Such evaluations must be based on user research and not on own assumptions.
- Competition. We can learn a lot from our competition. What competing solutions are in use today? What needs do they fulfill, and where are they leaving gaps?
There are a number of websites and apps available that help people find a new home. House Hunter and Open Houses, for example, help people keep track of and rate the open houses they have visited, complete with photos and notes. However, they don’t provide maps or help users plan to efficiently attend multiple open houses.
- Channels. Which channels do people use to share information and perform activities? How can we use these channels to our advantage?
Social media is often used for gathering advice ranging from finding a good real estate agent to getting opinions on a nearby school. In our app, we might design a function for easily posting listings on Facebook, or allowing comments on pictures.
- Pathways. Orchestrating journeys through the ecosystem happens by way of interactions that allow the user to accomplish his goals while also supporting the business strategy. A journey through the ecosystem should ideally trigger another journey back through the service, or to another service, ideally one that our company also offers.
An app for keeping track of visited and scheduled open homes might also include functions for getting quotes from home inspectors, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers.
- Risk factors. What are the main factors that could make people drop out of our desired pathways? How can we create external and internal triggers that motivate use?
Apps are often downloaded and installed, and then never used. To make sure that users become active users we have to motivate them to use our service. For example, we might send out notifications about open houses and bids.
These lenses challenge us to analyze our ecosystem from different angles. They provide a useful framework for thinking holistically, rather than designing isolated products and services.
Why bother making a map?
Visual ecosystem maps make it much easier to spot new opportunities as we design digital strategies. It also helps us to (literally) map our user research to prospective business opportunities. Moreover, an ecosystem map is an excellent tool for co-creating strategies with clients and users. The lenses can be applied and discussed together with stakeholders and users. The ecosystem map provides a reference for guiding these discussions and designing strategies in an iterative and collaborative manner.
Most importantly, ecosystem maps helps us connect our products and services. It makes us take into account the solutions of other companies that are part of our users’ ecosystem. Ultimately, ecosystem maps can assist us in making informed and coherent decisions both on a macro and micro level. While the map shows our endless opportunities, the strategy defines the selected path.