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Want to master relationship marketing? Map your digital ecosystem

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Want to master relationship marketing? Map your digital ecosystem

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Too many firms are spending all their time thinking about their website and email marketing as their primary ways of pushing content to prospects and clients. This is so prevalent now that consumers of professional services are getting bombarded with emails which they ignore, and they don’t have time to go to a general website and search for the information that they need so they don’t bother. Firms need to take a new avenue: they need to think about a client relationship as a targeted interaction, reaching the prospects and clients where they already are.

In order to do this it’s vital to understand where your clients are active and where they consume content. You need to visualize and optimize the key elements of your digital marketing ecosystem to keep your clients digitally connected to you. Understanding your digital ecosystem by mapping it out to your buyer cycle is the best way to visualise it and keep track of how your prospects and clients engage with your brand digitally.

First, we need to understand exactly what a digital ecosystem is. I define a digital ecosystem as the interaction between your brand, clients and prospects, considered together with the applications and resources in the digital environment.

Change is aggregating and accelerating

We’re all familiar with the pace of change; marketing and the challenges facing marketing are evolving more in the last decade than they have in the 50 years prior. The tools of the trade are changing quickly, and it’s hard to keep up.

There are three major trends that are happening right now that impact all businesses:

1. All companies are now digital

The concept that “every company is now an IT company” may be difficult to agree with at first, but definitely sheds some light on the changes in business today. Interactions no longer have to do with the products we’re selling, but instead how we interact with the consumers of our products online. You need only look at some of the world’s largest companies to see that they do not hold, own or create the products that they are responsible for distributing, but purely exist in an online space:

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” Tom Goodwin TechCrunch

2. Growth of mobile

The rate of change is astonishing here. Visits from smartphones and tablets now account for 60% of all online traffic. This is critical; you need to assume that mobile will be not only the first interaction, but also the majority of interactions with your clients and means that you should design your interactions with clients and consumers to be mobile efficient.

3. More platforms, more risk

When you’re thinking about what interactions your clients and prospects might be having with your brand it’s easy to focus on just one platform (say, the website) and forget about the rest. It is important to think about everything; you need to know what’s out there and stay aware of how your brand is being represented on all platforms. You need to put in place governance to control this and be able to respond to any impact to your brand that might come along.

Importantly, these three trends are all happening together and they’re all feeding each other. The fact that consumers or clients are becoming more mobile means we have to be more digital. And their mobile interactions are fed by their own ecosystem of applications. You have to constantly check to make sure you know what’s in your ecosystem and you need to know what your clients and prospects are doing so you can keep up with them, and mapping out your ecosystem is key to this.

So what are the benefits of doing this right?

Greater efficiency. You will gain knowledge of where you’re spending your money and whether the allocation of budget and resource is appropriate based on how those channels and applications impact your buyers’ decisions.

Branding consistency. You will gain awareness of how your brand is represented across all the channels your prospects and clients access, with the ability to put guidelines in place for each channel, application and platform.

Speed to market. You will be able to have an ecosystem in place so that when you have an opportunity for brand promotion, you will be able to immediately leverage the channels to access your prospects and clients, and you’ll have a sense of the consistency, style and messaging that will work on that channel with that audience.

Increased revenue. Relationship marketing now seen as the new path to profitability. We all know it costs more money to win a new client than to keep an existing client. You will be able to see how are you engaging with and keeping track of clients digitally and see where there are opportunities to up-sell an existing client.

What are the risks associated with not taking time to do this?

Wasting time on the wrong platforms. You risk sinking cost, energy, and resource on platforms your clients and prospects aren’t visiting, they don’t care about, and that don’t have impact. If you’re putting all your efforts in the wrong place you’ll miss opportunities to generate new business elsewhere.

Competitors will get ahead. If you’re not aware of where your prospects and clients are, you can guarantee that your competitors will be, and they’ll already be there. They’ll have learned the rules of the road for those new channels, and you’ll only ever be able to play catch up.

Stakeholders will “go rogue”. If you don’t have a map that covers the needs of the major markets you’re speaking to, your stakeholders are likely to use those channels without your approval inadvertently posing a risk to your brand.

Losing your clients’ trust. You have data privacy responsibilitues when you take on a client that you must take seriously. You will lose prospects and clients if you abuse that trust and they won’t come back, and they could harm your brand by sharing this mistrust publicly.

Drawing your map

So now that you are totally convinced why you need to get a handle on your digital ecosystem, you need to get started drawing your map. Remember, this isn’t a one-off activity; you must redraw or update your map on a regular basis. It’s an iterative process; your clients and prospects are using a lot of different applications and their behaviour changes frequently so your map is going to be complex and ever-changing.

What does a digital ecosystem map look like?

The formats of digital ecosystem maps are endless, and they should be unique to your organisation. There’s no right or wrong way to draw your map, and at every stage they’re different. Here’s an example of one I made to give you an idea:

Digital ecosystem map

The tools for digital cartography

I’ve defined five key areas you need to consider when mapping your ecosystem, which will help you to create your own map:

1. Client focus is critical

When you’re building a map you shouldn’t think like a civil engineer; you should think like the person who’s trying to move through the city. It’s really important to not think about yourself, just think about what your client is doing, and what the characteristics of their digital behaviour are. Don’t worry too much about creating a full persona profile for your audience; you’re only looking to understand their digital interactions and which platforms they’re engaging with and what’s important to them there.

Consider the different requirements of geographic regions as some platforms will be different in different countries. I strongly recommend bringing in external research when thinking about your audiences’ behaviours, as people within your organisation won’t have the best perspective. Importantly, talk to clients about what they’re doing. Revisit these profiles regularly (every six to 12 months), as there will be new products coming out and the way people interact with them constantly changes so stay on top of trends.

2. Chart user journey and buyer cycle

Work out the path for one of those personas for that target market as they journey through your engagement process. Envision in your mind as you draw the map how people interact with your brand when they’re making different choices. Start with needs assessment, then on to broad research, through to their behaviour as a client. The applications they use change throughout the journey so you need to understand the different phases. Refer to stages of the buying cycle that are specific to your industry, and use your organisation’s specific language. Your map is something you can show to your senior team when you propose your budget so make sure they can understand it.

Use these to chart the most relevant digital interactions in the way that most appeals to you. A lot of digital cartographers conceptualise these as funnels, which is great for sales cycles but not so great for ecosystems. For digital maps, it’s not a funnel; it doesn’t get narrower. It’s just as broad and complex a digital map of interactions when they’re clients as they were when they’re prospects.

3. Identify key platforms

As I’ve already mentioned, clients will use different applications at different stages in the buyer cycle. Every organisation is different and each one uses different platforms too. Identify all the platforms your organisation uses, and all those that you think your clients use. Make your map visual: colour code the platforms based on whether you have control of it (self-generated content such as blogs and offers), whether it is bought (SEO and advertising) or earned (rankings and awards). Think about what investment is required to set up and maintain each platform; do you have to put down infrastructure? Is it in the cloud? Do you have to learn it (if it is a social platform)?

4. Resources and governance to addendum your map (or put it in a key)

Consider if ecosystem governance is centralised, decentralised or collaborative. Choose carefully which route you want to take, as you’ll need to prepare resources and governance. You will need templates, rules and governance in place if you decentralise, but a purely centralised approach is difficult as it requires a lot of resources in the team to manage all the platforms. A collaborative approach lets you reach across different parts of the organisation, set up a steering committee, and define ownership. Figure out who owns different streams or elements of the map. Who is feeding those? What are their responsibilities? How do you get governance and guidelines in place to help them?

5. Analytics and reporting

One of the great things of having your digital map is that at the end of every period you can look at it and ask “do i know if i’m being successful at all of these channels?” By having oversight of all of your channels you know what you need to measure and so you can start to report on the status and progress of each. You will be able to feed this information to senior management so they know what their investment is bringing in and how it is supporting your efforts.


Mapping your digital ecosystem is not a quick fix or a sure way to win at marketing. It’s a tool that will help you stay on top of your ecosystem, and should be used to help you with the following:

  • Architecture and infrastructure virtualisation, so you know how people are interacting with different parts of your ecosystem. This is critical not only to you, but also your IT teams and your data flows.
  • Resource and budget allocation, helping you to think about whether you’ve got the right people, and help you to identify areas on your map that have a big impact on your buyers’ decision but you don’t have any resource allocated to it, You can use the map to defend requests for resource allocations.
  • Governance and workflow planning, helping you to protect your brand. If you’re watching your map you can see if people within the organisation “go rogue” and represent your brand outside of your control. If you’ve got an eye on it, you’re able to track it.
  • Measurement and reporting. If you don’t know what your entire ecosystem looks like you’re likely not reporting across all of it, so you’re likely losing opportunities to take advantage of wins to take credit for earning them!
If you want to know more about this and get an idea of how a digital publishing platform can fit into the ecosystem, you can watch my webinar.

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