Designing your digital ecosystem to deliver brand differentiation

Laurence Parkes, CEO, Rufus Leonard, explains how to deliver consumer-centric, brand-led and technologically inspired experiences.

Someone working at their desk.

In a world of accelerating disruption, organisations are looking for ways to rapidly create sustainable competitive advantage.

Never before has the digital realm been so fundamental to how a brand delivers its unique brand promise. After the COVID-19 lockdown, even the most traditional brands realised they need a digital experience (my favourite examples are all the churches that now use Zoom to reach their flock).

In the meantime, there is increasing awareness of the fact that technology alone rarely drives competitive advantage. Thinking holistically about your organisations’ four engines of difference – brand, services, people and technology – is key to creating meaningfully different experiences that drive sustained competitive advantage, resilience and growth.

A lens on the challenges of DX differentiation

The strive towards CX best practice, where competing brands all solve customer problems in the same way, has created a market of digital sameness. But a dependency on CX best practice is not the only challenge to overcome, regardless of whether you’re a large established brand struggling with legacy issues or a nimble scale-up trying to keep pace with its rapid growth.

Some of the common challenges of digital experience differentiation include:

Platform fragmentation – No matter your industry, the technology landscape is increasingly intricate and interconnected. For years marketers have grappled with the challenges of media channel fragmentation and varied rules of engagement that comes with each. More recently, complex tech stacks with martech third-parties have brought with them the challenge of platform fragmentation. This mind-boggling combination makes it even harder for brands to orchestrate a meaningful, joined-up experience for customers.

Organisational silos – Silos are always getting in the way of brands creating the best digital experience. Just one example; many organisations are still creating huge amounts of decentralised content. This results in inefficiencies due to a misunderstanding of core strategy, duplication of work, and a practice of non-experts creating outputs. But arguably the most damaging breakdown in collaboration has been the previous disconnect between the CMO (who defines how the brand should answer customer needs) and the CIO (who selects the tech that should enable it).

Business logic ownership – At first glance, this may not be considered a challenge, but if you are looking to futureproof your digital experience (which no doubt you are) it becomes imperative. Many organisations still house the business logic that defines and delivers the customer experience through all touchpoints in third-party systems outside of their full control. Your third-party supplier doesn’t have to go out of business to cause you issues around logic ownership. If you don’t have complete control over the roadmap of features on the third-party platform, and your development roadmaps become misaligned, you will have one hand tied behind your back. If the tension becomes too great, the process of conscious de-coupling can be lengthy, costly and painful.

There are ways your business can tackle this complexity to create meaningfully different digital experiences that drive sustained competitive advantage, resilience and growth for the organisation.

Below are three areas in which you can manage the tension between the need for focus and your organisation’s natural complexity.

Become consumer-centric but brand-led and technologically inspired
Balancing the primacy of the consumer versus technology or brand thinking is difficult
to achieve but highly rewarding when unlocked. In other words, define your visionary
experience based on insightful user needs, hung from a clear brand strategy.

Actionable considerations:

  1. In the face of increasing complexity, a clear sense of purpose (inspired by your brand story) can both simplify and pull together disparity when designing your digital ecosystem. Distil your consumer research, competitive analysis and brand strategy into well-defined experience principles.
    2. Find strength in a blended team of strategists, designers and technologists, all with an equal ‘voice’. This will help you find the right balance between consumer needs, brand experience, and the technology that enables it.
    3. Your brand hero moments are what shape the distinctive experiences that matter to your customers. Use key audience needs and motivations to identify the pain points that need improving but overlay your brand promise, values and personality to identify the brand hero moments that will deliver the greatest short- and long-term commercial impact.

Connect what customers want with what technology can do
To drive your differentiating digital experience, you need to connect customer understanding with technological possibilities. Fundamentally, connecting your brand purpose with your tech stack.

Actionable considerations:

  1. By connecting and powering the experiences your CMO craves, with tools and systems from your CIO, you can deliver differentiation. Bring your CMO and CIO together by aligning around your brand vision to help focus and prioritise.
    2. With technology enabling the efficient creation of value to customers, increasingly the tech stack is the business. Your Experience Services Architecture should be containerised and portable, so you own your business logic – releasing you from having to use a particular vendor. This way your brand’s experience roadmap is not tied to that of an uncontrolled third party.
    3. Plan for future innovations with your cloud-based Experience Services Architecture. This will accelerate your innovation pipeline as you’ll have control over a critical component of your digital infrastructure. Enabled by this technology, our client was able to add a brand-new channel to their experience ecosystem in a matter of weeks, with our Omnichannel Experience.API.

Support your vision with a clear and convincing business plan
A powerful business case will push action through an organisation. Even better, an Experience Playbook will create an inspiring blueprint that outlines the impact of hero moments on the bottom line as well as the technical infrastructure needed to deliver them; becoming a tool that translates business strategy into meaningfully differentiated customer experiences.

Actionable considerations:

  1. Establish a backlog of ideas and experience concepts to explore, rationalise and prioritise. Assessing potential impact versus required effort to implement, identify the quick wins and immediate actions, and sequence the rest into a roadmap.
  2. ROI is key in these times. You can measure the potential commercial impact of your experience concepts at a conversion and brand equity level. Conversion level example: calculate the lost revenue from unnecessarily abandoned shopping carts. Brand equity level example: estimate the likely increase in brand perception and future purchase intent from a best-in-class experience.
  3. Align your technology roadmap and ensure the requirements are a joint responsibility between both your CMO and CIO. This is another important opportunity to align the organisation.

Your key takeaway

These guides are useful regardless of if you’re a large, established brand struggling with legacy issues or a nimble scale-up trying to keep pace with your rapid growth. To differentiate with digital, you must look holistically at your organisation’s complete ecosystem, encompassing the four engines of difference: brand, services, people and technology.

From this, you’ll deliver meaningfully different experiences because they are consumer-centric, brand-led and technologically inspired.

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