Thoughts on digital content, optimisation, measurement and success.

The world has changed: thoughts from Silicon Beach

All photos courtesy of Paul Clarke

The Unique Digital content team took a brief sojourn to the seaside last week to attend the Silicon Beach conference in Bournemouth. This was in part a team-bonding session after my first couple of months in the new job, but I’m also a big advocate of getting away from the office for some much-needed thinking time.

Now in its 6th year Silicon Beach is an unusual event. Personally curated by Matt Desmier of Think Create Do, it brings together a selection of speakers from a variety of private, public and non-profit organisations, with a smattering of agency folk.

There’s no set theme and speakers are free to talk about anything they choose. In fact Matt has no idea what each is going to talk about before they begin. Given that this could have potential for chaos, it’s interesting that several consistent themes emerged.

There have been a few write ups and takeaways, but having had a chance to reflect on everything we heard I thought I’d add my tuppence-worth by way of a summary of what I took away.

The world has changed

For better or for worse, the web is now completely intertwined with our lives. It’s only a matter of time until our day to day interactions with the operating systems and AIs around us become seamless. On the one hand this offers huge opportunities both to business and society as a whole, but on the other presents numerous risks and challenges.

We face a double-edged sword in the use of data, not just in how we use it to get clicks and conversions, but in far reaching areas that we may not have considered yet. Should we tolerate Orwellian-scale surveillance of mobile data if it helps us to prevent suicide, or crime? This is certainly possible, but how far we are prepared to go as a society in allowing this kind of intrusion will inform the very nature of the world we live in.


The sharing economy

In part enabled by this new mass of data, we have the emergence of the sharing economy, and changes in both consumer behaviour and working culture.

The sharing economy is already an economic powerhouse, set to be worth an estimated $335bn by 2025. Not only that, but it taps into the 21st century consumer mind set, in which people actively pursue opportunities to share, crowdfund and kick start.

While we may not walk around on a daily basis thinking ‘what I really want is a sense of connection with the brands whose products I buy’, we are beginning to show preference for products, projects and campaigns that are designed in this spirit, that have a purpose and put customers and users at the centre.


Another indication of the wider shift in economics and consumer preference that the sharing economy is part of is the ‘unbundling’ of services that were previously provided only by large corporations.

Banking, music and travel are all examples of sectors that have been broken up into hundreds of separate, small micro-services that cater to individual user needs. These lean, agile companies are able to start from scratch, avoid legacy systems and technology, and design products, interfaces and businesses with the customer at the centre.

While the choice in all these services may eventually become overwhelming for consumers, we will ultimately reach a point where we are able to choose precisely the range of tools, apps and systems required to cater to our individual set of needs, and use them with a minimal amount of friction.

The changing nature of work

This is also reflected in a changing approach to work. The 21st century workforce increasingly values team relationships, career flexibility and purpose more than rigid structures and ladders.

In the same way that consumers wish to pick and choose the relevant services to them, employees now increasingly want to have flexibility in their career, and the ability to define their own progression. Companies that are willing to reconsider their approach to development and career structure, encourage “intrapreneurship” (horrible word, but it is a thing), and actively promote diversity and equality will be ones that can attract and retain the best employees.


So what does this mean for marketers?

Ultimately we’re all 21st century consumers. Despite how it may feel when we turn on the news each night the human race has literally never had so good. But that means we’re also drowning in stuff and clutter.

Brands that either a) help us cut through the clutter or b) show a level of responsibility and respect for the wider world are the ones that will prosper.

So as marketers we need to do more to advise our companies or clients to focus on developing meaningful products and strategies that truly place people at the centre.

This doesn’t mean spending all our time and resources being ‘high interest’ if we’re not. But we should be investing time and effort in defining our customers’ problems and understanding the relevant role each brand should play in providing answers to them.

Identifying our purpose in this way can have profound impact on the strategies that we pursue, enabling us to demonstrate the true worth and value of the services, products and content that we create. This is what we know 21st century customers want.

Breaking down silos

If you are not actively working to break down the internal silos that mean nothing to the outside world that prevent customer-orientated strategies, your or your client’s brand can and will be replaced by a brand more nimble and agile that is quicker to respond to user needs.

At the same time we need to be careful with the language that we use when defining purpose, strategy and tactics. We need to beware fluff, and exercise caution due to the tendency of marketers on both sides of the agency divide to latch onto this year’s buzz word.

Do we really understand the difference between innovation and disruption? Do we genuinely exhibit innovative or disruptive behaviours? We’re drowning in likes, clicks, shares and conversions, but with more data than ever the importance of precision in how we describe what we do and what we are trying to achieve cannot be understated.

None of this means that we should shy away from the challenges. There is a whole world of opportunities to be had and exciting work to be done. The fundamentals remain the same – focus on discovering your audience’s needs and aspirations, align your brand’s purpose to them, and develop products, services and communication strategies that meet them. It’s just funny how easy it is to get distracted by the clutter.

Bellroy – Content Case Study

I thought I’d take a little time out from the Visibility series to write about a brilliant content campaign. I think it’s an example to any marketer out there of what is achievable when commercial content strategy is executed with flair and creativity.

I first became aware of Bellroy through a display campaign (I think via Facebook, although I can’t remember exactly).  I suffer from ‘big bulky wallet’ syndrome and so my interest was piqued when I saw an ad promising to magically reduce the thickness of my wallet. I clicked on the ad and landed on one of the best landing pages I’ve ever seen.


The branding is aesthetically appealing; the page feels lightweight, well designed, and has an artisanal look that indicates care and consideration, both things that I look for as signs of quality in the products I buy.

The tone of the copy is light-hearted and humorous, while the parallax design of the page says to me that this is a modern company that knows what it’s doing in the digital sphere – something else that I admire.

There is interactive functionality: a moveable slider that shows how Bellroy can help you become a ‘slim ninja’, which is fun and playful. This is accompanied by simple a photo gallery showing product detail. There’s even a ‘hall of shame’ where users with particularly outrageously over-stuffed wallets can upload photos of their own.

Bellroy slider

It finally leads you to a product selection choice that gives you options and leads you straight to purchase.

Untitled 6

By the time I got to this point I was sold. I loved Bellroy, and I wanted one of their wallets.

A new breed of content (again)

I’ve already talked about how there is a new breed of content emerging and this is a prime example. What is it? It’s kind of an interactive infographic but it’s also a magnificent landing page – as I said, I was sold by the time I got to the product selection.

It’s a standalone piece of content in and of itself that’s a great introduction to the brand, selling the benefits of  Bellroy’s approach and the brand’s point of difference  from its competitors in a way that not only feels natural, but is also a piece of marketing that I actively enjoy and want to interact with.

It’s brilliantly executed.

Remarketing and cementing the awareness

Although I knew I wanted a Bellroy from my first interaction, I didn’t purchase. We’re saving for a house and I didn’t have £65 to spend on a wallet at that point in time. So I went off and made my merry way around the internet.

This is where remarketing worked its magic. Bellroy continued to pop up as I moved around, from Facebook to The Guardian and any number of sites I regularly visited.


I didn’t mind, because I liked Bellroy, and in fact one day when I had 5 minutes to kill waiting for a conference call I clicked on one of their ads again: a prime example of the benefits of supporting content with promotional spend across a range of digital channels.

This is when I got further immersed into the Bellroy content universe.

Product pages that sing

E-commerce product pages are all the same, right? You get a standard shot of a product, you can maybe choose a couple of angles, or do a 360 degree revolve if you’re lucky.

Well, you’ve probably guessed by now that Bellroy do things differently. You get your standard product shot, of course:

Bellroy Hide & Seek Product Page

But for a start every single product has its own video, all made in the same house style  that adds to the brand personality. It’s a jumpy, stop-motion effect that shows how the product works in detail.

Making the most of parallax scrolling there are great product detail shots further down the page that showcase each product’s unique features.

Bellroy Product Shots

It’s a classy piece of design, and it’s followed by a shot of all the things you could fit into the wallet laid out on a table, reminiscent of the Things Organized Neatly Tumblr that I love too.

Bellroy Wallet Contents

All in all, you can see that the brand is taking every opportunity it can to showcase the product through its content, not just a simple shot with a magnifying glass to zoom in. Almost every question you could have is answered, not just with words or a bland product description, but through images that convey an obvious love of craft.

I could go on to the one-page check out process, which is beautifully simple, but this isn’t an e-commerce UX review!

Going beyond the product

I’ve talked on the Blonde blog before about the necessity for brands to go beyond the product for successful content marketing. In a brilliant example of this, alongside their e-commerce site, Bellroy also support a content platform called Carryology, publishing daily content showcasing the brands and designers that are creating new ways to carry.


From interviews with mountain equipment designers to buying tips for a weekender bag and reviews of the latest carry on luggage, this platform serves to  demonstrate Bellroy’s passion for its raison d’etre. Interestingly in Bellroy’s example, they’re completely comfortable endorsing other brands within their space, positioning themselves not just as makers of fine objects but arbiters of good taste.

Behind every good campaign is a sense of purpose

At Blonde we bang on about purpose, it’s a core element of the Visibility formula too, and I thought, to finish off, it makes sense to pull out the core beliefs that shape what Bellroy does. Tucked away on the About Us page are five ideas that drive the company.

Bellroy ideas

The reason I think it makes sense to finish with this is that you can see, from those five ideas,  where all of their digital marketing comes from. It’s why the various facets of the campaign ring as authentic and true, because they are simply an extension of the brand’s core values and beliefs.

So, when you’re planning your visibility strategy, this is why it’s vital to look to your brand truths and use creativity to find ingenious ways to market them to your target audiences.

Define those truths, find your purpose and everything else should follow.

Insight or How To Make Sure You Don’t Forget Your Customers

This post is part of the Visibility series.

So far I’ve talked about defining purpose and destination in creating a digital vision. In my last post I discussed the importance of clarity in terms of creating roadmaps, processes and specifications. These are all very internal facing considerations for digital marketing by which we essentially ask ourselves where do we want to be, and what do we need to do to get there?

The last pillar of the vision framework ensures that the customer or audience stays front and centre. I like to call it insight.


Is centricism even a word? I doubt it. But audience-centricism sums up a way of thinking frequently mentioned but less often actually put into practice when planning digital marketing.

We’re at a stage now where UX is an established part of the web design process. Brands, both big and small, have grasped the concept of user testing, iterating design and laying websites out with the user in mind.

However when it comes to achieving visibility this approach is less common. A new website is launched, and it looks great, but who it’s aimed at, what their requirements are and how content is tailored to their needs as a result is an afterthought.

Having a detailed understanding of customer profiles, needs, and content requirements is crucial to creating the right kind of digital content in order to gain the links, likes, shares, and coverage needed to gain online visibility.

To understand you customers you need insight, and insight comes from data. And, as I mentioned when discussing destinations, unfettered access to data is crucial to modern day marketing.

There are two key methods I use to add customer insight to any project – personas, and customer journeys.


Back when I began working in digital, I read that the beginning of any good project started with the development of personas. I’ve continued to read that throughout my career. I’ve been involved in a wide range of digital project since then.

How many times have I seen a set of personas? Once. How useful were they? Immensely – probably one of the most useful project tools I’ve ever used. And so it surprises me that they are used so infrequently, and I’m not sure why this is.

With the growing role of visibility in achieving digital success, I can only see the need for personas increasing and yet they remain a hazy concept in the mind of many.

Personas help you to understand users’ context – who your audience are, their motivations, relationships with technology, the culture they’re part of and the ways in which they want to interact with your brand.

Developing a set of audience personas at the outset of your visibility project will provide you with a frame of reference. They will be a resource you can refer to throughout to ensure the purpose and audience needs are met by each piece of content you create. They will inform your measurement framework, and ensure your evaluation measures the right outcomes.

They don’t necessarily need to be costly; I’d suggest their level of complexity should be directly proportional to the scale of content project they are part of. But their development will ensure your content has the best chance of resonating with its target audience – a key ingredient to success for any visibility activity.

Customer journeys

While a persona will give you a good idea of who your audience are, gaining insight into their typical journeys, whether its to purchase something or to sign post them to a particular piece of content, will help you to ensure you’re producing the right content for them.

The typical model of awareness > consideration > purchase > advocacy is a common example, but in the marketing environment we’re operating in right now we have the opportunity – in fact you might say we have the responsibility – to become more granular in the way we analyse customer journeys at a persona level.

This is where user research and data analysis can add some really rich information to the visibility strategy. Using internal data, website surveys and face to face interviews with customers and/or non-customers, recruited against your personas, will enable you to gain a deep understanding of how people buy your products or interact with your brand.

In understanding this you’ll be able to identify the pain points in a customer’s journey, the steps they need help with, and the content you need to produce to move them to purchase or a better understanding of your organisation.

If you do this, in a way that resonates with your customers on an emotional level, or in a way that truly satisfies their needs and requirements, they will be more likely to recommend you to others. Whether that’s through word of mouth, or a link, or a social share, you’ll be encouraging audiences to participate in your visibility.


Personas: The Art and Science of Understanding the Person Behind the Visit  Michael King, YouMoz

The User is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web Steve Mulder, Ziv Yaar

It Takes a Content Factory! Openview (Great section on customer journeys)

Customer Journey Map: The Top 10 Requirements Heart of the Customer

Clarity of vision: roadmaps, processes and specifications

This post is part of the Visibility series.

So far in this series of blog posts I’ve introduced visibility as a concept and how it can help us overcome Digital FOMO. The visibility formula, Visibility = Vision x (Prominence + Attraction) is a planning tool that enables us to focus on long-term growth as opposed to short-term chasing of the latest technology or channel. 

Vision is the multiplier in the equation because without it visibility = 0.  It’s comprised of four key elements: Purpose, Destination, Clarity and Insight. This post deals with clarity and its importance in enabling vision.

Clear windscreens

I’ve used the analogy of a journey all the way through my definition of vision. That’s because visibility isn’t just about being seen, it’s also about being able to see. I’ve talked about purpose being the reason for your journey, and destination obviously being where you want to get to.

Clarity is effectively how clear the windscreen is. You’re not going to get very far if you can’t see the road ahead.

If you’ve worked in marketing for longer than 5 minutes you’ve most likely been part of projects where there’s a lack of clarity. It’s one of the most frequent problems we encounter; it happens so regularly you’d think we might learn to avoid it.

For me there are three elements of clarity that are fundamental to avoiding these pitfalls and achieving success in any visibility project: roadmaps, processes, and specifications.


These things are the bread and butter of project management, in fact you may well work with project managers or account directors specifically responsible for these areas of a project. You might be one of those people.

Either way, clearly defined agreements of what’s going to happen, when, in what order, and how long it should take is obviously the first step in ensuring that your reach your intended destination and achieve your purpose.

It’s at this point when you’re defining your roadmap that you’ll begin to break a project down into its constituent parts. Take for example a question of:

How can we improve our search engine experience so that we increase our website’s sales by 25%?

From this a statement purpose might be:

Generate increased sales from search engine traffic through a programme of on-site optimisation and a refreshed AdWords campaign .

The resulting objectives and measurement framework will be a combination of metrics taken from Google Analytics, Adwords and SEO reporting software.

The roadmap will therefore begin to resemble classic SEO project planning in terms of keyword research, technical audits, content creation and so on, and PPC campaign creation, ad tests etc. The time and resources available to you will indicate the speed with which you can achieve various milestones, but an agreement between all parties of what those milestones are and when they will be achieved is important.

Obviously you’ll need to assess each project individually to determine where in the process you need to begin, but the series of activities can be mapped out to a clear plan.

It isn’t necessary to create a full blown PRINCE2 project plan with risks and milestones (you’re probably not a trained project manager), but creating a shared roadmap will enable you to demonstrate clarity to your team, clients, or wider organisations about the route you intend to take.


Who does what? Who emails who? When? How often? Who needs sign off?

All too often these questions aren’t answered in enough detail. We sit in meetings and think we’ve agreed what’s going to happen only for everyone to head off and go about doing things exactly as they see fit.

Defining processes upfront is a key part of achieving clarity.

I often find that at the process stage it’s useful to think visually, sharing workflow diagrams to indicate the process(es) needed to achieve the desired outcomes.

Take for example a question of:

How can we improve brand awareness so that we increase our customer base in the 55+ age group?

This might lead to a purpose statement of:

Generate brand awareness through the creation and promotion of content for and to older markets.

This could lead to a roadmap that includes content creation, targeted outreach, ad placements and social media management to ensure that content reaches the relevant online communities.

At Blonde that project team might include a planner, community manager, outreach exec, paid media planner, project manager and the involvement of a client. We all need to see/approve/know when content is going live, and it’s a challenge to make sure that happens consistently, particularly on a regular basis.

Defining that process, making sure it’s efficient, and improving/tweaking it as we go along, is imperative to making sure the roadmap is followed and timelines are met.

We therefore have regular reviews of the process to ensure it’s optimal or, at the very least, continually improving.


So far clarity could possibly be seen as project management-lite, but for me the third (crucial) element of clarity lies in the visibility planner’s ability to create functional specifications. This essentially means being as clear as possible from the outset as to how we want things to work at a technical level.

To achieve digital marketing success working well with web developers is paramount, however I’ve often found that there’s tensions between marketers and developers.

A developer’s focus is quite rightly on getting sites and projects live and working quickly and efficiently, and this can often at odds with the marketer’s desire to see the site coded differently to enable effective data gathering or efficient crawling by search engines.

As marketers we rely on SEO being done well or Analytics being planned and implemented thoroughly.  However we often find that these aren’t considered until late in a project’s lifecycle or that when push comes to shove and deadlines are tight these things are viewed as ‘nice to have’ and not essential.

Just enough code to get by

Now, you’ll probably be realising by now that achieving visibility means being a bit of an all-rounder, and producing a functional specification means being able to delve into the world of the developer and speak a bit of code.

I’m not even talking about going through HTML for Dummies – a basic understanding of stylesheets, HTML document construction and how JavaScript works goes a long way. We’re probably talking the “GCSE French you took at 15 and now lets you get by on holiday” kind of level of understanding of code.

But being able to speak a developer’s language, even in a limited way, is so useful I’d suggest you begin to learn get to grips with it.

The point is you need to be really specific about what you want to achieve, and the more you understand about how to do it the better.

As a final example, take a question of:

How can we improve perception of our digital touch points so that we improve customer retention rates?

The resulting purpose statement might be:

Review and improve the quality of our brochure material and increase downloads through the website.

A resulting KPI would be the number of downloads of PDF brochures.

Being able to specify how to track that download in Google Analytics, and use custom variables and/or custom dimensions to be able to identify those users who have downloaded the PDFs in future, will put both you and the developer you’re working with in a much better position.

In summary

Using Roadmaps, Processes, and Specifications, be incredibly clear about:

  • What’s going to happen and when
  • Who’s going to do what
  • Sign off processes
  • Communication chains
  • What needs to be done on a technical level

So we know why we’re setting out on our journey, where we want to go, and our windscreen is clear. The final element of vision we need to address is who we’re going with and who we’ll meet along the way.

We need some insight.

What’s your destination? The Importance of KPIs, Objectives and Data

This post is part of the Visibility series

Making sure that you have clearly identified a destination – what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to measure it – is key to any marketing activity and yet it is so often overlooked in digital projects. Spending time identifying the right objectives and creating a measurement framework to measure progress is crucial to achieving visibility.

Ends and means

As discussed in my previous post, defining purpose up front is key to any visibility strategy. This is because, if you’re setting out on a journey, you first and foremost need to know why you’re setting off.

However this is closely followed by the need to know where you’re going. You need to identify your destination. In order to achieve this you need to set objectives and KPIs before you actually start doing anything.

It’s incredibly important when setting objectives to be mindful of the the distinction between ends and means. Means are often what is reported on – pageviews, visits, likes etc. It’s not that means aren’t important, but means are only ever ways of achieving ends. 

In other words it doesn’t matter if you’ve increased website visits by 20% if none of those new visitors carried out a single desired action on your website. So it’s crucial to focus on commercial ends, and these should have been identified when you defined your purpose.

For example end-based objectives could be increasing revenue, improving market share or raising customer retention rates. Note that there’s no mention of Facebook likes or Twitter follows!

As with all objectives, they should be SMART which means being measurable with data. It’s therefore paramount that you know where you can get this data from, where you are when you start, and where you want to get to in the short, medium and long-term. 

While most leading online retailers or digital software services will have this kind of data collection nailed down, move outside those sectors and it’s startling how often data isn’t available to digital marketers, or isn’t considered and monitored by those marketers on an ongoing basis.

Too often digital projects, and particularly digital media buys, are undertaken with only pageviews or visits, clicks or likes in mind. Any kind of conversion tracking or data segmentation is ignored or overlooked.

If you have a well-defined purpose, however, you’ll have no trouble understanding what the ends-based objectives you need to assess are.  

From there you need to establish a measurement framework.

Measurement framework check list

A measurement framework is essential once you have determined your objectives. It’s the means by which you will translate your objectives into KPIs and metrics that can be gathered and reported on a regular basis.

Avinash Kaushik’s Digital Marketing and Measurement Model is my go-to post, but in addition to Avinash’s post here’s a checklist for establishing your framework:

  • The name can sound rather grand but a measurement framework can ultimately be a simple table or spreadsheet
  • It’s important that you remember to ensure you measure both ends and means
  • Make sure that you have access to all the data you need
  • Don’t take no for an answer in getting access to that data
  • Ensure that targets and goals are able to be quantitively measured
  • For each metric agree with the business what good looks like
  • Agree a reporting schedule – how frequently you will gather the data and assess the strategy’s progress.

The next challenge is to be able to get your hands on the data so you’ll need to go and dig it out. Work out ways of getting access to it. YOU NEED THIS DATA.

Barriers to data

Common issues and barriers I’ve seen to getting access to required data are:

  • Limited access to (often outdated or creaking) CRM systems
  • Third-party systems that don’t provide Google Analytics integration or APIs
  • ‘Siloed’ structures within organisations that make access to data difficult
  • Resource limitations that mean that marketing data is low priority

In my opinion a good digital marketer is not only technically capable and creative, but also a good negotiator and problem solver. In nearly every situation I’ve encountered there exists a tension between developers, IT teams and marketers – as marketers we’re sometimes asking for stuff that isn’t strictly necessary for the service to work, and can sometimes be hard to achieve.

It’s our job to overcome those difficulties and barriers. We’re the ones who best understand the value of data to the business as a whole. You’ll get told data isn’t available. You’ll be asked why you actually need it, and why anyone should try to get it to you.

It might take all your negotiation skills to get there, but getting your hands on this data is essential to achieving success in visibility.

Learn Google Analytics. Now.

The reason Google Analytics is so important is that juicy commercial purpose you’re trying to achieve will probably be web or app related, and nothing to do with information held in a CRM system or by a third party. In that case you’ll be relying on website data to define your visibility destination.

I find it bizarre – in fact, absolutely incredible – that use of Google Analytics is still a somewhat specialist skill in the digital sector.

Considering we’re an industry that designs, builds, creates and maintains websites, apps and digital experiences, the fact that the majority of reports I see go no further than listing aggregated visit, pageview, bounce rate and time on site metrics astounds me. This aggregated data rarely tells us much.

So, if you don’t know much about Google Analytics, go and start to learn it now. Well, maybe after you’ve finished reading this post but, seriously, head to the Google Analytics Academy. It’s a great place to start.

Why? Well what if the thing you’re trying to measure is more in-depth than pageviews or revenue?

Don’t duck the numbers

In a previous role I worked in-house at a multimedia publisher in the food space.

We were approached by a leading supplier of duck. In fact they supplied 95% of the duck market in the UK. Their purpose therefore wasn’t to improve their market share, but to encourage people to cook duck for the first time and so grow the size of the market itself.

The way we addressed this was to use navigation and ad placements within the site to encourage users that had landed on chicken, lamb, pork or beef recipes to view duck recipes. Where we wanted to get to – our destination – was an increase in the percentage of people that did that over a 12 month period.

To measure this required the use of advanced segments in Google Analytics to identify users whose landing page included /beef, /chicken, /pork or /beef and who then went on to view a /duck page, to ascertain the level at which that was happening at the start of  the relationship and then 12 months down the line.

In this situation that percentage increase was how we reported on the commercial end. Pageviews of duck content were one of the primary means of achieving it, but not the objective in and of themselves. Identifying the right metrics and creating this measurement framework up front was key in defining our destination.

We couldn’t have done it without thinking about what behaviour we wanted to influence and measure, and how we would get that information out of Google Analytics.

In Summary

So, in summary, SMART objectives should fall out of a well defined commercial purpose. They should focus on ends not means. A measurement framework should follow from those objectives and help you to identify the data you need to track your KPIs. You should agree what your short, medium and long term targets are, and report on them regularly.

When you’ve done that you’ve defined your destination.

Now you know where you’re going it’s time to make sure the windscreen is clear. We’re going to talk about clarity.

The quality of Vision depends on your Purpose

I worked with some very talented people in my time at Blonde Digital, not least our Planning Director Phil Adams who has a serious amount of experience coupled with an engineer’s eye for the detail and mechanics of how this whole advertising/marketing thing works.

I mention this not by way of sucking up to the boss, but to acknowledge that this entire post and the role of purpose in the visibility equation is basically the result of a lot of Phil’s thinking. He places great emphasis on purpose as the basis of everything agencies should do. It’s something that’s really resonated with me and I’m sure I’ll keep with me throughout my career.

In fact there’s a great post on purpose from him about it on the Blonde blog that relates it to a project we worked on for VELUX. He’s written about it on his own blog and related it to Finding Nemo . He’s spoken about it publicly. He’s basically an authority on purpose. So, you know, hats off to Phil.

What follows is an explanation of how he has defined purpose, and how it relates to visibility.

How can we so that?

When it comes to digital marketing too often people start out saying “we want a” – be it a Facebook Page, 5,000 Twitter followers, or a number one ranking for a particular search term. In this way marketers are focussing on means rather than commercial ends

As often with the best planning, it is by taking a step back  and reframing the question that you better define your purpose. Rather than starting by saying “we need a”, it’s better to ask the following question:

“How can we x so that y?”

Where is a desired, measurable audience behaviour and y is a valuable, measurable commercial outcome.

So you end up with statements like:

How can we improve brand awareness in the 55+ age group so that we increase our customer base?


How can we improve perception of our digital touch points so that we improve customer retention rates?


How can we improve our search engine experience so that we increase our website’s sales?

See  the difference? Those are juicy, commercial questions. They mean something and affect the bottom line. They are measurable.

Framing the problem like this is crucial when approaching any visibility project. The example Phil gives over on the Blonde blog about The Daylight Project we’ve undertaken for VELUX is a great example of this in action.

Defining your statement of purpose

Once you’ve re-framed your question/questions (using ‘how can we so that’) you’ll have got to the core of your needs as a brand or business and what you’re truly trying to achieve through visibility. The great thing about a well-framed question is that it should lead, relatively simply, to a statement of purpose.

For example at an agency, the question one might ask is:

‘How can we reach new audiences through online channels so that we grow our business?’

The statement of purpose for a visibility strategy that falls out of this is:

‘Generate leads and brand awareness by raising our profile among a targeted group of senior UK marketers’.

You can see that, as a result of this question and statement of purpose, we have several commercial ends defined. We want to generate leads, brand awareness and ultimately grow our business. We know the audience we want to reach. We know the behaviour change we want to affect.

As we progress everything considered as part of the visibility strategy can be assessed by its potential to contribute to those ends.

Reaching this statement of purpose is not a lengthy process. It’s not complicated. But it makes sure that your visibility strategy aligns to, and stays rooted in, the overall goals of the business or organisation. And once you’ve defined your purpose, you know why you’re setting out on your journey. Now it’s time to figure out where you’re going.

You need a destination.

You can’t have Visibility without Vision

This post is part of the Visibility series

In my last post I talked about Digital FOMO and how I use a simple formula – Visibility = Vision x (Prominence + Attraction) – to create a framework for great digital marketing. I want to focus in on each of those areas in turn, and we’re going to start right at the beginning.

In that equation, there’s a reason that vision is the multiplier. You can achieve visibility with prominence or attraction (although the more of both you have, the better). But my belief is that you can not achieve profitable visibility without vision. Put simply, if vision = 0 then visibility = 0.

Vision is a much used word in marketing. It’s often used to describe the long-term aims of businesses, very much a case of where we want to be in three, five, or ten years’ time.

Vision as defined in the service of visibility is more than this. Obviously understanding where you want to be long term is vital, but at the same time it’s no use looking far off into the distance if you don’t have a good reason for the journey, your view is hazy, and you’ve got no idea about the people you’ll meet or the places you’ll visit along the way.

I’m sure that as marketers we’ve all seen projects where there has been a lack of vision. It’s a symptom of Digital FOMO – companies aimlessly sending out messages that don’t resonate with audiences and have no commercial intent, never mind commercial impact; marketers (both in-house and agency side) more concerned with the short term aim of adding the latest toy to their CV than best serving the long term aims of the brand or client.

That’s why vision is essential to the success of any visibility project, and the reason it’s the multiplier in the equation. To achieve it there are four areas that I believe should be addressed during the planning phase of a project.

The four pillars of vision

Vision Diagram 1.3

These four key areas are paramount in defining your vision. I’m going to go through each one in detail in separate posts, but to briefly summarise:

Purpose – what are you trying to achieve, what change are you trying to effect?

Destination – where do you want to get to, and how will you measure whether you’ve got there?

Insight – how much knowledge do you have about the people and audiences you are marketing to?

Clarity – do you know how you’re going to achieve it, both technically and in terms of process?

Isn’t that a strategy?

This could be seen as the strategy stage of achieving visibility. The vision phase has similarities to the SOSTAC strategic model created by PR Smith, however I’m not keen to limit strategy to this area of the visibility framework.

As will be seen there are strategic elements to both the prominence and attraction stages of the framework, particularly in ensuring that departments and organisations embed visibility thinking and practice into digital activity.

So, while vision provides the strategic basis for visibility projects, strategy doesn’t end here. But first, you need to define your purpose.

Do You Have Digital FOMO? Visibility is the antidote

I started the first job I ever had with ‘Digital’ in the title a mere 5 years ago.

Looking back much has changed. The fact that I even knew how to set up a Facebook Group or send a Tweet was a big advantage in my interview. It was at a time when social media was really just emerging into the mainstream. Stephen Fry was the third most followed person on Twitter; Ashton Kutcher being the first user to reach 1,000,000 followers was big news. 

As digital professionals we all know what happened next. A veritable explosion of social activity. A lot (the majority?) of it utter crap. It seemed that every business needed to have a Facebook page and Twitter account, whether their audience was active in those spaces or not.

To this day we continue to see a huge amount of social activity that has no purpose and a distinct lack of quality, just for the sake of ‘doing social’ because everyone else is. It’s a classic case of Digital FOMO.

After that it was the emergence of smartphones and the beginning of the mobile era. Suddenly everyone was worrying about having a mobile optimised site. How would developers handle device-specific style sheets? What about responsive? Many expensive mistakes were made and user experiences considerably weakened in the stampede to keep up with the competition. Digital FOMO again.

SEO, in particular, was ever shifting. Google changed the rules dramatically with Panda and Penguin. You couldn’t just buy links any more and suddenly content strategy and content marketing became the next big thing. Read any digital blog or industry site and you’ll notice a significant shift to content-led digital strategies. Are you concerned that you don’t have a content marketing strategy yet? You might just have Digital FOMO.

Then there’s big data, microdata, ‘Snowfall’ style parallax design, HTML 5 and all the rest.

Now I’m not saying these things aren’t important, but you can probably guess what I’m getting at. It’s very easy to have Digital FOMO (fear of missing out, if you didn’t know).

It’s the marketer’s biggest curse. And over the course of a number of posts I’m going to call ‘The Visibility Series‘, I’m going to attempt to explain how I believe you can avoid it.

Time to focus on Visibility

What are we ultimately trying to achieve as marketers? I’d argue that it’s visibility. Making sure that your product or brand is seen.

Focusing on this, and not the latest trends, is an effective way to future-proof your digital marketing activity and relieve you from Digital FOMO.

When I began working at Blonde Digital in 2013 it was a new role for the agency and a new title that you don’t see much in other agencies… Visibility Director. It was a great opportunity to think long and hard about how I thought digital brand marketing should be done well, the kind of skills and disciplines one should focus on, and how to avoid this endless chasing of the latest trend or technique.

What I’ve arrived at is something that I believe goes beyond a specific discipline, and can be used as a basis for digital marketing that incorporates and assimilates new ideas and disciplines that emerge.

I’m not the only person who thinks this way. Rand Fishkin at Moz, Will Reynolds at SEER Interactive and Will Critchlow from Distilled have all been vocal and influential on this subject.

What I’m attempting to do with the Visibility series of posts is to summarise how I approach it in a useful, memorable way.

How do we define Visibility?


[mass noun]

•  the state of being able to see or be seen
•  the distance one can see as determined by light and weather conditions
•  the degree to which something has attracted general attention; prominence

The interesting thing when considering this definition is that visibility encompasses both the ability to see and to be seen. Let’s look at that again:

•  the state of being able to see or be seen
•  the distance one can see as determined by light and weather conditions
•  the degree to which something has attracted general attention; prominence

Taking this into account the visibility ‘formula’, if you will, that I’m putting forward is a relatively simple one:

Visibility = Vision x (Prominence + Attraction)


Over the coming weeks and months I’m going to explore that formula and each of these areas – Vision, Prominence and Attraction – in detail. I’ll look at how to achieve visibility and, in the process, aim to define Visibility (capital V) as a discipline in and of itself. We’ll touch on content, SEO, social media, analytics, paid media, digital strategy, tone of voice and much more.

Ultimately, we’ll be looking at a way of delivering effective digital marketing that maximises reach and delivers results.


A New Breed of Content

I recently saw two pieces of content that really resonated with me.

The first was by Sonia Simone on the excellent CopyBlogger website entitled Surviving “Content Shock” and the Impending Content Marketing Collapse. In it she spelt out the differences between Content Regurgitated as Product  (or CRaP) – listicles/Buzzfeed/Upworthy style content; Convertising – traditional ads posted to social profiles that gain high engagement; and Rainmaker Content – content that:

  • Solves real audience problems,
  • Reflects the character, passion, and knowledge of an authoritative person,
  • Finds a fresh approach to the topic (especially if it’s a popular topic), and
  • Is interesting and easy to read.

They’re definitions I’d wholeheartedly agree with, although maybe I’d find a better word than Rainmaker (which just happens to be the name of the new CopyBlogger training scheme). Either way, it’s that kind of content that I’m interested in pursuing and helping clients to create.

And then, yesterday, I saw this Guardian feature on 100 Years of Aviation and it blew me away.

GuardianGuardian: 100 Years of Aviation

I know that this kind of ‘Snowfall’ style design has its detractors, but for me it shows what the internet can be. In the same way that Netflix and services like it are making even recently created media definitions obsolete (is House of Cards a box set?), I believe we’re seeing the emergence of a new breed of content.

I mean, what is that Guardian piece? It’s not an article. It’s not a blog post. It’s not really an out and out interactive, although you can interact with it.

It pulls live data feeds to create stunning visuals, but also plunders the archives to show 100 year old pictures and tell a story in a way that wouldn’t be out of place on the History Channel. It takes over your screen and immerses you in a well-told, easy to understand story that takes less than 10 minutes to consume. I thought it was brilliant.

It’s also a million miles away from “21 Chickens Just Doin Chicken Stuff“.

With Smart TVs, increasing 4G coverage, ever improving broadband speeds and increased processing power in all devices making this kind of experience more consumable for users, it seems to me that we’re only just beginning to see the full potential of the web as a content platform.

Of course these are big ‘set-pieces’ that, at present, can’t be developed quickly. You can’t churn this stuff out. But it will become easier and if you’re not at least thinking about how your brand can use new content formats – what stories you can tell about you, your product or your areas of expertise – now’s the time to start.

For more examples of this kind of stuff (some good, some bad) there’s an excellent public Google Doc here

Throwing spaghetti at the wall (and how it relates to content)

Not many people that I work with now know that I used to be a dance music producer and DJ. A moderately successful one too – I gigged all over the world, played on Radio 1 several times and signed numerous record deals, although the absolute highlight for me was hearing my music on MasterChef.

Despite producing over 20 commercially released productions, I never scored a big hit. One of the main reasons for this is that I wasn’t prolific enough. I obsessed over the tiniest details, often trying hundreds of snare drum samples before choosing the right one. I wasn’t particularly confident in the overall quality of my product particularly when compared to my own favourite producers, which meant I was indecisive about when a track was ready to be put out, or whether it ever was at all.

By comparison a peer of mine at the time went on to become one of the biggest house music producers in the world. The rest of us used to comment on his production methods – he only ever used one of six snare drums and one of six high hats; he had three reverb effects he would use. But he was fast, and could churn out a tune in a day.

As fellow producers we probably only really liked 1 in 5 of his productions, where he put together a groove that really worked and it all gelled in the way we would aim for with one of our tracks. Punters and customers probably thought the same. That’s not to say the quality was poor – his production levels were as consistently high as you’d expect from a producer with years of experience – it’s just that with that volume he was never going to achieve excellence every time. But he wasn’t aiming for that.

He knew that if he threw enough spaghetti at the wall, some of it would stick. And he also twigged relatively early that in the new age of easily consumed, immediately disposable, content (in his case mp3s) proflicacy goes a long way to establishing brand presence.

Time has moved on, and many factors  prompted my move out of the music industry, but the parallels with digital content and the way in which obsessing over the finer details can hold us back rings true. In getting a content strategy off the ground sometimes its better to just get things out there.

That’s not to say that content should ever be crap. It should never be off-brand, irrelevant or a waste of time. Your production levels need to remain high at all times. After all, you’re a professional, why wouldn’t they?

And it doesn’t stop you from working on the bigger, more time-consuming, innovative, grand artistic statements – the artist album, if you will.

But as content marketers we should be producing a steady stream of singles that build a brand along the way. 

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