How to Unlock Powerful Marketing Insights with Digital Ecosystems

The Holy Grail of modern marketing is delivering the right message at the right time for the right audience. And it may be more attainable than ever when you approach it through the lens of digital ecosystem marketing.

Phil Kotler and Christian Sarkar explain in their latest Marketing Journal article that ecosystem marketing is about understanding your market as a network of participants and being able to influence the right actors at the right time.

Ecosystem marketing is not a new framework. What is new is being able to create rich, actionable ecosystem maps from the wealth of digital data that is already at our fingertips.

Modern Milkshake Marketing

Let’s take a look at this digital ecosystem approach by contrasting it to Clay Christensen’s widely respected “milkshake marketing” research.

McDonald’s wanted to sell more milkshakes. Despite continuous product improvement, the burger brand could not figure out how to entice customers to consume more of the frozen beverages. Sales remained level.

The problem was that McDonald’s was focused on the product—not the job customers would hire the milkshake to complete. As it turns out, McDonald’s milkshakes were not just competing with other milkshakes from Burger King and Wendy’s. They were competing in a wider market of bananas, bagels, donuts—even Snickers bars—to fill the job of spicing up an otherwise boring commute to work while keeping hunger at bay for the remainder of the morning.

If you haven’t seen it before, watch Christensen explain the research himself. It’s well worth the seven minutes:

With this knowledge of the job customers were trying to complete and the wider market they were trying to complete it in, McDonald’s was able to change their strategy and messaging to improve milkshake consumption.

Brilliant. Game-changing.

The problem is that uncovering this invaluable insight required someone to stand at McDonald’s for 18 hours and take detailed notes on each milkshake customer:

  • What time of day did they purchase a milkshake?
  • What were they wearing when they bought a milkshake?
  • Were they alone or with other people?
  • Did they buy other food with the milkshake?
  • Did they drink it in the restaurant or take it to their car and leave?
  • Etc.

After determining that about half of milkshake customers came alone, before 8:30 am, wearing work attire, and left the restaurant with milkshake in hand, the team had to do more in-person research, asking milkshake buyers WHY they had decided on a milkshake at that point in time.

Arduous. Time-consuming. Resource-intensive.

But mapping digital ecosystems is readily accessible.

Applying Business Ecosystem Theory to the Web

We all use the internet to seek out solutions to our problems just about every day. We search, and then we visit sites that we think might provide useful resources. Sometimes we end up buying something online (probably not a milkshake).

All of this searching and visiting and buying leaves a digital trail of breadcrumbs that’s available for marketers to follow and learn from. Using a variety of web crawling technologies and algorithms, we can collect and organize these breadcrumbs into maps of the digital ecosystems our brand are operating in. We can understand and visualize the answers to questions like:

  • What are people that buy our products are services searching for online?
  • Where do they end up online after searching?
  • How many clicks does it take them to get there?
  • Do they end up making a purchase?

The ecosystem maps generated from this data help us to understand the jobs our customers are trying to complete with our products or services. They also give us a deep understanding of the conversations that are occurring about these challenges or jobs, where they are occurring, and the language people use to describe these challenges.

For example, a high end retail brand may find that likely customers are searching with terms like “professional looks to stand out without looking flashy” and that they often end up making purchases on a single competitor’s website. The solution could be creating highly visible wardrobe suggestions and outfits tailored to this need and marketing them with related language.

“Brands that have this information at their fingertips through a digital ecosystem marketing model have the required insight to do what McDonald’s did: find their bananas and bagels to broaden their market by about seven times the scale.”

Of course, this is an obvious assumption. The brilliance of collecting and visualizing the actual data is that the results may be completely different than what you expect them to be.

Brands that have this information at their fingertips through a digital ecosystem marketing model have the required insight to do what McDonald’s did: find their bananas and bagels to broaden their market by about seven times the scale. And understanding the language in which customers talk about their challenges or jobs allows brands to cut through the maze of paid and organic search terms to find messaging and content that is genuinely driving customers to engage.

Right message. Right time. Right (wider?) audience.

On the Cutting Edge

This digital version of ecosystem marketing is brand spanking new. Results may still feel a little bit magical. The agencies that can accurately compile digital maps today are pioneering in the space, continuing to optimize both their technologies and their interpretations of the resulting maps.

We are lucky to have pioneer Christian Sarkar (and author of the Marketing Journal article) on the Consentric Marketing team, offering his unique expertise to our clients.

Interested in finding out what insights your digital ecosystem maps might uncover? Get in touch today.