Includes tracking networks of ideas and influence and using them to gain insights about customer behavior and brand positioning.
Marketing ecosystems revolve around information, or content, that can be found on websites. The first step toward understanding the digital ecosystem that surrounds your products is to create a keyword hierarchy. In other words, you need a quantitative answer to the following question:
What terms and phrases—keywords—are used by your buyers as they think about making a purchase?
Seven concepts are consistently helpful in answering the above question: buyer’s journey, jobs-to-be-done, level of aggregation, inclusivity, search volume rank, degree of relevance, and content strategy. Each is discussed briefly below, and links are provided if you would like to access additional details.
Business people often start a buyer’s journey when they want to determine whether they have a problem. Sometimes it is obvious because something in their business is broken and needs repair. Other times, buyers are thinking about their business more generally and want to be up-to-date on the latest thinking in their industry or profession.
Then buyers might try to assess the size of the problem and whether they can solve it on their own or need outside assistance.
If the buyer concludes they need assistance, then they start to look at more specific topics such as price and product features and benefits.
As buyers look for useful information during their journeys, they enter search terms into browsers. These keywords tell you what the buyer is looking for. They give you insight into what is important to them.
To use the buyer’s journey in building a hierarchy, write down the major stages of the buyer’s journey, and then list words or phrases that typify each stage of the journey.
When creating a list of keywords, it is important to include all of the various jobs buyers are trying to complete as they move through their journeys.
During the “Do I Have A Problem” phase, one job buyers are trying to complete is to understand their situation better. For example, they often ask basic questions like “What is GDPR” or What is website security?”
Each job a buyer is trying to perform contains at least one if not more keywords. Add these terms to the list from #1.
To help you apply the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) concept to your own business, the table below provides several brand names and the associated JTBD.
3. Level of Aggregation
Keywords can be sorted by their degree of inclusiveness and precision. For example:
- Industry-Level: IT (information technology)
- Product Category Level: GDPR Compliance
- Product Level: Website Data Security
- Product Features: User Data Encryption
When building a list of keywords, it is important to include all levels of aggregation. This way you can determine which keywords are most common, and how they relate to one another.
As buyers search for information on the internet, they often use a variety of words to find useful content. Sometimes they use abbreviations, other times they spell things out. Sometimes they start with detailed keywords and later realize they need more general information. Other times they start with broad search terms and then drill down to what is more interesting to them in subsequent searches.
So, when you create a keyword list, be inclusive rather than exclusive. Later you can assess the degree of relevance of each keyword. Keyword lists commonly have 30 to 60 words or phrases.
5. Search Volume Rank
Once the hard work is done and you have a comprehensive list of potential keywords, the next step is to measure the monthly organic search volume for each term, and sort the list from high to low.
6. Degree of Relevance
An inclusive keyword list will have terms that vary widely in relevance. For example, an industry-level keyword may be very popular, but not highly relevant to the buyer’s journey. Or, industry-level keywords may give you ideas about how to tag your website content.
Once your keyword list is sorted by search volume, the next step is to establish their relevance to your business. Often it is helpful to create a relevance color-code. For example, light green terms are highly relevant to your product but not as popular. But, dark green terms are somewhat less relevant but far more popular. Yellow terms might be relevant but rarely typed into browsers.
7. Content Strategy
A common content strategy is “drafting” (like in NASCAR): Use less relevant but more popular keywords to draw attention to your more relevant but less popular keywords.
For example, website data security might be a more popular term than user data encryption. So, the title and subtitle for a new blog post might include both terms.
The keyword hierarchy can be used to assess the degree to which your current website content covers the most relevant and popular terms. It can also help you assess your competitors.
Need help with creating a keyword hierarchy or a content strategy? We can create a keyword hierarchy for as little as $1,500 per product. To find out more, contact us.
It is increasingly clear that ecosystem search behavior and associated analytics can be used to generate accurate buyer behavior forecasts. We consistently find high levels of forecast accuracy when applying ecosystem analytics for our clients, but those results are understandably confidential.
To demonstrate the predictive power of ecosystem analytics, we prepare a forecast for the 2020 US presidential election. We use Google Trends for our data source and create an anchor variable to accurately mirror the 2016 presidential election. Then we create two variables surrounding coronavirus and George Floyd to capture shifts in voter behavior since the 2016 election. The resulting forecast predicts the Democratic candidate will win 55% of the electoral votes in 2020.
To download the white paper, click here.
What is an ecosystem study? In many ways, the best way to answer the question is to provide actual results.
Imagine you are launching a new healthcare product into today’s US coronavirus market. Yes, you must understand your specific product—its features and benefits—and how it stacks up against the competition. But, how do you keep your marketing campaign from being the proverbial tree that fell in the woods? How do you capture a respectable share of digital attention and search traffic given today’s ubiquitous coronavirus media coverage?
Let’s see what a quick coronavirus ecosystem study can tell us about designing a marketing campaign for today’s world. In this mini-ecosystem study, we only use a keyword hierarchy. In a full study, we would also examine the top content people are reading, identify sources of digital strength (e.g., ad spend versus domain referrals), compare competitors, create ecosystem segments, and so on.
To download the rest of this white paper, click here.
The ultimate goal of ecosystem marketing is to build your business. And to achieve your goal, you need to excel in five major efforts. They are:
- Building the foundation of your digital ecosystem
- Gaining first time or occasional, non-loyal or non-regular visitors.
- Converting first time visitors into loyal/regular visitors.
- Converting loyal visitors into customers.
- Converting your new customers into loyal, repeat or growing customers.
Each is necessary and together they are suffient to generate business. The following discusses each of the five efforts.
1. Build the foundation
The foundation of a digital ecosystem comprises the digital links between your company, your partners, suppliers, thought leaders, and your present and potential customers.
The base of this network can’t just be a bundle of what you sell imposed on the customer. You have to focus on something the customer needs, cares about, is concerned about. The ecosytem needs a theme like “employee retention,” “sales effectiveness,” or “applying artificial intelligence” that represents a “job-to-be-done” — an important outcome the customer must perform. (see Clay Christianson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Stc0beAxavY)
2. Gain first time or occaisional visitors
The potential members of the network must come voluntarily to the ecosytem and gain genuine value in the form of thought leadership, insights about topics of current importance, diagnoses of failure, best practices that created success. They must trust the site is set up for their benefit—not to pitch them on some product.
A non-branded thought leadership site
It’s best if you set up a non-branded thought leadership site. We’ve created two such sites, the first is MarketiJournal.org focused of stat-of-the-art thinking in Marketing. The second is SalesInsights.org that offers the CEO and CSO the leading strategic ideas ideas in the rapidly evolving field of B-to-B selling.
The non-branded site protects the privacy of the executives who frequent them. The executuves are never bombarded with selling-emais. The executives come to trust these sites and the fear of being hard-sold is removed, thus eliminating a barrier to the causual reader.
3. Convert first time visitors into loyal/regular visitors
The non-branded site gives the executive-reader the opportunity to view a series of articles about a topic they are interested in without fear of being hounded by sales calls. The articles permit the reader to click on ads to continue their exploration of a topic with the sponsoring company. The executive can opt-into a continuing conversation rather than being hounded.
It’s up to you to offer a valuable point of view on the topics of interest, so that you are included in the loyal-reader building process.
4. Convert loyal visitors into customers
If you orchestrate a genuinely valuable ecosystem with a thought leadership site, you build the credibility needed for customers to opt-into a further converstion with you and eventually to select you as a buisness partner.
Credibility and trust; the ecosystem glue
The American Marketing Association recently cited a survey by the Edelman marketing firm and LinkedIn, which showed on the one hand, 90 percent of CXO’s cited the importance of thought leadership materials when evaluating potential partners. On the other, the vast majority of materials they receive diminish their opinions of potential partners. Ouch; damned if you do and damned if you don’t!
Here is a straightforward six step process for creating an ecosystem that can be the base for earning the credibility and trustworthiness to be selected as a business partner.
- Define the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) your customers care most about.
- Identify the “clickerati” the thought leaders, business service providers, the customers, and other participants who are most active in these JTBD topics and whom you want in your digital ecosystem.
- Map the actual flow of digital traffic among the desired participants.
- Identify the strengths and weaknesses of each participant—how the win or lose in the current network.
- Define your strategy–how you will win the ecosystem, increasing share of attention, credibility, trustworthiness.
- Design and execute campaigns to implement the strategy
- Learn and evolve—test, measure, adapt
Converting trust and creditability into a business partnership
Once you have built the ecosystem and the credibility and trustworthiness of your organization it is time to convert.
The conversion process is a conversation, a two-way flow of information on the topic of a JTBD. We view prospect conversion in four stages, as pictured below.
The "Conversion Conversation"
Creating a digital-to-personal conversation
The keys to a successful conversion of a digital conversation into a personal one are:
Digital Listening. Watch digital behavior and disconver the which aspects of the JTBD are of particular concern to the customer. Build your relationship by showing respect through careful digital listening. Present additional material that directly corresponds with what hte custoemr is tellin gyou digitally.
Contribute Insight. Add value by helping solve the customer’s problems as a “free sample” of what it’s like to partner with you. Provide digital content that shows how you can help them accomplish their JTBD.
Let the Customer Participate. Yes, you want to lead the conversation and contribute. But keep listening and let the customer participate in the solution.
Make it Easy. You, of course, must make it easy for the customer to partner with you. You are not “closing” so much as facilitating.
5. Converting your new customers into loyal, repeat or growing customers
The way to convert your new customers into loyal, repeat or growing customers is to continue the two-way conversation.
And the cornerstones of becoming a better conversationalist are listening and learning. Listen as your customer’s needs evolve. And learn from your successes—your case examples, as well as being part of the thought leadership dialogue.
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.
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?
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 brands are operating in. We can understand and visualize the answers to questions like:
- What are people that buy our products and 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.