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Defining Your Brand Before It Defines You: Total Team Clarity in Just 2 Hours

Taking a few hours to get your team on the same page for your brand(s) reduces friction, lends clarity, and gets the whole team behind the same statements.

If your internal team can’t get behind your brand with clarity and belief, how can your customers?

Capital-B Brand is esoteric

When you think of the word “Brand”, how do you define it?

Is it a personification, like Flo from Progressive? A mascot, like Ronald McDonald? A logo, like Apple? A phrase, like Nike? Or an attitude, like Wendy’s Twitter?

Is a brand the differentiator between your two pretty similar products?

If you were to ask a few people in your company right now what your company’s brand is, you’re going to get some different answers. Try it!

Send this message to a few randomly selected people (not just in the Marketing department) and see what you get back: “What would you say [our Company’s] brand is?”

If they give you hesitation or ask for clarification, state that you’re being purposefully vague and have them respond however they think is appropriate.

Take a look at the answers you got - I guarantee they not only used a different definition of brand, but defined your company completely differently. That’s okay! Even the most communicative companies need to reinforce the messaging and positioning of their brand regularly.

Perspectives differ

And it’s not even the definition of the term brand that can differ, it’s how your brand is defined by your own employees (not even mentioning your customers, which I won’t cover here).

“Strategic planning should be more about collective wisdom building than top-down or bottom-up planning.” ― W. Chan Kim

One of our clients is an Entertainment & Music company with multiple brands, some of which had been around since the inception of the company, and some of which had yet to be launched.

I gathered the stakeholders of the company for a brand Workshop. Most had been with the company for many years, or were intimately familiar with the plans for these new brands.

At the beginning, half the room was disengaged, the other half only mildly engaged. A workshop like this was new for many of the participants - some responsible for managing physical stores, and some focused only on digital systems.

Once we started digging into questions about their umbrella of brands like what their purpose as a company is, the brand architecture, who the target market is, and how the brands are expressed, they started understanding that brand is more than a loose, hand-wavy concept.

They were shocked to hear each other’s answers to some of these branding questions. The room went from passive and leaned-back with little discussion to lots of cross-talk, leaning forward, and laughter.

Each person individually had a clear-to-them idea as to what the brand was, but they hadn’t articulated it to each other. It was new for them to discuss as a team. “We’ve never said it out loud before!” was a common refrain.

The result of the end of this: They had a clearly defined brand architecture document, which delineated parent and sub-brands. For each of their 6 brands (they initially had 10 and we consolidated at the workshop), they had: Brand purpose and definition Target audience demographics and psychographics Brand attributes - fun/funky/progressive, not efficient/traditional/etc. What the brand sounds like (specific copy examples) Everyone was on the same page. They subsequently distributed this information to their entire team, down to servers at the restaurants.

The entire team has to be on board. Not just leadership or individual department like marketing or engineering.

Another case: an industry-leading video gaming company came to us to help them migrate their servers from hardware to the Cloud (a very scary proposition when you have 125,000 active users every minute).

At the same time, they asked us to redo their website. It was outdated, barely functional, and served no real purpose.

In an ideal world, there would be a project team made up of representatives from each department of the company, where each has a voice in how the website functions and fits into the overall vision for the company. The goal: ensure consistency in messaging, from customer service to product, to operations, to marketing.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. One group is tasked with the project (or they just take it on) and they go full-bore, without bringing in others to slow down the process. This is natural.

The scenario that we’ve seen play out over and over is that if marketing or other stakeholders aren’t involved from the start, they will step in at the last 10% and add scope creep, require re-examination and re-visiting of decisions, and cause general internal misalignment.

Worst case is it brings everything to a grinding halt, causes contention amongst the team, and wastes one of the most valuable resources: time.

Before any work begins, it’s important to define not just how the website will function, but why it exists, who it exists for, and what stakeholders across the company need from it.

It is imperative to make sure everyone is aligned on what it does and why it exists. Even if other departments decide to leave the purpose, narrative, and content up to your department, they should be clear in what they are handing over.

A website is more than a place to store information; it is the public representation of your brand and company, and where all business units are represented. It should be the shared foundation for content strategy, marketing strategy, future growth, product, product marketing and more.

Consistency is key and defining + distributing is important.

Once you have the brand defined and agreed upon by stakeholders, the next milestone is getting everyone onboard with the idea. Every. Single. Employee. Full-stop.

From the product packer in the warehouse to the VP of Engineering, all company representatives need to understand what the brand is about, who it’s for, and why it exists. If everyone gives a different answer to “So what does [your company] do?”, it weakens the consistency and the overall power of the brand.

You know it’s important, but it really is critical - a person has to hear a message an average of seven times before they really ‘hear’ it or understand it.

“Most of us know the marketing concept of good communication. To make a message stick in the head of a future consumer, you need to deliver the message seven times using seven different channels. Why do executives think that to make a strategy stick, a boring speech delivered once will be enough?” - Jeroen De Flander

So, you’ve had this big mysterious brand workshop where all the top-level people and important stakeholders (e.g. company influencers) come out laughing and talking about how clarifying this workshop was. That’s great. But if a tree falls in the forest, and nobody talks about it at the all-hands, did it really happen?

The key to all this effort is to make sure this gets disseminated to the rest of your company! Do a summary or write-up, or talk about it at the next town hall.

Then make a little brand cheat-sheet for front-line employees in social media, front desk or retail counters, and especially for communications and customer service. This tactic will be instrumental in helping focus their communications and keep everything in line with what your brand represents down to how it should sound.

For a car-sharing company with an extensive and dispersed customer service organization (we’re talking internal email and call centers at headquarters in Texas, internal call centers in Vancouver and Montreal, and third-party call centers in Nebraska) brand cheat sheets were distributed and physically stuck on the wall by their desks.

Does that sound extreme? It wasn’t! There was a lot of positive feedback from employees who felt empowered to represent the brand without sticking to a prescribed script.

So, what does a brand workshop look like?

We recommend a working session where we bring stakeholders from marketing/communications, development/technology, and leadership into a room to ensure that the ultimate business purpose of the brand, what it is and how it is defined, is agreed upon by all parties.

Overall though, it varies for each company based on their needs. For the Entertainment & Music client mentioned previously, they also needed to determine their brand architecture. For the car-sharing company, there was only one brand, but global implementation and country-specific adaptations had to be considered as well.

It’s best to do this workshop all in one session or over a two-day period, while people are warmed up and thinking about brand in a new way and open to new ideas.

Generally speaking, a workshop should cover:

Business Purpose and Vision Messaging, Positioning, and Target Audience(s) Primary messages and benefits Positioning relative to other offerings - not just medical, but lifestyle (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Target Audience(s) - Informed by market research and your experience. Defining who they are, how they think, and what their true needs are. Brand Attributes and Voice and Tone E.g. “Our brand is Cool, Innovative, and Elite. Our brand is not Traditional, Eclectic, or Broad. We have an inspirational tone, and never use the passive voice.”

Who to invite?

While the go-to is the C-Suite or sometimes just Marketing, there should be a variety of attendees - obviously the C-Suite is important, and even those in Finance or IT are important. Also bring a few influencers from different departments, as they are closer to the customer and closer to the employees and will have valuable and unique insights.

Context Matters

Positioning and messaging can’t be done in a vacuum. It’s a collaborative process between everyone on your team to define and realize your company’s true vision.

Whether you lead this yourself, or bring in a team like Victory to run it, the result will be that investing a few hours of your team’s time will lead to much better company and brand cohesion, both internally and externally to your market.

DevOps Is Changing The Way We Do Business

Traditional IT management practices and primary role was to manage systems, application development environments and user support. The core of IT-Ops was a mix of systems automation techniques, application modeling, and integration. It was considered to be an extremely high level of complexity requiring arcane skills and knowledge.

Nowadays the term DevOps is used often for all the techniques employed in today's big IT operations teams to make the work easier and more efficient. However, since many IT organizations still do not believe in it or have yet to apply it correctly, there is a misunderstanding of the value to an organization much less how to implement DevOps harmoniously.

One of the interesting aspects of the DevOps movement is how it combines old concepts and traditional infrastructure with all the new concepts of continuous automation, scaling and improvement.

The name DevOps does not mean what you think it does. Let's start with the Five Pillars of DevOps:

  1. Culture
  2. Automation
  3. Lean
  4. Measurement
  5. Sharing

For those who have worked in IT for a long time, you have the feeling that DevOps the term constantly used for 'new & exciting', while IT/Infrastructure is used for 'expense and outdated'. Yet if you look at the pillars listed above that seems very similar to the goals of every IT professional I have come across and worked with.

You Can Take IT to a Whole New Level

In my opinion, IT needs to change. It is currently under-represented and supported by leadership in the broader corporate community. Additionally, it is a common concern that DevOps is replacing some of the more conventional ways of working, especially when it comes to IT projects. DevOps has led to significant changes in enterprise IT practices. DevOps teams are increasingly agile. Agile means agile in the sense that they do not always manage a project as though it were being run by a traditional team, process or constraints. DevOps helps in the process of reducing resource costs and the need for costly management systems like a single source control system.

DevOps elevates IT in the following manner:

  • It often involves collaborative planning and continuous integration.
  • It promotes agility and modularity and can be used in the production as well as the development environment to deliver more stable and scalable development systems in fewer days from start to finish.
  • It helps in the process of improving the efficiency of systems of measurement by reducing the amount of data required on a daily basis.
  • It leads to more efficient use of IT resources and thus reduces IT waste.
  • It has the potential to result in significantly lower technology investment and the IT cost curve.
  • It speeds IT investment decisions (reduction at the point of sale and less need for costly capital IT systems to be migrated to an application or framework), and the potential to create economies of scale for IT in the production environments.

As private enterprises are established, creating technologies, new markets and new jobs, we are faced with the need to scale. This means developing roll-your-own features, processes, systems and services. With so many technology as a service options available today, many businesses can pick and choose from low cost, easy to spin up platforms and hit the ground running. The question is, can these operations scale to become profitable?

The answer is varied and typically management is concerned about the risks involved if they can't. Obviously a way businesses can scale involves building some of the technologies and applications from scratch while integrating other business processes. Easier said than done, right?

At the end of it all we need to figure out how we decide where the money goes. Do we invest in the customer product or the infrastructure? What happens when the product suddenly outpaces the previous internal systems, applications and technologies chosen?

How is DevOps Different from Traditional IT?

DevOps is a philosophy, not an engineering discipline, and not just a technical tool. That's why most people don't understand it either. There are a lot of myths associated with DevOps, and they were all developed by people who were obsessed with IT, who really thought they knew everything about IT, and who always believed there was this secret tool that was going to change IT, but, it didn't.

The big question is why would anyone want a DevOps environment? DevOps is the perfect change to a corporate environment for new hires, experienced developers, and teams with a desire to embrace and work in a rapid manner, using technology in an accelerated fashion with lower costs and rapid delivery.

Some people think that DevOps is an oxymoron and are trying to get around it by focusing on "DevOps as a technical discipline."

I disagree - the DevOps practice in an organization starts by defining the boundaries of what DevOps means and how it should be understood or implemented. In doing so, the DevOps practice can define a new way of managing operations, costs and customer delivery that the business leaders of today so deeply desire.

How DevOps Changes the Mindset of IT

In the recent years several news stories have shown that cloud servers, networking and architecture have affected the mindset of IT. The reality is that most IT practices are based on the principles of continuous improvement but are challenged by lack of budget, staff or support from the business or leadership. Yet DevOps principles can bring in fresh ideas and encourage learning new concepts if applied to IT.

This opens up the door for creating new practices in areas you don't necessarily think are a priority. As you can see, a focus on the DevOps philosophy has allowed for a huge improvement of the mindset of IT, especially during those critical time points as an organization is growing and competing in a rapidly changing technology-driven landscape.

DevOps brings IT to a place where the the infrastructure and developments team can start using similar technologies to achieve the same goals in a rapid fashion. IT can leverage DevOps to improve budgets, staffing and standing within the company while leading to a much more transparent process. It's a process where you can observe changes in the technology, infrastructure and software development while measuring how this change affects your project and the organization in an almost 'living organism' view.

To Be Continued…

It's not all about the IT or the DevOps. IT and DevOps intersect in both innovation and operational development. They can support both the same business challenges and happen simultaneously.

Does DevOps influence or evolve the IT organization or will it remain the same?

Does that change the way these organizations think or are they still operating the same way?

Photo Explanation: Milky Way shot in Maui (Sigma 17–70mm F2.8, ISO 2000, 15s exposure). I figured it appropriate as an analogy to the sheer size of opportunity when looking at DevOps, IT and technology as a whole. That and don't forget to look up from time to time. It's a big big place out there.

[CASE STUDY] Revival Cycles sees a 300% increase in e-commerce conversion rate

In This Article:

Victory’s CMO Practice in partnership with Victory Data Science Group (vDSG) produced a +300% increase in e-commerce conversion rate for Revival Cycles while split-testing two ecommerce platforms and a proprietary content management solution.

Client: Revival Cycles

Framing the Problem:

To many consumers, online shopping is the best thing since sliced bread. No longer do we have to make the tiresome trek to a store just to wait in checkout lines - instead we’re able to simply click and be done (usually from the sofa or from the desk, if it’s a particularly slow afternoon in the office).

Consumers can thank companies like Amazon and eBay largely for leading the way with the radical change to e-commerce. However, in the wake of these online behemoths dramatically altering how we buy, all manner of smaller retailers were left with the common question: What do we do now?

How does a company move forward from the “Brick and Mortar” business model that has stood for centuries before while only able to look towards a handful of e-commerce platforms as guidance? Most business owners, especially small businesses, generally lack the technical know-how required in scaling to a “virtual storefront” model.

Early platforms like Etsy rose up to meet the needs of some of these small business owners; and, now platforms like WooCommerce, Shopify, and BigCommerce lead the way in e-commerce integration.

pie chart ecommerce

Source: BuiltWith

A Note on E-Commerce:

E-Commerce, just like in any physical storefront, is all about completing the sale and doing this over and over again. It is pretty straightforward in theory. However, the problem with e-commerce is that it is fighting with every other distraction online to convert “browsers” into “buyers.”

Physical stores have spent millions of dollars and hired research agencies to best optimize for purchasing. Online shopping is still rapidly developing, and doesn’t have decades of research history behind it to find the most optimal layout, signage, and even scent to make the sale.

While e-commerce growth is far outpacing retail, the vast majority of retail purchases still happen in physical stores:

graph

Source: DigitalCommerce360

That is to say, for the relatively small percentage of sales that happen online, it is critical that you better optimize as much as possible.

E-commerce platforms, at the end of the day, must prevent against the abandoned cart problem. It obviously doesn’t do businesses any good to drive traffic to a site where nobody buys anything. Based on this very simple concept it is reasonable to say that the core functionality to judge any e-commerce platform is its ability to attract visitors and convert them into customers, or in other words to optimize sales conversions.

Case Overview:

Revival Cycles approached Victory with the question of whether or not their current e-commerce platform, Shopify, was best the best for the continued growth of their business. They had over $1 million in online sales, and a ton of original organic content, so they were doing several things right already.

However, would they perform better if they made the move to another provider, like BigCommerce? Were they using their media assets to their full potential? And was their e-commerce platform optimizing sales conversions?

It seems counter-intuitive but there isn’t one e-commerce platform that is simply The Best. The correct platform for a given business or industry in highly dependant on a myriad of factors. The simple fact is there is NO way of instantly "knowing" which is right for any given business.

This is why Victory is different: we do not pretend to “know” the answer to every client question, making decisions based on what sounds right, or blindly following whatever solution is currently trending. Our years of experience have taught us one thing time and time again: the only way to arrive at the correct solution is to find the right answer. Data is objective and the true equalizer - creating a hypothesis to test and measuring the results is the only way to provide true insight and deliver effective solutions for clients.

The most objective way to compare two platforms is to, well, compare them. And that doesn’t mean just making a list of features that each platform claims to have, it means a real world test with real customers. We set out to perform an A/B split test to determine which platform was best able to optimize and convert.

At first we set out to test the difference between the two most relevant e-commerce platforms, using Shopify as the control and BigCommerce as the test.

It is critical to be able to compare the platforms in an apples-to-apples manner, meaning stats had to be calculated identically for both platforms or the results would not be of any value.

After several rounds of back and forth with customer service on both sides we discovered that they both calculated the “Conversion Rate” in their dashboards differently (read “creatively”), and neither was particularly worried about matching the other’s criteria.

As a workaround to the conversion rate calculation problem and to ensure business continuity during the test we attached both platforms to a common inventory management system. This prevents one platform from selling a product that had already been sold on the other and vice versa. This would also allow us to easily crosscheck the conversion rates that our test framework reported for each platform.

Using Content to Drive Traffic

Let’s talk about leveraging content to drive traffic and conversion for a minute. If you have a site that has beautiful content and an optimized shopping experience, but no traffic, it doesn’t do the business any good. There are multiple channels to consider to drive traffic including social, email, paid advertising, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for organic search.

SEO is the most critical component to leverage content for traffic on e-commerce sites. And since Revival had a ton of organic content it was critical to squeeze every drop of SEO juice out of that content. While both e-commerce platforms have some version of a Content Management System (CMS) included, neither really measured up to the challenge of both delivering the client’s desired experience and optimizing the SEO value of the content. So we decided to include a third hybrid solution in the experiment: our own.

revival

GoldenEgg is a proprietary content delivery platform developed at Victory Labs in cooperation with the Victory Data Science Group. We chose Contentful as the backend Content Management System (CMS) to primarily be used as a content and media management platform integrated with Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk.

So, as a third variation in our experiment we used GoldenEgg frontend with Contentful backend for initial consumer experience and content consumption with links to products on BigCommerce for conversion.

So, did Shopify or BigCommerce prevail? The answer was neither!

When it was all said and done, GoldenEgg came out on top with a 3x conversion rate when compared to that of Shopify and BigCommerce alone. Why? While there are a large number of potential reasons to consider, based on our test it seems likely that the content experience on the website was the cornerstone of engagement and ultimately created the required stickiness to convert visitors to customers. So, the winning combination was an immersive visual experience that aligned with the brand messaging and appealed to the highly visual user base.

All things considered, is this solution the best one for every business? No! For a landscape as dynamic as digital, there is no prescriptive solution. The key takeaway is the importance of testing and measuring the potential solutions to find the correct answer for a specific business, e-commerce or otherwise.

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Chris Chilek is the co-Founder of Victory.