Today we chat with Patrick Richardson, the U.S. Managing Director of hedgehoglabs.com – his background includes advertising, marketing, design, mobile apps, and much more. Topics range from agency life to team-building, the inner workings of a design sprint, to providing strategic insights for clients. If you’d like to learn more about Patrick or get in touch for a project, feel free to reach out to him here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/patrickrichardson/
Sifting Thru The Information Age
The woeful art of data collection is tedious, time-consuming, and not necessarily fruitful. For every strategist out there, data really is the name of the game. It comes in all shapes and sizes, different formats and forms, analytics, reports, whitepapers, press releases, and on it goes till there’s too many to name. Compiling data is a hard pursuit for information analysts and data specialists, so what’s the average agency team member to do when they find themselves drowning in a sea of data? Paddle back to shore…as quickly as possible.
I’ve always felt like strategists are a rare breed. They have to think about their clients, their client’s’ users, the competition, the market trends, social trends, industry influencers, disruptors, shifts and more. Then, hopefully, get in front of it all and find that one tidbit of information that will lead to a successful client interaction. Hard, yes? YES!!
To find the insight that leads to an opportunity to capitalize on objectives before the next wave or trend hits is really hard to do. Then the cycle starts all over again.
Capturing the data landscape
From a strategy standpoint, there are 3 questions you’ll need to answer:
- What data will be useful to both the short and long-term objective?
- What data can actually be collected?
- What categorization will make the data more manageable?
Or you can look at it like this:
- Identify and establish
- Collect and aggregate
- Sift and categorize
The collection process has become a huge problem, hence the recent shift into machine learning, artificial intelligence, and algorithms to help categorize or cluster lumps of information. Businesses, organizations, and (specifically) strategists are suffocating beneath it all. And if you have the money to invest in AI – by all means – do! But many of us do not, and don’t even really know how it could help (don’t worry – I’ll write a post on that too!).
If you go even deeper into the data collection world, there are a multitude of techniques and tactics including exploratory data analysis, descriptive statistics, lambda architecture, data cleansing, data transforming, data modeling, and mining. WOAH!!! Hold up – here’s the reality: there’s a simpler way to identify, collect, and sift the data that won’t leave you submerged in a pool of data delirium.
The first step in the data collection process is to identify what’s important. Obviously, this is going to be dependent on the problem you’re trying to solve, but there are usually some universal things that we need to know and I’ll list them out here.
The usual stuff…
- Users – Who are they? What do they need? Where are they? How do they normally interact with your client? Why are they continuing to interact with your client? What’s the value your client provides them with?
- Competition – What are they doing that’s different than your client? Who are their users? How have they positioned themselves? What can we learn from them?
- Market – I always find this to be a tricky one. This is mostly about industry trends and what’s happening in the market. Is there something going on in the political landscape that may disrupt what we’re trying to do? Economically, how sound is the product/tool/resource your client is trying to offer? Are others offering it at a lower price? Is demand being driven up by an exclusive offer? You get the point.
These are the big three! Other information you may want to know about could be emerging technology or the best in business for that particular industry. Think about the problem before you go looking for the data. If you don’t, then you will, literally, be drowning in it.
The next step is actually getting your hands on the data. But what is the easiest way to collect the data that we need? Great question….and I’ll just be honest – I don’t have any great answers for you! If you aren’t a developer and don’t know how to write algorithms or scripts that will easily aggregate or pull in data for you…then you’re at the mercy of the tools that are out there.
- Google Analytics: This is a phenomenal tool. It really can get you a lot of the data you require, especially when it comes to the users of a particular website. It’ll give you insight into who your users are (or who your client’s users are), where they hangout online, etc. However, it won’t give you answers to questions like “what’s the value they get from your client?” You can take guesses at this, but you’ll never actually know unless you ask the user.
- RSS Feed Readers: There are a number of Feed Readers out there that will aggregate blogs and other feeds for you all in one place. Just google “Best RSS feed readers” and you’ll find something. I pull in a lot of competitor and best in biz blogs so I can keep a pulse on what others in the same industry are doing.
- Social Media: This one’s pretty obvious, no? I have several Twitter accounts because I’m following different verticals in each one and staying up-to-date on what’s going on in the social (and real) world. You’d be surprised at how many things hit social first before anything else.
- Client Databases: This could be their CRM, Marketing Automation Platform, or Membership Portal, where they have information on their users already. Which could be helpful in understanding their audiences demographically as well as their behavior.
- Watson Analytics: Now, I’ve just started to play around with this interface (see below) and it’s pretty intense. What I’ve sussed out so far is that this platform allows you to import pretty much any type of data (weather patterns, Twitter hashtags, CRM contacts, OneDrive, etc.) or information that’s readily available. It mixes in what Watson already knows (which, apparently is a lot) and lets you ask it questions. For example: Which content should we use to target a specific customer segment for the month of May? It spits you out an answer. I haven’t fully understood it yet, and make no mistake when I do, a blog post is coming!
Collecting data is kind of the easy part, there are systems in place for aggregating the data. The hard part is making sense of it all and we do that by categorizing it appropriately.
Sift…and sift….and sift some more…
Ok, you have all the information, but there’s just sooooo much of it! What’s the easiest way to sift through the information and categorize it to make it more manageable? Well…there are a few ways to do this. Before I get into it, I want to quickly talk about tools for categorization. I tend to gravitate towards using Trello Boards to separate certain information and link off to different platforms. You can use Google Docs, an Excel spreadsheet, whatever works for you!
- Categorize around your problem or initiative:
- If you’re trying to get information and use it for a certain workshop, then look at your agenda for that workshop. What are talking points? If you want to talk about users, make sure you’ve categorized all the information you have on the users appropriately. I would start a Google doc and put in all relevant links to users in one place. That way you can link off in your workshop to check the data quickly. Maybe it’s to a certain Twitter account where you can review all recent tweets in an industry.
- If you have information on the market, put all relevant links (or content/data/info) in the same doc so you can pull it up in your workshop. I find this way to be efficient, especially working with clients who have no idea what information they need or where to find it. You can also share Google docs to collaborate with them, or at least give them insight into what you’ve been compiling.
- Categorize around your client or account:
- You can also categorize your information around a specific client. Let’s say you work with the GizmoSoftware company and they build software for design/development teams. What data would be useful to them (and you) so that they’re kept up-to-date with what’s going on in their industry, with their users, and their competitors?
I built a website called TheWebward where I pull in over 150 RSS feeds, 100 different social channels including Twitter feeds, FB feeds, and FB groups. And I also have an Article Library where I’ve categorized important posts, articles, and whitepapers so I can gain access to them at any point I need. The website is housed with information that’s important to me and helps me do my everyday job. I also push information to certain content types (“buyers”) that help me accommodate my clients in a much easier way. If you can do something like this, great! Read my post, it’s kind of like a how-to in using WordPress to help you manage the information you need.
Remember a few years ago when everyone was saying “content is king” – well, now data is king. And data is content, analytics, information on anything and everything. And there’s so much of it out there. So, identify what’s important to you (or the problem), collect the data that can be collected, and categorize it according to your initiative or client.
In the meantime, collect the data that’s important to you as a human being. Pull in things you find interesting and learn about them. You can never have enough data, but you can most certainly have too much of the wrong data.
Design Sprint Cheat Sheet
The guys over at Google Ventures are pretty smart! They unveiled their process of design sprints in a book aptly named Sprint. The full title succinctly describes its benefits — How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days. I read this book over last summer, it’s an easy read and remarkably insightful. Design sprints actually do help you solve big problems and test new ideas.
It’s not enough to just have a process anymore. Everyone, every agency, every firm has a process that’s guaranteed to be better than all the others because it’s “integrated.” In order to rise above the competition and have your clients really connect with their users, you need to get insight from…who else…the users. But in order to do that in a really efficient way, you can’t build out the website or mobile app first. So… you prototype.
Here’s the theory: when working with any company or business, you can solve really big problems in one week by getting together in a room with the right people, the right tools, and the right challenge and performing exercises like design-thinking, rationality, empathy, creativity, prototyping, and testing.
Now, in the words of John Maeda, design-thinking is just another phrase for business execs to feel good about doing design stuff. LOL! But I think there is something to getting in a room with your clients and doing these different exercises to uncover the answers to some really hard questions when it comes to your digital properties.
I’m going to walk you through an abbreviated checklist (or cheat sheet). It’s changed a little to mimic a process that I’ve used in the past and I’ll go over pre-sprint activities, the sprint itself, and post-sprint wrap-up.
Remember: you need the right team, the right tools, and the right challenge
- The Team:
- Agency Side – it’s usually two designers, a strategist, and a project or account manager.
- Client Side – at least one decision-maker. Someone who has the authority to call the shots relating to your challenge.
- The Tools
- Conference room, post-its (lots of them), colored circle stickers, whiteboards and/or canvas paper, markers.
- The Challenge
- Usually something that’s super expensive, like your client wants to spend $500k on a mobile app that has no users yet (challenge: to see if it’s even viable in the market). Or maybe your internal team is stuck on a big project and needs to get some creativity flowing.
You’ll need to do some research and collection before you go in and do the sprint with your client. The first thing you’ll want to do is an intake sheet. An intake sheet is simply a “worksheet” that gathers information on your client.
Some things you’ll want to know are obvious, like, client overview. Company name, number of employees, etc. But then you’ll want to know major markets, regional hubs, who are their competitors, what are the long-term business objectives and/or vision. Something like this:
You’ll also need to do some research on your client’s competitors so you know what they’re doing. Look at their websites or mobile apps and make note of what’s cool, what’s not cool, certain functionality or features, etc.
And also look into your client’s users. Who are they, what do they do, where do they hang out online, etc. This pre-sprint phase is pretty intensive. There’s a decent amount of upfront work that needs to be done. But then we get into the fun part…sprint week!
Every day working hours will be from 10am to 5pm with a one hour lunch at 1pm. So, 6 hours a day – that’s how much you’ll work with the client. But you’ll find that the internal team is working much longer especially on the day you prototype.
Day 1: Understand
- Team Intros & Agenda
- Client Talks (Vision, Functionality, Future State)
- Innovation Talks / Expert Talks
- “How Might We”
This day will set the tone for the rest of the week. There are plenty of ways that you can drive design direction if you need to.
Day 2: Explore
- Morning Review
- Personas: Day in the Life
- Raw Ideas / Big Ideas
- Crazy Eights / Solution Sketches
Day 3: Focus
- Museum Art / Dot Voting
- Disucssion / Decision
- Wireframes / Storyboards
Day 4: Prototype
- “Just Enough” Mentality
- Prototype Tools
- Divide and Conquer
Day 5: Present
- Finish the prototypes
- Present to the client
- Wrap up / Next steps
Once the sprint is finished, it’s time to test and survey your users, which brings us to Post Sprint Week
You’ll need to fill out a survey (I use Google forms, super easy) and set the stage for the users. The prototypes won’t be totally functional, so let the users know that! You will usually do some baseline questions to get a gauge of your users, and asking them about who they are demographically never hurts. Then you’ll want to ask the same questions about each prototype, but it’s really helpful to send half of your participants Prototype 1 then Prototype 2, in that order. Then the other half of the participants send Prototype 2 first, then Prototype 1. Many times users will latch on to the first prototype they see, so this technique helps mitigate that risk.
Once the surveys are finished, you can start grouping themes (which is a whole other blog post – I’ll write soon!). And you’ve got real feedback from users and this helps your clients decide whehter or not to move forward with a project or mobile build before it drains all their resources for it.
Strategy in Context: Mining for Opportunities
Watching the tides turn in the digital age is as quick as the ocean currents. These microscopic movements that all feed into a bigger pool are advancing technology at an unprecedented rate. In fact, 58% of corporate execs say it will develop at an increasingly rapid rate over the next 5 years. Check out Accenture’s 2016 trend report. With all that in mind, what’s your agency’s plan to keep up-to-date with all this new technology. What’s your agency’s plan to take advantage of the opportunities they can bring? Let me show you how I got started.
Living in the Age of Information
We live in the age of information. It’s almost too much because it’s coming at us from every single direction. Accenture, Hewlett Packard, Deloitte, and more are all putting out new reports, trends, and surveys. You can find these reports just by searching “2016 tech trend reports” 0r some variation of that. To give you a little tip that I use, I will always append “pdf” to my search queries in order to find reports that you otherwise might not be able to. It amazes me how many PDFs are out there right now. After searching, you’ll need to categorize. Now I have a folder in my Google Drive that breaks down into more folders comprised of only PDFs. I categorize them as such:
- Industries: health, travel, nonprofit, media, B2B, Agency, Consulting. These could be different for you
- Market Intelligence: you can find these reports by searching “market intelligence ‘your industry here’ pdf” I separate these by year
- Trend Reports: pretty self-explanatory; usually having to do with some sort of survey
- Misc. Whitepapers: Because these are always fun to read and have, you can use them as sales collateral when talking to a prospective buyer, and even client.
Once you’ve compiled a number of relevant reports, now it’s time to start reading them. Now, with all the PDFs I have it would take, literally, close to 6 months to read (I’m a slow reader), don’t read them. Skim them, graze them, pluck them, don’t peruse them.
Mining for Information
There is obviously a reason why we have headers and titles and large print. When you are skimming over these PDFs, just look for the headlines, quotes, sidebars with numbers in them. Pick off the statistical data and write it down some place else. You’ll eventually use this information to mine for opportunities. If there’s a headline that interests you and it’s followed by 5 paragraphs, read those paragraphs. I’ll always use a speed reading technique by Tim Ferris that has increased my words-per-minute by 25%. Or check out tips on how to read faster. But remember, you still need to comprehend what you’re reading for it to be valuable in mining for opportunities.
As you continue to gather information, you need to start categorizing it so it’s digestible for your client. I separate my information into a few areas:
- Market Intelligence:
- Usually in the form of surveys, I’ll state what has significantly changed in a sector or industry. For instance, the Agency of Record (AOR) lasts less than 3 years according to Agency Spotter’s 2016 Report. And the average project-based fees for agencies have increased. Now, put the cost of living aside, this tells me that brands and companies are seeking out agencies that fit their specific projects, not necessarily their ongoing needs.
- Disruptors & Influencers:
- Who is making a big splash right now in tech or what technology is outpacing all the rest.
- Competitors & Users:
- What is the competition doing, what are your client’s users doing
- New Trends, Technology, and Terms:
- Things that are trending. New technology that your client might be able to leverage. New terms that people in the industry are using.
All this info will eventually lead into Insights & Opportunities.
Finding…and mining insights
An insight is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. Wow!! Intense, right? Yup, it sure is. So, here’s essentially what I mean when I say strategy in context. Out of all the information you’ve gathered, it won’t make a bit of difference unless you understand who you’re gathering it for. I’ll give you an example. I work with health and wellness clients, nonprofit, media, agencies, and more. The info that I gather have something to do with these sectors and markets. But insights are relevant only when you understand who you’re gathering that information for. Which brings me to intake sheets.
Intake sheets are information about your client. You’ll want to gather info on them. Keep a record of the following:
- Client: contact info; organizational structure.
- Company overview: what do they do, what are their values, etc.?
- Products/Services: what do they provide?
- Major Markets: where are they doing business, what countries?
- Value: what’s their value proposition?
- Strengths/Weaknesses: what do they do better than anyone else; where could they improve?
- Account/Project Objectives: what are the things they want to accomplish, major goals?
- Competitors: keep a list of at least their top 3 competitors, I would even list the best in business in their industry.
- Users: user personas are a huge part of this insight gathering, I’ll post more on personas in another one of my Strategy in Context posts.
- Partners: who is your client partnering with in the market? Are they complimentary?
As time goes on you’ll pick up the idiosyncrasies that make your client who they are. You’ll learn things about their culture that will provide more insight into them as an organization. Hence, providing more insight into how you can mine for opportunities.
Mining for the non-opportunity
I want to clarify that mining for opportunities is not trying to find just any project you think your client wouldn’t mind doing. It’s adding real value to their organization. In order to do that, you have to look at all the possibilities. And as a sidenote, it sometimes means you may not be providing the solution.
Let’s say you are working with a nonprofit and they are in the process of building out a donation platform for their donors. This platform is something that you helped design on the front-end, but the back-end was built by another firm. Essentially, this platform almost works like a banking platform. Donors can store their money and make donations to the organization or cause of their choosing. And let’s say the other firm is having a difficult time securing the platform. Well, if you kept up-to-date on the latest trends, you could give them an insight into what people are talking about right now in the security space. Which is Blockchain.
Today’s financial institutes operate on a central ledger where money is passed from one entity to another. The ledger is monitored and kept by one authority, leaving it susceptible to attack and corruption. Blockchain is a transactional database that decentralizes the ledger and allows for complete transactional security, it’s also lower in cost. You’d probably have to refer the nonprofit to a blockchain expert, but the value you’ve given them is high.
Mining for the real opportunity
To mine for the real opportunity depends on your client’s goal, their users’ needs, and where they sit on the spectrum of innovation. If they are at the lower end of the innovation spectrum, there’s probably a lot of opportunities to mine for. If they’re more toward the middle, it starts to get a little harder. Brands and organizations that don’t keep up with the latest trends and technology are they ones who have the most options. The ones who are at the top, are the ones who are paving the way for everyone else, and the options narrow.
Let’s say you’re working with that same nonprofit and their goal is to get as many donors as they can using this platform. If you knew that the retention rate of first-year donors was only 29% or that roughly 50% of donors do not renew their gifts the following year, what would you do with that information? You’d dig in….why are donors not renewing their gifts? Then you’d probably find out that donors like to feel connected. They like to see the impact that their donations have on communities and the lives they’re helping. Well…what opportunity can we find there?
My suggestion would be to offer to build a website that connects donors with donees. But also shares the stories donees have because of getting donations. It could be anonymous, but having a platform that could show where a donor’s donation is going and in what way it’s helping the donee could be really cool. People are attached to stories, we love them. Build a website that tells the story of donee’s or add a section to an existing site. There are a lot of possibilities in that one particular insight. Get creative!
Mining is a continual thing
In closing I’ll say this. Mining for opportunities is a continual thing. You’ll be getting new information as time goes on, you’ll be learning more and more about the needs of your client as the months/years pass. Always be adding value. That’s the best way to mine for opportunities. If you can show your client that you offer these insights and valuable opportunities, you’ll be seen as a strategic partner and an invaluable one at that.
Strategy in Context: A Bird’s Eye View
Today is an auspicious occasion! It marks the first of my Strategy in Context series. As well as my first try at micro-blogging. I have a lot of information on topics like strategy, research, account management, user experience, and more. I’d like to get that information to the public as quick as possible while still posting good, quality content. Now, I’ll most likely expand on this series in an eventual strategy whitepaper.
I was recently at a tech conference asking people for strategy resources. One person firmly told me that “no one’s going to give me their strategy resources (or process for that matter) because that’s how agencies make the big bucks.” So, okay… that makes sense to me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t give away my strategy resources.
I’d like to address any nay-sayers about publishing digital strategy process, tactics, and/or resources. I come from the open source world where information is shared and the community benefits from that. This is my attempt to give back. I am more worried about people saturating the internet by building shitty things people don’t need, than I am about someone stealing my strategy process, theories, and thoughts. Plus, I want to spark discussion, so let’s begin.
Strategy in Context
I’m sure everyone is familiar with context-aware design, yeah? It’s when a device (like a smartphone) changes based on the environment in which it’s placed. Our smartphones can make recommendations based on location or auto-adjust the contrast on a bright day. Strategy in context is similar in the sense that we (as strategists) need to take into consideration our environments. And hopefully act accordingly.
Implementing a strategy process can be a daunting practice.
- A) it’s not a linear process
- B) it changes at every turn based on new information.
So, how do you conquer a client, project, or product when you aren’t sure how to proceed? You take a step back…and look at things from a holistic standpoint; from a bird’s eye view.
A Bird’s Eye View of Strategy
In order to understand strategy, there is one truth you have to realize: true strategy is continual, it’s not an end-game and never will be. The digital strategy that works for you today, might not be the one that works for you tomorrow, let alone a year from now. And this is why strategists are commodities, because it’s a job that never ends in the web and mobile space.
Holistically speaking, digital strategy is dependent on all its players. It is so entangled with other strategies that looking at it any other way would be a disservice to both you and your client.
The elements of strategy:
- The People: your client, their users, the competition, influencers, disruptors
- The Assets: things like their culture, their brand, their website, their digital assets are blanketed under this term
- The Operations: your client’s business model, their product or service
- The Frameworks: from your client’s organizational structure to the technical systems being leveraged.
- The Intelligence: the market, the trends, the innovation happening, the economic and political landscapes
- The Tactics: different from ‘operations’ – tactics are used to carry out strategies
- The Outcomes: the goals, the objectives, the accomplishments, the results
Contingent on each of these elements, strategy will have different meanings depending on its context. It’s too much to take in in a micro-blog post, so as the Strategy in Context series continues, I’ll drill into each one of these areas to give insight into breaking down your strategy process.
The Information Spectrum
At any given moment, there are hundreds of tiny shifts going on in the digital world. Developments that are slowly (or quickly) moving in from the fringes toward the mainstream. A fantastic trend report by Future Today Institute highlights innovation that is making it’s way toward being the established norm. Innovation is often talked about, but overlooked when it comes to strategy positioning.
In order to understand the information spectrum, you first have to understand all the new technologies, trends, and innovation taking place right now. But there are flaws in that thinking as one new technology supplants another. So, first thing you need to do — start building an information database. For all you strategists out there, you need some type of system where you can gather information and access it easily. I’ve built myself TheWebward.com – I call it my morning business review, but it’s really an information database.
You can try RSS aggregators like Digg Reader or create your own. But keeping up-to-date with the technology landscape is your first lesson in strategy. Did you know Baidu is leading the way in conversational interfaces? Or that Blockchain can help fight cyberattacks? Do you know what Blockchain is?
Lost in the Strategy Sky
As you begin your journey into strategy, you may feel lost at times. It happens to everyone and that’s okay. But if you’re lost and can’t find answers, look to other industries. One thing that’s helped me tremendously in developing my strategy process is turning to other sectors that have had strategists for decades. The military, politics, and the intelligence community all have resources on strategy out there that you can research. Then take their core principles and apply them to the digital space. Again, I’ll go into this more in upcoming posts, but I feel like this isn’t really a micro-blog post anymore!
Ok, more to come on Strategy in Context.