By Chris Gokiert – CEO | Critical Mass
By Chris Gokiert – CEO | Critical Mass
There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty going into 2023. Will there be a recession? Will marketing budgets get cut – and by how much? But there’s so much innovation happening, too. We’re truly at a crossroads, and we have to ask, “what does it mean for brands, marketers, and consumers?”
Those of us who have worked at the intersection of marketing, advertising, and design since the early ‘aughts’ have lived through these moments before. They’re full of potential – and pitfalls. It’s easy for quick wins to supersede brand growth. Internal problems can get more attention than customer problems. Now, we worry that automated tools will replace human creativity.
Forrester’s ‘Predictions 2023‘ anticipates many of these problems. One prediction looks especially dire. They foresee an ‘erosion of CX differentiation in three-fourths of industries’ headed our way.
In other words, a sea of sameness.
That sea is already here. A surging, global demand for content in recent years has forced brands to kick their creative game into overdrive – in both their owned and paid channels. But too few brands have the means to meet that demand. Scale isn’t delivering brand elegance. Personalisation isn’t delivering differentiation.
Instead, we see customers bouncing from one brand to the next because they don’t see a difference. They see a commodity that may have a momentary cool factor – which then disappears when the next one comes along, usually only a few days (or hours) later.
With so many incredible innovations at our fingertips, it would be a tragedy to let 2023 be the year where brand ecosystems deteriorate, and dull, undifferentiated design fills the internet.
Here’s how we can do better.
We can all see the proliferation of channels and new AI technology around us. We’re swimming in powerful new possibilities, but we need a design process that not only harnesses technology and data, but also builds a well-designed experience. Brands and marketers who choose to embrace this are going to see their best days yet. We, somewhat cheekily, call this SystemDesign3 (or SD3).
SD3 is what you get when your brand ecosystem is connected – data, technology, and content – around your customer, so that no matter where, when, and how customers connect with you, the journey is personalised, connected, and built on systems that are learning how to improve with every single interaction. And it looks gorgeous (not just on individual pages or in custom pieces of creative, but everywhere and at scale).
This is a giant topic, and we’re going to be talking about it a lot. For now, here are four principles that guide our approach to SD3. They’re the root of our tremendous optimism, and they’re already helping us deliver what the best brands in the world are asking for right now.
Principle One: Operate with Insight (not just facts and observations)
Deep insight from day one is a must. To get on the path to Experience 3, you need a data workbench that can get you up and running fast – we have one called Catalyst – that puts audience insight, competitive insight, category insight, and media insight front and centre. A good digital partner should be able to integrate custom data science models, test-and-learn, and learning programs that help you gauge performance, deepen insight, and improve your forecasting. These aren’t investments that will depreciate either. They can be built upon, and the longer they run, the smarter you get.
Principle Two: Connect, Connect, Connect
Don’t operate campaign by campaign, site redesign by site redesign, or creative unit by creative unit. Get on the path to the future by thinking in a connected way. The Digital Design Languages (DDL) of yesteryear are a good point of reference, but rather than ready-made libraries, think of how a system of design elements can be hooked up with your technology investments to create AI-powered, personalised journeys throughout your ecosystem. Not just an ad here, or an email there, but a 1:1 path to purchase backed up by Intelligent Production that allows your brand to look beautiful at scale (and if ‘beautiful at scale’ sounds too good to be true, it’s not; we invented something called ArtBot that does exactly that.)
The efficiency and efficacy of a SD3 approach cannot be overstated, and it’s also the best way to meet the massive demand for higher and higher quality content online.
Principle Three: Make Every Penny Work Harder
In 2022, our clients didn’t let a penny go to waste. In 2023, each penny will have to perform like it’s a nickel. An effective and efficient systems design approach matters in a big way when CEOs and budget hawks want more for less.
Brand leaders also want to see proof; and frankly, we support that wholeheartedly. By connecting ecosystems and integrating performance elements into every part of the ecosystem, everything has the capacity to become more effective (for ROI) and more efficient (for reduced cost). In addition, content agility, which you could roughly define as finding the perfect mix between custom and automated content across the ecosystem, has the capacity to streamline the pipeline, and help brands go to market faster with content that’s fit for platform and more effective.
Principle Four: Be Uncompromising
Digital ecosystems are transformed through uncompromising design standards. A lot of times, ‘digital transformation’ can mean ‘automation.’ Where marketing is concerned, however, nothing is really transformed unless customers can see it. Customers, after all, see craft. They respond to high-quality content. They click on what’s compelling. They abandon what’s generic. Insisting on design craft at a time when it’s tempting to settle for something automated (but ugly) is a key to winning in 2023.
‘Uncompromising’ also means never taking a tool off the shelf and settling for its limitations. We want brands to be bold in that regard. Rip platforms apart and get into the code. Invent new ways to reconnect data, media, and technology (the science) and use them to power systems design that astounds people (the art). And to that end, the central piece of the puzzle is always the same – the customer. Their data, their drives, their needs, their desire for something fun, flawless, and fantastic. That’s what makes the whole thing tick.
To Sum It All Up: Your customers are probably never going to see the complexities of your investment in SystemDesign3. But they will see a brand that looks compelling enough online to check out, and then delivers actual value in their lives, again and again. And that’s all they’re really asking of you. Even in economic headwinds, there’s no good reason to let them down.