When we think of digital, we often consider the exciting consequences of technology, data and business disruption. These snapshots of digital are undoubtedly thrilling; they let us envision what the future of business might look like. But, focusing on the outward results of digitization skips over the most important part of any digital strategy: human relationships.

Some might argue that digital has made business less personal; in reality, digital is fostering a more connected society and brands are expected to have rapid two-way dialogs with key stakeholders. Crafting a digital strategy means building a strategy with people at the center. Let’s look at three examples of brands that have leveraged a digital strategy to build customer relationships:

Cisco Leverages Social Selling to Build Customer-Sales Relationships

In the world of B2B sales, the relationship between the prospect and the salesperson is a critical make-or-break variable for the business. Digital presents an opportunity for salespeople to leverage powerful marketing tools directly in service of lead generation. Cisco for instance empowered its sales organization to use social selling to find and engage prospects in their critical moment of need; leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue within the first few weeks of the pilot program’s rollout.

What drove this digital shift? Cisco recognized that its customers were making their purchasing decisions based primarily on information they gathered online. Marketing’s task became to track the social footprint of potential prospects through social listening and flag engagement opportunities. By engaging with prospects facing challenges Cisco could fix, its salespeople could offer immediate solutions. Marketing and sales worked together to ensure that the brand wasn’t interrupting their customers’ lives, which was often the case in the era of cold calling and unsolicited mail. Instead, its digital strategy recognized and enhanced the value of the customer-sales relationship.

WeWork Facilitates New Relationships Among Customers

An effective digital strategy can also facilitate new customer relationships, creating value in an otherwise commoditized sector. WeWork found tremendous success by focusing on the relationships it could enhance among its customers. The brand recognized that its customers were entrepreneurial and interested in building relationships with others in similar circumstances.

So WeWork developed a product that was more than just office space. It also built a digital community ecosystem that gives WeWork customers a platform to network and crowdsource solutions. The value for customers isn’t the digital product itself, but rather from the relationships formed within their new network. This strategy proved to be so successful, that WeWork has started to sell a member-only option that doesn’t include office space. Digital fostered that transition from commoditized office space to valuable office community.

MLS Nurtures Fan Community in Rebranding Effort

Sometimes a digital strategy can even answer fundamental branding challenges, as was the case with Major League Soccer’s (MLS) rebranding in 2014. Competing for fan attention with superior European leagues, MLS needed to reposition its brand to more effectively build relationships with a growing population of American soccer fans. Prior to its rebranding effort, MLS had already rolled out a host of web, app and streaming product services to better meet the expectations of its millennial fans.

Then, it unveiled a new logo, which invited fans to customize and make their own. In doing so, MLS acknowledged that fan ownership was a critical element of the league’s success. It marked a shift from a league selling a product to a league fostering an emerging and passionate community of fans. This shift could only be possible in a digital environment in which creative collaboration has elevated expectations for customization and social ownership.

Define Your Brand’s Digital Strategy Step-by-Step

The previous examples are just a few of the ways a successful digital strategy uses new technology and trends to build fundamental human relationships. The catalyst for change may sit with your customers, your prospects, your employees or any other stakeholder group with an unmet need. With so many possibilities for using digital to build customer relationships, it’s important to follow a pragmatic step-by-step strategy to define your own brand’s strategy. In his “Crafting a Digital Strategy” report, Altimeter Industry Analyst Ed Terpening explains each of the steps in the digital strategy creation process and reinforces the idea that digital is a vehicle to meet business objectives that go both ways. Not only does digital deliver value, but it also creates digital exhaust — data that tells the brand how audiences are behaving.

In other words, digital strategy is fundamentally about understanding relationships in our more connected world. Brands that understand this are in a better position to address real human needs.

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This post was written for Prophet Thinking by Kevin Grubb.


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