Last week, I was watching the construction of a new 5 story academic building on the campus of George Mason University. It’s been going on for months but this time I noticed something that I’d like to share. As I watched the construction crew assemble the big steel support structure I realized a nascent thought about digital marketing coming to mind. Other than a plan to follow – what are the benefits of a structured plan for digital marketing?
Let me back up a bit. On the far side of the construction site stood a man behind a large wooden desk. Not a fancy desk. A simple one made from plywood and 2 x 4s. The man would look down for a while then look up and give occasional instruction to one of the construction crew as they lowered steel in place. A few times I saw someone shout down to him and he’d reply or direct another crew member to help out.
Having worked in consulting engineering for a number of years, I realized he was consulting a set of plans that helped him keep the work crew on task and the assembly of the structure true and level. But it was the choices and results of the completed structure that were at the center of my thoughts. I was thinking the foreman could have built any structure he wanted. He had the tools, the materials and the crew to complete the task. But he was following a carefully considered and intentional plan. and when the construction is over, the structure will take on a life of its own. I suddenly realized why digital marketing needs structure.
Structure gives form
Without a structure we having nothing but a pile of materials. We can lean them against each other and have a rudimentary structure or we can design something more elaborate. All of the content for a digital marketing campaign -the posts, emails, images, videos, presentations – need structure to give them meaning. Without structure they pile up without a discernible pattern. We can leave them in a pile or design something intentionally that has form and purpose.
Structure guides us
Structures have hallways, stairs, elevators, and doors. They steer us as we complete the process of walking from one end of the building to the other. The creation of content for a digital marketing campaign also guides us. A post, an email, or other content requires us to complete a process that steers us to completion. Content for a campaign follows a process that guides us: ideation, creation, editing, and approval. Within each step we may go through many more steps but we still follow the same process.
Structure determines function
Each structure has an intended purpose. A hospital is designed for people with medical needs and a place to recover. A school is designed for teaching. Each digital marketing campaign has an intended function as well. To generate a lead, a phone call, a registration, or completion of a form. Even though we start with the function in mind, the way we construct the campaign determines the outcome.
Structure defines flow
Every building has been designed with a human traffic pattern in mind. In a kitchen there’s a basic rule of thumb the refrigerator, food prep area, and the stove should all be within a step or two at most for efficiency sake. In large multistory buildings, the entrance and the elevators are often not very far apart. The expectation is we will walk in and get on the elevator to go up. And when we get off the elevator, a receptionist will be right in front of us to greet us and guide us to our appointment. As we think about an email campaign our decisions are influenced by the structure of the tools and the desired actions of the user.
These are the basic structure of an email campaign. We cannot reorder them or desired goal will not be reached.
Structure provides focus
In order to design a structure, architects and engineers are confined by the laws of mathematics & physics and guided by color palettes, light and shadow. To ensure their designs work as expected, they must focus and bare in mind all of the rules that affect the portion of the design they’re working on as well as the whole. Digital marketing requires us to focus on tools, tactics and content. Video, for example, has basic rules and guidelines we keep in mind and abide by. Length, tempo, audio quality, formats, scripts and story lines for example. We focus in order to create content and follow the guidelines of what makes it great content and the best ways to deliver it. And we also consider how the video fits with the overall plan.
Structure requires changes of perspective
Good engineers and architects have to see their designs from at least two points of view and sometimes more. They must look at their designs through the lens of their profession and the interplay of the the laws of gravity, materials, and light. And they see them through the lens of people that will walk the hallways, sit in the classrooms, or be rushed into the operating room. Marketers need to keep in mind the customer’s journey, how they experience and interact with our content and how they ultimately find their way to the action we want.
Structure requires self-reflection
At some point or another during the design of a structure, there comes a point where the designer questions her/his approach or decision. Each step in the design is the result of choice driven by the rules, by experience, or by personal choice. With digital marketing campaigns, we are faced with many of the same tensions. There are rules – and they can be bent. We have experience but no one knows all the answers. And we have opinions but do they really apply? Each campaign comes down to our best guess.
All in all, structure is essential to the success of a digital marketing campaign. To build structure we are forced to weigh our decisions carefully because they form the framework we will use. And once we’ve chosen the structure, it’s construction guides us the rest of the way.