Daniel Prendergast is Head of Digital at Sheffield Hallam University where he is driving the digital transformation of the organization. Daniel brings over 15 years of digital experience to the role, with a keen understanding of campaign integration across online and offline channels for a variety of industries including higher education, international publishing, travel and tourism, and B2C / B2B online product retail, both on the agency and client side. He joins us from Sheffield, England to discuss the role of the digital strategist in the journey to conversion. You can hear our conversation in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud or below now.
The key to optimizing the journey to conversion is to ‘keep the customer journey as simple as possible, avoiding clutter or bells and whistles that seem good on the surface but only serve to distract people and turn customers away from what they are actually trying to achieve’. There are many challenges to achieving this objective of ‘removing friction across every customer touchpoint’. The first challenge is the pace of change, with new apps and tools emerging every day. This makes it difficult to ‘keep on top of new developments but not to be subsumed or distracted’. Another great challenge is that over the years large organizations have built up a number of legacy systems. Daniel references the fact that at Sheffield Hallam, there are over a hundred systems that are in some way supporting the customer journey. Success in the journey to conversion is dependent on creating a seamless front end experience where the customer doesn’t know that there are all these systems working together in the background; it has to feel seamless to the user. This includes integration of content management and CRM systems that all rely on data to enable more personalized user experiences that are rendered in useful ways to the consumer.
In all of this the role of the strategist is to ensure that digital marketing is not just a lot of disconnected activity, as Daniel says, ‘a good strategy, poorly implemented could be more harmful than not having a strategy at all…because there’s so much you can do that the customer can get lost in the mix’. To win, he suggests the strategist should focus on four things: ‘the market, the customers, the competitors and the unique selling proposition’. Without someone pulling these elements together, you end up with poor user experiences such as those often seen in eCommerce websites ‘where you jump out of a really well designed front end UX into a check out process that is disconnected’ and where the customer gets lost.
It is this focus on the customer journey to conversion that drives Daniel’s role at the university, where he is responsible for enhancing the reputation of the university and increasing growth. His key external audiences include prospective students, existing students, the academic community and corporate partners. In this he sees that digital content and channels are fundmanetal to how the university reaches out to those audiences with experiences that are engaging, relevant and increasingly personalized. This is in line with how the expectations of these audiences are growing and shifting all the time. In order to differentiate themselves, the university is choosing to compete by providing the best possible user experience and make this a unique selling proposition that is core to the offering. As such, the entire web presence of the school is currently being overhauled with a customer experience focus in mind.
Daniel’s interest in digital began early, playing games led to a fascination with early computers. This, combined with an eye to graphic design led to him working freelance and with agencies across the entire spectrum of digital campaigns, including web development and email campaigns. He summarizes his multi-disciplinary career and role as being driven by a passion to ‘provide really good underlying user experiences that help people get their jobs done, help people to save time and help businesses become commercially successful’.
Daniel identifies Tesco as a company that really nails this focus on the underlying user experience. As early adopters in digital, particularly investment in customer relationship management allowed them to deliver personalized offers and experiences. They bring a strong digital proposition based on best practice customer care, particularly in social media where they are ‘responsive, friendly, conversational, humorous…all the things you would expect from a customer driven business that takes its customer care seriously’. Tesco also works to ‘contextualize the customer experience and tone of voice depending on the situation your customer may be in…this begins with developing customer personas and developing content dependent on the customer context and the tone of voice that is going to reassure the customer experience’.
Another brand Daniel points to that understand the customer journey to conversion is GoPro, in particular as seen in their use of Instagram. What they do in that platform is based on a simple strategy of ‘understanding where your customers are and trying to add value there’.
Starting out in the industry today can be intimidating due to the growth and fragmentation of the space. Daniel’s advice is that beyond acquiring a good mix of qualifications and experience, the key to success as a strategist is to have a ‘clear sense of purpose and understand what really drives you’. This sense of purpose is what will help you focus on and emphasize your strengths in a material way in your career.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.