Friends, I confess, it’s been some time since I have posted – but it’s with good reason! I’ve been working on something really exciting for the better part of a year, and I’m elated to finally share it with you. But first – here’s a quick origin story and some context to get you up to speed.
Some background, reflection on the journey
I’m currently sitting in a great little Italian restaurant on a trip to New York reminiscing on the better part of 10 years that I’ve been working in communications. From my early public relations days at Bloomingdale’s to peddle-pushing advertising sales at a local Orlando publication, to launching my own boutique branding and design studio, to collaborating on global projects dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems – and now, Sohuis – it’s humbling to reflect on the work I’ve been a part of and I’m choosing to take a moment to celebrate this small, but mighty, victory.
This journey has not been without its challenges, though, and it’s through these challenges that Sohuis even exists today. I talk a little bit about these challenges in this post, particularly the section about the “muddy middle” (all of the important stuff that gets glazed over when developing a brand strategy to take you from point A to point B), and upon reflection of my success and failures, along with a ton of validated learning, I’ve come to a very accurate conclusion. In a company’s journey through the “muddy middle,” the disconnect I’ve found is that even the most capable of teams lose sight of how brand strategy, the best practices in today’s marketing and communications disciplines, and design principles play their individual roles within the broader conversation of organizational growth. With so many teams working inside of the business as deeply integrated stakeholders, it’s incredibly common for these teams to lose sight of the broader picture. This, of course, is not a groundbreaking or new conclusion – but worse, an undervalued phenomenon that has critical implications for the business. When teams lose sight of the bigger picture, they stumble their way through strategy and are incapable of engaging in accurate validated learning, which creates a trickle-down effect in not understanding how their strategy is actually effecting their customers. Therefore, if you’re unable to accurately measure how your strategy effects the end-user, you don’t have any data-points to make educated decisions on how to pivot or persevere based on customer engagement data. This ultimately means that your team is fumbling around and making decisions based on instinct rather than customer-focused collaboration. And that my friends, is dangerous.
“Good” marketing is ambiguous and subject to interpretation
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to explain the difference between “good” marketing vs. “bad”marketing. The reality is that the concept of marketing can be incredibly ambiguous and is always subject to interpretation based on the background and experiences of the team. In my opinion, a “good” marketing strategy is one that simply communicates the strongest value proposition to the appropriate customer, consistently, and across all platforms while successfully completing a series of goals along the way (i.e., download this white paper, sign up for this newsletter, purchase this ticket, etc). There are a lot of ways to do this well, and similarly, a lot of ways to do this wrong due to the infinite amount of ways to communicate in today’s digital landscape. It’s mind-boggling when you think about it!
Navigating a complex, and ever-evolving, digital landscape
To paint this picture a bit clearer, here is reality in a nutshell for companies and today’s digital marketers:
- As the realm of digital marketing evolves, it is becoming increasingly difficult for brands to communicate their value across all platforms.
- Similarly, as technologies evolve, it’s even more difficult for brands to maintain the market share they already possess while continuing to support the needs of their customers throughout all stages of their life cycle.
- As a result, companies are now required to have a deeper understanding of how their customers engage with their brand, and it’s critical to understand how their product/service brings real value.
- If these same companies aren’t able to navigate the complexity of this ever-changing digital landscape, over time, the result is brand inconsistency across platforms, a dilution of purposeful narrative, a misrepresentation of your customers, leading to slow and/or declining growth.
I really took some time and thought about this. After many customer discovery calls and beautiful mind white boarding sessions later, I came up with a solid hypothesis. My hypothesis was that no matter how the digital landscape continued to evolve, there were always going to be industry-standard best practices and fundamental principles required to create resilient brand strategies and marketing frameworks that could stand the test of time. There had to be a way to build sustainable brands and communication strategies, removing the ambiguity, and there had to be a foundation by which all marketing and communication strategies could start from. And furthermore, with all of today’s modern business design tools, some of which my personal favorites include: Lean Startup Methodology, Value Proposition Design Canvas, Business Model Canvas, Venture Design tools, and design thinking – there had to be a cohesive way to connect them together in a way that any business could follow to create a solid communications strategy. I hate to dumb it down to Strategy by Numbers – but that’s kind of what it is. So I took an inventory of about 10 year’s worth of projects I was involved with and wrote down all of the common denominators I could find and started to see a pattern. Some of my key findings were:
- All “good” marketing strategies started with the customer in mind and ended with the customer in mind
- All “bad” (or unsuccessful) marketing strategies were a result of inconsistency and lack of brand authenticity over an extended period of time
- Most “good” strategies included best practices in user-experience and honored customer-engagement principles – they also had “good” design to accompany their marketing efforts
- Most “bad” strategies were a result of siloing communications goals + organizational objectives + design and created a confusing and diluted value proposition across platforms
- All “good” strategies understood and empathized with their customer(s) and uniquely solved one or more of their biggest pain points
- All of my successful projects followed a very similar and consistent pattern from launch to finish
I drew out a timeline of the consistent pattern that resulted from my projects, which included 4 phases: Customers, Branding, Communications, Fine Tuning/Innovation. I threw it all together in a fancy presentation, called it the Sohuis Framework, and started telling people about it. Low and behold, some of those people wanted to try it and were willing to be my first beta testers, we fused it in with some existing marketing teams, and the results were pretty phenomenal. One client went through the entire framework within 18 months and we generated 300% increase in digital media engagement, over 100% increase in website traffic, which resulted in a 200% increase in new revenue. Another one of my clients was able to double his revenue in just Phase 1 of the framework (Customers) because he learned how to validate/invalidate if his value proposition was viable and figured out which customer would pay the most for his services. I’m currently working with an incredible non profit and we’ve been able to dig through 5 year’s worth of data using Lean/Agile practices (a key piece of the Sohuis framework), which has substantially guided our strategy because we’re focused on customer-focused solutions and user-generated feedback. We’re being lean, and we’re optimizing marketing functions based on validated learning – and it’s been AWESOME.
The launch of the Sohuis Framework
Today, I have found a creative way of explaining the concept of the Sohuis framework, and I like to use La Gioconda (Mona Lisa) as an example.
While the vehicles of expressing art have evolved since the Italian Renaissance from marble and bronze sculpture to oil, fresco and tempera painting, a set of classic design principles have transcended through time and have become the backbone to all modern design. These 6 principles of design (Balance, Contrast, Emphasis, Movement, Pattern, Rhythm) were used throughout the Italian Renaissance and were used in Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. These are the same set of principles modern designers use today and they make up the backbone to all forms of design that we currently (3D design, architecture, user-experience design, graphic design, photography, etc). Taught in every design school around the world, one would argue that you cannot successfully create “good” design without some combination of these principles.
This concept is comparable to what’s happening in today’s marketing landscape, and my goal is that the Sohuis framework will become the communications-equivalent to addressing today’s evolution in communications and brand building. Like the 6 classic principles of design, the Sohuis framework leverages 6 marketing principles that I am betting all cards will transcend time in the same way and always be relevant to creating resilient brand strategies. My ultimate leap of faith assumption here is that no matter how the digital landscape evolves and as the vehicles of expressing marketing change from one platform to another, these principles will ensure that any business can continue to rise above the noise, service their customers and provide authentic value.
- Knowing your customers
- Servicing your customers
- Reaching your customers
- Building brand awarness
- Preserving your value
- Continued innovation
So, voila! There you have it. Over a year’s worth of work summarized in one blog post. I’m really excited about the results we have seen so far, and if you’re interested in learning more and viewing the entire framework, click here! And most importantly, if you’d like to talk more about the framework, get in touch!
Wishing you all a very happy weekend, friends.