Evaluating Your Brand Value with a Site Redesign

Brand_Alignment_RedSwan5RedSwan5 Redesigns (and realigns) Onlabor.org

I could tell Ben Sachs was a lawyer every time he jumped to his feet during our kid’s games shouting “INTERFERENCE!’ like he was the Perry Mason of softball. As a Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard Law School and the co-founder of OnLabor, a blog devoted to workers, unions and politics, Prof Sachs and his contributors provide guidances and prospective on a broad view of the union movement and new forms of worker organization. During the less exciting innings (there may have been a few), we got to talking about how his very popular site, OnLabor.org,  needed a redesign and an opportunity to refocus. This got me thinking about how brand value is continuously evolving yet we often resist opportunities to evaluate it.

How brands get stuck

The Onlabor.org blog had grown quickly to over 800 posts including a popular daily ‘News and Commentary’ that provides a snapshot of the latest business and legal issues. With 2300+ Twitter followers – most very prominent press, academics and political influencers, the consistently good content nurtured a loyal following. Successful? Absolutely. Important? Yes. Value delivered in a way that can show a long-term view, reveal interesting patterns, reflect how daily decisions are shaping the impact on society? Not so much.

In the beginning, it takes a huge effort, an operational mindset and discipline for a brand to build a content machine. It’s natural for brands to gravitate to the most enthusiast audience – those responding, following, retweeting, subscribing and buying. In this early stage, the brand value is often shaped by the first audience – the one who happens to be paying attention at that time. Ultimately, that audience may or may not be the best audience. Or the only one. Soon internal conversations start with, “We need a site refresh.” What really needs to be discussed is, “We might not be on the right path.”

Redesign Is REALLY a Brand Value Course Correction

It used to be that brand stories were based on a single value proposition developed for a customer who fits a specific profile. As the brand stories develop, engagement measurements help to dictate the fastest path to a trusted relationship. For content rich sites, there is a unique alternative – the opportunities to build multiple relationships with various types of users. Especially with content that is more educational and not thinly disguised sale material. With content rich site, course correction has two potential approaches:

  1. retract the content
    1. focus on a very specific users/customers who would be the most profitable or,
  2. splinter the content
    1. many users/customers can define what is the most valuable to them.

For Onlabor, several years of content had grown beyond the single audience as evidenced by the Twitter followers. It had value for many audiences – each one of which could define the value slightly differently. The excellent, consistent content, the depth of the thinking and the broad range of topics created an opportunity for followers to forge a trust relationship with the specific content, topics or the authors that were most relevant to them.

Brand Value Defines the Brand Experience

Too often, the redesign process begins with metric-based goals rather than a value alignment exercise. Yes, you need goals. Marketing goals are based on your brand value. If you aren’t telling the right brand story, a new homepage or navigation will not fix it. The redesign process must first begin with an assessment of the brand value with the audience(s). Do you stick with who you have, address the accidental audiences, expand to new audiences, or narrow in on specific segment? What value do you bring and who loves your brand? What users you are designing for?

Brands pressured for time and still smarting from the major investment in a new site try to avoid a full design and messaging exercise by framing it as a slight ‘refresh’ or ‘face lift’. This mindset ignores the more important opportunity – to realign the value and brand story. Continuous alignment ensures brands is relevant.

The redesign process starts with 3 simple questions:

  1. Is the audience we have today the ones we want?
  2. Will there be any changes to the content (the service) we provide?
  3. How should the brand experience change to reflect the value?

Onlabor.org Homepage

For Onlabor.org a better brand experience meant a more sophisticated look and feel and a navigation/categorization that reflected areas of expertise that would allow each audience to quickly connect, find, and engage with content relevant to them. We also made a decision to keep the content publishing operations the same so that all contributors would be able to continue without retraining. (Note: Another audience often overlooked is the contributors themselves)

The new Onlabor.org has a lot less interference. It stayed true to its brand value and made it easier for followers to engage with the rich content. More importantly, it went through the tough exercise of evaluating and re-categorizing content to show how deeply they cover issues related to labor. In terms of effort, the redesign was likely more work than the original launch because it required deep, strategic thinking on how the brand experience and brand value were interrelated. The brand is set to continue to grow confident it’s on the right course.

For an evaluation of your brand value and brand experience, feel free to email Kim Donlan, founder and chief strategist, RedSwan5.

And the winner is…


The 2017 Interactive Media Awards recently announced (much to our pleasure) that we are the winner of two outstanding achievement awards – one in the science/technology category and the other for a lifestyle site.


Dream Big Award Winning

Dream Big – Science and Technology
The science/technology category is for our work on the educational site to support the IMAX film, Dream Big. Dream Big is focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and is meant to motivate kids of diverse backgrounds to become the innovators the world needs. The film has an ongoing educational, museum and community effort to expose young people to what engineering is.

Our awesome client, DiscoverE, a global leader in supporting engineering for K-12 by uniting, mobilizing, and supporting volunteer communities, made this project possible for us. Our team got to also work directly with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and MacGillivray Freeman.


CBC Award Winning (1)


Cambridge Boat Club – Lifestyle
And yes, there’s more. We also were tapped for Cambridge Boat Club, a 100 year old boathouse on the banks of the Charles River in Boston. (The original site might have been 100 years old). The beauty is in what you can’t see – an operational database that connects finance, events, membership and rowing data into a single location. We also introduce online payments – which improved the invoicing process and saved the club both time and money.

Ultimately, our work is always judged by the site users and not awards. For both these projects, our team and clients collaborated to create a brand experience that makes people’s lives better. As a young digital agency, however, the awards help on two fronts. Just a few points away from ‘best in class’, the judging criteria is a great educational opportunity to embrace what we know and push a little harder for both our clients and peers.

We would like to thank the academy…(applause)

5 Signs Your MVP Is Killing Your Idea – and How to Fix It

An vintage styled line art illustration of a terrified, screaming brunette woman. Grunge texture added to create a trendy screen printed effect.

The book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New ideas in Just Five Days, by Jake Knapp, talks about the importance of testing ideas with a prototype mindset. (Thanks to IoT Product Design Manager, Erin Pearson for book recommendation) Jake says that to get a genuine response, your prototype should ‘show them something realistic.” Prototypes are often referred to as MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) – and it might be the best ‘first’ thing to prove your idea has what it takes to succeed.

New product teams and marketing departments are starting to see MVPs as the fastest way to prove an idea fills a niche and to test customer preferences without impacting the brand or wasting valuable resources. And this works, because consumers want products that meet their personal needs and they are all too happy to tell you how to build it for them.

An MVP is a wonderful shortcut. It’s a direct path to consumer opinion and can grow your leads list, help secure funding, close deals or launch your product well before any code is written. Yet they won’t work unless they feel realistic, stay on brand and answer the question you set out to prove.

Here are the 5 signs you don’t have MVP (yet)

#1 You’re Testing a Small Problem

MVPs are the path to game changing differentiation. You are testing potential – an idea, a new market, a following, funding and support of the super influencers. The inclination is to break down the process of a new idea into small steps that change behavior and begin to test the incremental change. That approach takes too long and will cause you to lose your way.

Struggling to pay their rent, Airbnb founders, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, built a mini website to find out if attendees of a big design conference would pay money to sleep on an air mattress. They would also serve breakfast. Three people said yes.  

Approach an MVP by asking and testing the right question. Focus on defining the ONE BIG SIMPLE CHANGE that you believe people want.

#2 Customers Aren’t Involved

Dropbox famously built an inexpensive ‘explainer video’ to verify if people would want a file sharing tools. The video featured functionality that was still in beta and generated 75,000 subscribers.

MVPs need to be seen by potential customers to be of any value to you. An authentic customer response to what they perceive as a real (or soon to be) product or service is a shortcut to understanding what customers are willing to give for it: an email, an endorsement, a share or money.

#3 It’s Not an Experience

In a recent survey by Walker, customer experience will be more important that price and product by 2020. In fact, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience.

It stands to reason that an MVP needs to be part of a great experience that can stand on its own or make sense within the context of a larger experience. Customers need to quickly get to a simple idea unencumbered by bad design. They can then embrace (or reject) the idea.

#4 It Lacks Personality (aka It’s Lame)

Nothing will stop a MVP in its tracks faster than placeholder text. In an environment where you are trying to establish the validity of a new idea – words matter. It imperative your MVP make a good impression and an emotional connection. This is even more important given the fact that most of the product isn’t available.  No matter who the MVP is built for – customers, funders, partners, or internal audience, great copy can completely change the outcome.

Depending on how you approach your MVP, here are eye-opening examples of landing pages, videos, presentations, and  mini websites that can provide inspiration.

#5 It’s Built on the Wrong Device

If you are launching a mobile application, the MVP must be shown on mobile. If you want to simulate a new feature on your site, it needs to work within the existing online experience. I know. This is crazy talk.

There are lots of prototype tools to select from and each has their pros and cons. Will it mean a little more work, yes. But it is nothing compared to an investor looking at you and saying, “will it work on mobile?”

MVPs are being used more and more by lean startups and large enterprises to get traction and validation. MVPs are live use cases of the existence of a real need. And can be continuously improved in a rolling thunder strategy that builds a company that has customers before a bit of code is even written.

RedSwan5 has built MVPs that have led to million dollar sales and funding while still in the concept stage. To learn more, contact Kim Donlan.

3 Lessons in Brand Relevance You Can Learn from a StartUp

We recently helped one of our start-up clients prepare for Unpitch and discovered working with founders at the early stage has a lot of similarities to working with larger brands on building a great story and position. Unpitch is a terrific event that provides opportunities and connections for founders who are closer to the idea stage than the ‘spit and polish’ newbies fresh out of accelerators. Startups attack problems with fresh ideas on how to solve them in much the same way that the very best, most trusted brands do.  

Founders and CMOs face the exact same dilemma –  deciding how to compete.

  • Is the idea a shinier version of what already exists?
  • Will the idea disrupt an existing market?
  • Will it create a new category or sub-category?

The answers will determine if you have a relevant brand strategy.  

Embracing brand relevance requires creating a product or service that changes the way consumers’ think. Relevance is where customers don’t need to compare your brand with others. There’s just you and your brand. A simple decision. You are relevant to their lives. You contribute to who they are.

The 3 lessons CMOs can learn from the start-ups are:


If you look deeply at your existing customer experience and landscape, you will find gaps and opportunities. They will be disguised as annoyances, frustrations, little moments that piss people off but it seems as if there is no other choice but to suck it up.

A good place to look is market and field research. What does a customer’s life really look like in those micro moments? How is the customer’s behavior impacted mentally, emotionally, psychologically, physically, culturally, socially, and intellectually? Often, you are looking for the accepted frustration of ‘what is.’  

During a class I teach at Bentley, students were working with Misha & Puff, a maker of knitted children’s wear. During the survey and market research, students kept hearing “paying lots of money for babies clothes is a waste because they grow out of them so quickly”. Students then looked at how children clothes used to be made and found they often knitted because it stretched and could accommodate a child as they grew. An expensive sweater could be used for a longer time and then passed down to another child. 

reframe the pain


To uncover the innovation in front of you, look for what is taking too long to do or is incredibly inconvenient. What system or process just doesn’t make sense any longer. Or, how can you use what you already have in a new way.

In a recent project for the Imax film, Dream Big, we realized that a film screening during a field trip stood a small chance of inspiring students to consider engineering as a career. We needed to change how an Imax film was marketed. The film became the centerpiece of a larger collective movement that provided teachers, parents, museums and volunteer engineers with events, resources and curriculum to incorporate the engineering concepts into classroom. Inspired students will be able to experiment with the engineering principles that have lead to great achievements.


Carving out a large group of customers is what startups are doing every day as they pitch their ideas to investors. They point to lost opportunities and make a compelling case that shows they really, truly empathize with the people who they are trying to help.

Identifying a new market, sub-category or a segment is the only way to deliver a product that has any chance of being relevant. It is a bold act.it takes bravery

For CMOs currently in the brand preference cycle, switching to brand relevance requires:

  • Seeking true innovation
  • Reframing the problem in a way that makes you relevant
  • Building it
  • Committing to the long view

Startup founders must defend their newness, their novel approach and their deep, personal understanding of what customers are facing every day. We can all learn a lot from them.

Why No Plan Might be Better than Your Marketing Plan

You need to be able to respond to the unhappy customer experience in front of you and let go of the ideal customer you dreamed of.

When you start out, you plan for the perfect customer. You hone your product to their every need and know that you will do everything you can to make them happy. And then they aren’t. They ignore you. They complain. They don’t want what you give them. No matter what you try, it doesn’t work. Despite how much you love them, you don’t make them happy.

Predicting what customers want is more difficult than ever. Especially in this unpredictable, consumer-controlled, environment where customers continuously cry for a customized brand experience. Developing a rock solid plan that has little flexibility is setting you and your brand up for failure. As the boxer, Mike Tyson famously said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

According to research from Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh, 75% of business fail  likely from an unexpected setback that they didn’t plan for. If you stay on plan or don’t respond fast enough, it can lead to disaster. You need to be able to respond to the unhappy customer experience in front of you and let go of the ideal customer you dreamed of.  


A better approach is to adopt a continuous planning mindset. You’ll still be tied to sales goals —  but exactly how you are going to get there is less rigid. Think of continuous planning as a new and improved version of the lean start-up model. The lean start-up model is all about listen and respond: where the customer feedback is used to develop the next step. Exactly what the next step should be: a marketing campaign, fix the onboarding process, or an investment into a business intelligence tool that will provide the customer insight you need – all depends on what you are up against and makes the most sense. You need to be willing to test alternative tweaks to the experience, product or messaging on the fly and watch very carefully for a positive response.

Continuous planning requires alignment and strong relationships across the organization. Whether it’s just two of you or an organization of thousands, the ability to pivot  – to try something new is critical. Responding to customers, even imperfectly, demonstrates you care. And customers know you care even if they can’t express it at the time.

SCHEDULE INNOVATION (into your planning)

A big problem with planning is the pesky goals and milestones that need to be established.  Exactly how or what will make it better is different for everyone: more users, higher sales, or a chance to just start a new now that you know what you know. Whatever you put down will quickly be something from which you will be judged or worse, you will use to judge yourself. Who among us has not downgraded the goals and milestones to what is ‘achievable. ’

If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.

What makes better sense is creating time to innovate. A consistent time dedicated to a mindset of what can we do differently. The focus is to evaluate, brainstorm, design, and implement a new response to the customer feedback and behavior. It about building innovation into your work so that you and your organization have an opportunity to see things differently.

At RedSwan5, founders come to us stuck. Despite everything they have tried, their customers are unhappy and they are exhausted. Their messaging isn’t working. Sales aren’t closing fast enough or the digital strategy and onboarding process are disconnected. Through innovative workshops, creative and digital strategy, and UX design, we address what keep you up at night.

To learn more about how we can help you, contact Kim Donlan at KDonlan@RedSwan5.com

5 Ways to Improve Your Client/Agency Relationship


The client/agency relationship and business model are changing as each grapple with the best way to support rapid innovation in a digital age. Just as CMOs are being held more accountable for the business strategy and creating a complete customer experience, agencies are finding themselves tackling difficult assignments that require deep collaboration, total transparency, and often an unclear idea what the final deliverable should be. One thing is clear: the old (and some current) ways of doing things just aren’t working and a new path is something clients and agencies need to forge together.

At RedSwan5, our unique approach is working and we offer our insights into what is working.

1. Rethink the Discovery Process

Your client’s problems will not be solved by a single creative marketing campaign or a new website. Organizations face complex business problems that must be understood to make a true impact on the business. It is important to investigate internal issues that have hurt the client in the past and to have insight into how your work will contribute revenue or impact operations.

According to Leslie Collins, Executive Director of DiscoverE.org, “An open dialogue at the very beginning of the assignment about how we get in our own way allowed us to acknowledge when it happened – and course correct when we needed to.

At the start, both clients and agencies should know:

  • What internal processes will get in the way
  • Who should really be part of decisions
  • How the data might be collected and used
  • What they wish would have happened when they’d done this in the past
  • If everyone will be okay if the assignment changes based on what is collectively learned in the discovery phase

2. Embrace the Iterative Design Process

Forget counting revision cycles and restricting feedback — a better model allows for collaboration around an objective that is tied to a timeframe. With the objective clearly established, design decisions can be prioritized based on how well they fit the objective. If they do not, they can fall lower on the list or could be addressed in subsequent work.

In order to successfully embrace this process both client and agency must agree to:

  • Remain focused on the agreed objective
  • Start with prioritized requirements that tic and tie to objective
  • Prioritize design ideas and functionality based on requirements
  • Limit the time frame so work can be managed and delivered
  • Address related items later if they do not directly support the objective


3. Get to the MVP (minimum viable product) or Prototype Fast

Gathering feedback from potential early users is the best and fastest way to test beliefs and requirements. An MVP is also a way to screen for user experiences that may be based on potential client bias. Real users clicking through actual designs that demonstrate the user flow teaches both the agency and client what customers are willing to pay for.

“It is more productive and far more gratifying to be collaborating with all the right people in the room focused on a single objective, without worrying about getting it perfect right out of the gate.”  

Darryl Settles, Catalyst Ventures Development

Before finalizing design or spending big on development, use click-through prototype tools like Invision, Optimal Workshop, JustInMind or even a presentation application with links to verify your assumptions.

The tools can be used to:

  • Gain valuable market intelligence
  • Tease out the real competitive differentiator
  • Attain additional funding and support
  • Prove the concept

4. Remember: Change (of Scope) is a Good Thing

It used to be that a change of scope was a sign of things gone wrong. In today’s world, it is a sign of a growing relationship. RFPs or scopes of work (SOW) written before the collaborative thinking and discovery (steps 1 through 3 above) will never fully capture what ultimately needs to be delivered.

There will be a more refined project plan based on the discovery phase findings and results of user testing and feedback. It may be a more elaborate scope of work or, in some cases, a fundamentally different project altogether. In fact, it could even mean to not pursue the project at all — a shiver-inducing prospect for many agencies.

“As part of the branding process, you reach several forks in the road where you need to select the right path. Sometimes, the best decision is to not move forward – or go in a completely different direction. It takes the right agency relationship and very competent people to choose it.”

– Andrew Boyd, former CMO, Dimensional Insight


The truth of the matter is that what is best for the client and their customers is best for the agency. If the scope is bigger, smaller, different, difficult, uncomfortable, exciting or, simply out of your wheelhouse, it is an opportunity for both the agency and client to continue to build a relationship based on trust.

Often this re-scope will:

  • Build a foundation for a long-term relationship
  • Lead to a larger project
  • Support new partnerships or extend the service offering

5. Propose Alternative Budgeting and Payments

Introducing new models of collaborative, iterative cycles means that controlling costs can be very hard for both agencies and clients. Restricting hours in the discovery phase can end up costing far more in development when a feature is more difficult than originally thought.

Budgets and pricing models can be adapted to the work effort. It is perfectly acceptable to have different models for each phase of the project. The most important issue is to discuss pricing and payment plans based on what is required for each phase — and acknowledge that one size or price does not fit all — and mixing the models for different phases of the engagement is actually appropriate. For example, discovery phase might use a consulting model while development is a fixed cost.

For the agency and client relationship to improve, both sides must be open to a better way of working together. This relationship needs to be based on a stronger connection, transparency, and trust. It is imperative that agencies understand the client’s full business problems and are able to listen to and embrace the internal client hurdles while focusing on developing an external solution. It is important for clients to keep agencies continuously involved on the front line of the business where (if you are doing it right) the real magic happens.

3 Steps for CMOs to Improve Customer Engagement in the Next Product Launch


Customer engagement is a vital part of every conversation across an enterprise. It involves everything and every action the customer encounters — and is based on a deep emotional connection. A connection that intrigues, assures, entices, satisfies, and soothes the customer so that they never look at the competition.

Customer engagement can be defined differently within an organization and, even within a single department. When launching a new product or service, how do you determine what connection and which series of actions are the most valuable? Do you have a plan for the most profitable customers to engage with your organization?  

81% of marketers admit customer engagement is the top priority yet only 28% have a plan*

There is a better better approach. Just remember these three key points:

  • Discuss engagement early and often
  • Advocate for customer centricity at all costs
  • Remember that a single path is not a journey – it’s a trap

Step 1: Discuss engagement early and often

Your product launch may require a new website, an email blast, a lead generation campaign – all of which must make and reinforce an emotional connection. Continuous discussion of exactly what that emotional connection is should include near- and far-reaching teams to expose opportunities. Empowering others to own the emotional connection improves engagement across every touchpoint.

Step 2: Be customer centric at all costs

It is natural to think from a company view — especially with the pressure to outperform KPIs. When you look outside in, you see the longer view – the opportunity for customers to have conversations on multiple paths to the same destination. It takes discipline to hone in on what Peter Fader calls “the most valuable customers’. Connecting with the most valuable customers requires creating positive online and in-person conversations some of which will lead to a lift in the KPIs and others will be measured by lifetime engagement value.

Step 3: Remember that a single path is not a journey – it’s a trap

If you only offer a single path, you run the risk of alienating customers instead of enticing them. The customer might feel led into an alley with the requisite marching band parading behind. Without choices, customers may protest in small or big ways like providing dirty data or just not trusting the emotional connection.

Offer customers minor content detours to support their decision-making.  This goes a long way in ensuring the customer feels empowered by your messaging and connected emotionally. More importantly, your customers will reciprocate by willingly providing accurate contact information. The bonus is that you will have embedded a mini A/B study for added insight into content and behavior.

Customer engagement requires a holistic approach — a precise solution that matches your culture, company, and competitive advantage. It involves everything and every point the customer encounters — and is based on a deep emotional connection. A connection that intrigues, assures, entices, satisfies, and soothes the customer’s so that they never look at the competition.







*According to a recent report by B2B Marketing and The Telemarketing Company



Client Collaboration: A Creative Director’s View

Quote template_Eleni

We often begin a project taking into account all the roles and disciplines that are necessary to make that project a success — whether that is design, content or technology. As leaders within our respective fields, we do our best to shepherd the process along with as few hiccups as possible. However, if you’re like me, you’ve found yourself frustrated at how the existing processes we employ to do this actually get in the way of real progress.

The Waterfall Process Kills Innovation

The majority of agencies employ a waterfall process. It makes sense on paper. We have the flexibility to create overlaps between disciplines to keep things chugging along but it doesn’t account for innovation. We assume innovation will happen up front — in the discovery process. But guess what? It has to happen all along. And for innovation to happen, we have to collaborate.

Whether you work for a large or small organization, you’re likely familiar with what I’m describing. Once the discovery stage is complete, the work begins with one discipline, then moves on to the next and so on and so forth. Decisions have already been made from one stage to another. These decisions are dictated to the next group, hopefully without any changes. But what if there are changes? This messes with the whole schedule and the project scope. In addition, the team member you need to help you has moved on to another project and is no longer billable on your project. The project starts to suffer as you try to keep the integrity of the work intact. Nobody likes to be in this position.

Changing Your Approach to Embrace True Collaboration

Although process is paramount in keeping order and managing chaos it can sometimes become an impediment if we’re not willing to bend and modify things ever so slightly. This process has to be agile from both a project and business perspective. Changing the way we work, means changing the way we do business.

Defining a Holistic Design Process

What does that mean? Instead of looking at the work each discipline does as finite stages and milestones we must overcome, let’s look at the work more holistically. While it’s important to still allocate time for each discipline, let’s not be so rigid about the finality of one stage and the beginning of another. In the end we need to bring multiple pieces together to create a complete whole. But in order to do that, we have to be collaborating along the way.

This would require more conversations among team members — including clients. Aside from formal meetings, it would mean encouraging conversations and impromptu brainstorming sessions. The process can still move in a linear fashion but there would be more loops back to ask questions, confirm, collaborate and move forward again.

One of the challenges I’ve often seen is that we encounter challenges to the previous work simply by going from one discipline to the next. This is because we’re all human. We can’t think of everything, all the time. If we allow more collaboration between checkpoints, we attempt to avoid this. Working this way would require team members to be available to help on a project past their discipline’s stage.

Having fuzzier lines between disciplines, resource allocations and internal deliverables can be scary. If you’ve ever managed a team, you know you have to be accountable for your team’s time and efficiency. Making it hard to track resource allocation because we want to account for innovation can make some CEOs nervous. They want the innovation but they’re not sure they are willing to accept the costs.


However, what are the costs of keeping things the way they are? Answering this would be a whole other article, but the thing I do know, is that change is inevitable. And what I am learning, is that in order to be successful we have to take on a more holistic approach that maintains fluidity and an open line of communication throughout the longevity of the engagement.

Holistic Marketing in Chaos


A New Perspective on Holistic Marketing: Your Customer’s

Holistic marketing is based on a strong belief that all aspects of marketing and the customer experience are interrelated. Makes sense, right? Yet, marketers are failing to grasp exactly how to develop a truly holistic approach because it is so incredibly hard for brands to think like their customers.

“86% of brand marketers admit that a holistic marketing approach is a top priority yet few feel prepared to execute one.”

Problem 1: company mindset

Up until now, holistic marketing has been viewed from a company-centric mindset.  When building a corporate process designed to provide a seamless brand experience, very smart, experienced marketers are spending (lots) of time and money trying to align around the idea of the most perfect customer behavior that leads to the highest profit.  With a company-centric mindset, brand strategies and decisions are one-sided – only viewed from the internal perspective. If everyone who is part of determining the brand experience is sitting on brand’s bench, it is impossible to see the issues from perspective of the customer.  

The efforts to align and collect data from everywhere –  marketing, sales, and customer service –  leads to the consideration of technology and systems that promise a 360 degree view of customers. However, the 360 degree view puts the brand in the middle looking out at their potential and existing customers’ behavior. Several problems arise from this approach:

  • Customers only care about their view
  • Every customer has a unique view

A company-centric approach makes it difficult to organize and operationalize around the countless ways with which potential customer interact across touchpoints. To make this more manageable, buyer and customer journeys are developed that streamline a set of interactions that lead (hopefully) to a consistent experience. The customer journey — while a good starting point — can only manage the optimal behavior of a limited number of people. Customers don’t follow a single journey. And a customer journey cannot be personalized to the level customers demand.

Thinking about all the customer interactions and experiences is overwhelming. Trying to anticipate all the paths that may (or may not) quickly lead to loyal customers is like trying to imagine chaos. Your version of chaos might be different from mine but it is still overwhelming and leaves you wanting to run screaming for the hills. To make a difficult situation worse, online behavior is evolving. For those operating within a company-centric mindset, this leads to continuous failure to deliver a seamless brand experience across all channels. To avoid this, three things must change:

  • Embrace a holistic approach that is truly customer-centric
  • Support multiple customer paths and strategies
  • Treat prospects and customers as your marketing department

Holistic marketing must be customer-centric and responsive to multiple customer’s perspective. Honing a holistic mindset and operational approach will need to support the ability to respond to the chaos of customers who interact with brands in any way they see fit.

At RedSwan5, we believe in the co-evolution of marketing and helping brands prepare to respond more successfully to the chaos of engagement. We are working with customers to perfect a better approach. It involves building a holistic marketing approach that is customer centric and able to manage multiple strategies that are often lead by the customers themselves.

We intend to share case studies and research on this new approach.

Client Collaboration = No ego

rowers, collaboration, digital collaboration, marketing

We always talk about collaboration from an inside agency team perspective but what about collaboration with our clients? Our clients come to us because we are the experts. That’s what we tell ourselves. This is partly true but our clients have opinions — as they should — on what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. After all, they are footing the bill and let’s be honest — without them — we wouldn’t be here.

I have been on projects where the agency has taken the expert perspective and I have been on projects where the “expert” role within an agency — although there — was not as emphatic. Do you want to take a guess at which approach worked best? If you guessed the latter, you are right. You see, taking our egos down a notch, is actually helpful in a relationship — especially in a client relationship. You can’t have two selfish parties to make a relationship work. As we all know, being in a relationship is a give and take. Client relationships are no different.

The slight spin in a vendor-client relationship is that it is more about the client than it is about the agency. And this is so, simply of the fact that there’s a monetary exchange for a service involved. To add another layer of complexity, the work we do can be very subjective, which sometimes makes it harder for us to prove its worth to those paying for it.

So, how does this all tie into client collaboration? If we deemphasize the expert component of our nature but still take the leadership role in our work, we are then putting our egos aside and allowing room for our clients to be heard. When our clients feel they are being heard, great things happen. They feel part of the process. They feel they are contributing. They feel that they own part of the solution and become not only an advocate of the work but an advocate of us.

How does this fit into our daily work? Here are three things I have discovered that lead to better collaboration:

    1. Show the path and be a partner.
      You can lead the way and still maintain a collaborative relationship. Both you and the client want a successful outcome. Explain the process and set expectations. All parties involved want to understand their contribution and the value of that contribution.


    1. Share the process.
      Invite the client over for a collaborative session. Whiteboard ideas out. Brainstorm together. This allows the client to be part of the solution, diffuses obstacles and clears the path for focused work.


  1. Show progress and work incrementally.
    Regardless of the type of project, this allows for input from the client earlier and the opportunity to focus on the ideas that matter the most.

Collaboration builds camaraderie and trust. Both of which lay the foundation for a successful project and client relationship. We can’t get there however, unless we’re able to break down our own barriers and expose our process more. In doing so, we soften our egos. We become a little more vulnerable for the sake of the work — and that is good for everyone.


Image Source: Creative Commons, by Steve p2008 – modified original