With a clear definition of the term digital ecosystems, the obvious question to ask is, Why bother? What are the benefits for business to strategize and execute this way? And are there drawbacks?
Here are five big reasons why I think a "digital ecosystem" perspective helps businesses online, from branding to the bottom line. I’ll provide an example of each benefit using the Domino’s Pizza example from my previous post.
1. Systems support coherent branding
The brand for a business is itself a system – of communications, products, people, service(s) and overall visual identity. Unified, coherent branding is easier when thinking in terms of digital ecosystems, even if some elements of the system have unique requirements (e.g., for sub-brands or lines of business). In contrast, branding loses coherence when there are multiple, independent elements representing the brand; messaging becomes fragmented, user experience can be inconsistent (in places where it shouldn’t be), and the overarching promise of the brand becomes much harder to keep.
Example: Domino’s gets branding. Their touchpoints feel like a family of experiences, from the basics of logo and color palette, to more nuanced elements like voice and tone and an approach that seems to invite engagement. The only possible outlier is their UK-only Android application, which stretches the general look-and-feel a bit.
2. Systems can provide a better cross-channel customer experience
Experience elements (e.g., navigational systems, sharing tools) can be re-used within systems more easily, thus making for a better customer experience for people who use multiple touchpoints for a single company. Companies can proactively choose what to make consistent, and what needs to be specific to a given touchpoint. Without systemic coordination of some kind, it’s nearly impossible to create a customer experience that feels unified across multiple touchpoints. As a result, if a systemic approach isn’t taken, customers who interact at multiple touchpoints are going to have differing levels of experience, and may have to re-learn how things work, which is not ideal.
Example: Ordering a pizza from Domino’s feels pretty consistent, whether you’d doing it on their web site or using their mobile application. Their "pizza tracker" also crosses the mobile and web experiences seamlessly, so you can check in on when you’ll get your food however is most convenient for you.
consistent digital experience crossing the Web and mobile.
3. Systems make for stronger customer engagement
Imagine a customer who downloads your iPhone application, discovers some great complementary content or services available on your web site, and winds up using both as a result. By viewing their online elements as part of a digital ecosystem, businesses can promote this deeper level of customer engagement. Alternatively, if a company has a bunch of disconnected web sites, customers will be less engaged if it’s harder for them to discover the broader ecosystem and its benefits to them. This is not to say that people have to engage with a company everywhere, but connecting the elements of the system at least generates the opportunity for greater engagement.
Example: Domino’s does a pretty good job of connecting the dots between their different digital touchpoints (e.g., blog, contests, user-generated content on Facebook and Twitter). Their primary web site is strongly focused on ordering (which is understandable), but it could do better than footer links to some of their other activities and content.
4. Systems can reduce design and implementation effort
Web sites and other digital applications often share common design elements (i.e., branded look-and-feel) and experience elements (e.g., shopping carts and checkout processes). If you design these shared elements in a way that promotes re-use across a system, then they only need to be designed and built once (more or less). A disconnected system of digital elements doesn’t support re-use in the same way, and as a result, companies will often spend time designing and building digital stuff with the same function over and over again.
Example: Domino’s clearly has a design system in place, and does a pretty good job of reflecting this system through their different touchpoints. From an implementation standpoint, it’s clear they would benefit from use a common technical infrastructure to handle ordering and pizza tracking, for example (although I don’t have insider knowledge to know whether or not they do).
5. Systems can drive more revenue
It’s easier to cross-sell between the elements of a digital ecosystem, even if it’s just a matter of linking two things together and telling customers about complementary products or services in a different channel. Isolated digital experiences can’t capitalize on these potential synergies and cross-selling opportunities, since it’s basically up to the customer to discover related items. Additionally, a happy customer is one who’s likely to buy more. If people have great cross-channel experiences with a brand, this can only be good for the bottom line.
Example: By making it easy to order from many of their digital touchpoints, Domino’s increases their reach, touching customers wherever they want to interact. Their yield also probably increases because people can order on the go (via the mobile web or app) or when they’re at home. Finally, the way Domino’s encourages customer engagement and participation (e.g., through user-generated content and contests) probably goes a long way to fostering positive sentiment and the likelihood of more purchases.
The bottom line: Systems thinking is good for business
The five benefits outlined above should be enough to convince any business that digital ecosystems are the way to approach their online efforts. If you’ve got thoughts on why you think systems thinking is good (or bad) for businesses online, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.