Tom Davis, chief marketing officer at Forbes Media LLC, opened his presentation at the recent Digital Strategy Innovation Summit in New York with a statement that should be the tagline for a digital leadership manifesto: "Digital Darwinism is unkind to those who wait."
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Davis, who appears to have borrowed the quote from Ray Wang at Constellation Research, was among the digital leadership represented at the summit, a lineup that included speakers from The New York Times Co., CBS Corp., Pfizer Inc. and US Bank. Collectively, they talked about the struggles and the successes of their digital projects, but, perhaps more subtly, they also highlighted a key to any digital success story: the importance of a CIO-CMO partnership. While Forbes was represented by the CMO, The New York Times was represented by the CIO, a duality that punctuates how these initiatives cut across both IT and the lines of business.
In this feature story, SearchCIO takes a look at how three enterprises are exploring and experimenting within the digital landscape -- from Forbes' embrace of Agile project management to US Bank's success with social marketing.
Experimentation vs. Waterfall
"If you don't have a culture that's going to move quickly, it's going to be hard to survive in this world."
-- Tom Davis, chief marketing officer, Forbes
Four years ago, Forbes became attuned to the fact that digital technology has given everyone a voice and a stage. A smartphone, a social media account and a few followers, and voila!, every digital consumer is a content producer. For a media company that lives and breathes on original content and the readers it attracts, the sudden ubiquity of content generation is a disruptive force.
It made the digital leadership at Forbes stand back and look at how it delivers its content to readers. The publishing company realized that while citizen content generators may have the same reasons as professional media companies for publishing content (e.g., education, promotion, breaking important news, etc.), the process they use to produce their work is faster and more agile: namely, type-save-post or, in the case of photos, snap-upload-share.
Traditional reporters, on the other hand, use journalism's version of a Waterfall project management model, where a story has to be written, edited, copyedited and proofread before it's placed in front of a reader. "It's not that all of those steps in-between don't add value to the story; they can, but it's an antiquated model," Davis said. "We really find success happens the quicker you share information."
Forbes is now using a new model that is "much more dynamic [and] complex," said Davis, which includes using real-time data from its homegrown content management system to generate insights into how readers are interacting with and accessing content.
But Forbes' new Agile project management approach to producing content doesn't begin and end with content; the media company has embraced it for other digital projects as well. Rather than rolling out whole site redesigns at once, Forbes relies on "persistent iteration of the site and of the experience," said Davis, including how content is presented on mobile devices as well as on the Web. And the company uses readership data to help drive site enhancements, he said.
The results suggest Agile project management is working for Forbes. In November 2010, Forbes.com attracted 13 million unique visitors. In 2015, that number had already reached more than 36 million monthly visitors, according to Davis. Media companies looking to adopt similar processes, take note: The big challenge for businesses aiming to move away from Waterfall project management to more Agile processes, according to Davis, isn't technological but cultural. Indeed, cultural change was "instrumental" to the new Forbes model, he said.
Mobile apps vs. mobile Web
"For a 24/7 news brand, mobile access is not a feature, it's a requirement."
-- Bill Martens, vice president and general manager, CBSNews.com
When CBS decided to launch a 24/7 live-streaming news program, it abandoned the cable network model (a la MSNBC). The reasoning of the company's digital leadership was simple: CBSN needed to be accessible on all digital channels in real time -- and that included mobile devices. A look at a couple of numbers explains why this digital project was important: Today, 79% of U.S. households have broadband access, and mobile audiences grew by 33% in the last year, according to Bill Martens, vice president and general manager at CBSNews.com.
But streaming live news takes technical wrangling. "It's one thing to deliver video to [mobile] devices; it's another thing to do so in a scalable, monetizable, high-quality fashion," said Martens. A CBS digital strategy couldn't be limited to mobile apps for iOS devices, for example, and it couldn't limit itself to mobile applications either. Viewers want access to content on multiple platforms -- PCs, mobile apps, the mobile Web and even connected televisions, which accounts for about 30% of CBSN viewers, Martens said.
Once the content delivery channels are built, the data they give off has to be collected and analyzed. "That was one of the unique opportunities for us -- to develop a deeper understanding of how viewers are responding to content in general, but in real time," he said.
Real-time data from users on these various channels can shed light on topic and scheduling preferences, giving CBSN the "opportunity to juggle programing throughout the day based on what your consumers are telling you works and what doesn't," Martens said.
And it can provide insights into more nuanced viewer behavior. CBSN knows that the time a viewer spends with content differs based on the platform. For example, viewers accessing content via a mobile application will spend an average of 10 minutes with that content compared to five min via the mobile Web.
Martens chalks up the difference to user intent: Mobile Web users can find CBS content through side channels, whereas mobile application users have downloaded the app and are "probably using it on a regular basis and exploring more deeply," he said. And yet, CBSN's mobile Web audience is far bigger than its mobile app audience, a fact that has Martens characterizing the two as separate use cases.
Traditional ads vs. social media marketing
"Understanding Millennials is a new opportunity for all of us, and we have to change how we build these efforts."
-- Kelly Colbert, vice president of social media, US Bank
Online advertising no longer is defined by Web banners and pop-ups. Marketing departments are also building campaigns on what Kelly Colbert, vice president of social media at US Bank, calls "experimental canvases." A handful of examples include social media sites like Pinterest, Vine and Instagram (with its 300 million active monthly users).
It's easy to see why social media marketing was identified as a valuable project by the digital leadership at US Bank. Mercedes Benz, which claims its GLA-Class compact SUV campaign, was the first targeted campaign to use Instagram and Facebook ads, drove a 54% increase to its Web traffic by using social media marketing, according to Adweek. PayPal, Petplan and Lowes, with its clever "Fix in Six" series, also have enjoyed success with social media marketing.
And so has US Bank, which recently teamed up with news media company BuzzFeed to create a series of "listicles" for first-time homebuyers. The campaign did well, according to Colbert, netting 10 million impressions and helping the bank connect with hundreds of customers interested in learning more.
To build the partnership, Colbert and her team had to convince corporate naysayers that BuzzFeed was the right brand to partner with. That included convincing IT, a critical team player that was concerned about meeting regulatory requirements. "We have to show our IT partners and IT security that the companies with whom we work offer us a secure environment," she said. "And, honestly, that will scare away a lot of potential partners because it's a rigorous process."
For more on digital leadership -- and about strong CIO-CMO relationships -- read about how CIO Frank Davis of Organic Valley and Lewis Goldstein, vice president of brand marketing, have built a productive alliance between their two organizations.