A key turning point of any business is taking the step to build an ecosystem, creating a continuous revenue cycle for years to come. After all, your company’s longevity comes down to its ability to keep providing value while increasing those numbers.
And that’s exactly what a digital ecosystem does: create new dollars and open new avenues for your business to make money.
To delve into this topic a bit more, I recently moderated a CMO Club Virtual Roundtable, where I had the opportunity to talk with other members about some of their own experiences as they relate to building ecosystems. From recognizing a gap in the market to implementing and measuring success, we found there were several key actions to take:
Approach it as a Business Within Itself
The first piece of creating a successful digital ecosystem is to understand where there is a need for your customers – and whether it’s a solution your product/service can provide or one your brand can solve in a more overarching way. Begin thinking about how you can leverage your current brand assets to provide even more value, build a community and inspire meaningful connections.
Keep in mind that your ecosystem needs to connect buyers and sellers and maybe even empower people to start their own businesses – such as Amazon has done with their online marketplace.
Members agreed that this is not an overnight, one-and-done process, but rather one that takes nurturing and even several years to come to fruition. However, it is also a process that is well worth the effort.
Highlight the Value to Your Board
Like any new marketing strategy, building an ecosystem requires the support of your organization. The secret to getting approval? Communication.
To build a case, one marketer tied it back to her brand’s mission statement and gave the well-known example of LinkedIn to show how their company’s ecosystem has the potential to grow and take on a life of its own.
“After painting that picture for my board, they were very willing to invest in the execution. We have something that is needed in the market, and I believe that a digital ecosystem is the best way to do it,” said Jennifer Daniels, VP of Marketing at APICS.
Another CMO mapped out their entire industry, identifying events, influencers, professionals and brands, and then creating a marketing strategy around their needs. They found that, by understanding how to connect their customers on a deeper level and simply be present, their brand was becoming a part of the fabric of the industry.
Build a Plan that’s Adaptable
As marketers, we always hear this, but it’s a simple fact that, as technology evolves, so too must your ecosystem.
“I think everything will look very different in 4-5 years. As we move from hardware to cloud services, there are destabilizations. Having a digital ecosystem will help empower and re-stabilize that,” said Steven Keller, Customer Experience Practice Manager of Cisco Systems.
One example of changing landscapes is pharmaceuticals – a highly regulated industry that must shift to accommodate any policy changes.
“All of a sudden, the entire approach to sales and marketing needs to transform. Brands should think about what needs to be put in place in case this happens in the future,” said Alex Romanovich, CMO of Social2b.
And – Of Course – Measure Results
Tracking the success of a digital ecosystem requires the same tools as any marketing strategy – statistics, consumer data and benchmarking – with extra attention being paid to track ‘ghost’ consumers who are engaging with your content anonymously.
“We are working on metrics across lifecycles,” said Karen Haefling, VP of Marketing at Vitamix. “Pre-customer, we don’t know who they are. So, we think of content as our product and watch who engages. When they interact, we do know who they are and can move them down the funnel. It’s an important process because we know (from past data) the more they engage with and use our product, the more likely they’ll become really strong brand advocates.”
My advice? Set 3 years to allow your ecosystem to grow into its own, keep your monthly scorecard, and continue to look at those numbers.
Chaitra Vedullapalli, CMO of Meylah, is a published author, TED contributor, Top 100 Small business influencer, patent holder, and youth mentor. She currently leads the marketing operations at Meylah, an enterprise-ready turnkey native commerce marketplace hosting platform.