Back in 2015, a Microsoft survey found that people’s attention spans were officially shorter than that of a goldfish (8 seconds vs. 9 seconds of a focused fish). It was also around then that the Harvard Business Review reported that design thinking — an approach that uses equal parts empathy and experimentation to come up with human-centric solutions — had come of age.
Cut to today, where customer decisions are now made in nanoseconds, and you’ve got to think and move fast. The old way of digital marketing, which took months or even years to craft precious personas, elaborate customer journeys, and in-depth empathy maps, seems antiquated and overly labor-intensive. Beyond that, brands just don’t have the luxury (or the budget) to chance losing market share to a stealthier competitor.
Helping my clients move swiftly from idea into action without losing the essence of design thinking’s special sauce — that human-centric perspective — led me to develop a handy framework that hits all strategic hotspots in rapid succession: Audience, Content/Communication, and Triggers/Touchpoints.
Or, as I call it, A.C.T.
Why A.C.T. now?
The inspiration for A.C.T. came from being part of a massive digital marketing project for a global leader in confectionery products. We helped facilitate the company’s early adoption of IBM Watson to use AI and machine learning to build dynamic personas and predictive models from their ginormous well of data collected from multi-million dollar advertising and media buys.
The experience was, well, like being a kid in a candy store. Seeing the most cutting-edge technology and insights in play was incredible and humbling. And it also occurred to me that this process was out of reach for the majority of brands. I realized then that there must be a better, more inclusive, and accessible way to empower an entire team to design experiments, strategies, and tactics to reach a desired target audience successfully.
So now it’s time to get aggressive, and also, real. We must design for actual humans — not faux personas made up by a VP of marketing. Moreover, referring to your customers like binary streams of data sitting in analytics platforms and data lakes is like trying to get someone to fall in love with you by building an app. (Did we learn nothing from Weird Science?)
You can’t program your way into your desired audience’s hearts and minds, but there are plenty of signals in the noise if you aim to listen differently.
So, time to get back to basics to get to the root of who you’re talking to and what they actually want and need. This is what will allow you to be proactive and move swiftly from incremental actions into 10X marketing effectiveness and success.
Get in on the A.C.T.
A.C.T. is simple: it’s a visual framework that simplifies complex communications planning. It quickly informs the who/what/where/when/how of how to ensure your brand story inspires action.
Here’s the cool part: we’ll do that all on one piece of paper that you can then use to create more structured and successful marketing plans and editorial calendars.
First, let’s take a look at what each letter in the acronym stands for.
A = Audience segment.
It all begins with “who.” Who are you targeting? Go beyond the persona, and think about the behaviors of people who want/need/use your product or service. What do they search for when looking for what you provide? What habit, goal, or defining attribute draws them to your brand?
For example, let’s say you’re launching a new cold brew coffee. Thinking about your audience by traditional measures like age, gender, or geography doesn’t really tell you much, as coffee drinking transcends all of those basic demographics. Instead, consider their behaviors: they love going to cafés for a custom craft brew because they like a healthy, not-too-sweet, but decidedly delicious drink. They use caffeine to fuel their productivity. And they are drawn to artistic pursuits, thanks to their maker mentality.
C = Content and communication
This is all about the what and how of speaking to your audience. You’ve got to use the language and format that will resonate with them. What aspirations or motivations can you communicate that connect with their tastebuds — and wallets?
Going back to the cold brew example, we’ll want to let the audience know that our beverage delivers the closest thing to a café experience there is: it’s artisanally crafted, top-quality beans, a hint of sweetness, and über-caffeinated to power superior performance all day long. These core messages must infuse all of the content we create to make that all-important emotional connection.
T = Triggers and touchpoints
Finally, we consider the “where” in the equation: the triggers and touchpoints that entice someone to take action. This can include things like your website, social media accounts, and email campaigns. The idea is to use this juice to identify the funnels and tactics that are most efficient, and that deliver the best ROI.
Back to our productivity nerd who loves coffee — they might not necessarily sign up for an email newsletter just about coffee, but if you blend in free productivity hacks from top high-intensity, perhaps over-caffeinated influencers, then you’ve got a more compelling trigger and touchpoint. You also might want to build an Instagram campaign with punchy visuals around those productivity hacks that run first thing in the morning and also in the 3:00 p.m. slump to get your audience virtually reach for your cold brew.
The map to A.C.T.
Now that you know what each letter stands for, break out a sheet of paper and a pen. Draw three columns, one for each core aspect (A.C.T.) of an actionable marketing strategy. Next, add rows so you can fill in information and ideas for each segment.
This chart gives you the perfect framework for comms planning and strategy mapping. Gather your team, along with any information you have about your audience and their behaviors, preferences, and needs. If you have an empathy map that fleshes out pain points and challenges for the people who will use or do use your product/service, all the better. (If not, you can always use this empathy mapping exercise from Thinkfwd to get a jump start on relating to your audience.)
By the end of your strategy session, you’ll have everything you need on one page that serves many purposes:
- Use it to design a creative brief for your content team.
- Create a marketing blueprint to get cross-functional buy-in from your stakeholders.
- Quickly start with small experiments in the market that you can amplify once you see positive results.
Most importantly, you can take back the time, effort, and expense that it takes to develop complex marketing plans and brand strategies.
Customers demand and deserve more value now than ever before, and that proposition spans the entire landscape of product and purpose. The paradox of choice in our post-digital age is both a boon and a challenge to consumers and marketers alike. To get the edge over the competition, it’s on you and your brand to A.C.T. fast!