Should the digital transformation of a brand be driven by internal or external influential factors?
Answer: From a holistic view point, both perspectives need to be accounted for. Digital transformation is multi-directional.
During the last years, the purpose of Haier's official internet platforms was entirely redefined - not only serving as a tool for brand communication and product information, but also as an open-plan ecosystem. This process included three major increments:
1. The growing demand of internal business stakeholders, such as product operations, customer communication, marketing and other services towards the Internet platform has to be satisfied.
2. Haier’s positioning as a lifestyle brand, rather than being perceived as a manufacturer of home appliances, needs to be manifested.
3. With technology evolving at high pace, Haier’s products and the environment they’re used in, are constantly changing.
All these factors are influencing each other, driving a system of constant change.
As the needs and problems of the internal stakeholders came to us in large numbers, we realized we were about to enter an era of major changes.
Deconstructing before re-assembling
The main challenge, which the project team was facing, was working without a clearly defined goal. We literally didn’t know where we were going with this.
Instead of focusing on details, we decided to align the problem-solving process and concentrate on current known issues at first.
We summarized key problems based on our work experience with Haier, classified them into questionnaires for distribution, and then made in-depth interviews with stakeholders.
We combed through the answers we were given, looking for correlation and breakthrough points, and visualized the information in several graphs.
Fast and Iterative interviews
Our way of gathering information through interviews differed from traditional research methods. We were not looking for quantity, but for specific particularities that only a person with deep domain knowledge could point us to.
Each interview we did was structured and summarized right away, and the key statements were further categorized and transformed into revised questionnaires. With those transformed questionnaires we entered the next interviews.
This process enabled us to evolve a vague definition into a clear picture based on evidence, iteratively, and within a very short timeframe.
Identifying the root of the problem
When asking a person to describe a future stage, the answers are mostly vague. But asking about what’s upsetting now, will trigger a lot of feedback. Our approach was to let people express their emotions freely, without asking them for solutions.
While guiding them to explain the root of their issues, we were able to extract important information.
Tell your story visually
After our research, we identified the basic elements of the environment. The next thing we needed to do was to plan the functional areas and to build connections.
Our first task was to locate and classify Haier's existing channels and platforms. For the sustainable development of an enterprise, it’s not important to establish as many touch points with users as possible, but to build a central instance with core attributes. Ideally, data is sent to the data center after interactions in other platforms were completed. As a result, we defined the official website as a ‘core transport hub’ , with the main purpose of distributing brand content.
Having established the positioning, we began to organize the needs on each level: User roles, pain points, organizational structure, content attribution, operational requirements, internal data ... When we finished combing and superimposing our findings, it formed a structural diagram that our customers could hardly understand.
Building all the information into a graph that would show trends, directions and also could be easily understood, was another major challenge. We did a number of proposals on simplifying the information before we finally got the 17th version approved.
Decentralized and Scenario-Based
Brands typically start from their official website, and later enter into e-commerce, while advancing on social platforms like WeChat or Weibo in parallel. New, smart products multiplied the number of entry points, now even a QR code could be a touchpoint. Platform and devices became second tier, while the key question was whether you could interpret a user’s state correctly and deliver corresponding content.
To give an example: the same QR code on a washing machine could lead to different responses: While the first scan could include usage tips for a new customer and the product registration, scans during summer may refer to silk clothes cleaning instructions while cleaning and maintenance content could be prompted if a scan occurred 6 months after the purchase.
The ideal state for the future is to support content with data and the product lifecycle. This requires us to filter and clear the underlying context; contents can be casually delivered like building blocks. By maintaining those user profiles and contextual descriptions, users will get useful right content no matter when they have entered through which touchpoint.
While planning is only a first step, executing the plan is the far more bigger challenge. Based on the overall situation, mediaman proposed 3 major directions to reshape Haier’s Digital Platform:
1. Support internal stakeholders: In order to meet an increasing demand of operational requirements, the platform must put into a configurable mode allowing structured transformation. An open API needs to be established to connect to internal resources.
2. Build a user-centred ecosystem approach: The platform needs to deliver integrated content from a user's point of view across all devices and touchpoints, in order to improve the fluency and convenience of the customer experience.
3. Support omnichannel experiences: Connect the digital platform with the brand’s offline services and retailers and establish connectivity with smart products.
The objective of an enterprise system is usually either to improve efficiency or to reduce costs, and while we fully thought about product scalability and adaptability in our early planning, we found out later that many features are often not used when in operation. The reasons are usually divided into the following:
1. A usage barrier due to high learning costs. Some complex features can't be naturally learned, and the challenge is how to make users accept and operate them efficiently. Not every enterprise APP can as easy as a Taobao seller backend system. Building intuitive interfaces and guiding users on how to use them remains an ever important task.
2. One digital product alone cannot drive the change in a large corporation. The transformation of traditional enterprises is often very difficult, and includes changing a variety of systems, multiple processes and multi-divisional barriers. A unified process in almost impossible. Instead, smaller test balloons prove to have more effect: Stakeholders can experience the advantages with minor investments in their department, and support a gradual change.
3. Many products cannot solve the actual problem. No matter how beautiful an interface is and how cool its interaction, everything is equal to zero if it cannot help users to solve problems or to bring value improvement. Most enterprise-level products are relatively shallow in exploring demands, indicating that they seem to alleviate symptoms, but they do not solve the deeply rooted problems in essence.