An Introduction to Systems Thinking for Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing PhiladelphiaThe philosophy of Systems Thinking is how to better understand the interrelationship of components responsible for patterns of behavior. It helps us gage how things work and enables us to take a different look at why patterns of behavior are the way they are. Systems thinking is typically applied to understanding these patterns of behavior at the organizational level, but the philosophy that can be applied to digital marketing too.

At the organizational level, systems thinking helps to not only identify a problem within an organization, but how to solve the problem by looking at the various components of that organization and how they interact with one another. Within Digital Marketing, if one were to identify a problem within Paid Search, to gain a better perspective on how to solve a problem via systems thinking, one would look beyond the various components of the individual ad group where the problem lies. The idea is really to look at the overall picture, understand how all the parts fit and work together and how best to ensure the organization or, in this case, the Paid Search account as a whole, exceeds performance expectations.

As it is defined in Debashis Sarkar’s book, Lean for Service Organizations and Offices: A Holistic Approach for Achieving Operational Excellence and Improvements, a system is a set of components working towards the achievement of a larger whole. In Digital Marketing, the system would be the various marketing channel initiatives like email, display, social, search etc., working together to generate ROI for your brand. Sarkar goes on to say that “in a system what is critical is not only that the individual components are working well, but how all the components fit together as a whole”.

One other interesting item from Sarkar’s point about systems thinking is that “properties of a system emerge because of the interaction of the components”. Again, within Digital Marketing this point is valid because in many cases one digital marketing channel to do better than others. An email campaign might do better than a display campaign because email was more personalized and the customers’ experience was more consistent and satisfying once they arrived to your website. However, we know that digital shoppers have more than one touch-point with your brand so what if email and display initiatives were more personalized, consistent and interacted in a way that engaged a customer driving greater customer satisfaction and ROI. How great would that be?

Systems thinking can be fairly complex when applied in its entirety in understanding the interrelationships within an organization. The key point here, as it applies to Digital Marketing, is to introduce the idea of looking at more than just the individual marketing channel in front of you to understand the bigger picture, develop new ideas and learn how to solve problems and improve processes more creatively.

Additional Resources

Dr. Russell Ackoff on Systems Thinking

Thinking in Systems: A Primer

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Matt LeVeque is the Service Product Manager at Monetate. He is a Senior Member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and recently completed Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business Certificate in Customer Experience Program. He is a Registered Yoga Teacher, an avid cyclist and recommends living by Velominati Rule #6 - Free your mind and your legs will follow.

Posted in Lean, Process, Quality, Systems Thinking

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