Recently every project I've worked on has benefited from putting together an ecosystem diagram. Not everyone knows what these are, how to create them and how useful they can be, so I thought I'd write a little about them.
What is a Marketing Ecosystem Diagram?
An marketing ecosystem diagram is simply a map of all the touchpoints and how they relate to each other. Like a visual Table of Contents for the marketing strategy, it includes owned properties like websites, earned media, third-party referrals, offline events, social media, email, campaign media, etc. It should include all the ways in which a company goes to market.
It should also include the relationships between the touchpoints. These "intended pathways" can also be expressed with more detail in journey maps and flow diagrams. The ecosystem diagram is a simple way to represent what the role of each touchpoint is. For instance, Twitter drives traffic to the website. The website registers people for an event. The public site provides the log-in for the customer support site. Simple arrows and annotations provide an easy understanding of how the marketing assets work together.
Marketing ecosystem diagrams are a snapshot. They represent what the playing field looks like at a certain point in time. It could be current state. It could also be future state. Either way, they are intended to say, "Here is what we have in play and basically how each thing contributes to the other."
Why Bother with Marketing Ecosystem Diagrams? Here are Four Benefits
Marketing Ecosystem Diagrams are easy to point at. It gives quick, visual context for what you are talking about. It also gives an idea of what connections need to be considered if you are going to make some changes in the ecosystem.
Ecosystem Diagrams are easy to "right size". They are flexible. They can be as detailed or as generalized as you need them to be. Too much detail and they might become hard to read. Too little detail they lose their value. But there is a wide depth of field for what makes the most useful diagram.
Ecosystem Diagrams are easy to update. This is perhaps their best use--to be a living document that expresses the current understanding of what is going on. As new information is uncovered, new things can easily be added. As things change, the diagram can be updated. For instance, I had a client that had more sub-domains than anyone was really sure of. As I talked to more people in the organization, I just kept adding more sub-domains to the diagram and then used arrows to show how they related to each other.
Above all, Marketing Ecosystem Diagrams are practical and accessible.
I like Gartner, but this is too complicated:
This is probably too simple:
What a Marketing Ecosystem Diagram is NOT
Ecosystem diagrams are not complicated. They should not be confusing. They should be helpful and invite conversation, not put people off and leave them feeling confounded. This does not mean they shouldn't have depth, but I does mean that if your diagram is not easy to understand, then you haven't designed it well. The best use of visual communication is to make complicated subjects easier to understand, your diagram should do that.
They are not technical. Ecosystem diagrams are not Use Case diagrams, and they are not architecture diagrams. They are not network diagrams, and they are not work flow diagrams. They are not meant to provide this level of detail unless it is necessary. If your account log-in process involves several redirects to other subdomains which might cause a risk of creating gaps in your analytics, then maybe more detail is necessary to illustrate that complexity. But don't add it if it is not necessary. The amount of technical detail should be intentionally minimal.
They are not a substitute for proper documentation. The ecosystem diagram is like a summary or an overview. They are not a detailed exploration of a user journey or interaction design. The information architecture and UX planning should be handled elsewhere. The ecosystem map just assumes these will work out great and shows that point A leads to point B.
They are not exhaustive. Due to their overview nature, they will not have every detail and there will be assumptions built in. That's fine. As a reference point, they can provide a bridge to those deeper conversations.
Three Great Uses of Marketing Ecosystem Diagrams
These are the three ways that I have found ecosystem diagrams to be useful in my work. Doubtless there are many other good uses, but these keep coming up for me.
Digital Strategy Overview. If you find a way to add actors to your diagram, it can be come a map of your digital strategy. Each actor represents a particular audience. Then you can direct them to the entry points your strategy is creating for them. It makes showing how you have planned for each audience simple and provides a nice bridge to talking about journeys.
Analytics Planning. A big issue in analytics is attribution. Attribution can become a problem if you do not have the tracking set up correctly to account for movement from one touchpoint to another. Additionally, if your sessions are breaking mid-stream, then your visit counts become wrong, your landing page report is full of inaccuracies, your referral reports are full of self-referrals, and your conversion rates are not correct. Analytics planning was actually what got me started with ecosystem mapping years ago, and it continues to be a major help.
Content Planning. Content planning really benefits from ecosystem mapping, especially when SEO techniques like keyword mapping come into play. A large part of content planning is understanding what content needs to be published where--which themes are in which blogs, what evergreen articles belongs in each website, which abstracts and snippets get pushed to which social media. In an ecosystem with multiple content publishing options, it is critical to stay on topic and avoid content duplication. Having a map of that ecosystem is really useful for working out these content publishing issues.
How To Build and Use an Ecosystem Diagram
Choose a diagraming tool, preferably something that can be shared. For simple diagrams, creating a Power Point Slide works great. It's very portable and most people know how a slide deck works, so the learning curve is minimal. For more complicated diagrams, a different tool might be needed. I use Visio.
Start in the middle with the core assets.
Add the stuff that comes before and the stuff that comes after. Use colors and icons if that helps.
Use arrows to show the intended flow direction. Be as consistent as possible with movement--either left to right or top to bottom. If you drag people all over the page by having arrows moving in every direction, then they are more likely to get confused. When possible, keep all the movement headed in the same direction. People naturally understand beginning, middle and end.
Include actors if it helps and name them. Showing that media responders are coming in at landing pages and existing customers go straight to the customer support sub-domain can be especially helpful for planning where audience-specific content goes as well as where to track KPIs.
Rearrange things. Try to create rational clusters. Use areas and swim lanes.
Annotate. Sometimes labeling arrows helps to understand how one item contributes to another item. The label can be the CTA or the function that is accomplished.
Share, Verify and Update. Ecosystem diagrams are best if they are living documents. The more the diagram is socialized and updated and socialized and updated, it will only gain value.