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Tips & Training

Understanding the digital world: A systems thinking approach

In a world where new tools, apps, and trends emerge every day, it can be challenging to stay aligned with what is required to excel in business. Shifts are happening so rapidly, but at the same time, people want to focus, relax, enjoy and maintain excellence without having to keep playing the constant game of change.  

Not only do new platforms like TikTok rise in popularity while others such as Facebook decline, but algorithms inside each platform also change. Even if you master these changes and work hard on following what’s new, there can be a world event like COVID-19 or the crypto market crash that can alter everything.

One thing we know for sure, change is constant. But here’s the good news. If we pause a bit and take a bird’s-eye view – a system thinking approach – of these changes, we can find there are common patterns. 

As someone who loves connecting dots and exploring patterns, I’ve learned some things to help me ground my bird’s-eye view and strategic thinking, because too much of it without a strong grounding can be soft. In this article, I’ll be sharing six things that can help you excel in the digital world. Whether you’re thinking of growing your personal brand, building an online business, or growing an existing business, understanding these six things will help. 

People don’t change. Strategies don’t change.

Trends change. Tools change. Keywords change. 

You hear a lot about Agile these days. 

Abdullah Al Qayyim will be presenting on “Understanding Technology and Marketing: A System Thinking Approach” at CERIC’s hybrid Cannexus conference, taking place Jan. 23-25, 2023. Learn more and register at cannexus.ceric.ca. 

Agile in fact is very old. It’s based on the scientific methodology many scientists followed hundreds and hundreds of years ago: create (research), test, analyze, improve (feedback).

The main difference is with Agile and the way startups work, now they do that more often in smaller iterations. Instead of researching or creating big components at once, you take small components (features) and focus on them, then you move to building the next component.

So, to excel in today’s world, you need to be comfortable with change. But what if I tell you, you’re already comfortable with change. Perhaps you just need to see beyond a keyword and beyond a marketing trend.

People in the career development world usually have lots of curiosity to learn, to develop wisdom and expertise. Those attributes can help you see beyond surface-level changes and focus on what matters.

It’s all about attention

Selling and marketing have always been about how you get people’s attention and how you give them attention. Can you grab or retain someone’s attention in the first 15 seconds of your video? Your ad?  In the first paragraph of your LinkedIn post?

Short attention spans will stay but producing shorter content with as much instant gratification info as possible, has always been what sells. For me personally, I use that knowledge to create content about change and impact. You can do the same, if you believe your product or your service brings real value and change to the world.

Providing value

You’ve grabbed someone’s attention. So, what’s next? 

Free content is everywhere. Consumerism, options and accessibility to everything are everywhere, so you need to think about what makes people need you. 

It’s the pure giving and providing value. That’s another thing about humans – giving often provides returns. What insights can you give someone in your post, your video, your free trial, your free consultation or your discovery call, to make them want to return to you? 

User experience

To understand marketing, you need to understand people. And understanding people is the soul of User Experience. So, understanding marketing goes hand-in-hand with providing a good User Experience (UX).

UX can include where to put that call to action button on your homepage, or making the font bigger to improve accessibility, or using video because people want to see something more alive and human on the screens. These are all things you don’t necessarily need a UX Expert to tell you.

One of the things I like about being part of the career development community, many folks have good speaking, coaching, training and communication skills, which can make them skilled at video presenting or other forms of marketing communications.

If you grab someone’s attention and give them good value using your speaking or written communication skills, that will help you and your services stand out in a crowded online marketplace.

Community

People like your work. You have a brand. You have a good service. Is that enough in today’s world? No, just like it was not enough before, it’s going to become not enough more and more.

That’s where community comes in. Think about the people you are trying to reach as your community, not just clients and followers. It’s going to help you gain trust and build relationships with your audience.

Community is also about who you can collaborate with such as influencers, partners and other businesses so everyone can support each other. 

Data

Now you’ve attention, value, user experience and community. Next up: data. 

Although this is a point that can be applied to any part of the above points, but do you remember in the scientific methodology (Agile) I mentioned earlier, I wrote: Analyze and learn (feedback)? You won’t be able to get much feedback without data.

Sometimes data can be very simple. You don’t need a fancy tool or a data scientist. Just posting content or sharing your services multiple times and on multiple places, and manually notice which content or service gets you the most return. Also just sharing a simple Google Form survey with a personal note by email to some of your clients asking them for feedback, can be enough.

It’s the same as a survey on paper after an event 50 years ago. We might do it now in different ways or call it some fancy term but if you dig deeper in the data world, you will understand not much has changed.

The above points help you understand how the digital world works on the backend. You might be trying to endlessly keep on top of the latest technology changes, or not following trends enough. Or you might be taking a management-centric approach without the necessary agility.

If you lead with intuition, can you balance that with following the market when needed? Just like you follow your intuition and vision, following data and changes can be as important. But notice here I didn’t say (discover) data and changes. Because you probably already know it. If you understand humans and patterns, you will always understand things.

Remember, it’s not what you don’t know. It’s what you know when looking at it from a different angle. That’s what a bird’s-eye view and systems thinking means to me. Putting this article into a specific length and structure forced me to ground myself and leave the bird’s-eye view a bit. But now that I’m done I can go back to flying again to connect more dots, see more patterns and explore new (or perhaps same but different) possibilities.

Abdullah Al Qayyim is a systems thinker on the back end and an artist, teacher and technologist on the front end. He provides digital consulting services for small and medium organizations in the education and career development areas. After work, his art is teaching and creating content about leadership, self-awareness and career exploration. You can connect with him on LinkedIn. He loves making new connections.
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Abdullah Al Qayyim is a systems thinker on the back end and an artist, teacher and technologist on the front end. He provides digital consulting services for small and medium organizations in the education and career development areas. After work, his art is teaching and creating content about leadership, self-awareness and career exploration. You can connect with him on LinkedIn. He loves making new connections.
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