Technology in Marketing
Visual Tool for Marketers: SmartDraw
Marketers are always creating charts to illustrate some aspect of marketing.
We use charts and diagrams to communicate ideas and concepts because visuals help us eliminate the distraction of details that don't represent the true picture of a situation.
For example, a spreadsheet of daily revenue for every product sold has so many details it's hard to see the overall trend and patterns of customer behavior. However, a chart with a line for each product category makes it easy to see which areas are trending up — and which categories are past their prime.
Example 2x2 matrix
Marketing runs on understanding the many influences that affect customer buying behavior. And, effective visuals help everyone on a company's marketing team understand what customers are looking for — and develop sound marketing plans for helping customers meet those needs.
Mind Maps make marketing more meaningful
Some time ago I discovered a drawing format called "mind maps." This type of drawing starts with a central concept, then topics and subtopics radiate out from the center.
Mind maps are used to capture and display information visually like an outline organizes information textually. Marketing is a very diverse discipline, and mind maps are an effective way to organize plans and project tasks.
So, I started evaluating the many mind map software products to find the best drawing tool to make mind maps for marketers. I was looking for a mind mapping program that makes professional looking, presentation quality diagrams.
Visuals explain marketing
When I came to SmartDraw I was surprised that it did other types of charts, diagrams, and graphs in addition to mind maps. It turns out that SmartDraw is a comprehensive drawing program with a large number of templates for a wide range of visuals.
I found that SmartDraw is good for marketing executives because so many of the artistic functions are automated. And, for people who are "artistically inclined," the formatting and control make it easy for them to create stunning charts and diagrams.
Like most marketing organizations we have all of the popular graphics programs, but
Smart Draw is different from all of them.
Smart Draw is exactly what its name says. It's a drawing package, with lots of templates for marketers.
It's also smart. SmartDraw places symbols and shapes in a drawing, keeps them aligned, and can also automatically style and color them.
Many types of diagrams use symbols and shapes, such as flowcharts, organization charts, and mind maps. SmartDraw provides a separate template for each type of visual, which makes it easy to work in the context of that drawing. For example, in the mind map template the default symbol is called a "subtopic," but in the org chart template the same default symbol is called an "employee."
And, like many drawing applications, you can format, rotate, layer, and group the symbols and shapes.
In addition to all the diagrams that use symbols and shapes, there are many other visual templates that are used frequently by marketers.
Matrix, funnels and other visuals used by marketers
Marketers use a lot of 2-by-2 matrix charts for SWOT and BCG matrix charts, as well as matrix charts to show correlations. The SmartDraw template library has several variations of 2-by-2 matrix charts.
Example SWOT diagram
There are also templates for "funnel" diagrams such as e-commerce conversion funnels and sales process funnels. And, there are templates for "marketing mix" diagrams and "Venn" diagrams.
Several templates are especially helpful for Web marketing:
- Web site plan diagram - Show how pages are linked.
- Web page wireframe - Show where each type of content is placed.
- Web page annotation - Capture a screenshot and paste "sticky notes" on the page.
Many times the visuals created in SmartDraw are used in a PowerPoint presentation — and SmartDraw makes creating PowerPoint presentations with visuals surprisingly easy. The storyboard feature creates the slides in PowerPoint. And, another features can create a sequential "reveal" of sections of a mind map, flowchart, or other diagram.
I do small group workshops and group facilitation, so I like to work within SmartDraw during those meetings. I turn off the ribbon bar area so the visual I'm creating has more area on the screen. This is especially helpful when I share my screen with people in other locations.
Creating mind maps in SmartDraw
Since I started out looking for a good mind map program for marketers, I'll share what I learned about the mind map function in SmartDraw.
The mind map function is different from traditional mind map programs, which is generally a good thing.
Example Web page annotation
Traditional mind map programs add major topics to a drawing starting at the 1 o'clock position and add them clockwise around the center. In addition, many mind map programs assign each major topic branch a different color. As subtopics are added to a topic they are automatically given the same color as their parent topic.
SmartDraw adds topics and subtopics very differently. Topics are added to the left and right of the center, which keeps the drawing balanced looking — but doesn't automatically maintain the order in which they were created. No worries — it's easy to drag topics and subtopics to whatever order you want them.
Example mind map using auto styling
SmartDraw's "auto style" feature also applies colors to the shapes differently, too. It applies one color to top-level topics, a different color to subtopics on the next level, and so on. There are several industries where this is an accepted way to color a drawing, but I prefer a traditional approach to mind map colors. So, I created a custom mind map template that has the "auto style" feature turned off and uses a different color (that I specified) for each topic area.
Another difference between SmartDraw's mind map and other mind map programs is how icons and images are handled in a shape. SmartDraw uses a selected image icon to completely replace the text in a shape. Other mind map programs add one or more tiny icons to a shape's text, which can make a rather distracting mind map. This is part of the professional appearance that I was looking for when I chose SmartDraw.
Mind maps are frequently used to plan projects and tasks — the top levels are programs and their projects, and lower levels are tasks and sub-tasks. SmartDraw allows you to view a mind map as a Gantt project/task diagram, add who is responsible for tasks, and start/end dates for tasks. Since SmartDraw is truly a drawing program, it doesn't have the extensive database and professional project management features found in programs such as Microsoft Project.
Example mind map using custom template colors
This turns out to be okay for most marketing organizations for two reasons. First, SmartDraw is primarily a drawing tool that's great for managers and executives to share ideas and concepts. And, these are people who typically don't need the features in Microsoft Project. Second, SmartDraw can import and export Microsoft Project files, which are typically created by someone whose full-time job is to manage projects.
In addition to viewing a mind map as a Gantt project chart, SmartDraw can convert a mind map into a timeline drawing. I don't work with advertising schedules and trade shows schedules as much as I used to, so I've not used SmartDraw to make timeline drawings, but it looks valuable for marketers who do.
Using visuals in planning marketing strategy
So, how do I use SmartDraw in helping clients create a strategic marketing plan? I generally start with a mind map and create additional charts and drawings as we work on detailed parts of their strategy.
Example 4 Ps marketing mix diagram
First, I capture a client's current plans and goals. Then, as we develop their strategic marketing plan, I'll develop a mind map showing how a sound marketing strategy can drive their marketing communication and sales programs.
The strategic marketing mind map links to a SWOT diagram, a product line matrix, and other charts (created in SmartDraw), as well as spreadsheets and, of course, other mind maps.
As a marketing organization becomes comfortable creating these charts, diagrams, and graphs, the whole team adopts visual thinking techniques. The use of visuals to express marketing concepts helps reduce complexity and focus everyone on a strategic view of how to help customers.
Example strategic marketing plan mind map
While there are many special-purpose graphics programs available, it's difficult for a team of people to use multiple programs to collaborate. A better approach is to use one program — with one consistent user interface and file format — so it's easy for everyone to work together.
SmartDraw makes it easy for the marketing team to work together. By having so many useful marketing templates available, SmartDraw really makes it easy for non-artists to create visuals that have a professional look and presentation quality. And, for people who are comfortable with drawing programs, SmartDraw provides the control and flexibility needed to make creative visuals quickly.
SmartDraw has the best collection of templates and features for marketing managers and executives to create outstanding visuals.