How to Develop a Digital Strategy

Miles Law:  Where you stand depends on where you sit. – Rufus E. Miles, Jr. (1910-1996)  

This article is part two of an ongoing series. Read Part One: Digital Strategy Starts With Marketing and Part Three: A Step by Step Guide to Building Your Digital Vision.

With all of the current chatter about “going digital” we are surprisingly deficient in a solid approach towards building a digital strategy.  In this article,  I propose a hybrid approach towards defining a digital strategy that is informed by marketing, technology, design and product thinking. First I will offer some background on why this is needed.

If you are looking for a solid definition of what makes a digital strategy, you are likely to get a different answer based on who is writing it. In fact, the term has relatively recently started becoming a big deal. Advertising agencies were telling brands 10 years ago that everything was now digital and they should adapt accordingly.  So what’s different now?

Within Digital Strategy Starts With Marketing  we talked about the historic role of marketing in establishing the digital beachheads for many organizations.  Agencies were there to help them lay this groundwork. This is starting to change though; there are a greater number of players helping brands transform themselves now.  

In a recent Forrester Research report, “Wanted: Digital Engagement Providers”, the authors describe how the digital space is being approached by a few distinct groups of firms:  strategy consultancies, systems integrators, product development service shops, and interactive agencies. Each of these classes of firms has their own strengths and are rapidly acquiring other specialty firms to round-out their offerings.

What is the output of a digital strategy?

Digital strategy can take many forms, but ultimately it should be focused on the relationships between three things:  Audiences, Channels and Capabilities.

  • Audiences can include your customers, employees, influencers and partners.
  • Channels include your owned (website, social media, email), paid and earned media, but also emerging areas such as devices (mobile, tablet, watch) where syndication plays a huge role.  
  • Capabilities represent the skills brought to bear in delivering experience to your audiences

Digital Ecosystem Components  

aud-chan-cap

Your strategy will lead to delivering a set of desired outcomes for one or more of your audiences.

Ok. I know. You’re  about to say, “Wait a minute. Are you telling me that my organization should have multiple digital strategies?”

I’m glad you asked that.  The answer is yes.  More on that later.

To that effect, let’s define digital strategy as: An organization’s plan for delivering valuable outcomes to its audience by way of digital channels.

The capabilities are informed by a number of different disciplines and will affect how the organization goes about building and delivering on its plan.

Now that we’ve defined it. Let’s talk about putting it together.

A Roadmap for Building Your Strategy

Digital strategy has some essential components which we will discuss. Because channels and consumers are constantly evolving, our strategy needs to be focused on short timescales and revisited frequently. The journey to building the strategy is non-linear.

stages-strategy-creation

Getting to a digital strategy requires some upfront work, followed by a number of iterative parts. The  main stages of creating a digital strategy are:  

  • Assessment – This is where your research of the problem space takes place
  • Imagination – Consider this your visioning space, where you bring your best minds together to dream of the possible
  • Do – This is the factory where your work happens. A bit of planning and scope definition, governance and project management, the execution of your digital projects, and your testing to ensure they work as intended. Do is continuous.
  • Engagement – Getting feedback from your community. This should be happening all of the time.
  • MeasurementBecause strategy needs to evolve on an ongoing basis, you need to have members of your team whose job is to continuously sample and track your progress. Understanding of the data will change over time, so it is important to focus measurements on things that matter and that are actionable  in the ‘now’.
  • Learning – It might seem obvious because great teams are always learning, but you need to expressly build in time to digest, discuss and act upon these learnings.
  • Telling – Managing change well is all about communications. You could be building the biggest and best mousetrap in town, but if no one hears about it, it didn’t happen.

Key Components of a Digital Strategy Assessment

Assessment sounds like a fancy thing, but it is just getting the lay of the land. We want to do enough research here to determine if there is a worthwhile effort waiting for us, or just a waste of time.  Competitor, industry and audience research all begin during this phase and should continue

A digital strategy assessment should include a look at the following broad areas and questions:

  1. Brand
  • Have we established our brand voice and tone?
  • Do we consistently express the brand across our various channels, while speaking in the native tone of the channel? Are we more formal in our speech on LinkedIn versus Facebook, as an example.
  • Do we empower our key employees and advocates to help build the brand in their social interactions?
  1. Sales and Marketing
  • Do we have a documented and functioning demand generation business process?
  • Is it well-understood how marketing and sales work together to generate, qualify and nurture leads into sales opportunities?
  • Do we educate our sales people how to use digital technologies in personal interactions (e.g. Social selling programs)?
  1. Channels (Includes your website, social media, email, advertising, pr, and also devices like mobile, tablet, and watches.)
  • Do we have a channel strategy in place?
  • Have we documented what channels we participate in and why?
  • Do we have the tone of voice in place for each of our channels? Note the dependency on #1.
  • Have we prioritized our channels?
  1. Capabilities
  • Have we mapped out what skills are required for our digital journey?
  • Have we done a skills gap assessment in terms of our overall digital team?
  • Is there an understanding of what skills can and should be acquired via agency relationships and which should be developed in-house?
  1. Talent
  • Do we have the right people within our organization? Who should we be hiring?
  • What type of investment will it take to reach the level of talent we need?
  1. Technology
  • What software platforms are used to support the digital business?
  • Who are the experts in these technologies and how are they supported?
  1. Content
  • What are the major forms of content created to support the organization’s initiatives?
  • On what channels are they published and promoted?
  1. Governance
  • What structure does the organization have in place to coordinate the above and measure the outputs?
  • How is project management done?
  • Does digital have its own budget? How is budgeting done?

As you are developing this research, you will want to package and distribute it in a way that is accessible to people joining the effort in the future.  Even though it will evolve and change, this can provide a great deal of context around why decisions were made.

brand-hub

Our team developed a content hub using our organization’s intranet software (Jive). You can just as easily utilize a wiki or any other web-based collaboration software that you have.  Depending on the scope of your organization, a more public-facing repository, such as those employed by GOV.UK and the US Digital Service, might be appropriate.

Moving Beyond Your Assessment

As mentioned earlier, digital strategies should be actively maintained, and so your assessment will not necessarily ever be 100% finished. Once you feel that your assessment is “good enough”, you’ll have what amounts to a baseline for refinements to your strategy. At this point, it is critical to begin to get your team aligned around where it wants to go, thus creating a shared vision for your team is the next priority.

In the next article in the series, we will discuss effective methods for creating your “digital vision” and defining the scope of your efforts. Read Part Three: A Step by Step Guide to Building Your Digital Vision.


Also published on Medium.