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05/05/2010 How To Develop a Digital Strategy: Part 1


What is a Digital Strategy?

Digital strategy, simply put, is a plan to use digital, two-way media to communicate with other people. The keys in that sentence are: plan, digital, two-way. A good strategy will provide an overarching lens through which you can view actions. You can create a macro strategy, one that covers your entire communications plan, or a micro strategy, one that covers a single initiative. By taking the time to plan, you'll have a better idea of what to measure, what to create (tactics) and how to adjust both of those once you've put the plan to action.

One of the reasons I'm writing this post is because of the large amount of traffic I receive from people searching for "digital strategy" or "what is a digital strategy" on Google. While I talk about different strategies in this blog, I thought it would be good for those searchers to provide a more step-by-step example of what a strategy is and how to build one.

This will be the first in a series of post describing the digital strategy process.

How to Develop a Digital Strategy: Part 1
The first part of any good strategy will answer the questions:
What are you trying to achieve?
And with whom do you need to communicate to succeed?

It's surprising how often marketers move ahead without answering those questions.

Question one allows you to formulate Goals and Objectives. Question two allows you to determine your target audience. The best way to answer these questions is to do your research. This should include (and this is just the start of the list) items such as:
  • Stakeholder Interviews - Spend time talking with key people involved in your initiative so you can understand both the landscape the initiative will live in, as well as some of the motivations of the people and the organization. You have to recognize these two realities to create strategies that have the best chance of success and support. I find I usually uncover the most interesting nuggets through conversation, and they usually pop up from an unexpected tangent.
  • Marketing/Systems Review - Make sure you dig into current marketing efforts and find out how well they've performed. It's important to make sure you're not recommending something that's already been done; or, if you are, you need to make sure you recommend something that will improve results. The marketing review also provides you nuggets of business and customer success. The same is true for systems. Does the business have a CRM system? If not, they may need one. If they do, can it support your strategies? This step ensures that your recommendations either fit into a system, or have good reasons for creating a new one.
  • Business Documents - These include things like strategic documents and plans, sales and product data, or e-commerce results. Again, if you need to make sure your digital strategy is clearly aligned with larger business goals.
  • Customer Research - Most companies have either surveyed customers or have sales data. You can use this to segment and understand which customers you need to focus on. Remember, you need to focus on well-defined groups of people. Targeting "everyone" isn't targeting and it reduces your chance of success. The whole point with customer research is to find values and motivators that will encourage people to either buy products or services, or to engage in conversation with organizations. The only way to create relevant strategies is to understand whom you're talking with and what interests them.
  • Customer Interviews - Whether this is one-on-one interviews, online brand forums, or Web usability testing, it's important to spend time talking with customers in the same way you talk with key stakeholders. Those two conversations provide the outer limits of your recommendations. Your strategies should describe where these two conversations intersect.
  • Competitive Research - Finally, you'll want to make sure you understand the context of where your client's business lives. Who are the key competitors and what are they doing? Is the regional competition greater than the national competition? What digital and business strategies are you competing with? It's important to understand this so you don't simply duplicate a competitor's effort. Or, if you do, you need to know how to make yours much better.
  • Online/Digital Habits - Most of what you've researched focuses on the business and its customers. That has to be the foundation of a successful digital strategy. But you also have to find out how customers use technology and what how tech savvy or engaged the business is. Remember, you're trying to create a two-way communication through digital channels. If none of the people you're trying to reach use mobile phones, you can't develop a strategy that relies on mobile interactions. You'll need to dig in here with primary and secondary data to understand what types of two-way communication works best.
I often find that this is the most exciting part of strategy. It's the detective phase: you've got to figure out who dunnit (or who will do it) by gathering clues. All of the steps above (and there are probably a lot of others, depending on your client) provide clues for your strategy solution. If you do your legwork correctly, you should have some "aha" moments, where you can see some exciting solutions.

Once you've gathered your information, it's time to start formulating Goals and Objectives.

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Goals & Objectives
I don't think I've ever seen more confusion between two words than Goals and Objectives. Some people prefer Objectives and Goals. Use whichever order you prefer. What's most important is to articulate clearly what you mean by them. They work in hierarchical order.

In this instance, we'll put Goals up top. Goals are the overarching business goal you're trying to reach through your digital strategy. Some Goals might include:
  1. Increase sales
  2. Reduce customer turnover
  3. Expand brand awareness
The goals should be very high-level business goals. I find that many marketers aren't crazy about including business goals up front in their strategies. They're afraid that someone will actually hold them accountable (in a negative way). Many times, I've seen these goals ripped out of strategies instead. My advice is to fight to keep them in. They provide an important background element; as you get into strategies and tactics, you can continually ask yourself if they actively serve those main goals. If the answer is no, then you probably shouldn't do those tactics.

Objectives are a sub-set of goals. They describe how you're going to reach your goals through measurable steps. The key is measurability. If you're looking to reduce customer turnover for example, your objectives might be to
  • Increase the response time of customer service reps
  • Improve percentage of satisfied customers
  • Increase the number of return customers
  • Grow customer lifetime value
Again, you can measure each of these and they all provide support for your overall goal of reducing turnover. Objectives define your strategies. They also provide the outline of your measurement strategies. At the end of a strategy document, you'll need to build in how and what you'll measure. Measuring response time of customer reps might be easy, if there's a system in place, but it might be onerous if one doesn't exist.

Now that you've mapped out your goals and objectives, you should define your audience and then start building your strategies. Stay tuned for a post next week.

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