81 posts categorized "Digital Strategy"

12/03/2012 The Five Stages of Digital Strategy

The business of strategy is a funny one. Lots of people talk about strategy and ask for it. I seriously doubt that there’s a lot of commonality in what people believe strategy to be. In its essence, a strategy is a plan for what to do. Bud Caddell has modern spin on a digital strategy that I think is a good one. 

Is that what businesses want when they ask for a digital strategy? I don’t think so. So here is what I’m calling the Five Stages of Strategy: What businesses ask for when they ask for “strategy.”

  1. Tactics – This is by far the most common intent. We see this in a lot of web strategy but social media has taken this to a completely new level. Social media strategy has in many cases come to simply mean: set up our accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Social agencies are complicit in this bastardization; they’re really selling implementation services. Strategy is just a way to open the door. Tactics without strategy are usually not sustainable, though, which is probably why many companies end up paying big bucks for Facebook Likes and even bigger bucks to communicate with those new likes through Promoted Posts.
  2. Cover My Butt – One of my favorite stages, this usually happens in companies with larger internal marketing staffs. The cover my butters come in a couple of flavors. One flavor is someone who needs a smokescreen with upper management to ask for more money. It’s also useful for those who feel pressure from above to move on digital initiatives and want a way to insure themselves from blame in case things don’t work out. In either case, the strategy process can be a long one that ends up having little impact on the actual work.
  3. Prove I’m Right – Many organizations listen to employees very poorly, if at all. Organizations contain a huge amount of intelligence, creativity and innovation. Unfortunately no one has time from his or her busy day to mine that intelligence. In the Prove I’m Right strategy, one quite often uncovers a plan or idea that some of the key players have pushed for, without any luck. The strategy from the third party validates that and provides impetus for implementation. Of course, if you prove someone wrong, then results may vary.
  4. I Know We’re Behind – It’s easy for people to look at the success of others and to feel that they don’t measure up. This is a good place to start, strategically. There’s an uncomfortable acceptance that people don’t like the place they’re in and want to move somewhere, they just don’t know where. Strategy has the potential to move organizations like this along a continuum by providing a plan to do so. The best part about this is that people who ask for this are already willing to try something new, one of the key conditions for implementing a successful strategy. The challenge for the strategy is to not overshoot reality, something that’s easy to do given both the market place and the desires of the organization.
  5. Help Us Change – The holy grail of strategy is working with organizations that embrace and recognize the need for change. Face it; if things were working perfectly, no one would need a strategy, a plan, for doing things differently. In this phase there’s not only support from upper management but also a desire from employees to do things differently. While not all strategy is change, change is a critical part of most great strategies. When organizations reach this stage of strategy they are usually poised for great success.

The red thread through all of this is tolerance for internal and external change.  Many organizations have no desire or tolerance for anything beyond cosmetic changes. That’s why the first stage, tactics is so popular.

While Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would probably turn in her grave if she read this, it’s worth thinking about before that next strategic engagement. Ask the question to determine what strategy stage your organization, or client, is at. It will make the results that much more palatable.

07/25/2011 Who Sets Your Bar?

I just watched the documentary “Fire and Ice” on HBO’s amazing iPad app HBO Go. I’ll save reviewing that app for a later blog post. The documentary tracked the great tennis rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. What struck me most was the effect that Borg leaving tennis had on McEnroe. 

Yes, McEnroe continued to win, winning grand slams and retaining his number one spot after Borg retired. But that retirement also removed one of McEnroe’s greatest motivators: to play (and beat) the best. Without Borg to set the bar, McEnroe became more enraged and ultimately lost interest. 

In your business (and especially in the digital marketing business), who sets the bar for you? Which people or groups perform at such a high level that they motivate you to push yourself to a higher plane? Can you find inspiration through others’ work and success to make yourself work harder and more creatively? 

I’m asking the question after reading a number of comments by creatives on the lack of break through ideas, especially on the digital side. In the past we looked to CPB and the Barbarian Group, among others, to Wow us. Sites like the FWA and even the Macromedia Site of the Day used to inspire digital creative to push the work at every level. 

A friend of mine recently worked on a site that won the FWA award, and she remarked that she wished she had won it three years ago when it still meant something.

The examples these days seem to register a much smaller blip. Yes we’re not building as many intricate Flash sites with expectations of lots of interaction and time spent online. We know better now. We look at socially integrated campaigns that seem to have much more modest goals (perhaps even attainable ones). We’re looking to do more enabling of commerce or connections. That probably has greater value to customers but it’s not as sexy as Subservient Chicken or Come Clean.  

One example recently, which I noticed courtesy of Adam Cohen, was work for Tesco Homeplus. It sprang from an insight that people were just too darn busy in South Korea to go shopping. However, they all had mobile phones and lots of them commuted via subway. So they set up a virtual storefront in the subway, where people could shop through a mobile phone. Tesco then delivered the groceries to peoples’ homes.


How about that for a smart, digital and practical solution?

Like John McEnroe, I need my digital Bjorn Borgs. Who sets the bar for you to make you want to be the best? 


07/12/2011 Use Your Digital Strategy to Differentiate

If you’re in business of any kind, you have some idea of who your competition is. Whether you’re overly conscious of it or not, what you do in your business and marketing helps people choose you over someone else. Your marketing needs to show how you’re different, better or more appropriate to someone making a choice. The same applies to your digital strategy.

Rather than simply doing what everyone else does, how are you using your digital channels to differentiate who and what you are? 


For many, a digital strategy means deciding to have a blog, or putting up a Facebook page with the goal of gaining X number of followers. Most of the time, companies’ and organizations’ strategies comes down to copying: If some else has one, we better have one too so we don’t look bad.

So up goes the blog with an editorial calendar, and up goes the Facebook page with the goal of aggregating as many people as possible.

But if everyone else is doing this, how does this differentiate you? Answer: It doesn’t.

One of the problems we see in the digital space is too much focus on channels and aggregate numbers and too little focus on the customer, the person on the other side of that screen. That’s too bad, because there are huge opportunities for businesses that can shift their focus and strategy there.

Try this example: When was the last time you or a friend of yours spontaneously started talking about a blog post from a company you do business with? When was the last time you started a conversation at a party about the Facebook contest you entered at one of the brand pages you followed?

If you’re like most people, the answer is never.

On the other hand, you know when your digital strategy is working when people publicly praise the personal service they received on Twitter, or when they marvel at how you gave them critical information on Facebook they couldn’t have received elsewhere, or when they brag about how your mobile app or site helped them shop for a better product or deal.

Things like this don’t happen overnight. They’re a result of strategy decisions that focus on providing great service to customers through digital channels and tools. They take work. They require that parts of your real business integrate digitally. It’s harder than creating a corporate blog with an editorial calendar. 

In the end, though, this is what differentiates you from your competition. Your digital strategy should be less about the where and less about the aggregate numbers and more about enabling your business through digital and social channels. It should focus on your customers and not your internal process.

If you can’t do that, the question for your business is: why bother?

03/21/2011 The Digital or Social Messiah

Businesses and agencies have recognized the energy of digital and social marketing. As they scramble to get up to speed and to catch up with consumers, many have tried to jump start their efforts by hiring or appointing a Very Important Person. Usually they have titles like Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Creative Technologist, or Director of Social Media. In reality, they’ve been anointed as the Digital or Social Messiah.

You know what a messiah does right? He leads you out of slavery into the promise land (well, not really, we wanders around for 40 years). He tears down the powerful and starts a new religion (or at least starts something). Or he leads a jihad and conquers the civilized world (over hundreds of years).

What’s wrong with this picture? Messiahs and Prophets may be necessary, but you can’t have true religion unless you have a good group of apostles around you. The messiah might provide the inspiration, but the apostles end up doing most of the groundwork. When you’re trying to establish a new digital or social religion in your company, do you have enough apostles to make change happen?

It was interesting listening to Bill Gerth of Comcast and Morgan Johnston of Jet Blue at the #BTVSMB social media breakfast today. I was particularly impressed with Bill’s description of Comcast’s social media team. It included key personnel from various departments around the enterprise, including customer care people and engineers. Bill doesn’t have to proselytize himself; he has others within the company with greater status within their own groups.

Agencies have similar problems. They need to talk digital, and they need a spokesperson, salesperson and leader, both internally and externally. But if you really want to gauge how serious they are, ask them how many digital or social apostles they’ve hired lately, especially compared with other hires in the traditional areas.

Everyone loves a messiah or prophet. But creating a new religion, whether it is digital, social, or Christianity, is hard work. One or two people can’t do it alone. The companies that are doing it right have lots of apostles doing the work.


12/21/2010 Is it (digital, social, marketing) worth it?

I just read a blog post encouraging the financial services industry to stay away from social media. The focus of the post was that social media was way too expensive and there was no proven ROI, so banks and credit unions should avoid it completely.

As I’ve written before: social media isn’t for everyone. But on the other hand a blanket rejection of it seems just as extreme as forcing it upon every business. The biggest problem I have with arguments like these (even though they do wonders for blog traffic and comments, see Mitch Joel’s post here) is that they provide convenient excuses to do nothing at all.

And the question is: is it better to do nothing, to do something or to do the right thing?

Nothing is always an option. Doing nothing won’t move you forward but it may not move you backwards (at least in the short term). In the long term, doing nothing will move you backwards, if for no other reason that everyone else is moving forward while you stay put.

Doing something is active, even if it’s not always correct. The challenge with something is doing too much of it without a plan, and not learning from it. Even if you don’t do the right thing, you can always learn positive or negative lessons by doing something. It should make you smarter the next time. If you look at something as a continuous test, you always win. Of course there are many instances of people and companies doing something that doesn’t work and then throwing their hands in the air while saying, “See, I told you we shouldn’t have done something!”

Doing the right thing requires careful planning, strategy, execution and measurement. Doing the right thing doesn’t need to be grand or expensive, it simply needs thinking before doing, and counting while doing. In one way or another, you always end up ahead when you do the right thing.

Saying that every company shouldn’t start grand, thoughtless, expensive social marketing campaigns is a non-starter. Why bother arguing with something like that? But as marketers in a changing consumer landscape, we need to adapt, learn and try, even if we fail. And the only way we do that is to do something.

I understand that some people are afraid of failure, change and risk. Most financial institutions, but not all, fit that description. It’s still not an excuse to ignore how people live and act today.


12/11/2010 The Dustbin of History

I couldn't resist. Enjoy.


12/10/2010 Digital Talk is Cheap

Everywhere in meeting rooms across the country, agencies, marketing groups and C-levels are talking up the need for their companies to “go digital” or “get digital” and in some places “be post-digital.” Plans are hatched to hire more talent, to infuse the enterprise with a new culture, to become social and to follow the shift consumers have already undertaken. Campaigns are launched, offices are moved and everyone can sit back and pat each other on the back. Right?


Here’s one of the reason’s marketers are in such a frenzy. This is from Mary Meeker’s great presentation on Internet Trends.

People have shifted their time to digital, but marketers have not. It’s the combined fault of slow shifting agencies and even slower shifting marketing departments.

During the last two years almost everyone has jumped, or talked about jumping, on the social media bandwagon as a key digital initiative, for example. They look at Facebook’s growing influence as proof that they should act.

But starting a Facebook page is cheap. Imbuing a social media culture in your company is hard.

The same Morgan Stanley report shows the how handheld computing devices (smart phones and tablet devices) will outsell desktops and laptop computers as early as 2012.

But naming someone as Chief Experience Officer is cheap. Imbuing a two-way, handheld, digital culture in your company is extremely hard.

I’m hope all this talk is necessary to get where we need to go. But I wonder, sometimes, if it’s more of a smoke screen for not taking the hard steps needed to move forward. Words are free, but actions, budgets and change are not.

10/25/2010 Digital Improv

Nothing ever goes according to plan. That’s probably a good thing. One of the bigger issues around change is how people respond to unexpected or unwanted changes. When it comes to digital strategy and execution, the teams who develop and build digital campaigns need to practice and embrace improvisation as a working model.

Improvisation is the art of saying “yes” no matter what happens. Once you say “no” you’re stuck. Some one once told me that people who say “no” want safety while people who say “yes” want adventure.  As marketers our collective jobs are to not play it safe, while our competition leaps ahead. Our job is to move our clients business forward through marketing.

Improv starts in the strategy stage. We can develop the greatest strategies and have our clients completely buy into them, only to watch how the client gets a little nervous and decides they only want part of a strategy right away, while the rest can wait. Or they love the strategy, but want to play it safe, to start.

Here’s the first challenge: Keep saying “yes.” If strategy is a plan to get you to a desired goal, then you have to look upon this as if the road you’ve mapped out has flooded out, or has closed down due to construction. You still need to get to your destination and now you have more information of how your passengers want to get there. Can you change your plan quickly enough?

One of the reasons we see a push for smaller strategies rather than grand strategies is that it’s easier to improvise and learn from smaller ones. Grand strategies already have “no” built right into them.

When it comes to creative and development, improv is critical. Even the best laid plans for user interaction and programming will run up against real people. Too many times the builders stand firm by their original designs and intent, insisting that the problem is the user on the other end, not the product. Luckily, we’re seeing more and more teams using things like “agile design” or “rapid prototyping” as a way of improvising along the way. 

Here’s another way of looking at it: Improvisation is all about viewing your failures (“I don’t like it” or “it doesn’t work they way it should”) as positives that lead you in newer and better directions. The messy, circular paths we have to take in order to reach our goals oftentimes show us things we normally wouldn’t have seen before. And that makes us a lot better at doing our jobs.

Build improvisation into your digital thinking. Saying “Yes” makes everyone into the good guy and gives you a better chance of delivering what you hoped to. It’s also more fun.


Check out these graphics from the site Story Robot. It's a great resource about teaching improv.


09/28/2010 Digital Strategy is the What not the Where

I admit that I get a kick out of seeing articles proclaiming, “SEO needs to be the cornerstone of your digital strategy” or “Base your digital strategy on social media.” These types of articles, and there are a lot of them, help blur the idea of strategy with tactics and channels.

Rather than focus on where a brand should show up in the digital ecosystem, good digital strategy would instead focus on what a brand should do or stand for. If you can figure out What, then the Where makes a lot more sense.

You can see the reverse happening all the time. That’s probably why we have so many terrible banner ads. The strategy says “display ads” and then its time to backfill the space.

The What, of course, is a lot harder to figure out than the Where. A great place to start is to try to move away from the promotional part of the What and instead dig into the business or organization itself and ask the question:

“What does this business do really well with people offline and how would we bring these interactions to those in the digital space?”

It’s surprising how much you’ll find once you take the time to uncover these nuggets. You’ll also need to help your team break down the barriers to bringing these actions to your digital marketing. Any great customer service or interaction is a potential winning What. Sales people who have a special routine, or classes you provide the community are two easy examples of taking real life connections and trying to find a way to bring these to life digitally.

Is there a way you treat your best customers? Do you provide tools or tests for people to use before they buy your products?

Digital strategy needs to take real business/people interactions and map out how to translate those to space where people can control the interactions. Once you’ve done that, figuring out the where (and the how) will have a lot greater impact.

The biggest challenge? Having the time and resources to figure out the What.  But that is time and money well spent.


09/20/2010 Empathy: The Key Ingredient to Digital Marketing

In all of my work as an interactive creative director and digital strategist, my main task in every project was to attempt to get into the shoes of my intended audience to imagine how they would use the things we built. In the digital business, we want people to feel emotions (like in traditional advertising) but we need for them to do something right away. 

Click, buy, give us your email, post on Facebook, forward to a friend, or just play; the actions are key in digital since we're creating two-way communications. But how on earth can we succeed if we don't shed our own preferences and embrace those of the people who will use our work?

Peter Drucker: "The number one practical competency for success in life and work is empathy."

If you plan, design, program or write for digital you need to have a high level of empathy. One of the biggest problems marketers have is the delusion that they themselves are the target audience. Even if you use the product or service you're trying to market, once you're on the inside you lose perspective. In fact, declaring, as countless have done, that "I'm the typical client" serves as nothing more than a power grab to own the decision making process.

empathy  [( em -puh-thee)]
Identifying oneself completely with an object or person, sometimes even to the point of responding physically, as when, watching a baseball player swing at a pitch, one feels one's own muscles flex.

There's great power in trying to understand other people. From a design perspective it helps you understand how to create intuitive design. From a development and UX perspective, it helps make things as simple and elegant as possible. From a strategy standpoint, it helps put the customer firmly at the center of the equation rather than the client.

Empathy helps remove the ego from decisions. You become an advocate for someone else rather than simply defending your own ideas. 

So how do you become more empathetic? 

  • More listening, less talking. If you don't listen to other people, you'll never understand them.
  • Get out of your comfort zone. I mean, really, get out of it. You may need to hang out with people you're not really that into, for a while. 
  • Act like an anthropologist. Observe, take notes, and don't interject yourself. If you do, you may end up changing what you see.
  • Read what they read, watch what they watch. 

It won't mean that you'll perfectly understand them. And you probably may not observe them doing the exact thing you're designing for. That's okay. As long as you can get into their heads and wear them like a costume, you can make the conceptual leap to acting like them.

Anyone can develop empathy skills. There are lots of books, including one by author Dev Patnaik called "Wired To Care" that help people and businesses develop those skills.

Or, you can think of yourself as a great method actor like Brando. Brando refused to learn how to rid a horse for the movie "Missouri Breaks" with Jack Nicholson. Instead, he studied people who did know how to ride, and he acted like them. Simply put, he acted like he knew how to ride a horse, even though he didn't.

Empathy is not the sole property of planners and persona developers. They can certainly help a lot, but everyone needs to add their own dose of empathy to the mix.

In marketing, especially digital marketing, empathy is the secret ingredient to great work.

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