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4 Reasons Digital Strategy Fails

Remember when I compared the proliferation of types of planners to designer dogs? Fortunately, there are more articulate people in the world that can expand on the definition of digital strategy. This week, we’re running a recent post from Cheryl Metzger, Strategy Director at Ogilvy Chicago.

In my What Kind of Planner Are You? post, I complained that the request to “find a digital strategist” is about as useful as saying “find me a dog.” There are so many breeds of digital strategists, from Planning, Media, and UX backgrounds that we first need to discern what our clients want them to accomplish.

Turns out we have the easier part! Once we find the right person, they have to contend with all the different perceptions and needs for a digital strategist within the agency. They must demonstrate where they can add value, define roles, responsibilities and talent needs, design an “approach” and service offering that’s easy for internal teams to sell and clients to buy. Somewhere along the line, somebody inevitably says: “Oh, but I thought your job was..” Hard to address everyone’s needs and codify a process!

Cheryl’s post is great because it identifies the pitfalls that so often hang up digital strategists once they’re hired. Then it offers an approach — a sure-footed path through all the chatter about where digital strategy comes from and how it is brought to life.

Here’s her post:

4 Reasons Digital Strategy Fails (& One Solution to Fix It)

That is because, before teams can tackle what “our” digital strategy should be, first there must be a shared understanding of what digital strategy even is. Often, there isn’t. The most common culprits of this pervasive confusion will probably ring true for many:

#1—Digital strategy lacks a shared definition. For some, digital strategy means digital paid media. For others, digital strategy means “social”—conversation management, content creation, checking the Twitter, Facebook and assorted social platform boxes. For many marketers, digital strategy means an exercise in channel integration, share of voice monitoring and measuring of impact across standard channels. For designers & developers, digital strategy is often an exercise in usability testing for web or app design. And for tech geeks, digital strategy is about getting to play with emerging technologies, often with a focus on mobile use.  The result is that “digital strategy,” while a common need, is not a common language. And roles designated as digital strategy often lack a clear mission.   

#2—Digital strategy is approached in silos. When teams approach digital strategy in silos, the result is an orientation around that team’s unique focus area, creating a digital strategy that is more about us than about our audience’s needs.

#3—Digital strategy is about objects, not behavior. “Digital” is now the interface to our lives, not simply a destination or a mode of engaging with others. And that means that digital strategy must radically re-orient around behavior, instead of simple information sharing, content distribution or two-way communication.  

#4 – Digital is seen as many parts, not a seamless whole. Great digital strategy understands a fundamental shift has taken place: thanks to frictionless design and pervasive connectivity, ‘digital’ as a discrete concept is disappearing, and user experience is taking its place. End users are more focused on the experience created, not the mode through which it is accessed.   

This shift means brands, too, must start by designing for experiences and then determining the right delivery mechanisms. And designing for experiences requires a critically important new tool: empathy.

Empathic digital strategy. Of course, focusing on your target audience may seem intuitive to most marketers and digital strategists; but in practice it is given short-shrift—platforms, tactics and functions are often determined without more than a cursory nod to audience insights. In other words, we have been designing digital strategy sympathetically, but not empathetically. Empathic digital strategy places a radical focus on the end-user, crafting the digital strategy outward from his or her behaviors, wants and needs. This enables the strategy to be hyper-relevant and hyper-targeted. Taking inspiration from user-experience design, such a strategy might have the following steps:

  • Find your audience objective—What audience is critical to resolving the brand’s business challenge? What is the behavior you want to elicit from the audience to measure your success? This is about defining what valuable engagement means and with whom.
  • Qualitative interviews — how does your key audience interact with the product, the category and your brand today? Where, when and through what interfaces? Where does the experience break down for them? What’s annoying or unnecessary? What would their ideal experience look like? What would help them reach their goals?
  • Ethnographic research — how does your audience act in their natural environments, both around your product/service occasion and around a regular day’s activities?
  • Technographic sweetspot—What technologies is your audience comfortable using and what technologies can address their identified needs? Understand what limitations are imposed by your budget. Where there is overlap among all three is your digital sweetspot.
  • Behaviors and need targeting— What behaviors and barriers need to be addressed in order to improve interaction with your brand and increase use (and enjoyment) of your products/services? This is where the heart of the strategy comes together, because it is about identifying what’s in it for your audience.
  • Co-create solutions & prototypes with customers—How can you begin to create with the end-user, not simply for the end-user? How can you employ feedback loops, design sprints, and customer co-creation to iteratively design creative solutions to enhance your audience’s experience with the brand and its products/services?

An opportunity for reinvention. Of course, following such a process isn’t easy; in creative organizations used to working in silos, it means tearing down the walls to enable a small, nimble cross-functional team of audience champions—e.g. an experienced UX designer, digital creative and a holistic strategist—to articulate the strategy. Once this core team develops an empathic strategy and a prototyped solution, a larger team of specialist partners—content creators, analytics, search specialists, conversation managers, media planners, and developers—can converge to bring it to life. By starting from the end point—a prototyped solution—these specialists can work much more cohesively towards a much more refined end goal. And this approach has yet another benefit—when it comes to working with clients, a cross-functional core team expands the roles within a client organization with whom agencies can partner. Agencies will have as much of a seat at the table with brand managers as with their IT team, all working together in service of the customer experience.

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