A digital strategy is an often talked about and rarely well executed item on many people’s lists.
Don’t worry, writing your digital strategy doesn’t need to be an epic task, we don’t need to use an entire tree to print it on. These kinds of things are meant to be accessible and referenced, writing war and peace will not encourage your team to engage with your strategic thoughts.
I do lots of work with people who need a digital strategy and so my approach in this area is constantly evolving, so I’m going to commit to keeping this article up to date as I learn my and my approach as a consultant changes.
Depending on your specific line of work in the digital space a “digital strategy” may mean different things to different people, for example to the digital marketer, a digital marketing strategy will focus largely on marketing channels, whereas a digital product manager is likely to be more concerned with product development and meeting customer requirements as both customers and the business evolve.
Ideally a “digital strategy” will cover both product and marketing aspects of the business/organisation as both areas are intrinsically linked.
Whether you’ve been tasked with the often unwanted task of “writing the digital strategy” or whether you’re keen to pull together the strategy before bringing the rest of the team on board lets start with the basics.
What’s a strategy? Sorry if this is teaching you to suck eggs but often people ask for a strategy when what they want is a plan to deliver on the organisation’s existing strategy. The best explanation I ever heard what a strategy is was from when I used to work at Marks & Spencer Money (sorry the person’s name escapes me but they were some senior strategy bod), it has stuck with me as one of the clearest articulations of how to differentiate a strategy from the often confused with tactical plan:
When asked, ‘give me an example of a strategy that you might use to get from London to Edinburgh’, people will often respond with ‘oh, I wouldn’t drive, it takes too long’ or ‘you could get the train’ or ‘ride your bike, it’ll take you a while but there are some nice fields en route for you to look at’. I say to these people no. An example of a strategy that you might use to get from London to Edinburgh would be ‘to take the cheapest route’ or ‘to take the fastest route’.
– Famous words from a strategy person at M&S
Ok with the definition cleared up, what’s the best way to get started writing your digital strategy?
Firstly, make sure you consider any existing strategies that might have an impact on your plans – the business strategy, the marketing strategy and so on. Make sure you understand any references to digital. There’s a strong argument that there soon won’t be a need for a seperate digital strategy since digital will become (if it isn’t already) the focal point for most areas of your business or organisation. In fact, I strongly believe that in the not too distant future digital teams won’t necessarily be viewed as “digital specialists” – they will just be part of your team. Of course, there’ll always be the need for those people with deep vertical expertise in specific digital niches, the chances are they probably won’t be that unique anymore.
Consider why you need a digital strategy
With the above in mind there are still lots of reason why it might be valuable for you to create a digital strategy. Here are some of the reasons we often come across:
- Stakeholder focus – a digital strategy can increase the focus of all stakeholders on what needs to be delivered from digital channels in order to deliver on wider organisational goals.
- Budget commitment – without a clear digital strategy, it might be difficult to secure the required budget to deliver on objectives. This is especially the case if your board has sign-off of budgets or if you’re funded by a central department or section of your organisation.
- Team clarity – within the digital team and people who are immediately involved in what you’re delivering (across communications, marketing and finance) a clear, well-articulated strategy will give people clarity of purpose and keep the team on track.
- Accountability – having a clear strategic roadmap ensures that the people responsible for its delivery are accountable for how they spend their time and focus, this isn’t to say that a strategy is there to lock people into a specific outcome or way of working, rather it provides the framework through which work should be conducted. If something isn’t directly contributing to your strategic goals then the question should always be asked “why are we doing it”, perhaps the strategy needs to be adjusted or more likely, perhaps the item you’re focused on is “lower priority” or even the wrong item altogether.
- Stay competitive – it’s clear to see that people are shifting more and more of their time online. Businesses who don’t adopt digital in some form are finding that they get left behind. Either because their customers expect them to be there or because new customers simply cannot find them.
- Improve customer service and retention rates – This ties into point 5 above in that more and more customers are expecting 24/7, always-on service. Digital is one of the tools that will help you improve levels of service and result in better customer retention rates.
The point I’m getting at is to make sure you have a clear understanding of why you’re spending time formulating a strategy, where it adds value and whether it’s a true articulation of where you intend to go.
Often an outside stakeholder in the firm provokes the need for strategy. The firm’s bankers, corporate HQ, or stock market analysts demand some explicit articulation of the firm’s intentions. A common response to these stakeholders can be to provide a strategic plan of some description, which may include a vision or mission statement, a “statement of strategic intent”, a list of “shared values” and strategic objectives, which may be “stretching” or, indeed, “big hairy audacious goals”. But this document is an artefact, no more. Can we expect that the intentions set out in the document will be translated into action, or “implemented”? Often, the very people that drew up the plan recognise themselves that the plan plays more of a political role; it may not be a “real” statement of their intentions.
– Taken from Bowman, C. (2003) ‘Formulating Strategy’, in D. O. Faulkner and A. Campbell (eds.) ‘The Oxford Handbook of Strategy – Volume 1: A Strategy Overview and Competitive Strategy ’, Oxford University Press.
Get a strategy for your strategy
Ok, so you’ve decided why you need a digital strategy, now it’s time to think about how you’re going to pull one together and what it’s going to look like.
From years of devising and working with digital teams one key realisation is that the last thing you want is for your digital strategy to look a bit like this:
Yes, that’s right, you’re writing a digital strategy, at least put it in a Word document or even better a Google Doc so people can read and share it. The real point here though is that you don’t want your digital strategy to become a dusty old book that nobody ever picks up, let alone takes the time to read. Keep it short and sweet and digital – ok, if you’ve got a luddite in the office that you need to get on board then printing a copy or two might not be such a bad thing either.
Template for Your Digital Strategy
So you’re diving in and getting started. Like anything in life it’s always a bit easier if you reference a framework or at least have an idea of what headings you want to include in your strategy. Three key areas all strategy documents should cover off are:
- Where are we now?
- Where are we going?
- How will we get there?
Where are we now
A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is always a good exercise to help you discover where you are now. Remember that strengths and weaknesses are things that your organisation has whilst opportunities and threats refer to the external marketplace.
You should also summarise your current business mission statement (if you have one) along with where you’re up to with key areas of the business including:
- Product – has the product gained traction (particularly if you’re launching a new product), if it hasn’t then your strategy may have to change lots whilst you find product/market fit.
- People – are your people happy, what skills do you believe you might be short of now.
- Customers – (what, you didn’t think we were just going to list out the 4 P’s of marketing did you) – customers is obviously a really important area.
- Financial – has your business being over/underperforming in terms of expectations, what does the contribution from digital vs other channels look like (it can be good to put digital’s contribution in % terms, e.g. 30% of our customers are acquired through digital channels with digital accounting for 60% of revenue).
Where are we going
This is where you need to look to the future. Asking yourself questions like:
- Do we have a sustainable competitive advantage? If so what is it? Will it remain over time or is there a threat to this competitive advantage (competition, change in customer needs, etc.)
- What do I our customers love about us now? Will they continue to be customers because of this reason in the future?
- Why have customers left us recently? Is this something that we could have prevented or were we simply not the right fit for where the organisation was going? (winning customers for the sake of it isn’t necessarily good for strategic focus if all you’re doing is running around with your pants on fire trying to make everybody happy)
- What is the future I want to create for my business/organisation and how does digital fit into it?
Looking into the future like this is often referred to as creating your vision. You might want to look to outside commentators to get some inspiration for creating your vision. One of the most extreme examples of a vision statement we’ve seen is that of Tesla Motors:
…to create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.
It’s clear when you read this that Tesla arguably care more about changing the fuel we use to power our cars than they do about creating a hugely profitable business. Although it’s probably also fair to argue that profits are going to be needed in great abundance to feed into the vision of changing the way entire societies buy and fuel their vehicles.
How will we get there
This will usually account for the bulk of your digital strategy and will likely take you some time to research and prepare. Don’t let the process consume you, remember that business must go on whilst you’re working on this. Some key points to think about are:
- Strategic objectives. Without objectives all your actions from here are pointless. It’s important to be clear about your objectives as they’ll provide a key basis for measuring the success of your strategy. Strategic objectives will usually be long-term in nature, so it’s not a case of saying you want to generate $x in profit from your latest marketing campaign or product development. These objectives will help you and your team to draw a clear relationship between your mission and your vision. There are four key areas to think about when formulating your objectives: financial, customer, operational, and people.
Using these objectives you should have a clear basis from which to work form to make sure you’re on track to achieve your mission.
- Strategy. By matching your organisations strengths with customer needs and market conditions you can identify a path to achieve your objectives.
- Short-term goals. This is where you can convert your longer-term strategic objectives to more bite-sized easier to digest goals with really clear, measurable outputs (remember SMART objectives). A solid set of goals will clearly state what you want to achieve, when you want to accomplish it by, how you’re going to do it, it’ll also talk about which person in the team will be responsible. It’s good to make sure there’s a specific individual “goal owner” even if a team of people are ultimately responsible for delivering on the goal. It will then be possible to start thinking about actions required to reach these goals.
- Scorecard. This is a common approach used by businesses across the world. By picking some key performance indicators you can plug them into your scorecard and regularly revisit actual performance against what was planned. This will give you and your team a clear understand of whether you’re ahead or behind and enable you to take early action to keep things on track.
- Execution. When executing your strategic plan make sure your team are as focused on the plan as you are. A lack of commitment and/or understanding of the plan will ultimately lead to failure so it’s important to constantly evaluate things as the plan is executed.
By constantly referencing your organisational and digital strategy you can keep your teams on track and ensure that you’re all delivering the maximum possible value in the right areas of your organisation.
Delivering your digital strategy
The size of your team will play a large part in how you deliver your strategy. The crucial area with any kind of strategic direction is to ensure that your employees and partners are “on board”. Early in this article I spoke about the fact that a huge document is probably not going to be the best way to articulate your strategy – senior people won’t have time to read it and those that do have time will likely read it once and then never reference it again.
Try to make your strategy a living, breathing point of reference.
It doesn’t need to be a document.
It could be articulated through a PowerPoint presentation, Word document or even a Trello board. I would strongly recommend keeping a written record, just remember to make it engaging.
The best way to socialise a strategy is to involve your people in compiling it, capture their thoughts and then go away and figure out how which bits of input are valuable and which bits you need to disregard for now.
Ready to write?
Digital Ninjas are experts at helping organisations evaluate and deploy digital strategy and would be happy to talk to you about your requirements. Our rigorous digital strategy workshops help you and your team to clarify organisational objectives and break these down into areas of key strategic focus.
Don’t worry we won’t leave you high and dry with a really high level, non-actionable strategy, we can also help you through defining the tactical actions that you, your team and your suppliers need to work towards.
Digital Strategy Template
If you’re looking for a digital marketing strategy template then we’ve got several documents that could help. Some key tools we use as part of our process:
- Digital Strategy Master Template – this document acts as a central source of all information relating to your organisation’s digital presence
- Digital Planning Framework – this document is a framework to help you translate your strategic goals into actionable steps that you and your team can complete on a month-to-month basis
- Digital Monitoring, Measuring and Reporting Documentation – these documents will help ease the burden of keeping track of and reporting on your digital activity across all channels. Whether you’re using Google Analytics or some other tool.
To get hold of these templates simply get in touch using the template emergency button above and we’ll get them mailed out to you today.