If you're not thinking digital strategy, who at your company is?

Sep 21, 2014Marketing Strategy


“Digital Strategy” has always been somewhat of a nebulous term for me. What does that mean, exactly? On one hand, it’s simply merging the definition of “digital” with the definition of “strategy”, but I don’t think that really explains what it is.

If you’re like me, we turn to Google for answers.

digital strategy web definitionBut alas, it appears Google isn’t quite sure either, as it has to borrow from Wikipedia’s definition of digital strategy in this case. So let’s see if I can do some word math here to come up with a definition.


Digital =  anything accessible via a data connection or electronic device


Strategy = planning done with the intention to execute that plan toward an end goal or desired result


is Digital Strategy simply the planning that’s done for any effort delivered via a data connection or digital device?

What’s missing from my “word math” definition are a few key points, however. Definitions like this tell you the “what”, but not the “who”, “how” or “why”. In order to formulate a strategy, we need to have at least one digital strategist (or even better, strategists). We need to have people that think about the “master plan” and what tactics could be used to reach our goals. Digital strategy is much more than just digital + strategy, and I think many companies are coming to realize that.

Bridging the strategic gap with a digital strategist role.

I see a trend, especially in larger corporations, toward roles dedicated to company strategy. Perhaps it was assumed that managers and executives in a company would provide all the strategy that was needed. I think companies began to realize that c-level executives could provide 50,000-foot level strategy, but couldn’t go deeper than that in most cases, especially when it comes to digital marketing. On the flip side, managers could provide insight on the tactics, but didn’t have the same purview that executives did.

There was a strategy gap – and a pretty large one at that.

Specific roles were introduced to bridge that gap between tactical managers and employees that were the “boots on the ground” and executives with their heads in the strategic clouds. Those roles often started out as consultants, but many companies took the next step and made them permanent fixtures in the company structure. I think this was a good move and one that will ultimately pay off with overall smarter goals, better execution and happier customers and employees.

But what about small to medium-sized businesses? Who provides strategy to them? Well, consultants, agencies and vendors of course. Or do they?

Strategy is implied in projects, but it shouldn’t be.

Strategy is often implied in digital engagements, but does it really exist? If you’re working with an outside agency, vendor or consultant you’re often relying on them to provide the digital strategy and best-practices guidance. You may articulate the requirements, but it’s an agency’s job to translate that into digital best practices. I’ve seen many clients assume this is being done, but if an agency doesn’t have deliverables that articulate the strategy, then you can assume they’re not really doing it. If your project skips right past the strategy (the “why”, “how”, “who”) to wire framing, design or content, you’re doing yourself and your users a great dis-service by ignoring this key step.

If a digital strategy hasn’t been articulated (and agreed upon) then you don’t have one.

It’s worth taking the time to think through and document what your strategy is. I usually like to start by asking questions. Questions usually lead to more questions, which eventually lead to answers. But how can you know the answers to all of the questions if you haven’t even asked them?

I then compile all of those answers into a strategic brief, or similar document. Such a document can help re-focus the team and project back on the core objectives or the underlying digital strategy that was agreed upon at the start. I’ve relied on this process and these documents a number of times when justifying including or excluding features, functionality and effort within a project.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have someone thinking about your digital strategies, then there likely isn’t anyone doing it. Your digital priorities shouldn’t be an after-thought in today’s digital marketing world.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please leave a comment below or feel free to contact me with your thoughts.

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