Blog : content strategy

Introducing ‘Rapid Strategy’

Introducing ‘Rapid Strategy’

Strategic planning has a problem.

Digital has changed the way we do business, and the traditional approach of lengthy deliberation and maximum information is broken. Your strategy risks being obsolete before it’s finished.

Yet, the companies who succeed in this new digital environment continue to put strategy and insight at the heart of their business.

How, in the words of Tim Leberecht, do we run fast and go deep at the same time?

Over the last 12 months, we’ve been exploring methods for ‘speeding up’ the strategic planning and delivery process for digital.

Rapid Strategy is the result.

This process takes principles from agile, design thinking and innovation methodologies, and combines them with best practice strategic planning, where hard choices are made to achieve business goals.

Our approach understands what the architects of the Agile Manifesto talked about; to quote Jim Highsmith, “we plan, but recognise the limits of planning in a turbulent environment.”

The outcome is a faster, more responsive approach to developing and implementing digital programmes, without sacrificing insight or quality.

Here’s how Rapid Strategy works:

Rapid Strategy model

Rapid Strategy is effective for three primary reasons:

1. The minimum to get you moving

Strategic planning often begins with a lengthy discovery process. Here,  key facts and information are uncovered via in-depth audits or exhaustive periods of research.

Given the rapid evolution of customer behaviours and digital technologies, the first issue we wanted to address was: how do you get the industry, business and customer information you need, without taking months to get it?

The answer is: you don’t. You don’t try to get the full picture. Instead, decide “what is the minimum you need to know to move forward?”

This gets to the heart of good strategy – the ability to make hard choices and prioritise one area of focus over another.

If your organisation is stuck in a digital rut, or suffering paralysis by analysis, then by learning to work with incomplete information, you will be compelled to get out of the blocks and begin making progress.


“An organisation’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage”

— Jack Welch


2. Useful information, quickly

Imagine you’re a commander on a battlefield. You’ve prepared a strategy, and a set of tactics, that you believe have the best chance of defeating the enemy. You have one shot to get it right – success or failure, glory or defeat.

Now, imagine if you could test multiple different strategic ideas against the enemy, before committing your troops to the battlefield. Imagine if you could mount a series of guerilla raids that glean a mountain of useful insight, without great cost or sacrifice, and without revealing your position. What advantages might that provide when the time comes to say ‘Charge!’?

With Rapid Strategy, you can.

At the heart of our approach, is the use of quick, cheap and discreet experiments to test business assumptions.

Used this way, assumptions become powerful tools for business learning. When we ask the question, ‘what is the minimum we need to know to move forward?’, an assumption is often the starting point. Using this as our minimum, we can test and challenge it, to ensure we move forward with reliable information.


“Invest in experiments to quickly, cheaply and easily gain insight into solving problems and exploiting opportunities.”

– Michael Schrage, The Innovator’s Hypothesis

From these results, serious strategic decisions, and tactical refinements, can be made more quickly, and oftentimes with greater certainty, than using traditional methods.

3. Agile execution, bespoke teams

A strategy is not a strategy without a plan of action. Execution has always been critical to success, but as the line between strategy and tactics becomes increasingly blurred, this becomes even more true.

It is always more helpful to see a strategy in action, than to see it as a theory on the page. If agile talks about ‘working software’, we talk about ‘working strategy’.

Rapid Strategy advocates for this approach; short, rapid phases of execution, building on the stages before it, and accumulating to deliver a larger piece of work.

We deliver this via a partnership model, assembling and managing bespoke teams of trusted experts around your project. This ensures the appropriate fit and capability, in turn delivering optimal value.

We strongly believe that Rapid Strategy will deliver greater digital clarity, value and performance to your business. If these sound like results you would be interested in, please do contact us.

The Problem With Digital Content

The Problem With Digital Content

This article was first published on Stoppress.co.nz in April 2016.

“Content is king” has widely been proclaimed by marketing folks for decades

Today, it’s a message that continues to be embraced wholeheartedly by marketers.

Five exabytes of content were created between the birth of the world and 2003. In 2014, five exabytes of content were created each day.

Yet, despite this outpouring, content is not working.

In 2015, Moz and Buzzsumo analysed a million posts to understand the correlation between different types of content, and discovered that 85 percent of online content is redundant.

Think of the time, effort and money that went into that 85 percent. Think of what could have been, had it been invested elsewhere. Think of the 59 percent of marketers who will increase spend on redundant content in 2016.

Something is broken. There’s just too much content.

(Before we go further, let me state I’m fully aware of the hypocrisy of writing a piece about content that is, by definition, a piece of content. But digital is nothing if not meta, so it can’t be helped.)

Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

It looks like Huxley will be right.

The deluge of content is so great, there’s a modern condition named for it – ‘Content Shock‘.

Brands are advised to post to Twitter anywhere from 10-30 times per day. The Huffington Postpublishes 1,200 pieces of content a day. Coca-Cola spends more on content than on television advertising. 130,000 articles are published every week on LinkedIn. It’s expensive to create, it’s hard to filter, it’s impossible to consume.

To cut through the noise, a reductionist approach has been adopted. The current advice for reaching a large audience on LinkedIn is to write about one of five categories. Since when did the entire population of global professionals decide they were only interested in five things? That’s 130,000 posts a week, largely on the same five topics.

It’s Groundhog Day with hashtags, content for content’s sake.

So far, so much complaining. Am I calling for the end of content creation? No, but I am calling for a focus not on content, but on quality and purpose.

It’s not possible to create content at his volume and scale and retain a degree of quality. Mark Duffy (aka Copyranter) recently wrote on the linguistic gymnastics employed to define and justify the content assault. Xero’s CMO has described content marketing as ‘garbage’, and it aptly describes much of what has been produced in its name.

Ad blocking is an industry headache, but the real issue is quality. Use of ad blockers is simply an indicator of consumer dissatisfaction with digital content. Who can blame them, when a recent survey stated that 70 percent of brands produce poor quality content when judged against challenging criteria like, you know, being easy to read.

The decline in quality is symptomatic of a decline in purpose, of misunderstanding what content is actually for, combined with a self-imposed pressure to churn out content multiple times a day.

This has been driven, in part, by this absurd notion that every brand in digital is now a ‘storyteller’. Yet the majority of consumers, even those who liked your page or feed, have little interest in your brand story. Give them something genuinely useful, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll stick around for a moment. But your story? Who cares!

Consumers don’t have time to pay attention. They want content that addresses their intent, solves a problem or meets a need, in that moment, on that device. It all comes back to a clear strategy and the customer experience – content with purpose, acting in the context of a larger journey, moving customers from A to B.

There’s an obvious business rationale here too. Great content requires an investment, if not in its creation, then at least in its promotion. But if your content achieves no measurable result, if it’s part of the 85%, then it’s a waste of money. Is your content solving problems? Are you measuring its performance beyond tactical outputs, beyond clicks and likes and shares? Is it actually changing anything?

That’s the key. Less is more and purpose is king. Be original. Don’t write another listicle. Quality trumps quantity every time. Ignore everything you’ve ever read about how often you ‘should’ post. If you must create content, do so because, as brand or human, you have something truly, genuinely, purposeful to say.

The king is dead. Long live the king.

Social media strategy in six steps

Social media strategy in six steps

A common mistake made by businesses is leaping into social media without a clear plan. Creating a strategy doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s simply about asking the right questions at the right times.

Our six step process – Define, Listen, Plan, Create, Engage, Measure – breaks down those questions into specific stages. This makes planning far more manageable. It also ensures you have the necessary answers before moving on to the next stage.

When we create a social media strategy, it’s typically based on this process. However, the plan and final result is far more comprehensive. We hope it’s a useful addition to your social media resources. If you have any questions, please leave a comment!

Six steps to a social media strategy
Six steps to a social media strategy
Digital Strategy

Digital Strategy

Digital strategy.

It’s a word we hear a lot these days. But what does it actually mean? What does a digital strategy include? Is it just Facebook? Is it a website?

This page is designed to give you an overview of our approach to digital strategy, and to answer these fundamental questions. Here you’ll find plenty of useful information, tips, advice and possibly the odd contentious opinion.

Digital Strategy

A digital strategy is an holistic view of how a business uses digital to achieve its goals. This can include both external factors (i.e. social media) and internal factors (i.e. governance). It can include websites, apps, mobile, social media, CRM, email, data, analytics and more.

It’s common these days for ‘digital strategy’ to be shorthand for a digital marketing strategy.  However, a digital marketing strategy is just that – a plan for using digital channels to market products or services to an audience. It is a subset of digital strategy.

Equally, digital transformation is another subset of digital strategy, with the goal of taking an organisation from using an ‘analogue’ or traditional approach, to one where digital is at the heart of its culture, processes and ways of working.

In our view, there are two fundamental requirements for an effective digital strategy:

  1. Clear and measurable business goals that digital can help achieve
  2. An understanding of the needs and behaviours of your audience

Without clear goals, you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve or how to measure if you’ve been successful.

Without an understanding of your audience, you won’t know what kind of digital experience to create, what content to deliver or what buttons to push to generate a response.

A good digital strategy finds the ‘sweet spot’ between what the business wants to achieve and what the audience needs or expects from the business, and then creates a plan of action to deliver it.

A word on strategy and goals…

I need to make one really important point. A goal is not a strategy. Saying “we will grow by 50%” is not a strategy. “To embrace innovation” is not a strategy. A strategy tells you how you will achieve a goal. It lays out a definite plan of action, the success of which can be clearly measured.

Digital and audiences

One other really important point…whether you have a B2B or B2C focus, digital is inherently an audience-centric medium. This means  that your digital strategy, and your digital experience, must be considered from your audience’s point of view. Rather than asking, “what do I want to do?”, you need to ask, “what do they want or need that I can help with?”. It’s about using digital to add value. That’s not to say you can’t sell your products or services. It just needs to be done in such a way that’s primarily focused on meeting an audience need, as opposed to a business need.

This is often one of the most difficult changes for a business to understand. Many organisations are still trapped in a product-led sales cycle, and their digital activity consists of campaigns that shout about their products or services. Unsurprisingly, many of these businesses struggle with digital.

The companies who are leaders at digital are those who are constantly trying to meet your needs and make the experience more seamless. Think of Amazon – personalised recommendations, user reviews to help you form an opinion, 1-click checkout to make buying easy. Sure, all of these things are designed so that you buy more from them. But as a customer, what you want is to find good products quickly and to buy them easily. Amazon allows you to do those things.

This applies to internal audiences too. If you want your staff to be more productive, there are numerous digital tools available to help with this. However, it’s vital those tools are chosen or developed with the user, and their job, in mind. Too often, within companies, this approach is led by IT, who tend to be focused on cost, capability and functionality more than the user experience. This can harm productivity and morale, and actually be detrimental to the business.

If there’s one point to take away from this whole sermon, it’s this: always take an audience-first approach to digital.

Back to digital strategy…

At Element, we often begin the digital strategy process with a workshop. We do this for two reasons:

  1. using visual thinking to talk through business issues is a great way to generate ideas and insights
  2. it gets the key stakeholders around a table, resulting in decisions being made faster

Whether you’re looking to create a small, targeted content strategy or a broad digital transformation strategy, workshopping is the most effective means of unpacking all the key elements.

We’ve used this approach with a lot of fantastic companies, including these:

Blog - client list

One of the most important things to unpack are the challenges facing your business. Strategy is essentially an exercise in problem solving – therefore, being honest about the challenges you face is critical to determining which are the most important problems for a strategy to solve.

This is universal, no matter which element of digital you’re dealing with. However, when it comes time to actually creating the plan for solving those challenges, we use different frameworks for different strategies. For example, our approach to social media strategy looks a lot like this:

6 steps to social infographic

Equally, we adopt different frameworks for web strategy, service design and so on.

The other point of difference about the way we do digital strategy at Element, is that we take, where possible, an agile approach. This means defining a short-term measurable vision, and breaking up into chunks the work required to achieve it. By short-term we usually mean 12-18mths; digital changes so quickly, anything beyond that is likely to fall rapidly out of date.

This approach helps our clients be flexible in the way they allocate resources and investment. They don’t have to commit huge budgets to lengthy long-term programmes. Instead, they can iterate and refine as they go, adjusting to changing circumstances as necessary.

What do I need to create a successful digital strategy?

Before embarking on a digital strategy, there are a handful of things you should have clear:

The first is to understand that digital doesn’t work in a silo. It is not a standalone activity separate from everything else. The best digital marketing strategies are integrated with broader marketing and brand strategies; the best transformation strategies integrated with the wider business strategy etc etc. Digital should always be working to achieve a larger goal.

Secondly, you need to be clear on who you are and what you stand for. What’s your value proposition? What makes you special? You must also be prepared to honestly confront the challenges you face as a business, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

Thirdly, be prepared to invest in both time and resource. Digital often places extensive demands on both. However, this is scalable and, when using an agile approach, iterative and very manageable.

Lastly, and most importantly, you need leadership. Poor leadership and governance is the #1 reason digital strategies fail. If there isn’t buy-in from the top, the results will not come.

In closing…

A digital strategy is a living document. It is, essentially, a hypothesis to be tested. The old military saying goes that “no strategy survives contact with the enemy”. Strategies are not immutable, they should not be set in stone. They should have the ability to change with the circumstances.

It’s not easy to create a strategy that can flex and adapt and still retain a clear focus. At Element, we’re proud to be specialists in delivering this service.

Good digital strategy identifies a clear problem to solve, a clear plan of action for solving it and a clear framework for measuring if you’ve been successful.

It’s both that simple, and that difficult.

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