Blog : strategy

6 tips for achieving faster results from digital

6 tips for achieving faster results from digital

Stuck in a digital rut? Doing a lot but seeing no results? Not sure where to start with digital? Here are six tips on how to make progress quickly.

 Time is of the essence when it comes to meeting the digital challenge. Finding the balance between acting quickly and planning effectively is key.

Doing nothing is not an option but nor is it advisable to rush into action without a strategic approach. But that approach needs to be based on a whole-of-business strategy for the digital world, not on a stand-alone digital strategy. The difference is important.

Digital can be defined as a ‘culture of connectedness’. To succeed, businesses need to plug themselves into this new culture and learn how to operate within it. The shift is so significant you need more than just an add-on to the way your business currently operates.

Responding to the digital revolution requires some revolutionary thinking:

1. Get used to working without the full picture

Things move fast in the digital world. While you need to work strategically, taking too long to develop a strategy risks it being out of date before you even start executing.

To paraphrase Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, you need to learn to work with 70 percent of the information. Being wrong may be less costly than you think, he says, but being slow will definitely be expensive.

The key question is: “What is the minimum we need to know to move forward?” Not all businesses are comfortable taking this approach but the ones who make progress will ultimately be those who learn to live with a little uncertainty.

2. Failure is an option

Working with less information means you’ll sometimes get things wrong. In fact, if you’re not failing occasionally, you’re probably not pushing boundaries enough. But that’s not the same as being reckless and you can mitigate the risks in various ways.

Use low-cost, controlled experiments to learn without exposing your business to financial risk. And you can mitigate any reputational risk from getting it wrong by being open and transparent about your process. People have a far greater willingness to accept imperfection if they are aware that they’re participating in a process that will lead to improvement.

3. Listen to your customers

It barely needs saying, but remind yourself regularly anyway – digital is a customer-centric medium. Everything you do as a business needs to be done with a view to the customer’s needs and expectations.

The biggest shift for businesses when it comes to communication is the change from a broadcast model to a conversation model. It is no longer acceptable to simply push messages out.

Your customers will tell you what they want from you in the digital world but you have to be listening. Ideally, you’ll get to understand what they need at each stage of their journey with your business. Customer expectations are constantly changing so an ongoing dialogue is essential to stay on top of this.

4. Test, learn – then test again

Combine the minimum knowledge you need to move forward with a customer-centric approach: act quickly to test early iterations of strategic thinking with actual customers, collect real data and feedback, and refine your approach. This iterative process should be continuous – it’s a virtuous circle, not a linear path.

5. Get everyone paddling in the same direction

Research proves that successful digital initiatives depend on leadership from Board and senior management but they can also be a leap for middle management. A lot of initiatives die when middle management doesn’t get on board.

If your internal culture is not geared to delivering good digital, the outputs are not going to be great. It may be that your first priority is to focus on getting your internal processes right – encouraging collaboration by establishing internal centres of digital excellence and cross-functional teams that work together on solving problems.

6. Above all – do something

A recent US survey indicated 83% of executives realise the need for digital transformation in their businesses but only 23% are actively doing something about it. The rules of evolution apply – adapt or die.

Digital Strategy Success

Digital Strategy Success

You’ll find online a lot of articles about why digital strategies fail. If there is a major criticism to be levelled at the discipline of digital strategy, it’s that it often seems not to work.

The reasons for this are many and varied. The concept of ‘digital strategy’ is a broad one, and failure rates vary across the many sectors which camp under the ‘digital’ umbrella. For example, if you believe reports, up to 70% of IT strategies fail.

So, it’s valid to ask the question, ‘Why?’. If 70% of IT strategies fail, that’s a massive business cost, as these are not strategies that are typically failing fast, or failing cheap.

But rather than examine, yet again, the causes of failure, I’d like to talk about the symptoms of success. What do you need to do to ensure your digital strategy will be one of the success stories?

Sadly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Every good strategy should be unique to the problems, challenges and culture of the business it’s designed to help.

There are, however, key principles you can follow that will make your chances of success that much greater. In our next two posts, we will highlight a number of these, helping to ensure your next digital strategy doesn’t become another failed statistic.

1. Drive it from the top

The #1 reason most digital strategies fail is a lack of advocacy from senior leaders within a business. The cause of this failure can be anything from not understanding the value of digital, to not understanding digital full stop, to a fear of doing things differently. Digital evangelists, both internal and external, can push all they like; but if the leaders don’t lead, in all likelihood, the strategy is going nowhere. This goes back to making it part of the business strategy – if the exec team has it in their plan, it’s far more likely to be given priority.

2. Make the ‘digital strategy’ part of the business strategy

I’ve written about this previously, but your digital strategy should not only be tied to the goals of the business, it should be fundamentally integrated into the business strategy. In fact, your business strategy should be digital-first.

We live in a digital world, and if the business strategy doesn’t reflect this reality, then the impact of a standalone digital strategy will be limited at best, particularly in larger businesses. An analysis of companies with highly effective digital strategies showed that 90 percent of top performers have fully integrated digital initiatives into their strategic-planning process.

3. No more silos

The flipside of the previous point – digital doesn’t exist in a vacuum in the real world, so why would it exist in a vacuum within a business? A silo-ed approach to digital leads to multiple BUs with multiple competing digital strategies, usually not aligned with the broader organisational strategy. This plays havoc with resource, capability, efficiency, consistency and the customer experience.

How can IT invest strategically in the right capability if each BU is competing for resource with the other? How can marketing effectively measure its digital activity if it doesn’t understand how it’s affecting business goals? How can the contact centre avoid channel clash if it doesn’t talk to marketing?

Delivering good digital requires  – buzzword alert! – ‘cross-functional collaboration’. Going back to our first point (see how these are all connected?), leadership is crucial to bringing groups together and breaking down long-established walls or conventions. Establish a Digital Steering Group to provide strategic guidance or a Centre of Excellence to provide leadership and best practice governance on digital initiatives. Establish visibility on digital across the business and make the right conversations happen.

4. Know thy customer

You hear a lot of talk about customer experience and with good reason – 86% of customers will pay more for a good experience. The bad news is your customer doesn’t just compare the experience you offer with your competitors, they compare it to every other business they transact with. Performing poorly in that comparison can hurt your brand, your revenue and your customer loyalty.

‘Human-centred design’, ‘customer first’, ‘customer centric’ – however you want to call it, the customer should be the focal point of your strategy. Investing in research to understand exactly what customers need, at key points in time, is one of the best investments a business can make. It’s not about your business becoming a mind-reader – it’s about understanding ‘moments of intent’, and knowing where points along the journey you should concentrate your efforts to add real value.

We’re only scratching the surface here, but there’s more to come. Stay tuned for Pt.2 soon…

 

Notes On Innovation

Notes On Innovation

Innovation is one of those buzzwords that gets bandied around a lot – too much if you ask me – and is far more easily said than done.

This week, I was fortunate to spend half an hour talking innovation with Tim Kastelle, Associate Professor of Innovation and Evolutionary Economics at the University of Queensland.

Since graduating from Princeton, Tim has become recognised as one of Australasia’s foremost thinkers in innovation. If you’re interested in the area, I’d highly recommend taking a look at his blog at http://timkastelle.org.

Here are a few key outtakes from our conversation:

  • Innovation can be defined as “executing new ideas to create value”. The key words here are ‘executing’ and ‘create value’. Innovation is not just the creation of ideas, they must be put into practice. Equally, these ideas need to provide a tangible benefit.
  • “Whoever tries the most stuff, wins” – innovation is an experimental approach to doing business. Failure is essential. If you’re not failing, you’re being too conservative.
  • Having said that, fail fast, but fail cheap.
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a key part of the innovation process. Think of MVP as a means of learning.
  • When implementing innovation, C-level execs often recognise how innovation may lead to growth, and customers can see the problems innovation would resolve. The challenge is often convincing middle management of the value.
  • Innovation within a business is very much a cultural thing. You need 10% of employees to buy into a change to make it happen.
  • Startups: at about 20 employees, innovation breaks as the company becomes systematized. A culture of innovation is required to maintain momentum.

Plenty to think about and plenty more to read on Tim’s blog.

What are your biggest challenges around innovation?

Why you need a business strategy for digital, not a digital strategy for your business

Why you need a business strategy for digital, not a digital strategy for your business

This article was first published on CIO.co.nz

Digital, in all its forms, has changed the face of business. From customer experience to sales to operations, rare is the industry that has remained fully analogue and unaffected.

Businesses have tended to address this change by creating a standalone digital strategy (or strategies), often confined to the marketing or IT departments.

While digital was still in its teenage years, this approach was understandable, if not ideal. Everyone was working out just how this new technology impacted their customers, their processes and their bottom line.

Today, this approach is no longer good enough. Digital has matured to become an innate part of our daily lives.  Just as customers are channel-agnostic, making no distinction between digital channels and ‘everything else’, so digital must be recognised as an intrinsic part of the business strategy, not silo-ed or confined to one department.

In other words, your business no longer needs a digital strategy. It needs a business strategy for a digital world.

The distinction is critical. Under the old model, your business could stay ‘as is’, with a bit of digital on the side. The new model forces your business to evolve, and reset its focus. Digital is not a tool. Digital is not a channel. Digital is a culture of connectedness, with the customer at its heart. Your business must learn how to operate within, and take advantage of, this culture.

To paraphrase Jay Baer: “the goal is not to be good at digital; the goal is to be good at business, because of digital.”

Creating your strategy

A business strategy for digital will have to consider a number of new evolutions, such as the shift to user-first or design thinking, the role of innovation, devops and systems management, business speed and agility, and more.

Digital presents a number of opportunities – to become more efficient, productive, responsive, innovative, collaborative and agile. But which do you embrace?

Digital also presents a number of challenges. It requires certain capabilities, management structures and culture, which in turn means decisions around investment, risk appetite, scale and so on.

As with all good strategic planning, it comes down to hard choices around where-to-play and how-to-win (to borrow a phrase from A.G.Lafley and Roger Martin’s Playing to Win). How your business can deliver (or not), in the context of a digital world, should ultimately inform the strategic choices you make, and in turn, how you create a competitive advantage.

For example, I have a client operating in a highly competitive marketplace. They recognise that competitive advantage will most likely be gained by using the benefits of their size to develop a unique experience only they can offer. Their target audience skews young, so digital must be at the heart of how that experience is created and delivered. Internally, delivering the experience will require coordination between a number of business units, not just marketing and IT. It will also require a change in culture to a customer-first approach.

They have made difficult choices that recognise the role of digital as a fundamental driving force within their business and their market, and will prioritise investment in the capability and skills needed to deliver. But their digital activity is very much in the service of key business goals, such as revenue, brand position and uptake. It is not in the service of Facebook likes, banner ad impressions or web traffic.

Every choice regarding digital will have an impact on your business, and it’s a fine balance – moving too fast can be overly disruptive; moving too slow risks being left behind.

However, this integrated approach is actually easier to manage. Another example: companies embarking upon digital transformation often mistakenly equate ‘transformation’ as an investment in technology. The transformation strategy is silo-ed in the IT department, neglecting important factors such as culture or process. The transformation then faces barriers around internal buy-in, transparency and accountability, inevitably leading to delays, cost overruns or an ineffective programme. This is digital in the service of IT, not the business.

When digital transformation sits as part of the business strategy, new IT infrastructure simply becomes investment in a capability to deliver on that strategy, as opposed to being the strategy. This ensures visibility and integration from the top down, and the ability to tie investment back to key business goals.

The importance of leadership

Leadership is the other vital ingredient in this mix. The number one reason digital initiatives fail? Poor governance and a lack of advocacy from the top.

My view is that many C-level executives have, in recent years, been afraid to admit what they don’t understand about digital. Silo-ing the digital strategy into one department is a convenient way of avoiding it. But once embedded as part of the business strategy, there’s no escape.

It is important to note here that, when dealing with digital, leaders shouldn’t be afraid to admit what they don’t know. Digital is a complex beast, with multiple specialisms. Your intern will always know more about Snapchat than you do. What leaders must have is an understanding of digital’s potential impact, an eye for the opportunity and the ability to make informed investment decisions. They don’t need to know the nitty gritty of every channel or technology.

Digital is not a mystery. It’s simply a new way of thinking about how your business connects with its customers, staff and the wider market. Embracing digital as a core thread within your business strategy is recognition that the world has changed, and for your business to grow, it needs to change with it.

In summary:

  1. When, where, why, and how you participate in digital should be firmly anchored in the business’ strategic priorities.
  2. Digital should work in service of the business, not in service of itself.
  3. Know your audience – a digital business is customer-led, not product or sales-led
  4. Capability is key to digital delivery – many companies fail to invest adequately in resource and infrastructure
  5. Digital change within a business must come from the top. Without leadership, it will not happen.
  6. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.
Website strategy: the forgotten factor

Website strategy: the forgotten factor

You know the drill. A website brief arrives and a familiar process swings in to action: identify business goals, identify audience goals, identify challenges and off we go.

It’s a valid approach. But does it ever feel like something is missing?

The initial discovery phase of a project is fundamental to its coherency. And that phase isn’t complete without considering not only the challenges, but also the opportunities that exist.

The most basic idea of strategy is strength applied against weakness. Substitute ‘opportunity’ for ‘strength’ and ‘challenge’ for ‘weakness’ – you get the idea. Yet in my experience, mapping opportunities is rarely applied to website strategy.

This may be because channel strategy tends to narrows our focus, even when the larger ecosystem is considered. We look at needs, we look at content, we look at details; but we overlook the wider opportunities that exist to realise those more effectively.

Opportunities can be internal – increased investment in content, a new hire with relevant skills or a sudden freeing up of resource; or they can be external – a weakness in a competitor’s approach or serendipitous timing related to the market or audience. Take advantage of these to heighten the project’s ambition, define a particular focus, iterate more quickly or plan for the future.

Opportunities broaden the context. This is important – while user needs are vital, a website is ultimately an interface for achieving business goals. So when preparing a website strategy, it makes sense to evaluate the advantages we have as a business, not just the obstacles we face.

Matching opportunities to challenges could provide the insight that takes your web strategy to the next level; and you may be surprised to find how many answers were hiding in plain sight.

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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