Blog : website 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.

Google Analytics: Getting Started

Google Analytics: Getting Started

This is a guest post from Lana Gibson, founder of analytics specialist, Lanalytics. Find out more at lanalytics.co.nz

Google Analytics (GA) is a powerful tool, and it’s becoming crucial to use it to understand your audience and improve your digital product. If you’re a product manager, or agency / website owner you need to bring GA into the heart of your team. In this post I’ll show you the value of GA, help you decide what’s best for you in terms of using it, and outline how to infuse it into your team.

Why use Google Analytics?

Because it can help you to understand your audience. And this insight will help you to meet your goals, increase your traffic, and show your clients and management how brilliant you and your team are. Here are some examples of how powerful GA can be:

Often a simple headline will be enough to show the value of your work. For example there were lots of people searching for ‘opening hours’ on the Te Papa site so the team put this information on every page. The graph below shows how searches including the term ‘hour’ dropped by 85%, because people didn’t need to search for it any more:

Putting opening hours on every page:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resulted in an 85% drop in searches containing ‘hour’:

What does it do?

Google Analytics shows how people use your website. It tracks hundreds of things like where they come from (e.g. Google, social, referral sites), what pages they visit, and what they search for on your site. If you need to set up GA Moz has a great guide on this, so go do that and then come back here so you can make the data useful.

 How can I use it?

People tend to approach GA with enthusiasm, thinking that pulling a few levers will make all the insights fall out. But understanding why things are happening and how to fix them is more like one of those frustrating claw arcade games where you never get the toy. The confusing terminology, number of reports, and the fact that a lot of useful stuff isn’t tracked automatically make it tricky. Below are some ideas about how you can use GA effectively.

Get specialist help

If you manage a big site you’ll want to consider a full-time GA specialist to get to grips with your data. If you can’t bring in a permanent employee consider getting time-boxed help from a consultant (such as Lanalytics!). Spend a bit of time working with them so that you can use their data – sit down with a question about your users and go through the data together. Ask them to explain anything you don’t understand, it’s their job to help you get results.

Learn it yourself: pair with specialist

If you want to learn GA yourself it’s ideal to have a specialist on-site. You’ll be able to get help with questions when they arise, such as ‘Are users actually clicking on that 6 pt link that’s 3 km down the bottom of the page?’. If you have someone at your work you can pester them relentlessly. Just be prepared to provide chocolate.

Training courses and online tutorials

If you don’t have the luxury of an on-site specialist, try a certified course or do online tutorials (if you’ve found useful ones please share them with us in the comments). Define the main things you’d like to find out about your site before you attend, and ask the trainer to help you track these because training is often very broad. Likewise find bite-sized online tutorials that meet your specific goals – you’ll get lost if you try to learn everything.

Assign site measurement to a team member

Consider training up a member of your team. They should be passionate about users, good with technology, and good communicators. Don’t rule out less-experienced team members – putting data to good use relies on knowledge of business, team and user needs, which are learnt on the job.

Infusing your team with data

Whatever route you decide to take, don’t let your data sit in a vacuum. Analytics works best when every team member can track what they’re interested in. For example designers will want to know whether their blue call-to-action button is being clicked, whereas content designers will want to know which of the pages they’ve written are popular.

Also define things that are important to your whole team, like are the right people finding your online form page? Work out your performance priorities as a team and build up to regular dashboard reporting (more on that in a later post) which reflects your goals and performance.

Google Analytics is a valuable source of insights to help you understand your users and improve your site. Whether you decide to learn Google Analytics yourself, assign it to a team member, or get a specialist in, make sure you build a performance culture within your team. GA will help you to help you increase traffic to your website, meet your goals, and prove the value of your work. Get started!

 

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…

 

Why Customer Experience Is Your 2016 Priority

Why Customer Experience Is Your 2016 Priority

Every year, long lists are made touting the next big things in marketing for the 12 months to come.

In 2016, only one item need be on that list: customer experience (CX).

Sure, we can talk about adaptive content or virtual reality or disruptively programmatic collaborative innovation, but the fact remains: CX will rule 2016.

A recent Gartner survey found that, this year, 89% of companies plan to compete on the basis of customer experience. It’s an encouraging but suspiciously high number. While many a marketer can stamp ‘seamless journeys’ and ‘compelling experiences’ off their Buzzword Bingo sheet, few can honestly back it up.

Case in point: 43% of customers in a 2015 Australian study said they were dissatisfied with the experience offered by the country’s 34 largest companies. Of those, only 17% would stay loyal to the brand as a result. Clearly, there is work to be done.

Customer expectations are higher than ever. At every interaction, at each individual ‘micro moment’, customers want the ability to personalise and optimise the experience, based on their needs. Fair enough too, for the experience is the one tangible demonstration of how far a brand will go to please that customer.

“But hang on!”, you cry. “This isn’t new! We’ve been focussed on the customer experience for years!”

So how’s it looking? Seamless, end-to-end, user-first, intuitive, responsive, measurable, data driven yet human, delivering to a clear strategy, proven ROI?

Marketers have been focussed on components of the customer experience – the in-store, the website, the social media. The false ‘traditional vs digital’ divide has been a culprit here. Different elements of the experience are developed in isolation, with marketers mostly having to choose which side of the divide they sit on.

This makes joining the dots very difficult, a trend reflected in the either/or customer experiences on offer. You can probably think of half a dozen companies who offer either a terrific digital customer experience that doesn’t translate to the real world, or memorable TV campaigns with a poor in-store experience, or great in-store service with a terrible digital offering.

Brands have also been guilty of trying to force the experience on the customer, rather than providing the means for the customer to define it themselves.

Avinash Kaushik, Google’s Chief Digital Evangelist, touched on this when he said that marketers should focus less on conversion, and more on user intent across the entire experience.

In other words, stop trying to force them down a funnel, and instead, understand what they need at each stage to make their own decisions, and provide them with the best tools to do that.

Customer experience doesn’t work in silos and it’s not about tactical hit and runs. It’s about fundamentals and root causes; allowing a customer to do what they want, when they want and how they want.

For all of us, that’s both good and bad news.

It’s bad news because great customer experience is hard.

Every touchpoint forms part of the experience. From an organisational perspective, building the necessary infrastructure means collaboration between marketing, comms, HR, IT, senior management and possibly more. Who owns what? Who delivers what? Governance is crucial.

Strategically, it requires making hard choices about effort and resources. Tactically, it requires responsive management and creativity. Technically, it requires speed and integration. Marketers with a solid understanding of all worlds will be in high demand.

The good news? The benefits of getting it right are huge. 55% of customers will pay more for a guaranteed good experience. And the customer experience is filled with creative potential, a chance for your brand to build something truly unique and personal.

2016 is the year your competitive advantage will begin to rely, more than ever, on the strength of the customer experience. Make sure it’s top of the list.

Digital Design, Meet Digital Strategy

Digital Design, Meet Digital Strategy

“If you devote significant time and attention to the very first order of business — your strategy — the foundation you build will be strong enough to withstand any weather as you move into design and coding.” – Joe Natoli, Think First

Now call me biased, but I think strategy is pretty important. So hearing this statement from a UX practitioner such as Joe Natoli, definitely struck a chord.

His most pertinent point, for me at least, is the idea that when projects encounter a problem, the tendency for designers is to jump to tactical solutions, rather than ask strategic questions.

It’s a natural response, right? If you’re a designer, you tend to focus on the issues most relevant to your world, rather than necessarily going back to strategic fundamentals, a process you may not have been involved with in the first place.

The result is an ongoing focus on what you’re doing, as opposed to why you’re doing it.

I’d say there are two primary reasons why this happens:

  1. Many strategies are too vague for designers to easily work with
  2. Designers are not practiced in working with a strategy beside them throughout the process

Let’s look at this in more detail:

1. ‘Fluffy’ strategy

The highway of strategy is littered with the wrecks of phonebook-sized decks of fluff that offered little or no direction as to what actually happens next. Sure, they were filled with fancy exclamations around ‘compelling experiences’ or ‘driving innovation’, but that wasn’t much use to the guy who had to sit down and solve the problemA vague strategy will typically fail to identify exactly what you need to do and the reasons you need to do it. And if you don’t understand the reason you’re doing something, you end up trying to solve the wrong problems (credit: Joe Natoli).

So, strategists – ensure you’ve turned insights into a clear proposition and real actions, complemented with measurable goals. Give your design team something they can actually use.

Designers – insist your strategist delivers the above. And force your way in at the beginning of the strategic process, rather than playing catchup later on.

2. Strategy who?
As a strategist, there has been the odd occasion where I was involved up-front in a digital project, delivered the plan and was then out of the loop until the experience went live. The result was usually a disconnect between the final experience and the vision of the strategic plan, with it not quite delivering in the way the strategy said it should.

Now, I’m not pointing fingers at the design team here (when in doubt, blame the project manager!), but it was clear that working with the strategy was not habitual. And back to our earlier point, if you only get fluffy strategy, why would it be? But if you have good strategy, there’s no excuse.

The reason working with the strategy is so important is that a strategy is not a static, one-off piece of work. It’s a living idea – an hypothesis for testing – that should inform every aspect of the design process. Every time you test an experience with users, you are effectively testing the strategy. So how do you know what you’re really testing, unless you’re working with it? And back to this post’s central thesis, that problem you’ve just encountered may not be tactical.

Goals are tied to audiences tied to needs tied to experience – this stuff can’t, and shouldn’t, be separated.

There is (whisper it) also a client element here (disclaimer: this does not apply to Element clients. You are all wonderful.)

Let’s face it, watching a digital experience grow is more exciting than watching the strategy develop. And with the increasing homogenisation of web design, there can be a tendency to assume a strategy is barely necessary. Surely a version of whatever everyone else is doing will do the trick?

But business problems are unique, as is every strategy, so there’s a real danger in mimicking the approach taken by others (that’s another blog post).

It’s important for strategists and designers to be united in saying, “there’s a process here, with a very good rationale for it, and you’ll get the best results if you trust us on this.”

[Clients – you should hold us to account. Ensure what you’re getting is matching the goals and approach that were set.]

This won’t happen without strategists and designers being more proactive and more interested in each other’s disciplines, understanding how one informs the other and developing true partnerships.

If this is how we work, then the resolution of problems will naturally become a collaborative effort between strategy and design. And that will have better results for everyone.

So, in a nutshell:

  • Strategists: enough of the fluff!
  • Designers: work with the strategy!
  • Clients: trust the process!

The end. 

Digital and the Power of Visual Thinking

Digital and the Power of Visual Thinking

Picture this: a bland meeting room on Level 8 of your building. Two hours blocked out of your calendar. It’s been called by some guy in Marketing, to get feedback on a new strategy. You arrive, chew on one of the stale biscuits provided by reception. A team from IT faff around getting Airplay connected to a laptop. The presentation begins – 48 Powerpoint slides and 134 bullet points. Every half dozen slides or so, you’re asked ‘what do you think?’. Responses are hard to come by. Finally, the meeting finishes, with little to show for it.

Or: the same meeting room, the same two hours, the same biscuits (sorry, some things never change). Spread across the meeting room table, an array of coloured Post-Its, markers and stickers. No Powerpoint, no laptop, no Airplay. A flipchart in the corner holds a simple 3-step flowchart, outlining the session.

There’s a brief introduction, where you’re encouraged to doodle while the meeting progresses. The new strategy is presented in a storyboard format. With each image, ideas are invited, written on Post-Its, stuck alongside. As the images progress, the collection grows. Ideas flow, conversations spark, debates are had. Towards the end, ideas are collected into groups on the board, links drawn between them, until a framework becomes obvious. Two hours fly by, the session finishes, a wealth of feedback clearly driving the strategy in a new direction.

What’s different?

The latter is an example of the power of visual thinking. It’s not a new concept, but another crossover from the design world making its mark in digital strategy practice.

We see evidence of its effect everywhere, in the prevalence of infographics, word clouds and visuals as popular digital content. But surprisingly, it’s not a regular occurrence in strategic work.

Element’s digital strategy projects nearly always begin with a collaborative, visual workshop, drawing on techniques from UX, graphic arts, data visualisation and elsewhere. The technique has an official name – reflection-and-response – but we simply call it ‘jamming’, or exploring new ideas until the good ones pop out.

There are numerous benefits: using a visual language engages the right side of the brain, enabling people to think more creatively and come up with better solutions. It’s easier to discuss something you see, versus something you hear. Physically manifesting a process creates ownership within the group, and it’s easier to jump between levels of complexity.

In our experience, it’s by far the most effective way to engage stakeholders, make a process clear or explore ideas and possibilities.

Here are five tips for implementing a visual thinking workshop for digital strategy:

  1. Be Prepared & Flexible
    You need stuff to be visual with – Post-Its, markers, flipcharts etc – and you never know which medium might lend itself best. I’ve had odd looks when clients arrive to an art class scattered over the table, but I’ve never had a client say they would have preferred another Powerpoint.
  2. It’s Not About You
    You’re the facilitator, not the headliner. At the beginning, you’ll need to get the room going, but after that, step back and make the conversation the hero. Guide, prompt, encourage and challenge as necessary, but don’t get in the way.
  3. Be Gentle…and Tough
    Not everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas with a group, especially if their boss is in the room. On the flipside, some people are too comfortable. A successful workshop relies on not allowing one voice to dominate, while gently coaxing the wallflowers onto the dancefloor.
  4. Have an Agenda
    Simple but effective. Write up on a whiteboard or flipchart what will be covered in the workshop. It sets expectations as people arrive and ensures the session has focus and flow.
  5. Photograph everything
    Don’t lose those precious ideas – at the end, photograph everything that’s been recorded, put it on a USB, lock that USB in a safe and bury the safe in Siberia. Or upload to Dropbox – just don’t lose them!
5 lessons from a strategy sprint

5 lessons from a strategy sprint

Digital strategy must become more agile. So taking a cue from the Google Ventures sprint model, I recently ran a strategy sprint with a key client.

The goal was to create a Minimum Viable Strategy, after which the UX team would prototype a Minimum Viable Product. Over a week, we held four workshops, breaking down the key elements of digital strategy into bite-sized chunks. By Day 5, we had a finished blueprint to guide the UX/dev team as they began their own sprint week.

These were the lessons learned:

1. Collaboration = decisions
Our client was fully committed to the collaborative process. This was crucial – being able to lay out the big business issues, and openly discuss them, meant decisions were made quickly and we could move on.

2. Have key stakeholders (literally) at the table
All key stakeholders were present at every workshop. They made a significant contribution, and their participation ensured agreement on the final approach.

3. Limits are good
There’s a lot to be said for a time limit. It forced us to focus, with no room for diversions or fluff. The resulting strategy was tight and on point.

4. Turn thinking in to doing
They say a strategy never survives contact with reality. So why not test it asap? A few days after the sprint, the strategy had been tested by real users with UX prototypes. It held up well, and though we’ll make some refinements, it was a great start.

5. Involve UX
There’s now so much overlap between strategy and UX, it’s vital to have them in the room, particularly for the audience and content pieces. Plus it meant our UX team were familiar with the strategic approach as they began brainstorming how it could be realised.

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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