Why is developing digital strategy so damn difficult?

Why is developing digital strategy so damn difficult?

Can't see the wood for the trees

Strategy and planning is our core business. We work with a diverse range of clients from travel through online retail to charity to undertake this type of work. We’ve been doing this for some time now and without trying to blow our own trumpet too much we think we’re getting pretty good at it. In fact one of the things I really like about working on strategy and planning is that, whilst it is wrapped in a clear process and the application of an appropriate framework, coming up with a successful end result is one that relies on a nice blend of the logical and creative. It’s left and right hand brain stuff.

So why is it so damn difficult? Working on strategy and planning is never an easy ride … and it shouldn’t be. It should be about understanding change, challenging perceived wisdoms and taking a critical look at the way you do things. Don’t expect it to be simple. Here are some of the reasons why.  We think that taking these on board from the outset helps everyone involved in the process.

Digital really is different

Success across digital channels relies on a lot of the same things that success across more traditional channels does. Things like understanding your audience, a clear approach to segmentation and targeting and a robust approach to measurement still apply. But digital is different and it does require a different mindset. Digital channels are always on. Increasingly it is about understating networks rather than understanding media. Taking a more agile approach where test and learn rules is critical to success. Those with a more traditional marketing background need to get to grips with where it is different and where it is similar. More importantly planning needs to drive integration across multiple channels and that represents a significant challenge.

The outcome and implications might be uncomfortable

Digital marketing is increasingly becoming more about mouse clicks than media spend. It is also about thinking creatively and being smart. Perhaps ironically, as digital channels continue to develop it is more about people than technology. That puts greater demands on those people involved in delivering strategy and the associated tactical plan. This applies to both your in house and agency team. It can require different people with different skills and experience who are organised in a different way. Those kinds of changes have some uncomfortable realities around them. Senior management must be up to speed and on board if these kind of things can be addressed successfully.

You might not trust what we are saying

No more have I experienced the process that is often described as ‘forming, storming, norming and performing’ than when I have worked with new clients around planning and strategy. The starting point is that we will never understand a client’s business like they understand their business. We say that from the outset. But we do understand digital and marketing and we do bring a process into play that can and does facilitate the better understanding of the opportunities that exist. What is true however, is that after starting out with a shared ‘lets change the world’ vision, we will probably enter muddy waters when you don’t entirely buy into and trust what we are telling you. The best thing I can say is that if you hang in there the useful tension that is created will drive a positive outcome. In each and every planning exercise I have undertaken it has done exactly that.

One thing for sure is that the success or otherwise of any strategy and planning process comes down to the people involved and how they work together to address the issues that arise. Like anything it helps if you are honest and open about some of the challenges you are likely to face from the beginning.

There are probably more than three reasons … but then I can only count to three. This is, like a lot of our work, a work in progress so comments and thoughts are entirely welcome.