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Two Simple Questions That Can Land Your Digital Strategy (And, Yes, You Need One)

A little history before we begin: The Earth cooled. I created the Interactive Communications Group at UPS. I headed e-commerce for ING (now Voya) in the U.S. I most recently led mobile marketing strategy globally at The Coca-Cola Company.

While each company and role was different, common themes emerged and, despite unrelenting change in what “digital” means, I have discovered two critical questions that can shape (or affirm) a digital strategy.

But for them to be useful, we need to agree that a digital strategy—just like information—is a thing. I’ve heard people argue against the need for a digital strategy but rather just a marketing strategy that recognizes we live in a digital world. Nonsense. By that logic, if we have a business strategy, then we don’t need a creative strategy or a sales strategy.

Strategies are choices, and “digital” requires its own set of choices.

Question 1 is, “Who is doing the work?” It’s a powerful question because it has only two possible answers: Either people within the company or people outside the company. There are no other ways to get work done. (Don’t be distracted by robots.)

A focus on employee capabilities drives a development and training plan. All employees (from the CEO down) must be knowledgeable about digital. To be good stewards of company money, “building brains” is a better approach than “dumbing down.” More colorfully, if you don’t want to step in it, you need to see it and smell it.

On the flip side, it’s the rare company that doesn’t engage with at least some external resources to get work done. Having a disciplined approach to managing those relationships is essential. File that under “agency management.”

Proactively managing the people—internal or external—who are getting the work done sets the stage for the choices that get the best value for money.

Question 2 is equally simple: How are those people spending their time? While the answers aren’t quite as straightforward, useful frameworks, such as Google’s “70-20-10” model for business innovation, can help.

Loosely interpreted, Google’s model allocates time by putting 70% against things you know work, 20% against making the 70% work better, and 10% for innovation.

The 70% and 20% (as a single work stream) assumes an organization knows which digital tactics work and which don’t, which, in turn, implies there’s clarity around metrics and measurement. Getting this figured out is 90% of what you should be spending your time doing! It’s not easy, but that complexity is the best argument for staying focused on what works and not over-rotating on innovation.

Having said that, the 10% for innovation is difficult and risky. (That’s why it’s only 10%.)

The guidance here is to think about what’s impossible. In other words, ask yourself what vision of tomorrow’s world is impossible to avoid. For me at Coke, it was mobile payments. There was no future world that did not include buying Cokes with phones. The behavior was inevitable.

An easy way to think about this is the NCAA Collage Basketball Tournament. You’ll probably lose money trying to pick the winner. However, that the tournament itself is a winner is a sure thing. In short, bet on the big picture.

Voila! With just two questions, an actionable set of measurable tactics emerges. This should make prioritization and alignment easy, while increasing accountability.

Each organization will make their own choices, and changes in the marketplace will demand changes in tactics and maybe even strategies. What will never change is that people will be doing work and that work will take time.

Addressing those two simple truths will go a long toward clearing away the fog around a “digital strategy.”

At least until the robots come along.

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