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30 Jul

What the Heck is Digital Strategy (Part I)

So, you really want to know what digital strategy is?

I am a global digital strategist, and unless you’re in cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles working for a tech company or a digital media / marketing firm such as HUGE Inc., AKQA, Razorfish, or Digitaria, the general business population asks me, “What the heck is digital strategy?”

And if they don’t ask me what it is, they just look at me with glossy eyes. Truth be told, they should. It’s a massive new undertaking and at the core it requires an individual to manage people, ideas and technology. Sound simple?

Well, let’s first start with 2 basic definitions – One provided by Wikipedia and one provided by my translated English version:

The “Technical” Definition According To Wikipedia

In the fields of strategic management, marketing strategy and business strategy, digital strategy is the process of specifying an organization’s vision, goals, opportunities and initiatives in order to maximize the business benefits of digital initiatives to the organization.

These can range from an enterprise focus, which considers the broader opportunities and risks that digital potentially creates and often includes customer intelligence, collaboration, new product/market exploration, sales and service optimization, enterprise technology architectures and processes, innovationand governance . . .

. . . to more marketing and customer-focused efforts such as websites, mobile,eCommerce, social media, site and search engine optimization, andadvertising.

The English Layman’s Version According To Me

Digital Strategy takes the overarching goals of an organization and sees how components of technology, web and mobile can maximize opportunities for the company amongst globally connected markets and customers. Companies must ask, “How do we use the digital world to connect and engage with our customers and become more profitable in the process.”

These can range from a “business / organization” focus, which considers the opportunities and insights of what their customers want, working cohesively, creating new products to give markets what they ask for, optimizing the customer experience, creating more stable technology for the company’s operational needs, thinking outside the box, and remembering that privacy / security matters.” . . .

. . . all the way to customer-facing aspects such as how you engage with them online and through digital channels, interact through social media and create brand loyalty with the goal of creating relationships that procure more purchases and expand your core audiences.

So, now that you’ve come this far and you see how involved this role is, let me specify 3 languages you will also need to speak if you want to be a digital strategist.

The Language of Business

You have to speak the language of business (P&L, ROI, Share of Market, Gross Profit, Net Return, Accounts Payable/Receivable, Shareholder Value, etc.) to high level executives who dedicated their lives to other initiatives than this new technologically driven and digitally savvy world.

They hold multimillion-dollar budgets, and unless you can show them how an investment in digital media and technology can give their shareholders and stockholders returns they would be proud of, they are not as susceptible to change. You must be able to talk dollars and cents, period.

The Language of Technology, Digital Media & Creative Talent

You have to speak the language of digital media and technology to an emerging creative class of graphic designers, web developers, coders, branders, internet marketers, copywriters, content publishers, social media analysts, and more.

They create the presence of your organization online to make it presentable to a global Internet population of nearly 4 billion users. Be nice to them.

Oh, and resourcing the talent is not as easy as you think. Everyone is a guru in social media, graphic design, web development, mobile applications and digital marketing. You have to know what qualifies them to manage your digital budgets and what skill set do they currently hold.

Want more responsibility? Sourcing “creative” talent can be daunting because there are varying degrees of costs within each of their own individual industries based on talent level, experience and geo-location. For example, a mildly good developer in NYC might cost $150/hour and a top developer can earn as much as up to $350/hour.

However, you can get an AMAZING developer in Phoenix, Arizona for $135/hour. That’s a huge difference in cost and talent. If you don’t know how or where to find these people, it can be very frustrating. The way I overcame this was by developing a personal network of resources in every category located all over the U.S. and varying countries abroad. Let me be perfectly frank. This took some serious time and years to build.

The Language of Startups & Lean Methodologies

You have to speak the language of Startups, preferably “Lean Startup” methodologies. Why? Because ideas are a dime a dozen and unless you validate them with your target audiences, you will spend millions of dollars creating mobile web applications and new websites that don’t even matter to your intended audiences.

No matter how established a brand or startup is, any new digital initiative should be met with asking “why”, as well as performing initial market validation and research to get “a desired product into the hands of the customer faster.” Lean startups use a lot of great techniques to pivot and grow with their audiences – something big brands sometimes struggle with.

Parting Thoughts on Digital Strategy

The bottom line is, “digital strategy” is a relatively new term, function or job description, birthed from the reality that global brands, emerging startups and even local companies, all need some form of technology to run their business and create additional revenue.

They want to communicate better with current target audiences, reach new markets, streamline the customer and purchasing lifecycle, scale the number of users, create lasting customer experiences or just downright become more profitable and efficient.

Additionally, the role of a digital strategist can become almost ambiguous at times.Wikipedia provided an exceptional description here:

A digital strategy manager is an executive position. This position is based on a unique set of technological knowledge which directs all departments for digital industry growth. A digital strategy manager collaborates with all marketing, business development, and organizational management teams and uses leadership skills to build strategic partnerships.

This position focuses specifically on a corporation’s digital brand by leading, building and maintaining their presence in the digital world.

On one hand, I can position myself into a company or a well-known brand and build their digital department with the task of executing their brand to global audiences via technology. On the other hand, I could go work for a VC analyzing all the components of an Internet startup to ensure that it not only scales, but continuously engages audiences.

To save time, I will create “What the Heck is Digital Strategy – Part Two”, to develop these digital strategist roles in more detail and how they affect the bottom line.

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Photo Credit (Header Graphic Image): Photodune.net

Matt Gottesman

Matt Gottesman is a global digital strategist and technology advisor, creator and editor-in-chief of Hustle & Deal Flow™ - an online magazine dedicated to the world's entrepreneurs, creators and makers, a Social Media Influencer and a consultant on New Media and go-to-market strategies for investments in digital marketing, technology, websites, mobile applications, eCommerce, social media and content.