Why have a digital strategy?

Overview: Companies have a growing need to effectively coordinate their different activities on the web and on the mobile, yet they struggle to come up with a digital strategy. Confusion exists between digital expertise and strategic expertise. The development of a strategy first requires the creation of common points of reference for discussing the different actions: a coherent, global vision of the Internet would connect the various professions and stakeholders and would thus provide greater perspective across all channels.

 

Why is it that a majority of companies and brands seem not to have a digital strategy today, at a time when digital media (web, mobile…) has become an essential, integrated part of business action plans and the question is no longer if they should be used, but how to best optimize these actions and investments?

First possibility: Companies don’t see the point. Do we really need a strategy if we’re achieving our goals without one? At the very moment when the question of profitability has never been more present, if the lack of a digital strategy has no impact on results and on the effectiveness of your teams, you’re better off without one!
Unfortunately this is no longer the most common situation, as the lack of strategy leads to frequent questioning within companies and among their consultants/advisors: how can we coordinate our various activities on the web, social networks and mobile? How can we connect our fans on Facebook to our CRM? How can we optimize all these similar initiatives that have been launched by different departments or teams? Should we replace our intranet with an internal social network? What e-commerce strategy should we have in relation to our physical network? Do we treat our online customers the same way as we do in our stores? And so on. All of these issues clearly show that in reality, a group of disparate and sometimes inconsistent actions does not maximize the performance of the company, and ends up costing more, whether online or elsewhere. The interest of a strategy is that it gives direction to all the different actions, ensuring that efforts are focused in the same direction, so that the final result can be achieved at lower cost.

The second possibility is therefore the more likely: the complexity it seems to pose. How should the problem be approached? How do you develop a digital strategy? At what level within the company should these questions be addressed – by senior management, or at a departmental level? How should we aggregate or compare actions that seem so different, such as building or redesigning a website, SEO, online media campaigns, community management and a mobile app? Who should we turn to?

This perceived complexity of digital media often, in reality, reflects the confusion that exists between digital expertise and strategic expertise, and a lack of knowledge about the Internet that only adds to this confusion. For building a digital strategy is no different to building any other strategy, which in our case requires two skills:

– Strategic competence: having the knowledge and experience of what it means to manage a company or a department, knowing what issues are at stake and what the goals are, and then being able to translate this knowledge to another level, in this case into digital material.

– General digital skills: being able to link the various functions and professions of the web and mobile both to each other and to the strategy of the company or brand. This is where the confusion persists today, as the Internet has been integrated into most companies on an operational level, and most digital experts are in fact operational experts, or have at least become so in order to succeed: the daily reality of the web, which is quite technical and constantly evolving, together with the demands of clients and customers who expect more and more expertise in the profession than they initially requested, tends to lead the different players to focus their know-how on a particular speciality. What’s more, the Internet is a young business, and so too is a large part of its workforce – and they are also lacking in experience in the business and in how advertisers work. But there’s more to coming up with a strategy than just gathering a bunch of experts together around a table.

We therefore need to create a common global digital vision which enables all these elements to be integrated and which is shared by all stakeholders, customers and suppliers alike. There are not hundreds of ways of sharing the same vision: either our experiences have been identical or very similar, or we have agreed on common definitions so that we are able to communicate and share while referring to the same things.

Finding exactly the same experience is hard, as uses are varied and we all have a tendency to see things from within the prism of our personal experience. Is the Internet simply a type of media? A distribution channel? An ecosystem made up of different platforms? A collection of networks? Taking over from television, or a channel in its own right? Where should we situate it compared to other media? How should we situate it within the physical world we live in? How can we understand in a simple but comprehensive way those trips we constantly make as we travel back and forth between “real” life and virtual life, the mobile and the web, the Internet and other media or businesses?

Common references remain the most efficient and pragmatic way forward, and defining a list of these references is the first task to be tackled when coming up with a digital strategy. Each company can create its own with the help of its partners and feedback from the market, in the same way as it has formats for design briefs, positioning, etc. To initiate this process, a simple and comprehensive vision that enables you to answer all these questions is to think of the Internet not as a media or channel but as a SPACE, since in reality this is how people use it: as a collection of places, linked together, through which they browse and move around, communicate and act. This three-dimensional metaphor, rather than a two-dimensional one, can explain and connect all the aspects of the web, giving common references to the different experts and clients around the table. From there, a working strategy can be put in place, because it becomes possible to put the different elements of the web into perspective, both between themselves and with regard to other actions taken by the company.

 

This article is the first chapter of the ebook « Building a digital strategy », available for download in PDF format on this site.

In the following articles, we develop this metaphor of the Internet as a space to help elaborate a digital strategy. Then we go through the main phases of building a digital strategy: how to design it? How to transform it into an action plan? How to measure and which performance indicators to follow? How to make it evolve and integrate innovation and new trends?

 


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