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Basics of Digital Strategy

What is “digital strategy”? Depending on who you talk to, the conversation will inevitably drift to digital marketing. But digital technology has much more to offer businesses, organizations, and enterprises than excellence in marketing.

“Digital strategy” refers to any use of digital technology to create value. Any use of hardware, software, the Cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT), or other digitized technology forms a part of an organization’s digital strategy.

Because many organizations take a piecemeal approach to digital strategy and address different components of digital marketing one at a time, they often shortchange themselves. A digital strategy done “a la carte” can create redundancies, incompatibilities, and friction between digital systems.

Crafting and implementing a digital strategy should be a holistic practice that touches every aspect of the organization, with seamless integrations that enhance each part of the organization.

An incomplete list of the components of digital strategy might include:

  • Online Presence. An organization’s online presence might include its website, social media profiles, directory listings, reviews, and other assets to be found throughout the public-facing world-wide web.
  • Digital Marketing. The innovation of digital marketing is the creation of a cost-effective, easily-traceable ecosystem of online marketing methods that allow companies to buy growth and scalability. Vectors of digital marketing include SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing), social media marketing, viral marketing, influencer marketing, email marketing, and more. Digital marketing also involves honing the online presence into a “customer journey” or “sales funnel” to convert digital traffic into customers and clients.
  • eCommerce. Everyone shops online. Whether an organization sells products, services, or information, a sound digital strategy must involve a solid online selling solution, including point-of-sale processing and order fulfillment.
  • Customer Interaction. A digital approach to customer interaction might include streamlining customer access to customer support representatives via chat, email, and forums. It might also include digital strategies to solve customer problems without the need to interact with support staff, reducing labor costs. This might include AI chatbots, online knowledge bases, and digital ticket processing.
  • Vendor and Supplier Interaction. Further up the supply chain, organizations can deploy digital solutions to streamline interactions with suppliers and vendors. It enables organizations to access a global marketplace of suppliers and interact with them effectively.
  • Efficiency Technology. As important as digital marketing strategies are for growth, additional digital strategies are essential to reduce costs and organizational friction by making workplace tasks easier and more efficient — in other words, less consuming of time, money, and labor resources. Hardware and software solutions can be deployed to manage projects, time sheets, payroll, rosters, performance review, and supplies procurement.
  • Mobile Technology. Mobile is less a separate digital vector than an enhancement of all the others. Nevertheless, more than half of all digital activity takes place on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Adapting digital solutions to mobile increases their effectiveness massively. Online presence and digital marketing solutions must work especially well across mobile technologies. Mobile app development also plays a key role in most digital strategies.
  • Cloud Computing. Most digital strategies include a component of Cloud access. The Cloud is a network of digital services provided over the internet from off-site servers. It might include Cloud-based storage, Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
  • Internet of Things (IoT).The IoT is a network of internet-connected devices that can replace non-connected devices to add efficiency and performance to basic processes like data collection, environmental control, and many more.
  • Online Security. Online security is the digital strategy that makes all the other digital strategies possible. Every one of the above vectors depends on adequate digital security. Otherwise, your digital strategy becomes your organization’s biggest liability rather than its biggest asset. Cybercrime and data breaches cost organizations millions, even billions of dollars. No digital strategy is worth it without sufficient attention paid to digital security. Especially in the handling of payment cards, medical records, and other personal information, a digital strategy’s online security may need to be validated to governing bodies to maintain regulatory compliance.

Ultimately, digital strategy involves pairing the right technology with the right business strategy. For organizations starting fresh in the digital world, it represents the next stage in the evolution of a business strategy.

Is Digital Strategy Required?

The short answer is Yes — you need a digital strategy. Nearly every organization has a digital footprint, regardless of whether they have approached it strategically.

Even the most stubborn, old-school, brick-and-mortar organization probably has a Yelp or Google My Business profile that somebody else added to the internet — someone completely unaffiliated with the organization. People may even be adding their own photographs and leaving reviews, without any response or control from the organization.

Other organizations have a cursory digital footprint — an out-of-date website with no online selling platform, a social media presence that never gets updated, etc. These half-a-loaf nods to the digital world actually do more harm than good, since it makes the brands look shallow and unengaged. A bad digital footprint is actually no digital footprint.

A digital strategy gives an organization the wherewithal to take control of that digital footprint and use it to its advantage — even to its maximum advantage.

Note that implementing a digital strategy doesn’t necessarily mean fundamentally changing the business, even if you fundamentally change the way your organization moves and operates.

Most organizations have a business strategy — an overall plan to deliver value to clients or customers and generate revenue in the process. Organizations can overlay a digital strategy on top of the business strategy. They can endeavor to digitize each stage of the business strategy, even those that started out with no digital component, preserving the business strategy within an overarching digital strategy. Same business strategy, but now with digital integration.

To survive, thrive, and compete in today’s marketplace, every organization needs a digital strategy.

Who Needs Digital Strategy?

A wide variety of organizations could benefit from a strong digital strategy. They include:

  • B2B Organizations. Business-to-business companies can use digital strategies to improve efficiency and effectively connect with their target industries and businesses.
  • B2C Companies. Business-to-consumer companies rely on digital strategies to connect with target customers, automate, and streamline operations.
  • IT Service Providers. IT service providers obviously need a robust digital strategy, since the bulk of their value is provided within the digital realm.
  • Digital Service Agencies. Digital service agencies also provide their value primarily in the digital realm. They too need an airtight digital strategy.
  • Any Other Organization that Does Online Business. If a company sells or provides products, services, or information online — or could monetize its value offerings online — it needs a powerful digital strategy to maximize that online business.

If this sounds like, well, everyone, you’re right. Every organization in today’s marketplace will benefit from a solid digital strategy to help them increase revenue, reduce costs, scale, and thrive.

Why Should I Care About Having a Digital Strategy?

A digital strategy isn’t just window dressing. Organizations that commit to a digital strategy enjoy superior outcomes on a number of levels. Examples include:

  • Understand exactly what works and what doesn’t for your business.he digitization process involves a detailed inventory of everything your business does, providing an opportunity to take stock of what is working and what isn’t, what can be eliminated instead of digitized. It is also a chance to discover what is working and double down on that.
  • Eliminate missed opportunities. The point of digitization is to make your business better — to expand channels for revenue while at the same time cutting costs. A solid digital strategy allows you to maximize the opportunities for profit available in the digital space.
  • Reach your audience at the right time – and fast.Nothing surpasses the digital realm in its capacity to segment and target an audience, so the right message gets in front of the right eyes and ears with as little friction as possible.
  • Refine your business goals. A digital strategy can reorient a flagging business strategy, adding momentum and actionable items to the organizational trajectory.
  • Differentiate your business from your competitors. A solid digital strategy stands out, showing your target audience that you are engaged, future-facing, and prepared — in other words, the best choice for their needs.
  • Track your company’s ROI. One of the biggest advantages of a digital strategy is that it is quantifiable. There’s no need to throw money at a strategy and then hope it works. At every stage, you can track the performance of each digital strategy in terms of return on your investment, an opportunity to refine and enhance what works, as well as correct or discard what doesn’t.

How do I Build an Effective Digital Strategy?

A lot is riding on your digital strategy. Organizations that take their digital footprint seriously and recognize its importance understandably want to get it right. So how do you go about constructing a digital strategy that will actually pay off?

No two digital strategies are alike, but they do follow a fairly predictable roadmap. Here are some of the major milestones to pursue in the construction of a digital strategy.

  • Define Your Business Goals

    Every strategy, digital or otherwise, has to begin with the end in mind. Before you set about building a digital strategy, you need to have an idea of what you want to accomplish as a business. “Go digital” isn’t a great answer to that question. People go digital for a reason. What is that reason for you?

    It could be to increase revenue, improve customer or vendor interaction, automate and streamline operations to cut costs, all of the above, or even more besides. Your goals will determine what to focus on in the development of your digital strategy.

    Once you are clear on your goals, you can begin to brainstorm what digital solutions can help you accomplish those goals. Make sure to pay attention to how those solutions will integrate with any of your current or legacy technology solutions.

  • Create A Story For Your Brand

    People don’t come to the internet for products and services — they come for stories. That’s why Netflix, YouTube, and Instagram are so popular — they tell stories. Your digital strategy has to compete for attention with everything else on Netflix, YouTube, and Instagram (though you will most likely leverage the popularity of YouTube and Instagram in your digital strategy!)

    The digital age, more than anything else, is a revolution of storytelling. If you haven’t put a good deal of thought into your brand’s story — the narrative you use to hook your customers and clients into your program so that they opt in, connect, and trust you — then the creation of your digital strategy is the perfect time to address it.

    Once you know your brand story, every vector of your digital strategy will tell, feed into, or contribute to the story. That way, every time a potential client or customer encounters your brand in digital format, they have the opportunity to get hooked on the story.

  • Define Who You Want To Do Business With

    Your digital audience can’t be everyone. To target everyone is to target no one. One of the biggest advantages of digital strategy is the ability to target your brand message to the exact audience you want to hear it. The better the targeting, the more costs you save. It is therefore crucial to know who you are speaking to, to know who is most likely to resonate with your message and convert to customers or clients.

    An important component of developing your digital strategy is to define exactly who you want to do business with. Who is your dream customer or client? Who will see the value in what you offer, have the means to pay for it, and do so without complaint or arm-twisting? Who will be a pleasure to do business with?

    Digital strategy is an opportunity to get picky and decide who you want to do business with so you can target a message directly to them.

  • Create A Journey Map

    Customers don’t appear out of nowhere. Whether they encounter your brand via digital or traditional media, they must be taken on a journey through different stages. This journey can be broken down in different ways, but a generic version of the customer journey might look like this:

    • Awareness. The prospect is aware of the brand and is interested in the value offering.
    • Research. The prospect explores the value offering in contemplation of converting.
    • Conversion. The prospect becomes a paying customer or client.
    • Advocacy. The prospect becomes a brand ambassador, touting the brand to his/her network.

    By understanding each stage of the customer journey, you can craft your digital strategy to address each stage of that journey. A digital strategy allows brands to control their customer journey and not leave it up to chance.

    It starts with a journey map — identifying the different stages of the customer journey and brainstorming ways in which digital solutions can funnel prospects to the next stage in the journey.

  • Identify Your Key Channels Of Communication

    Once you know who you want to do business with and what journey you want to take them on, you need to determine how you will communicate with this target audience and draw them into the journey you have mapped out.

    Digital channels of communication could include chat, email, social media, SMS, mobile app notifications, or other channels. Try to focus on the channels of communication your target audience is most responsive to. You don’t need to exploit every digital communication channel — some of them may not be worth the expense or effort.

    Identifying the right channel for your digital communication is at least as important as the content of the communication itself.

  • Create A Holistic Content Strategy

    The digital channels you choose are important, but so is the content you disseminate throughout those channels. A digital strategy is all about content — what will a user find when they encounter your digital footprint?

    Content plays an important role in SEO and brand building, as well as social media presence and email marketing. But your digital content strategy may also include app content, training module content for your employees, SOPs, and any other content assets that might become part of your digital ecosystem.

    Content can be written, video, audio, or all of the above. The more forms of content, the better. Remember your brand story, though. All of your content must feed into the brand story, move prospects down the customer journey, and/or act in service of your business goals.

  • Identify Resources To Execute Your Digital Strategy

    As your digital strategy begins to come together, you will need to identify the resources available to execute that strategy. What hardware do you have? Is it sufficient or will it have to be upgraded? What software solutions do you already have access to? Can you upgrade it? Will it integrate with other solutions you are considering?

    Who will implement your digital strategy? Do you have the IT staff on hand with enough expertise to take it on? If so, how will you allocate the labor while continuing to maintain crucial routine tasks? Or will you outsource your digital strategy to a third-party digital strategy expert, and where will the money come from to pay them?

  • Implement Your Digital Strategy

    Once the digital strategy is designed, it’s time to implement it. This task may fall to an in-house or third-party team. Either way, effort must be put into the migration from older procedures to new digital procedures, and the team must be trained on its use. New assets might require a rollout or public launch.

    Pay careful attention to the way new digital solutions integrate with each other and with critical legacy technology. Make sure that sufficient support is on hand to deal with bugs, learning curves, and any slowdowns that might come with the transition to the new technology.

  • Track, Measure, And Optimize Your Strategy

    Anything you can track, you can improve. A major advantage of digital strategy is that the digital world is easy to quantify. Define the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of your strategy and install the analytics needed to track them.

    As the data starts coming in, track your KPIs at various stages of the digital architecture and determine what is working, what isn’t. Then refine your digital strategy to maximize its strong points, shore up weaknesses, and discard dead weight.

Should I Try Doing It By Myself?

When considering something as big and important as creating and implementing a digital strategy, it’s tempting to wonder if you can use in-house talent to get the job done. Wouldn’t that save money and time?

The truth is, if you have abundant in-house expertise in the area of digital transformation, it is possible to succeed with a DIY digital strategy. Some digitally-focused organizations may indeed have significant talent in-house who can pull together a focused digital strategy.

However, digital strategy is a much bigger topic than most organizations are equipped to approach. Even tech-forward businesses that may be adept in implementing one part of a digital strategy may miss the boat on many others. You may not even know what digital opportunities you are missing out on. When an organization is not very tech-focused, it could be that no appropriate personnel is on the staff at all.

As much as they may prefer in-house, most organizations will realize greater benefits from outsourcing their digital strategy than trying to do it themselves.

Why Should I Bring In Experts?

Anything that is worth doing is worth doing right. While DIY digital strategy may be the way to go in a minority of cases, most companies would be better served by bringing in specialists.

A digital strategy firm can take the reins of your digital strategy and put a professional spin on it at every level. If you pick the right team, you can preserve your precious organizational resources to put them where they matter the most, confident that no portion of your digital strategy gets shortchanged.

If you don’t know if you have the in-house expertise to do your digital strategy justice, consider looking for an outside firm to partner with to develop and implement your digital strategy. Here are some reasons digital strategy experts might be a good idea for organizations of all levels:

They Know The Business Of Digital Strategy

Digital strategy is a multi-faceted spectrum. Think of everything digital you interact with every day, from ATM machines to mobile apps.

Every digital toy is part of some company’s digital strategy. Nearly everything your business does can be digitized in some way — sometimes in ways that you can barely imagine. Digital strategy firms can imagine it, because they live and breathe the digital world.

The digital world isn’t just complex — it is also constantly evolving. A good digital strategy firm is up-to-date on the digital best practices that are producing results now, as well as where the industry might be headed so you can get out in front of it.

Digital strategy experts not only know what is out there in terms of digitization, but also how to put it to the best business use — for example, not just how to build a website but a profitable website. This is the kind of advantage that digital expert strategy expertise can bring you — not just a digital strategy, but an effective digital strategy, one that works and produces concrete, countable results.

Experience In Helping Other Businesses Similar To Yours

Sometimes, even the best service provider isn’t right for you if that service provider has no experience in your industry. One of the luxuries of picking an outside digital strategy agency is that you can shop around until you find one that has a proven track record of success in your field.

Many digital strategies transcend industries. However, some digital strategies may be effective in one agency, but a waste of time and resources in another field. It is important to have a digital strategy expert on your team who knows what works for businesses like yours and what doesn’t.

Don’t settle for a digital strategy expert who isn’t on the same page with your industry and your goals. Take the time to find the right service provider — one who has experience with businesses exactly like yours.

Deliver More At A Lower Cost vs. Doing It In-House

Whether you use an in-house team or a third-party service provider to implement a digital strategy, you will be diverting resources to it. What you don’t pay in direct fees to a third-party digital strategy expert, you will pay in terms of employee time, which could be spent elsewhere.

You will get more if you spend it on expertise. While it may seem more expensive to hire a third-party digital strategy expert, the results you get can easily be worth it — more bang for your buck.

The goal in investing in digital strategy is to produce a return on that investment. Forward-thinking, talented digital strategists with experience in your field can produce greater ROI than most in-house teams can produce.

ROI Can Be Seen Much Faster

We mentioned that digital strategy is an investment, especially if you pay a fee to a third-party digital strategy firm. When you make an investment, you expect a return on investment. How much ROI comes back is only part of the story, though. How fast you realize this ROI makes a difference as well.

Time is money, and digital strategists are experts at producing results quickly. When you retain them, they have no other purpose than to implement your digital strategy. They can implement multiple prongs of that strategy at once, facilitating not only fast deployment but seamless integration.

Not only can a digital strategies expert implement the strategy quickly — they can also implement the analytics to track them. This takes the guesswork out of the digital strategy. Even if you don’t see a monetary or tangible ROI right away, your analytics will tell you which parts of the strategy are working and which ones require a course correction.

By watching the metrics, a digital strategist can double down on effective strategies so the monetary and tangible ROI manifests sooner rather than later.

You Get Overall Control

One complaint that stops some organizations from retaining a digital strategy firm is the unwillingness to hand over control over a business strategy to a third party. However, working with the right experts will actually give you more control over your digital strategy.

Digital strategy experts are development and deployment specialists, but they work from your vision. The good firms collaborate with stakeholders to make sure everyone is on the same page and shares the vision. They take instruction to the point where the digital strategy they devise and implement more resembles the strategy in your head and produces the outcomesyou had in mind.

By giving over major responsibilities to the experts, organizations can actually retain control over their digital destiny. This alone is as good a reason as any to trust a digital strategy expert rather than an inexperienced in-house team.

Low Risk And High Gains

While the digital world promises many opportunities, it also potentially holds risks and vulnerabilities. We have talked about the risk of cybercrime already — and the risk is substantial. Failures of regulatory compliance can threaten the very business you’re engaged in, while hacks can result in millions of dollars in financial carnage.

But the risks of the digital world go beyond cybercrime. Improper digital strategy can actually harm a brand and devalue its digital assets. Trusting your digital strategy to inexperienced hands carries more than the risk of doing nothing — it carries the risk of making things worse than they were before.

Trusting digital strategy to experts means your digital strategy is in good hands — at the very least, those hands won’t do more harm than good–and they potentially could vastly increase your company’s digital reach into the marketplace. The financial commitment is minimal compared to the potential payoff. A great digital strategy devised by experts for your company can play out in increased reach, revenues, and reputation, making it more than worth the expense.