There is a lot of confusion around this question. It seems to circle around whether or not digital strategy is an end-to-end organisational strategy that gives consideration to all technology assets and processes, or whether it is a web and social media marketing strategy.
We think its both. Responsibility for it sits right between Strategic Marketing and ITC, but all of your business functions need to be actively involved in its creation.
These days, within the marketing discipline, when deciding on the media mix for any campaign or organisational positioning exercise, “digital” (websites, social media, electronic direct mail etc) is regarded to be just another media. Like print, TV, PR events and press releases, taxi-backs and billboards.
Marketers in your organisation will create a digital media strategy. They will make a case to the organisation about what media should be used, why, how, at what frequency and cost, for what expected return (profile, revenue) at what rates of traction (penetration, efficacy), with what sort of functionality (e-commerce, client login area, email auto-responders, surveys and forms, etc).
So is how it currently seems to work: once your tactical marketing team has defined its need for digital media, your IT team and web team will confer and provide a framework and processes so this can happen. This is the very definition of an ad-hoc approach to digital planning, and that's fine, but it won't be enough in the long term.
In our view, there needs to be another, more strategic activity taking place that will eventually meet the tactical activity somewhere in the middle, and then eventually, contribute to leading it, or at least get your organisation to a point where the two processes are feeding each other.
To us, a digital strategy looks something like the diagram on this page, and your “digital strategy” is actually engaged with all three activities, (Strategic Business Planning, Operations Planning, and ad-hoc tactical execution) involving input from a wide variety of stakeholders, organisation-wide.
Achieving this kind of planning integrity is not easy. It requires strong commitment, buy-in and discipline, from all of your people. It is a communications and vision-setting exercise, as much as it is a quarterly KPI-monitoring activity. (See more about planning here)
Ideally, what you should end up with, is a safe, secure organisational framework that leans towards the facilitation of more rapid traction as new, useful ideas come along (helping you to be nimble). The framework should provide opportunities for development at the tactical end of business, without major changes to architecture, structure, processes, hardware or expensive software and security investments, in the short term.
It is a robust, 3-5 year strategy that takes into account the organisation’s strategic plan, its technology architecture, its business processes (what internal processes can be digitised for greater efficiency?), inbound and outbound data, hardware, just about everything.
What is a digital strategy?
Some of the assets it will be concerned with are Enterprise Architecture framework, existing technology assets, your corporate website and any microsites you have, your intranet, your website Content Management System (CMS), CMS management systems (approvals, workflow, quality), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, mobile optimisation and apps, social media, policies, roles and responsibilities.
Other considerations will be: security, legal and public accountability, privacy, maintenance and upgrading, brand and image management, scalability, future proofing, resourcing requirement, potential to improve business, accessibility and usability.
Some may say that 3-5 years is too long an outlook for a digital marketing strategy because technology changes too fast. But it is an appropriate cycle for planning and review of the technology architecture, process and strategy that frames the digital marketing strategy.
A nimble digital strategy needs to focus on creating an innovative culture, assigning policies, priorities and people who can be trusted to make the right decisions as new technologies emerge, rather than defining everything as fixed for a period of time. Costs should not be fixed, but annually budgeted, according to the strategic plan.
The digital strategy needs to be nurtured for continuous improvement by a decision-making committee with clear terms of reference, that is disciplined to meet regularly throughout the lifecycle of any strategy, and includes stakeholders from across the business.
The committee is the guardian of the roadmap and plan, and polices that emanate from this committee could include social media, web publishing and proofing protocols and processes, accessibility (who can edit digital assets), development and coding standards, testing requirements and crisis management procedures. The ability to make quick decisions is important, so priorities also needed to be sorted.
In summary, preparing to be nimble in the digital era requires that a whole, new, end-to-end operating focus be created within your organisation, and possibly a position, or number of positions that are dedicated to facilitate this and deliver on it.
There will be competing priorities in existing job descriptions and performance plans, and there is also likely to be some rivalry around where to start and who should lead the project. In fact, you are likely to take a three-steps-forward-and-two-back approach until you gain momentum.
Right now, businesses that give the development of a digital strategy top priority, are reaping tangible benefits like lower operating costs and greater revenue through more responsive customer engagement.