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Digital strategy deconstructed: key considerations, part. 2

This is the second part of a few, deconstructing and highlighting some important aspects of the concept of digital strategy and what to consider when approaching it. You’ll find part 1 here.

Part 1 was much about the power of words and definitions, and the need to actively reflect on this with the group responsible for thinking “digital strategy”. It also highlighted the power of using a networked perspective for understanding the integration, organisation wide implications as well as stakeholder alignment.

In this second part I’d like to touch on how brand culture and purpose matters greatly, and how reframing this, and ones market, creates a vantage point that fuels the thinking. I use two fairly well known examples to do this.

Ford manufactures cars, but a while back they redefined themselves as a mobility brand (actually, the original mission was to make America mobile, so not that drastic change…). What does that do? Obviously that depends. But there’s a number of things that fit very nicely together in business strategy, but I’d like to include it in digital strategy as we define that as broadly as strategic thinking in a digital (networked) world.

The mobility brand Ford saw the number of 16 year olds who get their first car drop considerably. More numbers are showing the same changes in demand. But if you’re not in the business of selling cars, but rather mobility, there’s another side to that.

Ford partnered with Zipcar which offers a subscription based model for access to mobility, in the form of cars. This could have been done without Zipcar. It is now done in different shapes and forms by many car manufacturers (I recently saw that Audi pushes micro-sharing experience, collective access to Audi cars)

Zipcar bought by Avis, but what if Ford bought it? Making money from providing mobility services in Volvos, BMWs etc? Competitors become collaborators. The revenue model drastically different. Not switching, complementing. All facilitated by new, networked, technology. But, more importantly: new self perception on behalf of the brand. The organisation, and how everyone sees value creation.

Slideshare: Part 2 touches on slide 5-7

reframing the market and the business

Product development vs business development. A networked perspective can dramatically fuel the thinking in business development. Looking at the brand, its purpose and meaning in peoples lives, is an important part of digital strategy. It might make it inseparable from business strategy, that’s fine. That’s actually just right. And here’s also where it becomes something bigger than a digital thing. That’s important, because when it’s a business matter, and even a cultural matter, you (still) have a better shot at getting more people excited and onboard.

The vast majority still don’t feel ”digitally savvy” and hence exclude themselves from ”digital” projects. Many are literally scared of it. But cultural transformation, processes, thinking about markets and business – there’s where you might find those people.

I’ve jotted down some thinking on meaning markets before. In the case with Uber, on slide 6, they think of themselves in a number of ways appart from ”taxi company”. One is as a logistics platform. What makes sense when you’re a logistics platform? Partnership with destinations. An open API. Revenue sharing between company and private drivers carrying out the transportation. All of the things that any taxi company could have done, but didn’t. Because their culture, self-perception and view on value creation, doesn’t allow for it. That’s right, it doesn’t allow for it. That’s how strong impact culture has on ideas. It’s back to definitions in a sense.

  • Always include, and even describe, your digital project/initiative as a (organizational) cultural one. You benefit from appealing to people who dislikes and even fear digital.

  • Rethink your market. Do the product vs. meaning exercise. What is your product? What is the meaning of you, and that product/service, in peoples’ lives? Then think about what your market really is. I’ve heard Unilever is very much in ”home care”, aiming to ”free up family time”. So how about a global platform for subscription based home-cleaning, laundry service, laundry pickup etc?

  • See also a method called Jobs To Be Done. This is not equating an initiative around digital strategy with innovation, but it is highlighting the perfect occasion for truly taking a stab at preemptively exploring ”how the business might change”.

OK. So two posts in and still no focus on media channels, social platforms and communication. I don’t think the next one will be either.

Digital strategy deconstructed: key considerations, part. 1

In a previous post about a digital marketing lab in Singapore, I realized I should probably structure and share some of my thinking and learnings having discussed, presented, debated, consulted on, workshopped around and taught digital strategy.

So, the reason for this first of a few posts is for a number of reasons:

1) Deconstructing a couple of slides used in workshops and talks, in order to structure what I believe is often overlooked and missed. It’s good for myself to do it.
2) If we’ve had a workshop together or if you listened to a presentation I gave – Hello! Here are some things we touched on if you feel like a refresh or if there was a language/speed problem. You should have the full presentation already.
3) Basically, why not share it beyond rooms of people.

So here goes number 1.

The first, and most important, thing to reflect on when approaching digital strategy

the blogpost Can you invent something new if your words are old, Deborah Mills-Scofield highlights the power words have over us. She’s a consultant in innovation. But not only in innovation is that important. It goes for politics, pedagogy, and our dear subject digital strategy.


Part 1 touches on slide 2-4

Because – what do we think when we think digital? Words and definitions, knowingly or not, frames and maybe even dictates, how we think. And how we think, well, that very much guides what we do and don’t do. As Kevin Spacey put it, TV is simply episodically punctuated video streams. From that, what can you (and disruptors did) imagine?

Add to that, you’ll be in a room of people, perhaps from different parts of and organisation with different agendas, ambitions and painpoints. This further necessitates a discussion around, and a common view on, what it is we’re digging into.

– So, what would you say digital strategy is (yes, that’s how rudimentary my question is)? Take 3 minutes and try to articulate it concretely. Write it down if it helps.
Silence, looks, twisting in the chair. A few smiles. More looks.
– Would you care to go first?
– Hrm, well. It’s about how we communicate with the different target groups in different channels and social networks.
– OK, good. And what did you write down?
– Well, I don’t know. I wrote that it’s basically everywhere around us. It’s everything today.
– Wow, that’s quite all encompassing and massive. Personally I can nod to that. You?
– Actually, I would say that it’s our future business. Our business strategy.
– OK.

A typical conversation about the word digital and digital strategy. Often taken for granted as self explanatory and clear. Not so clear anymore.

Some people implicitly are talking about communication and channels, while others seem to understand it as something that’s basically everything. While some are very clear about the fact that it’s the future business strategy. Digital definitely affect communication and the communication landscape, but maybe that’s communication strategy that just happen to be hightly “digital” today? And surely we can agree that “digital” is effecting more or less every aspect of society today, and hence is everywhere. As a consequence it has to be taken into account when thinking about ones (future) business model, revenue models and business strategy. It’s all obviously correct, but until the whole room realises this, and recognizes the complexity (but also opportunity) in this observation, getting constructive and solution focused is useless.

The reality in which we strategise is networked. Networked is a very useful word as opposed to digital because it more clearly stresses the fundamental shift, change and impact (probably not the originator, but the guy I associate with stressing the benefit of using networked is Mark Comerford, @markmedia) in a way that we can feel and see as we mention it. If I’m in a store shopping and I’m all connected – is there brick and mortar vs e-commerce? Yes. Is there offline vs. online? No. From a networked perspective, that dichotomy is flawed and reframing this makes all the difference.

This is why the great variety in response to digital strategy is so natural. We see it from different angles. It’s like the proverbial elephant and the blind men. PR people see one thing, service design folks another and e-commerce managers yet another, and so on. The solution to this is to discuss ones business and reality from a networked perspective. This way, you’ll see the integrated and holistic nature of digital strategy.

These two activities are my suggestion for a start.

  • Mind the words you use (in general) in this case digital strategy specifically. Dig deeper into what we take for granted (I’ll touch on that again from another perspective). Understand the lens through which you see the concept, and understand what you don’t see.
  • Approach the project as strategic thinking in a networked world. That means departments, stakeholders, business units and even the business model itself, will reveal those clear connections and the need/power in approaching everything as an integrated totality. This can come across as massive and frustrating, but it’s also where the true power of a digital strategy lies.

More on that in the next post. Thoughts and comments are more than welcome.

online mobile in offline and why it’s wrong

Margot Langsdorf from PSFK on Vimeo.

A good reminder of a few things. There’s not offline and online. Connectivity is simply a new dimension and mobile is hence about mobility. Which means there’s confusion to be experienced when/if working on mobile strategy and digital strategy and social strategy. Maybe it’s best to just talk about strategic planning and thinking for being real world ready…

The holistic approach to digital strategy is simply about the real world

In the article Why Nordstrom’s Digital Strategy Works (and Yours Probably Doesn’t), from Harvard Business Review, the three authors (from MIT Sloan School of Management, MIT Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research and University of Texas at Austin) stress the fact that although a great number of respondents (in their research) expect competitive advantage from SMACIT technologies (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, IoT) – it’s unlikely to happen. Those technologies are rather minimum requirements, and highly available to boot.

The trick lies in how you combine, deploy and use them. Yes, that’s when you add a strategy behind it all. But as is often the case with strategy – it’s mostly a word used (bantered) and rarely a concept well practiced. Reasons being lack of a true aim, a real problem to overcome, no sober discussion around strengths to focus on and weaknesses to accept, overly unrealistic expectation (feels good and looks good, but doesn’t help with crafting strategy that actually helps) etc. So it’s unlikely to happen not because it can’t happen, but because the concept of strategy is so poorly practiced.

The Nordstrom example they use highlights the difference between disparate initiatives in different parts of an organisation – masquerading as digital strategy – versus a coherent and holistic approach that realizes that a powerful digital strategy that actually accomplishes something has to take the full picture into account. Not mobile. Not social. But how everything fits together in the real world, and in real situations, with the business in the center.

This is not a matter of having the best apps, analytics, or social media tools. Instead, it’s a matter of tending to the details of building integrated digital capabilities, one at a time, making the right data accessible, and simplifying processes. Most retailers will struggle to do this because they haven’t architected their product or customer data for easy access by the new digital capabilities. Without those core capabilities, integration with and among new digital capabilities is virtually impossible.

  • building integrated…
  • data accessible
  • processes
  • easy access
  • integration

Notice how all of that has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with how people are going to work with it. And that demands understanding why it’s needed at all (what can we do better, i.e. what problem do we have today). These aspects revolve around the business, they highlight the importance of stakeholder alignment, cross departmental understanding, processes etc.

The authors sign off by suggesting that we Develop a strategy for succeeding in the digital economy—a purpose that leverages your unique capabilities and responds to market opportunities. Then grab every technology that takes you there.

And thinking about how to succeed in the digital economy is, of course, equally thinking about how to be real world ready. So if strategy is a word that sets the wrong tone and triggers the wrong associations – just make it about the real world.

#himc – a cheap first step towards changing a bit

For a very long time, Hyper Island have been using the #himc tag, which stands for hyper island master class, to share think pieces, concrete advice, brain food and absolute must-reads.

Many organisations need help and advice on how to make better (business) sense of emerging technologies and possibilities – and more importantly subsequent behaviours and implications for business and brand strategy – and I, personally, do a lot of work in that area (both as occasional hyper island collaborator, but primarily under the funny you should ask flag).

In all honesty, just by following the #himc tag (which cost nothing but a few minutes of attention), as they live by the sharing is caring rule of thumb, any company looking to better navigate an increasingly complex reality would benefit greatly. It doesn’t have to take much, but what is a required first step, is to start letting new perspectives, inspiration, opinions and realities through that filter called business as usual.