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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.

business transformation before digital transformation

MITSloan presented some results from a survey about the need for digital transformation (companies face an imperative: adopt new technologies effectively or face competitive obsolescence as the study states). Results include an interesting, but not so strange, paradox:

  • 78% say achieving digital transformation will become critical to their organisations within the next two years
  • Only 38% of respondents said that digital transformation was a permanent fixture on their CEO’s agenda

I think this circles the most pressing issue and bottleneck; the interchangable use of digital transformation and business transformation.

Looking at digital technology (in whatever shape or form) from the level you stand, will not help you transform the business. Albert Einstein said that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. If you are expecting business transformation, you need to work on where that transformation might be going before you look at digital technology. Multiple answers will do too, scenario planning and future creation are exercises in plurality, but you simply cannot view things like you used to.

Despite growing acknowledgment of the need for digital transformation, most companies struggle to get clear business benefits from new digital technologies. They lack both the management temperament and relevant experience to know how to effectively drive transformation through technology.

Brand therapy in order to aim business transformation

So It’s backwards. Technology won’t give you the new future and reveal possible business benefits, it helps reach it and to an extent anticipate it. Companies need to revisit their entire reason for being, the meaning of them in peoples’ lives. Turn it inside out, because whatever you are now was created in a reality which is no longer. You need to go to brand therapy. Looking at yourself through the same old eyes simply cannot reflect a transformed image. You need a new level of self consciousness which means you have to have the guts (and realise the scope of a transformational process like this) to question old truths. You have to be prepared to redefine what you do (the business) as opposed to how you do things (the tools).

MITSloan survey, barriers to digital transformation

What I say is missing from this is the lack of a clear purpose and new self consciousness. The pieces that help give change a clear direction, reason and fundamental meaning.