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4 Essential Questions to Ask About Your Digital Strategy

2012 October 17

Shakespeare once wrote that life is a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Digital marketing sometimes seems a lot like that.

It certainly has its share of idiots, no lack of sound and fury and, while not exactly signifying nothing, does have an unhealthy tendency toward hyperbole.  Technology changes much more quickly than people’s habits do.

In reality, consumers largely buy the same products they always did and use them in the same way.  We still eat food off of plates, put socks on our feet and get behind the wheels of cars.   Just because technology is evolving is no reason to abandon common sense and, perhaps not surprisingly, the clearest path to good strategy is still asking good questions.

How Asking The Right Questions Drives Action

As I wrote in an earlier post, a strategy is a coherent and substantiated logic for making one set of choices rather than another.  In other words, it’s used to make decisions that drive action, whether that entails the overall mission of the enterprise, where it allocates resources or how it implements programs and processes.

Strategy is only important when it drives a business forward.  It can only be effective when it is pursued in the service of operational success.  There can never be “good strategy, but poor execution,” because assessing capabilities is a crucial component of strategy.

Digital technology, just like any other advancement, transforms capabilities, which means that the facts on the ground have altered, in some cases significantly.  However, that doesn’t change the basic function of an enterprise: to create, deliver and capture value.

So rather than get confused trying to keep up with the latest social neologisms or obsess over the latest app craze, first ask these basic questions.

1. What is my Business Problem?

All too often, the digital strategy discussion starts with “What’s our social strategy? or “What’s our mobile strategy?   In the vast majority of cases, that has nothing to do with improving a business.

After all, consumers hire products and services to do jobs for them.  The central strategic question, therefore, revolves around how that job can be done better or cheaper or made more accessible or more enjoyable.

At this point, it’s hard to find a business problem in which digital technology won’t be part of the solution.  However, it’s important to remember that digital is usually only part of the answer and the technology component needs to work together with other factors, such as value, convenience, consumer culture and market constraints.

2. How Can Digital Technology Help Me Solve That Problem?

Banks are not famous for their service and consequently going to the bank is largely a chore.  JPMorgan Chase saw that problem and turned it into an opportunity.  They launched an app that lets their consumers deposit checks simply by taking a picture on their mobile phone.  Problem solved!

Comcast had a similar problem with their clunky cable remotes and they engineered their Xfinity app so that you can use your smartphone as an interface.  It also turns any mobile device into a second TV.  It’s great for letting the kids watch cartoons while not taking over the entire room.

Both of these enhance the existing consumer experience by solving basic business problems.  However, they are not solely digital solutions.  Chase’s mobile payments entail organizational and human resources challenges, while Comcast’s Xfinity app requires accommodations to be made with partners and other considerations.

And that’s the crucial thing about digital strategy, it can’t be just digital.  The whole enterprise needs to be involved and taken into account.

3. How Can Digital Technology Open Up A New Opportunity?

While digital technology can disintermediate and create efficiencies, the real value is in its ability to completely transform business models.  Want to hang a picture, you don’t need to go to the hardware store to buy a level, just download a free app.  That kind of disruption is playing out across the marketplace.

But it goes far beyond just neat little gadgets, established firms are using digital technology to completely transform their business.  Nike+iPod turns running shoes into a monitoring and diagnostic device.  Ford’s Sync transforms an ordinary car into a technological platform, which is attracting third party developers to improve it.

All too often, people use digital technology to chase efficiencies.  That’s necessary, but nowhere near sufficient.  Unless you are thinking about how you can create value and transform your business, you’re missing the boat.

4. Has Your Business Gone Digital Without You?

In one sense, not much has changed, in another, everything has.  Good strategy is still contingent on coherent thinking, harnessing capabilities to tackle problems and pursue opportunities, while at the same time aligning the organization with business objectives.  Good common sense goes a long way.

However, there is no escaping that the facts on the ground have changed.  First, there’s what Rishad Tobaccowala calls digital leakage.  It’s difficult to tell anymore where digital ends and analog begins and borders between industries are evaporating.  After all, it’s not Disney or Time Warner revolutionizing entertainment, but Apple and Netflix.

Secondly, digital technology is becoming uncoupled from computers.  It used to be that “digital” meant something to do with a keyboard and a mouse.  However, super efficient chips that can be powered by ambient energy combined with cloud technology will soon put digital technology at the center of every product and service.

Whatever business you’re in, it’s quickly becoming a digital business and you need a digital strategy.  The first step to finding good answers is to start by asking the right questions.

– Greg

6 Responses leave one →
  1. October 18, 2012

    Greg – perhaps one of your most delightful posts. A classic point succinctly made. The prefix “digital” added to the word strategy is an unnecessary and distracting qualifier. Strategy is the defined direction of the organization and digital may (or may not) be the vehicle/channel/medium/investment area to realize that strategy. There’s no denying the potential digital has to transform business from the ground up but as a qualifier it smacks of hubris IMHO. Thank you for posting this.

  2. October 18, 2012

    Thx Hilton! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    – Greg

  3. October 25, 2012

    How about a disruptive digital strategy?
    I just read Paul Carr’s piece on SV’s Cult of Disruption. It seems that ‘creating, delivering and capturing value’ sounds obsolete now.

  4. October 25, 2012

    I’m not sure I see the relevance of that article. Also not quite clear how you can make money without creating, delivering and capturing value. Could you explain?

    – Greg

  5. October 25, 2012

    I am the old school guy, and believe that one has to create value to justify one’s business. Paul Carr’s article — critical of the disruption cult — points out that many today’s entrepreneurs and VCs think differently — they seek to destroy legacy businesses in order to carve a niche for themselves or even take over the market.

    I am not saying this is good or legitimate . I guess I tried to be sarcastic 🙂 by mentioning the new “disrupt, capture the clients/customers of other businesses, and deliver to oneself ‘ strategy.

  6. October 25, 2012

    Yes, I think that’s true, but you still need to create, deliver and capture value, just in a way that disrupts the normal order of business (usually by going after light or non-consumers).

    – Greg

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