As you’re about to find out, I’ve been thinking a little too much about the concept of “digital strategy”.
You probably know the scenario. You’re sitting in a meeting and someone says “What should our digital strategy be?” Everyone stares at the floor until, under the weight of expectation, someone with the ‘s word’ in their job title volunteers to do an initial write up for the next meeting.
It’s obviously particularly tough for people that work in digital agencies AND have the word strategy on their business card, or – and there seems to be more of them by the day – people with the job title “digital strategist”. This is a brilliant job title for all the important reasons – firstly it sounds fabulously up-to-date and secondly it confers on the owner a kind of Hawkins-esque intellectual fierceness. I’m just not sure it actually makes any sense.
And I’m not just coming at this from standard contrarian position that strategy is strategy, digital or not. Because actually, that’s not what people mean when they say it. Often people with fairly well defined commercial and brand strategies still fancy a third piece, their digital strategy.
I think it’s about language. And I think we’ve been fooled by the apparent syntactical ease of the phrase into buying it. After all, we never had analogue strategy.
Clearly the phrase “strategy” is massively over-used anyway to mean everything from a tactic to a method. Properly speaking, a strategy is a long-term plan to achieve a particular goal (that’s stolen from Wikipedia, so it must be half right). Alternatively you could say that it is “How you’ll get to where you want to be”, that’s stolen from a quite brilliant piece from Northern Planner which talks in interesting terms about communications strategy.
So for example a brand strategy is a strategy about what a corporation could do with its brand to become most relevant to customers, or to move itself into a different niche, or to redefine the niche it’s in. In fact the strategy will go further and will figure out which of those is the right thing to do. There’s lots of examples of that being done well. Brand strategy is often done by independent brand consultants work for brand owners.
What other words do we use to qualify strategy? How about range? For a retailer, range strategy is a method to look at what they stock and how they merchandise it to shift sales or customer perceptions and habits. A stratgey about range, done by a range strategist for people with ranges.
I could have an export strategy. That would be a strategy about my exports.
So if I have X, I can ask an X-strategist to develop me an X-strategy. So pick a word at random, which is a facet of what you do… returns for example. Can I hire a returns strategist to come up with a returns strategy (a plan to reduce returns most probably). Well I’ve never met one, but otherwise this seems to be fairly reasonable.
What other sort of strategies can I have. Well we’ve all heard about “aggressive strategies”, “collaborative strategies”, “defensive strategies”. Does that mean I can change career direction and become a “defensive strategist”. Well no*. Because there is a missing word in the phrase “defensive strategist”. What is the word? I have no idea. There’s a variety of possible answers. I can have a defensive brand strategy, defensive range strategy and even a defensive employment strategy.
And no more than I can employ a ‘defensive strategist’, should I be able to employ a ‘digital strategist’. I can have a digital brand strategist or a digital supply-chain strategist or a digital payroll strategist probably. The techniques to do those things will have elements in common, but they won’t be the same role. Anyone in one of those roles needs to understand digital technologies and digital trends, and quite possibly how compound nouns work.
* Although of course, all strategists are a bit defensive. Especially if you start messing with their planning key.