One of my specialisms is digital strategy. So I read a lot about strategy, and digital, and digital strategy.

In doing so I consistently find that the term has many interpretations in the digital world, meaning that digital marketing discussion forums are full of people asking where to start with crafting their own strategy.

Those same discussion forums are often flooded with responses that are blatant and biased sales tactics rather than genuinely helpful pointers.

So, here’s my advice (without ulterior motive!) for where to begin.

First, a word on digital strategy

Just a quick word as this is a topic that could keep us here all day, but the context is important.

This post focuses specifically on digital marketing/ecommerce strategy because that’s Econsultancy’s patch.

It was also partly inspired by a digital marketing community post asking a question along the lines of “My company has asked me to create a digital marketing strategy and I’m not sure where to begin.”

starting blocks

Where to begin

A successful digital marketing or channel strategy starts with and has a clear sense of three things:

  1. What your organisation wants to achieve.
  2. Which customers you’re trying to serve.
  3. The particular value that you want to deliver.

From there it’s about deciding how you’ll reach and serve these customers in a digital world.

US shoe retailer Zappos is a good example of strategy in action. The company is clear on its positioning and core philosophy of building personal emotional connections with customers.

This plays out in marketing decisions such as using fan photos for profile pictures on Facebook.

Similarly, Nike’s goal of 'connecting with athletes to inspire and enable them to be better' clearly addresses the three elements above and is reflected in the brand’s marketing and social offerings.

Pernod Ricard CMO Martin Riley talked recently about the “how” aspect of the drinks brand’s digital strategy. The company is focusing on four pillars: data, branded content, ecommerce and internal expertise.

Five important questions to ponder

There are a ton of resources available online to help with strategy development (I list a couple of my favourites at the end of the post), and it’s well worth taking the time to read up on the topic.

It’s not something that can be easily simplified, however I think that there are five key questions that can help set the right direction.

1. If you’ve been asked to create a strategy – who’s asking, and why?

What are their expectations?

What’s in scope and, just as importantly, what’s out?

Getting clarity on this, especially if you have multiple stakeholders, can be a time-consuming task but is essential groundwork.

2. What’s your internal environment?

Smart companies have digital integrated into their overall strategy. If yours doesn’t, here’s your chance to lobby for it.

In the meantime, question how your strategy will map to the broader goals and vision of your organisation. What will it mean for other groups, like IT or Operations? What links and dependencies are important?

3. What’s your external environment?

Who is your customer, and what’s truly important to them? How do they use digital media and channels? What do they expect, and how are their expectations evolving?

What are your competitors offering, and how will you beat that?

What’s happening more broadly in digital that’s impacting your industry?

4. What’s your goal?

What do you want your strategy to achieve and how will you know if it’s successful?

How will you measure progress? If the ultimate goal is longer-term, make sure you put milestones in place.

5. How will your strategy both maintain focus and accommodate change? 

There’s a current debate about the value of longevity in strategy when the pace of change is so fast.

The reality is that what you decide must balance being long-term enough to gain momentum with the flexibility to respond to a changing environment.


Further reading

As well as all the great content on Econsultancy, a couple of other useful resources are:

Asking the right questions is essential to getting to the right result, but how you go about the process is just as important. In my next post I’ll look at some of the key considerations for successful strategy development.

Jo Hill

Published 20 February, 2014 by Jo Hill

Jo Hill specialises in digital strategy and leadership and is a contributor to Econsultancy. Connect with Jo through LinkedInTwitter and Google Plus

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Comments (3)

Dmitriy Ivanov

Dmitriy Ivanov, Head Of Digital Strategy at Spread Digital

Hi Jo, great article ! Simply blueprint for beginners. Thank you

over 4 years ago

Andrew Wise

Andrew Wise, Strategic Director at Engine Creative

I think you’ve got it spot on when you talk about having ambitious goals and being open to adapt your strategy based on technology and user changes:

“The reality is that what you decide must balance being long-term enough to gain momentum with the flexibility to respond to a changing environment.”

I picked up your article 5 minutes after posting a case study on the mobile channel strategy work we’ve been doing with Bauer Media and, whilst it’s obviously a shameless piece of self promotion (!), it also clearly shows a real world example of many of the points you’ve made. Specifically, the idea of adapting to change and building digital connections with your audience with a particular value - in this case 'everything entertainment'.

over 4 years ago

Jo Hill

Jo Hill, Digital Strategy and Leadership at Freelance/Interim

Thanks Dmitriy.

Andrew, I forgive your plug because it is a nice example of a clear goal and a focused yet flexible solution.

over 4 years ago

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