There’s no such thing as digital strategy

Jack Blog

April 23rd, 2015 By Joe Panepinto PhD

EPSON scanner image

I know what I’m about to say is going to cause a shit-storm, but it’s true: there’s no such thing as digital strategy.

I’m saying this in the starkest, most unambiguous, and direct terms possible.

Too many people are taking the TinkerBell approach to digital strategy – if they only believe in it hard enough, it’ll appear.

Someone has to stop them.

In my experience, a deep and abiding belief that digital strategy exists separate from business strategy inevitably leads organizations to ask the wrong questions (and ask them in a screechy panic):

  • What are we going to do on Facebook?
  • How are we going to use Twitter and Pinterest?
  • Why don’t we have an app? (We need an app! Where’s our app!?)
  • How are we going to “go” digital?

Ok, maybe these aren’t the totally wrong questions to be asking yourself as a business today – but they’re most often asked at the wrong time. They aren’t the questions you start with. The questions you start with are around your customers and prospective customers, their world, your product or service, and how you can connect the two.

And sure, now is a good time to ask all of these questions because of all the things the digital revolution (small “d” small “r”) is upsetting with regard to each. But that doesn’t mean we’re doing anything different from what we’ve aways done as strategists – define a way forward, given a clear-eyed view of the world as it is and will soon be.

In other words, strategy always starts with experience – what it is and what we want it to be.

A better set of starter strategy questions might be something like:

  • How is the world our customers and prospects inhabit different today than it was just a little while ago – especially when it comes to information gathering and sharing?
  • What new opportunities are these changes creating (and what do they portend for existing ones)?
  • How can we create value for our clients, given this new world, and their new journeys within it?
  • How can we capture value for ourselves after delivering value for our clients?

These last two questions really get to the heart of all business strategy (which is very much real and non-make-believe) – value creation and value capture. Digital technologies have changed both dramatically – but our strategy has to focus on the changes, implications, and opportunities part….not the digital part.

If we take our eye off our customers and prospects and what they’re experiencing, we risk completely losing track of them and our relationship with them.

Digital is infused throughout everything – it’s a fundamental, enabling technology that makes lots of things possible. Think of it as electricity – an underlying technology that can help us create monsters or monuments, depending on how we harness it.

It’s what digital technology makes possible that is really of concern to us as strategists – how it creates what IBM calls a Smarter Planet through instrumentation, interconnectedness and intelligence; how it enables exact replication, at infinite scale, at near zero incremental cost.

Our job, as strategists, is to derive insight and create strategies, given those realities and possibilities.

Exciting, for sure. And real. No need for make-believe.