Future proof digital strategy

TRENDAFRiCA February 17, 2014

By Stuart Wiener

Digital strategy is changing. True to digital, it is happening very rapidly.

The Old Way

Traditionally, an effective digital strategy was achieved by devoting a team of people to study a business problem thoroughly. They would interview stakeholders, put together a research strategy, execute it and then spend ages combing through reams of research and business data, hoping to uncover an insight that could form the basis for a design solution.

Given enough time, a good strategist could put together enough insights and a solid rationale to motivate a business to design and execute a certain tactic.

This approach to strategy worked fine when things moved at reasonable pace, but digital ecosystems don’t move at a “reasonable pace” anymore. In fact, they are shifting and changing so quickly that to keep up is almost impossible. If keeping up is hard enough, then keeping an eye on the future is even more difficult.

According to Seth Godin: “The future is messy… and the past is neat.”

Rationalising past practices is easy – in hindsight a trend often looks obvious. Predicting future trends is substantially more difficult than what hindsight would lead us to believe. To put it differently, connecting the dots of the past is easy because you can see all of the dots. To predict future trends you must guess where a dot may land. It may be a very carefully calculated guess, but it is becoming more expensive and such predictions remain largely inaccurate.

Human behaviour is incredibly unpredictable: when the internet was invented did anyone really think that LOLcats would be a thing?

Our approach is changing

Instead of leading with an insight, based on what strategists think consumers will do, we can establish a basic digital solution (based primarily on existing business data) and measure what consumers are really doing.

This approach does not mean that we compromise on the effectiveness of the strategy. Instead, we develop a solution for the marketplace, feature by feature, learning about consumers and adapting those features as we go. This does not mean that the role of strategy is diminishing. On the contrary, strategists should continually formulate and execute testable hypotheses to inform business direction. In our fast changing world, insights from yesterday may not apply today (in fact they may be downright damaging), which means that tracking and understanding change is critical.

What this means for business:  there are two factors that primarily change when a business starts embracing this approach:

  • Project Deliverables: Digital properties cannot be designed once and then forgotten about for a few months. Rather, design-oriented thinking must go into the initial creation of a product or service that can scale, and then be utilised continuously for the development of that product or service, with the business. This means that a digital project is never complete. Naturally, project activity will fluctuate, as the business goes through seasons of learning and seasons of growing. Either way, it’s never finished.
  • Organisational Structure: Structuring an organisation to take advantage of digital opportunities is key to long-term success. Digital opportunities are continually changing, therefore the supporting business infrastructure must be kept nimble, to adapt accordingly.

What does this mean for us?

Businesses that can continuously learn and understand consumer’s direct behaviour, can respond nimbly and swiftly to the marketplace. Today, such a competitive advantage is invaluable.

Digital didn’t just reinvent the way that a business could market to itself to consumers; it fundamentally redefined the opportunities and economics of the consumer-business relationship.

Like Seth Godin said: “The future is messy…” Strategies for dealing with that mess are now more important than ever before.


Source: TREND.spotter Stuart Wiener is with OgilvyOne.



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