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01 Dec, 2011 – 15 comments

what is a digital strategy?

I was flipping through Ana’s new deck on digital strategy, re-stumbled onto Mike’s Tenets of Digital Strategy and decided to take a crack at defining digital strategy, as pithily as possible, for myself.

Here goes …


It’s funny how I’ve been doing this for at least the last six years and I’ve never tried to define it.


  1. Michelle
    Michelle December 1, 2011 at 9:08 am .

    I’ve been struggling (as a Digital Strategist) with this for a while now. Why, if the purpose of the digital strategy is to meet business objectives, isn’t digital just built in to the greater business strategy?

    When we look at it separately like this, doesn’t our strategy or our solution end up being too “campaign” focused? Looking at it this way, in my opinion, leads to trying to solve objectives like “build a fan-base on Facebook” that are one step removed from the greater business objectives and not looking closely enough at the role digital plays in the greater picture.

    I’ve been thinking for a while now that something needs to change and I completely agree with Ana Andjelic that it starts at the brief and digital and traditional planners need to stop working in silos. Obviously a lot of factors in play here to change the way we think about digital, but we need to start somewhere.

  2. Brett Macfarlane
    Brett Macfarlane December 1, 2011 at 9:42 am .

    I agree with “digital strategy is a plan.”

    Engaging or empowering is a choice for what a given digital strategy could do. Many digital strategies do but it is possible a digital strategy doesn’t seek to empower. Nor must it rely on networks of people. Though of course they can and that is powerful but that feels like what a strategy should define not what a strategy itself is. Depends on the objective and product/issue.

    I also agree with “satisfying a measurable business objective.”

    This might be a question like “what is a god” whose answer forever is…

  3. Monica Magnetti
    Monica Magnetti December 1, 2011 at 10:37 am .

    I am not sure that the word digital is appropriate, I can’t wrap my head around, a digital strategy includes what tools exactly?
    I think your definition is better suited to “social media.”
    Social media is a plan to engage and empower networks of people, connected by shared interests, to satisfy a measurable business objective. This can be done with some digital tools.
    thanks for getting me to think and assess my own thought, always a much appreciated exercise

  4. jason moriber
    jason moriber December 1, 2011 at 11:22 am .

    How about this…

    “Digital strategy is the sensitive practice of listening to the infinitely faceted world, specifically through the lens of online and digital, in order to create, foster, and sustain scalable, meaningful, and impact-full dialog.”

  5. John Winterkorn
    John Winterkorn December 1, 2011 at 1:04 pm .

    One word that hasn’t popped up on this post or in the comments is competition. As Michelle noted, digital as an extension of more fundamental marketing strategy is pretty vanilla. Most companies do some variety of this, but they don’t think competitively about digital. It doesn’t have to be a campaign. It can be a source of competitive advantage.

  6. Rich Nadworny
    Rich Nadworny December 1, 2011 at 1:07 pm .

    So rather than use the term “audience” or “people” you’re using “networks of people, connected by shared interests.” The assumption seems to be that without a network or shared interest, then no need for digital strategy.

    I can see how this fits in nicely in with most brand strategies or even with most vertical niches. How, though, would it apply to various service industries, say lawyers, or psychiatrists or even state and local government services? Usually the people using those services are not in a network and often rarely share an interest.

    I know that you, Bud, can craft a smart answer to that, but it might seem like a construct.

    Your definition is great. I’m just not so sure it’s all encompassing.

  7. Phil Adams
    Phil Adams December 2, 2011 at 4:33 am .

    Hi. Your definition is close in sentiment to a statement of “universal social strategy” that I presented recently. (Slide 6 of this presentation).

    Have expanded on it and included long hand speaker notes.

  8. Brett T. T. Macfarlane
    Brett T. T. Macfarlane December 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm .

    Yes Bud, but arguably can’t any channel, medium, tool, ecosystem or “thing”, whatever you want to call it, also empower and engage networks of people? It should, if relevant, interesting and meaningful.

    Arguably we are debating a style, philosophy or type or comms/creative. There are one way comms delivered through a browser just as one way through my TV or newspaper (though for point of provocation my TV is currently delivered by digital technology and has integrated Twitter functionality thanks to Virgin Media.)

    I agree empowered and engaged is most interesting and today’s new competitive advantage but it is not right for everyone. By absolute rule. Nor the only way. But yes a powerful way. Possibly in many decades universally agreed the best way, generally. But again, not universally.

    Another provocation, in the thirties did businesses discuss steam power strategy or electricity strategy, or did try just get on with business strategy? though probably those most intimate with electrical technology best drove new business strat.

    I love interactive thinking but I hate the meaningless word digital in a world where most things are powered by 11′a and 00′s at some point of their existence if not all of it…

    This was a good question, thanks for asking, hope my thoughts aren’t too annoying.

  9. Nick
    Nick December 4, 2011 at 10:08 pm .


    my brain hurts! such a complicated argument for a monday morning!!!
    seems to me this is the definition of a “strategic marketing plan” rather than a “digital strategy”.

    Too much focus on engagent and customers and not enough on utility. For instance with the competitive advantage example above, maybe your “digital strategy” is the gather information from your customers as they walk through your physical space automatically, so that data can be used internally to better lay out the space.

    In that example there is no engagement necessary, no empowerment and also only vaguely requires a network of like minded people.

    it certainly fulfils a business need though.

    i think the definition is closer to.

    “A digitally focused plan to accomplish strategic business goals” A digital strategy identifies and provides action points for opportunities that technology has created.

    Guess its pretty vague though, but maybe thats the point. there are many different areas that a digital strategy can benefit a business. Some are social some are mechanical and some are even more abstract than that.

    most are inextricably linked with non digital stuff like experience, advertising and logistics though.

  10. juzmcmuz
    juzmcmuz December 6, 2011 at 9:04 am .

    Nice discussion Bud.

    I think there’s an inherent problem with defining “digital strategy”. If you want to be successful, and engage networks etc, and have measurable outcomes (all good), you can’t just have a “plan”. You need to have a validated plan. Which means doing stuff, not just planning them.

    It’s why I think the vast majority of ‘digital strategists’ (and planners) fail at what they do. They are compartmentalised and non-collaborative (forced or by choice), don’t follow things through and adapt their ‘plans’ in the face of reality, and feel safer in the abstraction of thinking rather than the cold, hard reality of responding creatively to what customers want. Depending on your perspective, strategy is either dead in the lean, digital, non-marketing world, or needs to encompass a much broader spectrum. Take your pick.

  11. Nick
    Nick December 19, 2011 at 6:39 pm .


    A strategy is a plan. a successful strategy is one that works once implemented.

    even the “leanest” model requires you to create an opinion before you try anything.

  12. Reader: Dec 28, 2011 | updownacross
    Reader: Dec 28, 2011 | updownacross December 28, 2011 at 8:54 am .

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