Speaking with more than 50 senior digital marketing executives over the past year, I was struck with how the velocity of digital growth has impacted corporate marketing operations. Specifically, digital as it represents strategic disruption, and business pivot opportunities through the web, in social, and mobile.
More than half of the business leaders I spoke with report that team structures need improvement, because it is holding them back on execution. Who supports your digital team and who should be in charge of ‘digital’ in your company? This is a concern among many in the C-Suite, as to which senior executive ‘owns’ digital. Who should lead this effort?
Most digital teams report to the CMO, but some have rolled up under a CIO. Alignment under the executive who stresses how you want to position this team with the intelligent balance of skill-sets understanding that IT values stability and security, while marketing emphasizes speed, creativity and customer-centricity.
Whomever you chose, the digital marketing leadership must be capable of achieving tactical quality and tangible output from the team. A leader who inspires the digital team to perform actions, and to pursue execution objectives on time and within budget.
Enter the Digital Strategist
Remember when most digital marketing teams were reactive, overwhelmed, and positioned more like tactical “copy shops” with little ability to shape originality in their workflow, much less drive digital strategy and innovation outside their own department?
Digital strategists are more focused than ever on strategic optimization of existing channels producing stronger outcomes, leading to more resources added to their effort. This key position will increase the team’s focus, and internal influence, successfully advocating for digital resources, and building highly skilled teams.
With the digital strategist leading the digital strategy team positioned as an ideation hub within the business unit, execution of digital tactics and solutions against the backdrop of the corporate strategy proficiency. This team can and should deliver tactical execution of email marketing, website/microsite updates and builds, social media, SEM/SEO, video, design, and user experience.
The Digital Team Structure
With leadership in place, how should you structure the team? In The Stanford Social Innovation Review, there are four models that can be implemented for team structure:
The first is typically a legacy of a poorly managed institution, the second and third get closer to what institutions need to sustain cultures of innovation in managing digital – however they believe that the fourth model most consistently produces an integrated, customer-centric digital experience across all channels.
In a fast-paced digital environment, optimal performance and results depend on the process adopted by your enterprise to plan and execute initiatives, staying flexible around the many factors that can impact structure and process.
Once the digital team structure is in place, executives should allow this team a degree of autonomy to implement digital programs that are aligned to the corporate strategy charter. Let go of micro-managing daily tasks, empowering the digital team within business units to develop and deploy tactics that encourage scale and speed at local levels.
More than 1,500 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
To be clear, strategy and tactics are not one and the same. If strategy and tactics lack differentiation in your digital marketing, your team will fail. Strategy is the ‘what’ part of the equation to answer the question, “What do we want to accomplish” with our digital marketing agenda?
Some believe – incorrectly – that digital is only a ‘tactic’ of marketing, not a ‘strategy’. In my 16 years of marketing experience – both traditional and digital – and lengthy discussions with marketing leaders, digital is now the lead dog in corporate marketing strategy.
Discipline is required to deliver the strategy as it sets the vision for growing tactical channels within digital teams, to meet the ever-evolving ecosystem of media consumption and online user behavior. After weighing your strategic options, you must now execute; without execution you cannot support any strategy.
With your digital leadership, and corporate goals alignment with strategy in place, what are the tactics, or the ‘how’ part of the execution equation? Tactics enable you to answer the question, “By what means will we achieve our goal?”
Ultimately, the best way to compare the difference between strategy and tactics is that the strategy acts as a guide to a set of actions – or tactics -- that your digital team will execute and deliver.
Deploying tactics strategically, in relation to their individual channel characteristics – such as a social media tactic – will have a different deployment and email tactic, for example.
Putting It All Together
To build a comprehensive digital strategy that is shared broadly and repeatedly across your business, it is critical to embed digital literacy across the organization. Embrace the new rules of digital customer engagement, by hiring marketing professionals with skill-sets that bridge traditional and digital expertise, while paying close attention to cultural fit when recruiting digital leaders.