Content Strategy / Digital

Strategy and Online: Excerpts from Gerry McGovern’s paper

Confused as to what strategy is, and how to apply it to your digital activity?

Strategy and Online: How online is changing the game and the playing field for strategy development by Gerry McGovern is full of interesting and useful pointers if you’re thinking about your online strategy.

Here are my notes [copied from the original document, not my own original writing]:

You don’t need an online strategy

  • Online is not something that can be neatly separated from the rest of the organization. It affects every aspect of the organization, from its employees to its customers… You don’t need an online strategy. You need a single organizational strategy that is heavily influenced by online.
  • Online is about service.. we go online to get service.. for something we own… buy products through a process of self-service, and increasingly we buy services online.
  • To develop strategy you need to have an in-depth understanding of your strengths… competitors and industry… customers and the society within which you operate… Customers and society… now play a much more central role in strategy development.
  • How do you know an organization has no strategy when it comes to online?… They are unable to make choices, to prioritize. “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do,” Michael Porter, a pioneer in strategic thinking, has stated.
  • Organizations that have no strategy… are in love with technology, tools and apps… They believe buying[/creating] technology will inherently make things better.
  • Strategy is often confused with a particular action. “My strategy is to outsource”…The activity (outsourcing) is what results from a strategy… We often confuse strategy with goals. It is not a strategy to be number one in your market. That is a goal. A strategy is about what you are going to do to become number one—and stay there. Nor is strategy about having a vision; it’s about implementing one. According to Porter, “the core idea of strategy is to provide an overarching view on how a particular company is going to succeed in the marketplace”.
  • “Effortful, determined, revisable strategy is better than simply letting happen whatever will happen”. Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management.
  • Strategy is about trying to take control and trying to win. Strategy is about trying to predict… enough of that future that will give you a competitive advantage. Strategy is about being specific. It is about helping you get from A to C by doing B.
  • According to Ken Favaro, a senior partner at Booz & Company, strategy is about [knowing what business you are in/should be in, how to add value to customers, who your target customers are, what your value propositions to them are and what you need to add value and differentiate].
  • Strategy is “a coordinated and integrated set of five choices: a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities, and management systems”

The elements of strategy

  • It’s about winning
  • It’s about the future, not the past
  • Many organizations “write up their strategy in such a way that everything fits into what they were already doing anyway. This is much like generating a to-do list of activities you have already completed.” Freek Vermeulen
  • Strategy is coherent, unified and understood
  • We’ve got IT strategy, UX strategy, content strategy, marketing strategy, customer experience strategy. Too many strategies equal no strategy… Each discipline wants to drive strategy. That’s classic organizational, silo-based thinking. Strategy today must shape itself around the customer.
  • “[Most companies] cannot resist… doing other things that, on an individual basis, look attractive… They end up with a bunch of alternate (sometimes even opposing) strategic directions that appear equally attractive but strangely enough don’t manage to turn into profitable propositions. Too many strategies lack focus.” Freek Vermeulen
  • “A strategy only becomes a strategy if people in the organisation alter their behaviour as a result of it,” Vermeulen states.
  • A good strategy is holistic and joined up.
  • Strategy improves organizational efficiency and productivity
  • The reason you have a strategy is to get better, to improve, to become more efficient and productive… Strategies must be about value creation… They must deliver competitive advantage… Great strategies are about clearly stating what we have to do to become the best at what we do.
  • The empowered, social customer
  • Strategy must now consider the empowered, social customer and citizen… Strategies that embrace openness and transparency are more likely to succeed today. Strategies that tap into the collective intelligence or wisdom of the crowds are also more likely to be successful.
  • The customer is self-serving
  • When customers buy services they are much more driven by immediate need. ‘This is what I want to do now. Can you help me?’ … They tend to care more about speed, convenience and simplicity… But most organizations think in products… Customers think in booking flights and checking the weather. Content professionals think in documents and pages, but customers want to know what this rash on their child’s arm could mean.
  • Online changes how we can deal with customers by letting customers deal with themselves [self-service]… Online, speed doesn’t kill. Complexity kills… Self-service design requires… empathy. You need professionals who like to serve, who enjoy observing customer behaviour… Self-service management is driven by Big Data and small data analysis, by behaviour observation techniques (usability, customer experience) and a facts-based, not opinion-based model of management.
  • Self-service design is about rapid, continuous improvement, not launch and leave. It is about small, incremental changes based on how successful the customer is in completing their task. And if the customer is not successful, then it is about adapting or ultimately taking away… We must get something that works for the top tasks up and running and then test, learn and adapt. Online is truly the world where the fittest survive.
  • The attention deficit
  • Customers have very little time to give today and they are ruthless on the Web. They make decisions in seconds as they rapidly scan a page. That’s why simplicity is so essential. Because if you’re not simple, easy to use and fast then customers will just not use you.
  • Complexity never goes away. Rather, it’s a question of who takes on the complexity. If you make it easier for the customer then you invariably create greater complexity for the organization. Greater complexity results in higher costs. [Most organizations] refuse to take on the extra complexity because they can’t see why they should take on this extra cost and effort. [They] only measure inputs.
  • Online and value: measuring outcomes, not inputs
  • Most organizations only measure… the inputs. The purchase and installation of a content management system is an input… Once the project is completed that is marked as a success… Very few organizations measure whether the content the content management system publishes is actually useful or not. That’s an outcome. Website redesigns often focus on inputs… But is it a success?… Is it easier for customers to do things now?
  • When you delete huge quantities of the content on a website, conversions go up and support requests go down… so much of what is out there is low quality and it just gets in the way of the good stuff. When people say they want simplicity what they mean is they want to quickly and easily get to the good stuff.

Strategy is hard: keep practising

  • Strategy is an ongoing process that is intertwined with leadership. “There will always be opportunities to capitalize on the learning a business has accumulated along the way. The strategist… must stand watch, identify and weigh, decide and move, time and time again. The strategist is the one who must decline certain opportunities and pursue others.” Cynthia Montgomery.
  • Strategy must be nimble. It must get constant feedback and adapt to that feedback where necessary.
  • As part of getting good at strategy you must write it down. It is something you must be able to go back to so you can see if you achieved it or not.
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