Monday, May 28, 2012

There's no such thing as a Digital Strategist

I've had some interesting conversations recently with a number of frustrated planners in different parts of the world over the notion of an agency role called "Digital Strategist."

To be clear as I begin this, it's my own personal view that there is no such thing as a Digital Strategist (and I'm really sorry if that's the job title someone has foisted upon you, but chances are you're not a strategist).

Why do I believe this?

Simple. Strategy is by definition a broad, encompassing area of commercial pursuit. It's about the master plan, a grand design or game plan. Focussing on a single, narrow channel means that you are not taking into account the full picture of the landscape that your brand, your consumer, your shopper lives within. If you focus strategy on a single channel it becomes tactical and operational by definition. 

Part of the annoyance in these conversations has to do with bosses. Mainly male, white and over 50. All of whom struggle to understand what is going on in the digital landscape and, for fear of missing out, need to be able to point to the new shiny things to be able to say that their agency "gets it". But all it does is prove the opposite. If you have digital strategists in your agency, your agency doesn't get it. 

Account planning has always been about the synthesis of lots of different bits of data and the connection of dots between brands and the people who use them. All that has happened is an expansion of that data, the channels, platforms and places where people and brands can come together. You have to be able to see the entire picture in order to develop ideas that will be effective across all connection points (even if your agency only executes a few of them).

Obviously today's planners need to have a deep knowledge of all things digital, as well as deep knowledge of older media channels, experiential, retail and so on to build a brand, make a sale, launch a new product etc. That's the role of a planner in any type of agency.

No matter what it is called though the important point is that planners should focus on understanding the journeys people go on, bring clarity to the roles different channels play in a brand's mix and identify how brands can be built by participating and interacting with people on these journeys. 

In the agency context then, someone who claims to be a digital strategist most probably isn't.