Lack of Digital Strategy & Accountability is Killing Brands - Steve Parker, Jr.-Levelwing

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'Doing' is not strategic insight. Just because it is measurable does not mean it is accountable.

If you are reading this and don't own a smartphone, you might as well stop right now. You won't understand nor can you be helped at this point – the technology world has passed you by. To the rest of you who have an iPhone or another 'super' smartphone, such as a Droid or Blackberry, read on. Many of you are probably reading this from your mobile phone as we speak. In fact, I'm doubtful you could put it down for a day or even a few hours. We have all become heavily reliant on our mobile devices – and for great reason. Mobile phones don't just make calls anymore; they actually help us in our daily lives. In your personal life, you have bought this device so you could have the 'Power of the Best' – best technology, best experience, best of everything. So, why in your business life are you settling for something that only makes calls? Seriously, why have you settled for the basics, knowing very well there is something much better and much more powerful? In the business world, this mindset goes way beyond phones: using Google Analytics when you could be using Omniture or simply reporting on campaigns vs. uncovering true business intelligence.

Smartphones have apps for seemingly everything – simple tools we use nearly every day for things like travel, directions, games, photos and social experiences. We use our phones to talk, write, chat, video conference, listen to music, check blood pressure, buy products, sell products, check email, do our online banking…

In short, smartphones and apps are all around us and engrained in our daily lives. But there are some things an iPhone or Droid just can't do. Contrary to popular belief, 'there's an app for that' doesn't actually apply to everything.

Digital Strategy:

Sorry, there is not actually a digital strategy app. However, most businesses are treating digital as though there is some magical strategic app that will make it easy to grow a business. Facebook is not a strategy. Twitter is not a strategy. Search engine marketing is not a strategy. Most companies, from the Fortune 500 to the local dry cleaner, do not have a sound digital strategy. You could argue this, but you would be wrong. It's true many businesses are implementing digital activities and, in some cases, doing a lot and seeing success. However a solid, well-planned strategy is lacking in most every case. Executing upon paid search marketing campaigns, communicating via Twitter or delivering a set of viral videos online is not strategy. I will clarify that I do believe in strategy for each of those separate executional elements (solid planning, measurement and management process, if you will), but an overarching strategy is still of most significant importance.

Measurement & Accountability:

Sorry, no app here either. Most businesses in the digital world fail to achieve true measurement and accountability – it's arguably one of areas most wrought with error. Many companies simply choose not to hold their investments in digital accountable. Let me be clear: measuring and reporting on clicks, likes, fans, site traffic, sales, share of voice and ad rates on some nifty dashboard is not the same thing as holding your marketing investments accountable. Those metrics (and many others like them) provide your business with little more than false hope and misdirection. Measurement and accountability are not quite so convenient and easy to attain. True accountability takes dedication, hard-nosed planning and a keen focus on goals.

Why Do Businesses Fail at Strategy or Accountability?

The answer is an inability to answer a simple question: 'why?' Most businesses do not know WHY they are doing the things they are doing in digital. No, the answer is not as simple as 'to sell more stuff.' That's the derivative – it is always the derivative or the expected outcome. But WHY are businesses doing the things they are doing? Are they doing them because of economic indicators, weather patters, overall demand in the marketplace, to provide better service to customers, to refine customer channel strategy, to define patterns in the business that can be shared throughout the organizational hierarchy? WHY? An honest and clear digital strategy answers these questions, provides clarity and then allows the business to execute strategically against them. Just because a million dollars was spent and a study shows brand awareness increased by four points does not mean the campaign was a success. Similarly, just because that $1 million in media sold $2 million of products does not mean it was successful either. You must understand why that happened and how you can improve from there. 'Doing' is not strategic insight. Just because it is measurable does not mean it is accountable.

People Are the Only Apps of Strategy and Accountability

People are the real applications that drive a business. Driving strategy and critical thinking while holding a business accountable starts with people. People have the power to create, guide, teach, define, measure and hold accountable that which is meaningful. Without true strategy and accountability, most well intended efforts will fail. You and your team of co-workers, senior leadership and third-party partners should fight for the hard answers, to define strategic vision and hold accountable all tactics and people involved. It's not easy, but it is right.

I've read that Steve Jobs didn't believe in the whole concept of apps initially. Good thing he got on board, though. They have helped to transform Apple and the ways we interact with our devices. However, one thing I am certain of is that he did not rely on an app to plan his business nor let something that is measured define accountability. Steve Jobs understood the complexity of strategy, held the business accountable and delivered well against that strategy and accountability plan. Sometimes our apps need updating – and, frankly, we are those apps.

Please feel free to comment below.

Steve Parker, Jr. is a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Levelwing, a digital advertising agency that provides data-driven marketing solutions. Steve can be reached Follow me on Twitter at@sparkerjr.

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