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Web Strategy

Strategy in Context: A Bird’s Eye View

December 9, 2016
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Today is an auspicious occasion! It marks the first of my Strategy in Context series. As well as my first try at micro-blogging. I have a lot of information on topics like strategy, research, account management, user experience, and more. I’d like to get that information to the public as quick as possible while still posting good, quality content.  Now, I’ll most likely expand on this series in an eventual strategy whitepaper.

I was recently at a tech conference asking people for strategy resources. One person firmly told me that “no one’s going to give me their strategy resources (or process for that matter) because that’s how agencies make the big bucks.” So, okay… that makes sense to me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t give away my strategy resources.

I’d like to address any nay-sayers about publishing digital strategy process, tactics, and/or resources. I come from the open source world where information is shared and the community benefits from that. This is my attempt to give back.  I am more worried about people saturating the internet by building shitty things people don’t need, than I am about someone stealing my strategy process, theories, and thoughts. Plus, I want to spark discussion, so let’s begin.

Strategy in Context

I’m sure everyone is familiar with context-aware design, yeah? It’s when a device (like a smartphone) changes based on the environment in which it’s placed. Our smartphones can make recommendations based on location or auto-adjust the contrast on a bright day. Strategy in context is similar in the sense that we (as strategists) need to take into consideration our environments. And hopefully act accordingly.

Implementing a strategy process can be a daunting practice.

  • A) it’s not a linear process
  • B) it changes at every turn based on new information.

So, how do you conquer a client, project, or product when you aren’t sure how to proceed? You take a step back…and look at things from a holistic standpoint; from a bird’s eye view.

A Bird’s Eye View of Strategy

In order to understand strategy, there is one truth you have to realize: true strategy is continual, it’s not an end-game and never will be. The digital strategy that works for you today, might not be the one that works for you tomorrow, let alone a year from now. And this is why strategists are commodities, because it’s a job that never ends in the web and mobile space.

Holistically speaking, digital strategy is dependent on all its players. It is so entangled with other strategies that looking at it any other way would be a disservice to both you and your client.

The elements of strategy:

  1. The People: your client, their users, the competition, influencers, disruptors
  2. The Assets: things like their culture, their brand, their website, their digital assets are blanketed under this term
  3. The Operations: your client’s business model, their product or service
  4. The Frameworks: from your client’s organizational structure to the technical systems being leveraged.
  5. The Intelligence: the market, the trends, the innovation happening, the economic and political landscapes
  6. The Tactics: different from ‘operations’ – tactics are used to carry out strategies
  7. The Outcomes: the goals, the objectives, the accomplishments, the results

Contingent on each of these elements, strategy will have different meanings depending on its context. It’s too much to take in in a micro-blog post, so as the Strategy in Context series continues, I’ll drill into each one of these areas to give insight into breaking down your strategy process.

The Information Spectrum

At any given moment, there are hundreds of tiny shifts going on in the digital world. Developments that are slowly (or quickly) moving in from the fringes toward the mainstream. A fantastic trend report by Future Today Institute highlights innovation that is making it’s way toward being the established norm. Innovation is often talked about, but overlooked when it comes to strategy positioning.

In order to understand the information spectrum, you first have to understand all the new technologies, trends, and innovation taking place right now. But there are flaws in that thinking as one new technology supplants another. So, first thing you need to do — start building an information database. For all you strategists out there, you need some type of system where you can gather information and access it easily. I’ve built myself TheWebward.com – I call it my morning business review, but it’s really an information database.

You can try RSS aggregators like Digg Reader or create your own. But keeping up-to-date with the technology landscape is your first lesson in strategy. Did you know Baidu is leading the way in conversational interfaces? Or that Blockchain can help fight cyberattacks? Do you know what Blockchain is?

Lost in the Strategy Sky

As you begin your journey into strategy, you may feel lost at times. It happens to everyone and that’s okay. But if you’re lost and can’t find answers, look to other industries. One thing that’s helped me tremendously in developing my strategy process is turning to other sectors that have had strategists for decades. The military, politics, and the intelligence community all have resources on strategy out there that you can research. Then take their core principles and apply them to the digital space. Again, I’ll go into this more in upcoming posts, but I feel like this isn’t really a micro-blog post anymore!

Ok, more to come on Strategy in Context.

The Theory of Strategy Entanglement

November 27, 2016
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I want to talk about strategy, but first, some science. Quantum Entanglement is one of the most perplexing phenomena in quantum mechanics.  It occurs when groups of particles interact in such a way that the state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others. Now, if you remember your physics lesson, a particle is the smallest quantity of matter.  There are macroscopic particles, microscopic particles, and subatomic particles. And simply put, entanglement means that understanding one single particle improves our knowledge of the second one. This is a dead ringer for strategy. The concept that I’m calling strategy entanglement is based on the notion that single strategies should not be described independently of themselves, but rather holistically.  Content strategy and web strategy are both a part of your business strategy.  Independent strategies improve our knowledge of the strategy as a whole.

The Volatile Strategy Particle

What does it takes to be a strategist? I hear people say a “strategist” is just another word for salesperson or that it largely has to do with the planning phase of a project, or it’s just a title that mostly describe people who like to speak their minds!  I don’t necessarily refute those comments because I do think sales (and planning) should both be strategic, and I love to speak my mind, but strategy is this elusive creature that I would like to shed some light on in this post. Strategy is a discipline, and unfortunately, it is not linear. It deviates, it interrupts, it changes with new information, fluctuating data, and further research.

You could say strategy comes in waves and is almost particle-like. There are macro-strategies and micro-strategies, and subatomic strategies (OK, that last one’s a stretch). But to articulate your business strategy you need to look at every part of your business. It can include digital, brand, web, mobile, social media, content, products, and more. Not to mention the marketplace, your competitors, your customers, and your partners. Strategy entanglement image

This image illustrates strategy entanglement and it’s not complete. There are more pieces to this puzzle depending on your business and the industry in which you compete.

Types of Strategy in the Digital Space

There are a few different disciplines, but they all feed into the big strategy which is your business.

  1. Brand Strategy: A plan for the development of a successful brand to improve its reputation and connect with its customers. This is tied to your business, social media, content, and more.
  2. Digital Strategy: A plan for maximizing benefits through digital and technology-driven initiatives. Tied to your business and can incorporate digital products, mobile, web, and other strategies.
  3. UX/Design Strategy: An approach to determine what to build/design, what the user experience should be and why. Oftentimes using data and research to inform decision-making. Heavily incorporated into business strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  4. Content Strategy: Refers to the creation, planning, delivery, and management of appropriate, useful, usable, and user-centered content. Connected to your business, social media, web/mobile strategy.
  5. Social Media Strategy: An approach to garner more engagement on a brand’s social channels. Usually through good content. Entangled with content strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  6. Web/Mobile Strategy: Long-term iterative process of defining the direction of a web/mobile site/app to reach business goals and users’ goals. Entangled with business strategy and more.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about! Your business strategy are all of these strategies put together and then some.

Strategically Strategizing over Strategy

So, which one do you choose? Where do you start? How do you know when you’re doing strategy? All good questions. To me, strategy should be this omnipresent itch that never goes away, and everyone should be scratching at it. Let me clarify — strategy is not a free-for-all, but it is a team effort. Your designer and developer should be strategically thinking about which color palette to use, or which tools will make this CMS more usable for the client. As a strategist you’re responsible for the bigger picture.

When you sit down to map out your strategy plan, there’s a process I use in getting the information I need. I’ll outline it in the next section. But you need to remember this: As the process continues each piece of information will impact the next and so on. So, this process is really just an outline or map for putting all the pieces together.

A Strategic Overview

  1. Client:
    • Intake – putting together a client intake sheet is a critical first step. Document the company overview and details, requirements, goals, objectives, and other pertinent information on paper.
    • Assessment – this can include SWOT analysis, analytics review, social listening, PEST analysis, brand assessment, etc. The more you get, the longer it’ll take to sort, but the decision making will be based on better information.
  2. Research:
    • You can perform organizational research on your client’s company (e.g. – interview stakeholders). You can do user research (e.g. – send a survey to customers, field observations). Or quantitative (measurable and objective) and qualitative (observational and subjective).
    • Look at your client’s marketplace and competitors.
  3. Users:
    • We’ve done some research on them, checked your client’s analytics, it’s time to create personas. Get an idea (and make sure everyone’s on the same page) of who you are trying to target.
    • You can create an empathy map, or do experience mapping.

The pulse of the digital landscape

In addition to putting all the information together on your clients and their environments, I’ll also have digital intelligence reports. Now, I want to expand on this further in my next post, but that might take a couple of weeks, so here’s an overview.

My digital intelligence reports focus on the heartbeat or the pulse of the technological landscape. Meaning that in order to stay at the fore-front, you have to know what’s going on at the fore-front. I’ll target 3 key areas in my DIR’s, they are:

  • Intelligence: what’s hot right now in the tech space
  • Disruptors: what and/or who is disrupting the landscape that’s outpacing all the rest
  • Influencers: what companies are influencing or shaping the tech environment

This keeps me up-to-date with the digital pulse, but it also sparks innovation and creativity when engaging with new clients.

Correlating the information

The end result of the above outlines will be lots and lots of documentation. You’re going to have documents on your client, their market, their competitors and their users as well as the digital landscape. Which, is what we want. This information will inform not only the direction of the initiative, but it can help with your client’s business, content, social media strategies and more.

Let’s say your client who is in the health & wellness space talks about being a thought-leader in that sector. You would have to know that the fore-front of the health space right now is CogTech, IoT and connected devices/platforms. They’re experimenting with “ownables” not “wearables” anymore. Implantable tracking technologies could very well be the next evolution in healthcare. Being able to relay that info back to your client to help with innovation as well as ideas for the future puts you beyond just a tactical partner.

The reality is is that research about the tech landscape will give you a baseline for engaging with your client. You can see where they fit on the innovation scale and help them get further. Understanding who they are and what they want to do will give direction for digital initiatives. Understanding their users will help you connect their goals and objectives with users’ needs. It’s one big web of entanglement.

Summing up strategy entanglement

It’s never going to be easy. Strategy entanglement is the only way to truly see the bigger picture. When working with clients it’s almost always about making the business better. Whether that’s through a new website, more engaging content, selling more products, or social initiatives, it all feeds into the business. But that is dependent on all the smaller strategies. And some of the micro strategies can be dependent on each other. Your social media strategy depends on your content strategy, which depends on your business strategy.

To make this easier for people, I am in the process of creating a PDF document called Strategy in Context. It will outline the delayering of strategy. If you think about the complexity of strategy entanglement, it’s almost too much to fathom. So, I’m creating a document that will break down each piece of what I wrote about in this post. But remember, it won’t be linear. Strategy is not a linear process, even though many people think it can be. It’s about consuming the information and making the appropriate decision at each milestone and everywhere in between.

Strategy is an omnipresent itch, and everyone should be scratching at it.

How many people out there have a specific morning routine that consists of keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in your market, your industry, and your competitive landscape? I do! And for those of you in business, you probably do too. Well, what if you could shorten that routine? When I started in the web industry, I knew keeping up to date with the pulse of the technological community was something that just had to be done. Hence, my morning business review! I built something that really helped me shorten the time I spend online listening to the heartbeat of the industry, and I wanted to share it with all of you!

When I moved from freelance and contract web development work to business development, a whole new ballgame took shape. It wasn’t about div’s, stylesheets, includes, and semantic markup anymore; it was about competition, leads, emerging technologies, concepts, and timing. Being seen as the expert was a must, even though the experts were behind the scenes working on the solution. You have to know what’s new, what’s changed, what’s worth taking a look at, and what’s worth talking about. So, what did I do? I started going to good sources to get information. Moz Blog, Mashable, TechCrunch, Harvard Business Review, and more.

The chaos of a morning routine…

I began by viewing the industry blogs, business reviews, industry leaders’ tweets, Linkedin streams, and so on. But hopping from one source to another online takes time. I would start my morning routine for work before I got into the office. I would get up early, usually at 5am. Drink my morning coffee while watching the morning news. Then I’d hop online and look at these different blogs, go to Twitter and see what people were talking about. As I grew in my craft, I started to look at alternate sources like AMEX Open Forum and Smashing Mag, but I also looked at what agencies were talking about. It was (is) important to know what the competition is up to.

I would go to the gym around 6:30am, get to the office around quarter to 8, then continue with my search. There’s so much information out there for business development people, that it’s exhausting just thinking about which sources to read, to believe, to leverage. It also got to be a lot of running around online. I needed a place where I could bring all these different sources together, compile information, and make that information work for me as I continued to build relationships and sell web projects.

Bringing ideas to life…

So, I had this crazy idea! What if I could build a website that pulls in all the sources I look at in one easy-to-access place? Wouldn’t that shorten the time I spent in the morning? Of course it would! So, I started fleshing it out.

The first thing I did was put up a quick website under the name TheWebward.com – think forward or westward. I used WordPress, the open-source, awesomely easy application to build websites with. Even though I did front-end development, I knew bringing in RSS feeds wasn’t going to be easy, so I looked for a plugin. And I found one—WP RSS Aggregator. It did exactly what I needed it too. I ended up with a little over 50 RSS feeds that I pulled into this website. Then I separated them by pulling them into different pages — Agency, Design, Sales, Strategy, Tech, WordPress, and so on. I had all my blogs and sources in one location, and categorized accordingly.

Screenshot of WP RSS aggregator plugin in dashboard

Check out the WP RSS Aggregator plugin – it’s super easy to pull in the feed, all you need is the feeds URL, and you can choose how many previous articles you want it to pull in. Then use a shortcode to get it to display on the front-end. I ended up doing the past 5 articles because I look at the feeds often, and that was plenty for me!

Screenshot of the Webward.com

All my design RSS feeds pulled into one single page!

Continuing to add more features…

But well-known blogs weren’t the only sources I went to during my morning business review. I also went to social media, company postings, groups, and more. So, I used a few different plugins for this feature:

  1. Easy Twitter Feed Widget — which allows you to display Twitter feeds on your website.
  2. Custom Facebook Feed Plugin — which allows you to display completely customizable Facebook feeds of any public page or group. *Note – it cannot pull in private groups.

Working with these two plugins was super easy. The hard part was working it out with the respective social channels. For the Easy Twitter Feed, I had to go into Twitter and create all the widgets with the person’s (or company’s) Twitter handle to get the Twitter ID, which allowed me to pull the feed into my morning business review website.

Twitter Widgets

Now, I’m sure there’s probably an easier way to do this instead of creating dozens of widgets, but I need to get more familiar with Twitter’s API and their developer documentation (which I’m in the process of doing), so as soon as I come up with a better way to do, I’ll let you know!

It was kind of the same thing with the Facebook groups and pages. FB no longer adds the page/group ID to the end of the URL, so I had to look at the source code for the page, find their ID, and pull it into my morning business review.

Source code for FB group to find group ID

Then it was just adding a shortcode on the back-end page to get a display like this on the front-end:

Facebook Groups on The Webward

And this:

Easy Twitter Feed Widget front-end display

I aptly named this area of TheWebward — The SocialSphere.

The SocialSphere on TheWebward
The SocialSphere

Making my morning business review even better…

For a long time that was what my morning business review consisted of; Daily RSS Feeds and The SocialSphere. But I always thought about how I could make it better. I’m pulling in all this information. Some articles I like and some seem like they’d be super helpful. Others I couldn’t read right way. So, I created a reading list! I use the “Press This” button that comes with WordPress and allows you to capture articles that you want to share. When I find an article that I like or that I think might be useful, I save it. I’ll also put it in one (or two) categories, and attach tags to it like “analytics,” “strategy,” or “mobile.” This helps me class certain articles to fit with certain personas (I’ll explain later!).

The reading list eventually turned into the Article Library which separates interesting and useful articles into different subsections. My train of thought behind this was simple: as a biz dev guy I’m engaged with different types of people (or personas) and they are interested in different things. Some like content, others like education, or marketing tips. But I knew I was going to create personas and eventually attach articles to them to be used as a starter kit for my sales “toolbag” — pretty neat, eh?

Building buyer personas and developing a sales toolbag…

If you’re in business development, then you know what buyer personas are. They are a representation of the types of people you engage with to buy your product or service. Buyer personas list out their demographics, communication preference, major goals, pain points, etc. And this essentially helps you market your message and your sales pitch to them. So, I created a few buyer personas as Custom Post Types, which actually isn’t that difficult to do in WP. I also created custom taxonomies for my buyer personas that reflected the industry they were in, the role that they played, and their affect or emotional mood. Then I used Advanced Custom Fields to add more fields where I could put in their age, location, pain points, challenges, and so on.

How cool is that? Let’s look at the Tech CEO (one of my buyer personas):

Tech CEO Buyer Persona


As you can see all these different fields are on the backend like so:

Back-end Custom Post Type Buyer Persona

I also made a few spots to attach useful PDF’s, articles, and areas of interests (tags) that were already a part of the reading list.

Tech CEO Buyer Persona

If I’m engaged with a Tech CEO and I’m trying build rapport or trust with them, I can always come to my morning business review and pick an article or two they might be interested in. Or if I need talking points, I can just look at the “areas of interest” and choose a topic. It’s really just a way for me to use all the information that I’m pulling in to my website.

This is going to be different for you because we all work in different industries and we all have different buyer personas. But I wanted to show what’s possible when you start fleshing out ideas! WordPress helps because it’s super easy to use and easy to integrate with other mediums.

Adding some good vibes…

Because this was the site that I visited first thing in the morning, I needed to make it feel like home, or be inspirational. I added a big slider with nice images of the sunrise, skylines I like, and more to put me in the right frame of mind. I added an image of a “virtual high-five” to get some daps for when I needed to get pumped-up (fist bump!). Then I also used the Quote of the Day plugin by QuoteTab to pull in a new quote everyday.

Homepage of TheWebward.com
Today’s ‘Good Morning’ Quote!

This gave me inspiration. I pulled in Morning quotes, Happy quotes, Leadership quotes, Motivational quotes, Life quotes, and the list goes on. So, everyday I wake up, I go to TheWebward.com and the homepage consists of inspirational quotes, messages, and sliders that just give me good vibes. Then I hop over to my Daily Feeds page and see what’s new! It’s pretty awesome!

What’s next for my morning business review?

That’s a great question and I have a few avenues I’d like to explore. That’s why I have a Sandbox on the website! But I’ve recently put a calendar (courtesy of The Events Calendar Plugin) on it where I enter in my usually meetups, NIM groups, and WordCamps/DrupalCamps. But I wonder if there isn’t a way to integrate that with the WordPress.com WordCamp calendar. There might me, but I’ll have to do some digging. Here are the big ideas that I have (and in the name of sales):

  • Business Intelligence Engine — I know, sounds fancy, right? Well, it probably is and it may be a little outside my development wheelhouse. But I think it would be really cool to be able to set certain metrics on the site, like pulling in quantitative results and figuring out when the best time to reach out to a certain company would be. I’ll have to do a lot more digging here, but if anyone knows of open-source business intelligence software, give me a shout!
  • Case Studies — I’d eventually like to add a field for Case Studies because these are an oh so important tool in the salesmen’s toolkit!
  • Company Profiles — I’d have to do some research here too, but what’s one of the things biz dev people need? Lists, right? Everyone hates cold-calling, but if I could pull in company profiles and figure a way to attach the people I know to those companies, I might be able to do something with that. I’ll have to look more into LinkedIn’s developer documentation, and other sources like Data.com
Turning a chaotic morning into a well-oil business machine…

Yeah, that’s right! My morning business review, TheWebward.com, really ups my game in keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in the technology space! I love it! Without it, I’d still be hopping from one source to another to yet another. It literally cut my morning routine by about half the time. I can spend more time reading articles, developing cool new features, or putting in a little extra time at the gym!

So, if you’re in the business development world, I highly recommend building something like this! It’ll make your job easier and it’ll free up more time for your personal stuff! If you need any help, don’t hesitate to reach out! And, if you read the stuff I read, and follow the people I follow, then by all means, use away!