10 commandments for enterprise digital strategy

Today’s This American Life led with a selection of Ten Commandments for unlikely and rather specific audiences. There were the Ten Commandments for Gold Miners (“thou shalt not pan out gold from another’s riffle box”), for umpires (unsurprisingly, “keep your eye on the ball”),  and Paris dining (“thou shalt not be too familiar with a waiter”). People often ask what a chief digital officer does, and my standard reply is that a CDO directs the digital strategy for communications and engagement with key audiences in ways unique to an increasingly digital social and mobile world — but consistent with the offline one. This segment made me think it was worth taking a swing at drafting ten commandments for enterprise digital strategy.

1. Follow your users  rather than build it and hope they’ll come. Not a new idea, but a vital one relevant to emerging social platforms as well as old-school destination sites. Investing in a stable and updated web property is important — people expect to have their needs met clearly and efficiently  when they come to your site. But that’s table stakes, these days — information in context of your users’ online experiences is the real winning play. Your organization needs to provide engagement opportunities and serve content in context on the sites, within the networks and optimized for the devices of your target audiences.

2. Strike a balance between control and influence. Today’s brand management is a far cry from the 80s when brands had a playbook that they could use to make and enforce the rules — today the brand should be guided by the institution, but is ultimately molded by your stakeholders. Understand where the brand has to sacrifice some control to understand, engage with, and influence wider audiences.

3. Bias toward open. “Open” is both ill-defined and over-used as a concept, but remains useful proxy  for an approach to your digital efforts. Don’t focus solely on your own enterprise standards —  adopt open standards where possible. Look to build on open source platforms where you’ll have the power of a community behind you rather than a proprietary system where you’re beholden to an SDK. (Side note: watch for openwashing.) Similarly, think about which assets you have and consider how an open API for those assets might empower your community (see influence, above) to do more with them.

4. Avoid “not invented here“ and embrace “proudly found elsewhere.” Enterprises inevitably fall victim to silos — and the fallacy that you and your team can come up with the best ideas is surprisingly common. Whether you surface those ideas by crowdsourcing, or by identifying smart people in your community who can inform your thinking, know that you’re stronger employing the network. And that there’s still an important layer of value creation inherent to bringing these ideas to production-quality and scale.

5. Publish once, use everywhere you possibly can. Content strategy is a linchpin of any digital effort, and content marketing is an established part of digital engagement strategy. Find ways to invest in high-quality content, and make sure that content can be readily syndicated with the right metadata to fuel multiple publications. And that’s not only your own content — where possible, aggregate and syndicate assets found across the enterprise. This involves thinking about content as separate from its presentation — a core tenet of content management — in a way that’s often counterintuitive to the structure of large organizations.

6. Adopt new technologies, but avoid enchantment with bright and shiny objects. The best thing about a digital-first communications approach is also the worst thing — it’s an atmosphere of constant change. This is challenging from a budgetary perspective (How many social channels can an organization support? How many devices can it invest in custom apps for?), but arguably an even greater drain on attention and energy. Create a set of operating principles specific to your business goals that govern your digital investments,  and use them to drive prioritization and decisionmaking. It’s dangerous (but surprisingly common) to have professional-grade FOMO drive strategy for platform adoption. Data — both third party trends and primary data specific to your users that relate back to business goals — are vital for crafting your approach here.

7. Understand that mistakes will be made. And if you’re doing it right, you’ll be making a bunch of them. Enterprise environments are generally more forgiving of wait-and-see indecision than they are of failure — particularly when a mistake becomes public knowledge. Digital is such a fast-moving environment that it’s hard to advance without any initiatives failing. It’s important not to confuse this reality with acceptance of mediocrity and/or sloppiness, and to make sure every failure is a learning opportunity. An enterprise digital competency and change management go hand-in-hand, so find leaders and partners that share your bias, acknowledge the role of failure, and reward responsible risk-taking.

8. Accept that the devil is in the (sometimes tedious) details. Everyone enjoys attending the design comps meeting, but one hell of a lot happens between layered photoshop files and delivering a compelling digital experience of your brand. The success of a digital initiative often depends on the smart people and agile, iterative processes focused on execution. Performance, measured in milliseconds, matters. The more you communicate internally about your performance metrics as much as your visual design, the more you’ll educate executives and peers about what drives and diminishes user adoption.

9. But don’t underestimate the value of design. Position your digital products at the intersection of speed and beauty. The load and transaction times are key drivers of usage, but the design thinking behind to your products is critical. And the bar is high, especially in the growing mobile sphere, where design as well as functionality is a key part of the success of apps like Instagram.

10. Measure, rinse, repeat. Understand the behaviors of the people using your products. Too much digital experience design is done in meeting rooms over PowerPoint, and too little by looking at analytics data or live testing in the field. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of mindless reporting, but thoughtful analytics provide both illustrative insights and data for making your case for investment.

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