For the last three years or so I have been writing various articles on branding, strategy, social media and general marketing. And I was thinking that I was contributing to a body of knowledge about HOW to go about the hard work of using digital spaces to change the way that people behave. After all, if there is one thing that we, as marketers strive for, it’s changing behaviour.

But then, when I looked back through my digital strategy archive, I was surprised that I could not find anything about continuous digital strategy – or the way that I actually go about the business of creating strategy. You see, for me, strategy is an ever-evolving process which is revisted across the lifecycle of any project. So, perhaps it is more of a spiral than a circle as shown above … but really the key point is that each of these steps are to be touched on in rapid iteration in the planning, execution/implementation and evaluation phases of any project. And the faster you cycle through, the more agile and responsive your work will be.

Let’s take a look at how it fits together.

Objectives: You have to have serious objectives. Your insight process will have delivered you a challenge, and out of that you or your client will have laid out some objectives which need to be met. They may be “fluffy” objectives like “awareness” or “reach” or they may be harder – like “increasing sales 20%” or “200 new customers”.

Audience: Once you know what the company or client expects, it’s time to turn your attention to the need states of your audience. What do they want? What do they expect? What do they aspire to? What is unmet? What do they look, smell and taste like? It’s time to get up close and personal with the folks who pay your bills!

Footprint: Now that you know your audiences in their pungent granularity, you now need to understand their behaviour. Where do they go? What do they do? Where to they spend time and why? This is about walking a mile or two in their shoes. But it also a chance to match the footprints of your brands/products. What overlaps? What doesn’t? Where are the opportunities. And where are the touchpoints that will become valuable as your project grows. You need to map out and understand the nuances of these as they will become launchpads for your conversations (or perhaps, as David Armano would say, they are the places where the skimming stones cause a ripple of influence).

Content: As you may have guessed, for me, this is storytime. Here you start to look at the structures of storytelling that will bridge the gaps you have identified in the earlier steps. What can you do to emotionally engage and entertain? How can you use P-L-A-Y to activate, surprise and delight your audiences?

Converse: This is where your strategy becomes one of amplification rather than shouting. In the two-way or polyphonic space of the web, your strategy needs to help you turn great content that YOU produce into great stories that others TELL on your behalf. This is the Auchterlonie Effect that I have discussed in other posts. It is where social capital (or what Tara Hunt calls whuffie) is both created and spent, accumulated and shared.

Commitment: Once we begin conversing – between the people behind the brand and those who consume it, a whole lot of human strangeness steps in. What happens if we like these people “over there” (on either side)? What are the rules of engagement? How do we get serious about progressing our relationship – moving from transactions to experience – and what does that take on both our parts to come to a mutual understanding?

Measurement: We often think that measurement is difficult. It’s not. What is hard is committing to the numbers and to the metrics. If we have done the hard work of aligning our project objectives with the overall strategic objectives of our businesses, then much of this falls in place. But we also need to follow this through each of the other steps. For example, which audiences are important (or are influential) for your brand/product? Measure it. How much time do they spend on the web and on which sites? Measure it. Which pieces of content will drive engagement (and which pieces need to change and evolve as your project grows)? Measure it. How far do your conversations echo across the web? Measure it. What are the intangibles – and what can be substantiated via research? Measure it.

Now, once you have an iteration complete, race through it all again. Pool your learnings from each stopping point and drive them back through the process. Make your brand better. Make your customer experience more profound. Refine, substantiate and evolve.

For me, this is what digital strategy is all about – not the technology – but getting to people. Making it messy. But making it real.