What (on earth!!) does a digital strategist do?

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When I started my career 12 years ago as a PR consultant in Melbourne, the most common question I was asked was: What do you do all day?

It took me about six years to explain to my friends and family that a PR consultant’s job mainly revolves around getting people to talk about brands / businesses in a way that encourages loyalty and recommendation.

Or, to simplify it even further, getting talked about without ‘directly’ paying for it – in other words, word of mouth advertising.

When my career took a turn six years ago to focus more on digital media as a way of interacting with consumers / stakeholders, I had to go through this education process all again (it would have been easier to become a Fireman I swear!)

So, to try and explain what I and many other people in the marketing and communications industry now do on a daily basis, I’ve created (and borrowed) the following description and supporting charts to help us create a universal ‘digital strategist definition’.

A digital strategist – explained

Let’s start by borrowing one of the best explanations I’ve ever seen / read about digital strategist provided by Jon Crowley on his blog attention industry.

The example he used was how he explained his job to his father who is/was a Transportation Planner.

“My focus is the consumer (commuter).  They have a bunch of different touch points (transport options) that all build to the same goal, getting them information they want and/or need (getting them from place to place).

I might consult on the layout of each individual digital touch point (transport option), but I’m not the guy who builds them.  I don’t know how to code a website (build a car) well enough to do it meaningfully.

I’m responsible for knowing what all the pieces are supposed to do, knowing how people use them, and figuring out how to link them together in a way that helps people do what they want to do, and migrate between touch points.

Abandoning the metaphor, this includes social strategy, content strategy, CRM, site, mobile, LBM, applications, in-store, experiential, etc etc etc.  Again, I’m not a master at executing all of these things – I’m just aware of what they all do, how they all work, and the role they play in creating an integrated experience.

So, Digital Strategy is Transportation Planning.  This is my answer next time I have the ‘what does that mean?’ conversation.”

I really think you’ll struggle to find a better description than that.

The other way I often describe my job is a ‘Digital Translator’.

Again, sitting in the middle, with knowledge of how lots of different digital tactics work, my role often involves explaining the impact of each tactic to clients in order for them to make informed decisions.

The process often looks like this:

Let’s look at another slide from jinalshah.com which talks about the need for the digital strategist role to evolve.

To quote directly from her blog:

“I think there are three main communication cycles where a digital strategist can situate themselves: Brand building/ awareness cycle; Acquisition or product sale cycle and customer loyalty cycle. See the attached diagram. Depending on the project need and the agency’s capabilities, a digital strategist with the right type of “excellence” should be on the team.”

Your Answer…

So, if you are asked what does a digital strategist do, or would like to occupy a job like this one day, this post might provide you with some clarity.The toughest part relates to knowledge depth.

You have to understand the role and impact of many different disciplines in order to operate effectively in this role.

More importantly, you need to have specialists you can call on to implement activity to the levels required.

As they say in the classics, its a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

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