‘It’s how we’ve always done it’.
These are the words of bureaucracy. The words of inflexibility. Words that may make sense in the context of a well oiled machine delivering efficiently in a static environment. But as we’ve seen, digital media is not static. It’s dizzyingly dynamic. And efficiency and success in this space are not achieved through myopic adherence to legacy processes, but to approaching challenges and opportunities with an open mind.
Take the perspective provided by Matthias Hendrichs when discussing digital strategy and transformation in China. This is a unique market with its own particular idiosyncrasies, and as he puts it, what doesn’t work ‘is to copy and paste ideas and business models from other parts of the world’. A good example to highlight this is the fact that eBay failed when they entered the Chinese market and tried to apply their global business model without much of an adaptation to the local conditions. He identifies the key to success in digital strategy as having an open mind and making your differentiation about understanding industries and looking at ways to disrupt them as well as using digital as a facilitator of that disruption. This begins by understanding how the business models work and then challenging them. The best way to do that is by gathering experts in those industries and together brainstorming on how digital technology can disrupt them. I love this idea of the role of the digital strategist as someone that asks questions of industry experts with the express purpose of finding ways of making things better, largely as a result of having an open mind. This opinion was reflected by David Jowett in the context of our conversation about the European digital strategist. David contends that the role of the strategist is to ‘disrupt the obvious answer, the way it’s always been done and to problem solve through that disruption’. This disruption allows the strategist to understand where ‘the consumer journey has broken down or where it can be activated even harder’.
These international perspectives are reinforced by Gustavo Arruda who, in discussing the international digital strategist saw that an open mind is critically important for success. In his opinion, ‘you can’t plan a global strategy just sitting in your office’. You have to ‘experience what your customers are experiencing’. It is also important to listen to the local sales people, the ‘eyes on the ground’ since they will give you a good sense of what’s going on locally.
This need for an open mind was echoed by Erin Burrell in her exploration of the role of gender in digital strategy. As she advised women starting out in the space, the key to success is to not ‘be afraid to try something even if you don’t know. Jumping in and testing your skills on a new tool, a new idea, a new concept, that is what makes us creative, what makes us groundbreakers. Don’t be afraid to take a lateral move in order to learn something new. Take a test project on with your leadership group and test your boundaries. When you’re starting out take a generalist stance and learn a bunch of things and find which one fits…Pushing your boundaries allows you to be a student and an expert at the same time’.
An open mind needs to be fed. It needs an environment that allows it to be nourished or else it atrophies and closes. This environment, combined with an open minded attitude gives the digital strategist the well rounded perspective they need to be successful. As Scott Ensign says in our conversation about the digital strategist in the shadow of Google, he sees the need for people starting in the industry to explore a variety of disciplines within marketing. This is reflected in the tendency among young practitioners moving from role to role today. Scott is not too concerned by this tendency because he sees it as a function of the a major trend driving opportunities to be strategic in the search space, namely the trend towards ‘the democratization of information’. He believes this is a positive trend because it gives those that are just getting into the space the opportunity to access information like never before by reading blogs, watching videos and online presentations, or if in an agency environment to talk with those from other disciplines. The opportunities to learn are now simply ‘limited by peoples aptitude and appetite for learning’. He urges those starting out to really take the opportunity to learn and to have an open mind in approaching a career in this space, since the incredible rate of change makes it extremely difficult to plan out a career path.
An open mind. The key to success in a career in digital strategy.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist with our next guest. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.