What I Learned About Digital Strategy Innovation at #DigitalNY

Jordan Hirsch, Director, Strategy
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Last week I attended The Innovation Enterprise's Digital Strategy Innovation Summit in New York City. The theme was innovation, and the speakers ranged from SVPs of Digital for Warner Bros and CBS, to Phase2's very own Experience Director Shawn Mole, who spoke about the new digital experience team. Here are some of the main things I took away from this gathering of thought leaders in digital strategy:

  • Innovation Begins at Home."Internal innovation breeds customer innovation." - Kelly Manthey, Vice President, Strategy & Innovation, Solstice MobileInnovation begins with organizational culture. If you want to be an innovative company, or persuade your customers and clients that you can help them innovate, you need to give your own staff the room to come up with ideas that challenge the status quo...even when that's difficult. Most organizations incentivize stasis and repetition (if it ain't broke...), but if you want to foster innovation, you have to incentivize change. Make your organization a safe space for experimentation, new ideas, and even --- gasp! -- failure. Yes, it's a tired point by now to say that failure is a good thing, but saying it and accepting it are different things. One innovation you can try right away is to follow the advice of Robert Harles, Global Head of Social Media at Bloomberg, who recommended that companies focus far less on hiring for a specific skill set, and far more on hiring smart people - after all, you can teach skills, but you can't teach smart. If you're hiring smart people and providing a safe place for them to take risks, you're laying a foundation for a culture of innovation - and that foundation will help you innovate not just internally, but also for your clients and customers.
  • Win Over Management with Transparency - and Meaningful Metrics.Say you have a great idea for change at your company. It's a little different from how you normally do things, but you believe it has the potential to be a huge success. How do you convince the top brass that your idea is worth the risk? First off, you have to acknowledge that there is a risk. Transparency is key to earning your management team's trust. Just as important: arm yourself with metrics. Of course, metrics for digital strategy can be easy to come by (Google Analytics is free, after all) but difficult to interpret. And social media ROI can be a challenge to measure in terms of real value ("we got 100 'likes,' is that good?"). Taking the time to come up with key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that align with management's goals and priorities will pay off as you try to blaze a trail. It won't always be easy to show the value of a new initiative, but the more you can relate your measurements to what your senior leadership is already measuring, and the objectives they care about, the better chance you'll have of getting them on your side - which is essential if you want your ideas to see the light of day.
  • Own Your Strategy.Consultants are great.A good consultant (like Phase2!) can provide support and help guide your strategic thinking with expertise an outsider's valuable point of view. But no one can tell you what's important to your organization - only you can make that call, and trying to outsource it will most likely result in a strategy that doesn't reflect your organization's real goals. If you're working towards a strategy that is truly meaningful to your organization, then your innovations will be in service of the right things. Innovation just for the sake of innovating sounds fun, but without a coherent strategy, how do you know if you've been successful?
  • Manage Expectations.

    Phase 2 Quote
    "SUCCESS = RESULTS MINUS EXPECTATIONS"
    -Imran Haque, Head of Digital Strategy, Zoetis

    Everyone knows you have to manage expectations, right? Once again, knowing a thing and doing it are not the same thing. Particularly when you're dealing with something new, expectations can easily get out of hand if you're not carefully managing them. Not all innovations will succeed, but if you're dealing with unmanaged expectations, even success can end up looking like failure.

  • Align Your Metrics with Your Goals.
    Jennifer Burnham, the Director of Social Content Marketing for Salesforce, told us about how her bosses asked her if she could get them a million Twitter followers. Her response was "why?" As I discussed in my post about requirements gathering, if you don't know your goals, you have no way of knowing if you're headed in the right direction.This goes hand-in-hand with owning your strategy - these are your goals, and they have to reflect what's important for your organization. When it comes to digital innovation, it's easy to conflate numbers with success. But really, what's the point of having a million followers if you don't know what you're going to ask of them? How do Facebook 'likes' help you if you aren't positioned to take advantage of all that goodwill? Strategy without a goal is like a map to nowhere.
  • Focus, try, measure, repeat.You can't do it all. The digital landscape is littered with shiny objects that can easily lead you astray (see below).

    [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="337"]How many of these will exist in a year? How many of these will exist in a year?[/caption]

    You may not have the luxury of focusing on only one thing a time, but we all know what happens when you try to focus everywhere at once. Find where the line is for your organization, and stick to it for a while. When trying something new, it pays to start small - change often happens incrementally, not overnight. Use meaningful metrics to measure the impact of your efforts as best you can. Iterate on your approach and make small changes as you go. Don't give up, but be willing to make adjustments and change course along the way. Innovation isn't easy, and failure is part of the game, but it's a lot easier to recover from a small failure than a giant one. Give yourself room to recover and try, try again.

Innovation is more than a buzzword - it's how we grow, change, and respond to the world around us. The fact that innovation is natural doesn't make it easy - walking is natural, too, and as I watch my daughter learn that skill I'm reminded how much falling down is a part of the process. But hopefully the tips above will help you carve out space for innovation at your organization, and help you ensure that your innovations are in service of your overall goals. Good luck! Check out Shawn Mole's slides from his talk "The New Experience Team."

Jordan Hirsch

Jordan Hirsch

Director, Strategy