There are lots of definitions of strategy which are applied to marketing and lots of elements of digital marketing, but is strategic digital marketing something which can actually exist? The reason for doubt in my opinion is that almost all of the activities of digital marketing relate to promotions and tactical elements. Let me explain further.
As a start point I have to say that I am a great advocate and supporter of digital marketing, hopefully using it appropriately wherever possible (when time allows, which hasn’t been often enough recently!). However, the cynical part of me which hears people say that digital has changed marketing forever, and those who say that all the old rules have been thrown out make me wonder what their definition of marketing is. Digital has definitely changed marketing communications massively – it is absolutely the case that one way communication is a thing of the past. All communication is at least two way, and often multi-directional, and a significantly smaller percentage of it is now driven by the organisation itself. Instead, it is customers and prospects who start and lead conversations.
However, looking at the broader areas of marketing (and within the communication element), digital has less fundamental impacts. It is a tool with which we can implement marketing communications, often more effectively than previously, but is it actually more than that? Does that make it strategic? My view is that it doesn’t in the more general sense of strategy being plans for the long term direction of the organisation.
It is definitely the case that there is a need for a social media strategy, for example, enabling people in an organisation to understand what the policies around social media use are and what the organisation is trying to achieve with what it does officially. The social media strategy can be part of a wider digital or online strategy in the same way a print media strategy is part of a wider offline communication strategy. However, if we take a more typical definition of strategy such as the one from Michael Porter – “strategy relies on the combination of unique values or activities a firm offers its clients“ then I find it difficult to see how digital can be strategic, it may convey the values of the organisation, but it is not the values in itself.
Digital has a massive part to play in marketing. Digital activities can influence all areas of the marketing mix, and they can influence the digital activity in turn. But they remain tactical elements when considering the overall strategy of the organisation, so there can be a digital strategy, but not strategic digital marketing.
Details of the course we offer for CIM Awards in Digital Marketing (which includes Digital Strategy!) are here.