For the past few months, I've been working on a book about digital marketing strategy and how to do it right. The book draws on my 15 years of experience as a digital marketer and consultant with large companies and organizations including AAA, PepsiCo, Johns Hopkins Medicine, United Nations Foundation, and The White House, in addition to my work with local businesses, startups, and small nonprofits on a shoe-string budget.
I've been inspired by the teaching I've done through Ignite Academy to write down, in easy steps, a system I have been using to help purpose-driven organizations reach their audiences and ignite real action. I’ve seen success in using this framework and so I want to teach others how to create digital strategies that are meaningful, manageable, and measurable.
I'm working hard to make the ideas accessible and easy to implement. Indeed, the book is more a workbook than a textbook. It raises the important questions to ask when creating a digital strategy and it provides easy tools and a template to get started.
As I go through the writing process, in the spirit of collaboration and transparency, I'd like to share small sections of the book via the Ignite blog. This week, I'm pleased to share a section from the introduction about an early experience that taught me the difference between tactics and strategy. I hope you enjoy it.
It’s game time.
I’ll never forget my first tennis tournament in 7th grade. I woke up early, ate a good breakfast, and blasted Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” to get pumped. I was a nervous 13-year-old about to play in his first big sports event.
That morning, my father gave me a piece of advice about strategy that I will never forget: Just get the ball over the net, and let your opponent make the mistakes. I repeated that statement in my head while I stood on the court and waited to return the first serve.
It worked. I won the match and went on to the finals.
In retrospect, my father’s advice was a gift partly because it gave me a strategy instead of focusing on tactics and techniques. A strategy is greater than just tactics. It brings together larger goals and ambitions—the “why”—with tactics—the “how.” And, maybe most importantly, a strategy is flexible and can be fit to changing circumstances.
Overall, I was a pretty good tennis player. And I knew my strengths and weaknesses. I had a strong, if inelegant, backhand, but my serve wasn’t as powerful as some of my opponents. Luckily, I was fast and tireless, so my father’s strategy worked. Eventually, my opponents would get fatigued and make mistakes.
I was not the best player in terms of form and technique. My tactics were a mixed bag. (It’s hard to admit that my backhand looked more like a baseball swing than anything else.) There were other tactics that I used, such as playing more aggressively from the baseline or keeping my serves consistent.
Part of my strategy was to study my opponent, to understand his strengths and weaknesses. As well, I had to stay focused on the goal: getting the ball over the net. When I employed my tactics within the larger framework of a strategy, I won points, which turned into winning games, and, ultimately, matches.
These lessons of tennis strategy have influenced how I think about digital strategy. There are a lot of different digital marketing tactics an organization can use. Furthermore, each organization is going to have its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to digital marketing techniques. But to focus too much on tactics is to lose the bigger picture.
An organization that wants to make real gains needs a digital strategy that makes the ideals of an organization its highest priority. That strategy must then flexibly employ tactics to respond to a constantly changing digital landscape.
Let’s get the ball over the net, shall we?