March 8, 2017

You’ll Only Score a Digital Marketing Success If You Know Where the Goalposts Are

Digital planning is about more than tactics: it’s the synergy of strategy and goals, and the tactics to meet those goals. If you are a digital or tech professional, you have probably more than once had a colleague request a tactic that didn’t actually meet the goals they wanted to achieve.

In 2010, I was producing training for state parties and the DNC. Party leaders, communications, and digital staff kept asking for blueprints and guidance to make sense of the complex web of digital strategy, but I felt that simply handing over our plan with no context would be a bit like strategic malfeasance. I liken it to someone asking for the blueprints to a house when you don’t know if they’ve ever swung a hammer, have the right resources, or if your blueprint would even fit their lot.

So I knew I had to go deeper, and wrote a book: The Digital Plan: A practical guide to a strategic digital plan. At its core, digital strategy is about goals: asking the right questions to choose the right goals and making a plan to achieve them.

Here are my top two tips to keep your tactics, strategies, and goals aligned.

Acknowledge and pivot to goals.

Let’s say someone comes to you and asks for a specific thing without any goals–for example, a microsite (which often isn’t so micro) or a video. More often than not, they have real needs and goals and just don’t know how to ask.

1) Acknowledge, listen, and empathize with the ask. Confirm you are listening and interested in the project. Validate their role and their specialty knowledge. Don’t take offense if what they want is out of scope or not actually going to meet goals.

2) Ask them about their goals. What is their number one goal? Is it to move messaging, raise money, get people to an event, etc? Make sure you get to the top-level goals and away from the tactic. Validate the goal and repeat back what the goal is.

3) Pivot to strategy to find the right scope and tactic. Now that you have them in conversation around their top-level goals, pivot to strategy. Affirm you want to help them meet their goals and that you are building out the right strategy to get there. From here you should be able to tackle the conversation from a place of shared strategy.

Join the planning conversations early.

Too often people who work on digital or tech-related aspects are brought in after the fact. Make sure you ask those planning campaigns or whoever in leadership can advocate for you to join in planning conversations from the beginning. This gives you the chance to head off the confusion of tactic vs goal when planning.

In the early conversations, encourage people to stay focused on goals before digging too much into tactics. As tactics pop up, acknowledge them as possibilities but be sure to not lose that framing.

For example, let’s say people are jumping straight to the idea of a Twitter campaign. Acknowledge the idea and both the merits and weaknesses of the idea. Give folks the feedback they need and then pivot back to goals: “A Twitter campaign could be a great way to get to our goals.” Then reopen other ways to meet the goals.

Make sure when you close whatever initial meetings might be taking place that you are aligned on what the digital goals, tactics, and overall strategy are. Ambiguity over this might leave some stakeholders believing the discussed tactics are the strategy and that all that was discussed is moving forward. This is one place you should be definitive.

A strategic digital plan at its core should be about goals. It is important to be clear about the difference between strategy, goals, and tactics.

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Brad Schenck
Brad has been driving engagement via the internet for almost a decade. For the past eight years he’s been working on electoral issues in a variety of roles from in-person organizing to helping shape President Obama’s 2012 battleground state digital strategy. He was the founding Digital Strategist for Organizing for Action, National Day of Service Digital Manager for the Obama-Biden 2012 Inaugural team. In 2010 he oversaw regional digital strategy for the Democratic National Committee working with Senatorial, Gubernatorial, and Congressional races. In 2014 he supported CREDOSuperPAC driving the digital side of their field campaign. Recently, rebuilding the digital department the Rainforest Action Network an international advocacy organization. During the 2016 cycle he took local and national issues helping drive engagement for school board, propositions and local elections. All of that in background while running groundbreaking registration and GOTV programs as Head of Engagement for Vote.org. Now, he’s managing UniteBlue, developing trainings based on the book, and consulting with other organizations to build and execute effective digital plans.