Thursday, 17.09.

How do you make a Strategist?

You get Jordan Belfort and Salvadore Dali to have a baby. Then you need to make sure Bono gets involved somehow in the rearing of said baby.

It’s a simple formula, really.

Alternatively, you could just find someone who can wear the many hats of any brand account. Someone who does not only understand, but also empathises with the client-needs-driven accounts person or the awards-and-aesthetics-driven creative.This person also needs to be able to bring in a few outside hats, in order to champion the needs of the consumer; ultimately ensuring a fine balance between the three.

A digital strategist on the other hand is often taken for someone who has the capability to do all of the above and also possess the ability to recite both Twitter’s source code and penetration rate amongst single, 36-year-old cat-owners at any given moment.

And its true. Digital strategists do need to be channel experts, but not in the way most would think.

Great traditional advertising campaigns are not founded on the insight that billboards are lattice steel structures supported by columns and the best TVC concepts did not begin with a lengthy discussion about anodes and cathodes.

And yet, this is the type of logic that is applied to digital channel planning. Ultimately, it is this way of thinking about and approaching digital strategy that will serve to make all digital strategists disposable. It’s not a skill to know that Facebook is a social networking platform comprised of profile pages, newsfeeds and status updates, or that Twitter is a microblogging platform that allows one to publish content within a 140 character limit.

So why do we still seek to understand how a platform functions rather than why it functions, knowing that the sad result is often an ATL copy and paste job executed within the parameters of a digital platform?

When we seek to understand the motives and beliefs that exist within a digital target audience above the technical workings of the platforms that this target audience can be found on, we can begin to see the complexities involved in the psychology of the Internet and this in turn leads the way for brands to offer a truly relevant and resonate experience to their consumers.

Channel agnosticism, in theory, allows for the development of the best possible idea, not the best possible idea for a predefined channel. We know that great ideas come from great insights. Hence, the importance of strategy. A great strategist is able to uncover a fundamental truth that unlocks a new way of thinking, creates a new reality, or shows a connection between two constructs which were previously only examined in isolation to one another. A great digital strategist is then able to create executional iterations of that idea specific to a digital platform. The argument is however, that creating that specificity is not about pasting it into the platform in a format that fits within the platform on a technical level. That is important, of course, but an idea that is executed well within a digital environment is an idea that has been applied from a human perspective, not a functional one.

Imagine the doors that open when one stops seeing Youtube as a video repository and starts seeing it through the eyes of a sixteen-year old girl. Suddenly it’s not just a video repository. It’s a potential pathway towards celeb status, towards fame, towards the world of Youtuber-ing.

Facebook is not a platform for a brand to earn fans, pay to reach those fans and feedback on success via engagement metrics. Rather, it’s a make or break for millions of people’s confidence and loneliness; where self-worth is measured on how many likes one’s profile pic gets.

And Instagram is someone’s other life, their filtered life, the one they wish they really had. It certainly isn’t somewhere for a brand to house their ‘visual stories’. Digital is not just another set of media for brands to reach their consumers. After all, a variety of psychoses exist purely because the Internet does. You can’t really say the same for TV, radio or magazines. Surely this is indicative that we’re dealing with something far more complex, something that requires us to understand how and why people use it if we truly want to get the best out of it. Ultimately, it means that digital strategists need to wear a fourth hat; a digital-centric-behavior-driven. An anthropologist’s hat.

Side note. Remember Rule #42 – Nothing is Sacred. When you begin your quest to understand how and why people use the Internet, I highly recommend that you go incognito.

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