6 People Vital for a Smart Digital Strategy

Last Updated Jun 8, 2011 10:20 PM EDT

Businesses of all kinds are seeing their relationships with customers transformed by new digital technologies and behaviors. Companies that used to sell to end consumers solely via retail channels, suddenly find themselves selling directly via their websites and mobile apps. Businesses that used to communicate only by billboards, direct mail, and radio spots, now find their customers communicating back to them via Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

As businesses reorient themselves to interact with customers in our increasingly digital world, the task of developing a digital strategy is often taken up by the marketing department. After all, marketers are used to focusing on customers. They are typically tasked with gathering customer insight and using it to generate customer demand for products and services. Why not let them handle these new digital customer relationships?

The shortcoming of this approach is that customer interactions in the digital realm cut across every aspect of your business. Leaving your digital strategy to the marketing department alone may mean it is aligned with your brand and has a good focus on selling. But your business can use digital media for much more. A truly effective digital strategy requires an interdisciplinary approach, one that actively involves your other departments, even if marketing is in the lead.

Here are 5 other departments you should be sure are joining your marketers in carrying out your digital strategy:

1. Information Technology. It should go without saying that a digital marketing strategy needs to be built in close cooperation with IT. Not only will their help be critical to any in-house development of web services, mobile apps, or social tools. IT will also be needed to integrate any data from your customers (e.g. email addresses captured on Facebook) with your existing customer databases. When Nike built its Nike Plus running platform, it needed I.T. skills from inside and outside the company to integrate its running shoe sensor, Nikeplus.com website, and its online community of runners.

2. Public Relations / Communications. The P.R. department in most companies is traditionally much more adept at the kind of two-way conversations that happen with customers in digital media than the marketing department (which grew up broadcasting out ad messages, rather than listening and persuading). Communications departments are a great resource in developing strategies and guidelines for interacting with customers in online communities and other social media. Unilever, for example, uses its communications team to manage social media for its major brands, such as its Dove Facebook page.

3. Customer Service. It has been often said that "customer service is the best P.R." Used properly, digital media can amplify your existing channels for customer service, so as to prevent the kind of negative customer experiences that spread quickly in social media. Comcast found its poor reputation for customer service improved when it allowed members of its customer service team to employ tools like Twitter (with an @comcastcares account) to solve customers' problems more quickly, responsively, and publicly.

4. Innovation. As companies interact with customers online, they often find many more opportunities to gather insights, ideas, and suggestions from those customers. Capturing these ideas effectively requires more than just a marketing mindset; it requires the involvement of your innovation or R&D team, so that customer input can be funneled into appropriate channels for consideration in new product development. Dell has used the Ideastorm platform from Salesforce.com to gather customer ideas that have led to the launch of countless new services and products, such as the Latitude 2100 notebooks for schoolchildren.

5. Human Resources. The hiring process has also been transformed by digital media, as employers screen candidates by their social media profiles, and candidates get the inside scoop on working at your business from online communities like Glassdoor.com. But the relevance of H.R. to digital strategy extends beyond the hiring process. Effective and appropriate use of digital media is becoming an important part of employee training. And many businesses are finding that spotlighting the faces and voices of their own employees is a powerful branding and marketing tool in digital media â€" from Fedex's "I Am Fedex" campaign, to IBM's "I'm an IBMer."

Of course, a strong digital strategy doesn't belong to any single department. It needs to start at the C-suite, where strategies are made for what products, services, and business models will best serve your business and your customers in a world of constant digital change.

But as you carry out your own digital strategy, remember: you may want to put your marketers at the head of the table, but just make sure they have plenty of company.


Related: David Rogers examines the five core strategies of successful networked businesses in his newest book, "The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age." He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa. Find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/david_rogers
image courtesy of flickr user, Beige Alert
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    David Rogers is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age. He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa.

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