Digital Adaptation: The Organizational Strategy Framework

Authors Note: All frameworks have moved to a new home at Strategy Umwelt. Please join me at this new platform for a revised list of mental models, strategy frameworks and principles

I want to kick off this post by stating that coming up with an organizational marketing strategy is extremely hard. It requires deep insight into the nature of a business, and a strong alignment internally between stakeholders (see my post of the Golden Circle for further insight). Coming up with a digital marketing strategy adds further pressures by introducing new and evolving technologies, tools and practices, which can complicate the matter further.

Forming a digital marketing strategy however is a fundamental must have - not only does it provide a framework for the organiZation itself, it also helps when briefing in advertising agencies and partners to ensure executions remain pointy.

The problem agencies often face in getting a clear and defined digital marketing strategy from the marketing team. It is amazing the amount of times this is as low level as "we want to increase sales online" (side note - every business deep down wants to increase sales).

In Paul Boag's recent book 'Digital Adaptation' he outlines this problem as the following:

Digital Adaptation by Paul Boag.

Digital Adaptation by Paul Boag.

"One occasion in particular springs to mind. I was running a kick-off meeting with a client at their offices in London. I found the entire meeting incredibly frustrating. I was failing to pin the client down and had pretty much run out of steam. In an attempt to clarify things I asked what their organisational strategy was. The reply caused me to groan inwardly. "We want to increase the levels of engagement with customers" stated the head of marketing. His colleague also chipped in with "…and inform visitors about the benefits of our products." I was lost for words.
My problem was that these kinds of statements weren't strategy at all, because they lacked clear definition or any specific way of achieving the goals. They were useless to me and I was left unsure of how to proceed. Take the example of the goal to increase levels of engagement. What exactly does that mean? Are we talking about increasing the number of people following the company on Twitter or actually purchasing their product? Also, what kind of increase did they need to see and over what period to generate a healthy return on investment? For that matter, why did they believe this was the right goal to aim for? What challenge did it overcome? And finally, how were they going to achieve the goal? Without a concrete plan these goals were nothing more than wishful thinking."

Boag doesn't just offer complaints, but goes on to provide a simple framework to ensure a strategy is more than just wishful thinking - The Organizational Strategy Framework (note, this is heavily lifted by the author from Richard Rumelt's book Good Strategy/ Bad Strategy).

The Organization Strategy Framework

The model we are creating consists of three components:

  1. Diagnosis of the Business Problem
  2. Guiding Principles
  3. Coherent Actions

We will break each one down.

Diagnosis of the Business Problem

It doesn't matter if the strategy you are creating is digital or not, it should always be a clear answer to a simple question - What problems are you solving?

From Boag:

"For example, a diagnosis might be that your current website is failing to generate enough leads, or that the business has a problem quickly communicating to potential customers what it does. The first problem is a digital failing that might be addressed by driving more traffic or better converting existing traffic. The second is a business problem that might be solved by finding ways to more concisely convey the business proposition through the use of digital. In short, your digital strategy should solve a problem. Some of these problems will be negative (such as a threat or weakness), others could include making the most of an opportunity or previous success".

The big challenge in diagnosis is acknowledging that change is required. People do not like change, and it can take people out of their comfort zone but uncovering some deeper organizational challenges that need addressing. Without it, we don't have a strategic foundation.

Guiding Principles

Guiding Principles are essentially policies that form a framework within which we can operate. There are many ways too skin a cat, so this helps define the best approach.

As a rule, a principle needs to be specific enough to be useful, but not go into detail of exact actions to be taken, a fine line. Boag provides three steps to help establish principles:

  1. Principles should be born out of a deep understanding of the business and consumer needs. So back them with research, don't pull them out of the air.
  2. Principles should encourage debate. There should be room for interpretation on each, otherwise they will be too restrictive.
  3. Principles should allow you to say no to the majority of requests. The job of Guiding Principles is as much to define what not to do as what should be done.

Coherent Actions

Without action, strategy is nothing more than well intentioned goals. Strategies therefore need to contain specific tactical and co-ordinated actions to move the organization closer to the goal.

The danger here is outlining too many specific actions, or actions that are too detailed. Instead we should aim to create a few pivotal actions, that will create a "cascade of favorable outcomes". Often these action points will be the ones identified as delivering the biggest return on investment.

The Organisational Strategy Framework

The Organisational Strategy Framework


Boag outlines a fairly compelling structure to ensuring a strategy (both organisational and digital) is not only well defined but achievable through the process of defining the Business Problem, stating the Guiding Principles and determining the highest value Coherent Actions.

Does this make you rethink your approach to the way your organisation is developing strategies or briefs?

What changes would you make with this framework to your existing organisational or digital strategies? 

This post continues my series on Mental Models.