OPINION: Successful digital strategy requires great execution, too

16 Feb 2013

Gareth Dunlop, owner of user-experience consultancy Fathom

Few who have watched Al Pacino’s acting masterclass playing Tony D’Amato in Any Given Sunday will be unmoved by his half-time team talk. “It’s the six inches in front of your face, gentlemen. Life is a game of inches. When we add all those inches it makes the difference between winning and losing.”

Digital strategy sounds like a grand and lofty subject matter. The sheer quantity of internet memes quite rightly mocking “social media experts” attests to the fact that it’s cool to talk strategy right now. Getting strategy absolutely correct is fundamentally important to winning online, but what is so often unconsidered, or at least underestimated, is the sheer volume of effort required to implement strategy effectively.

Increasingly, we observe the pattern that the online winner is not the organisation solely with the best strategy. It is the organisation with brilliant strategy and first-rate execution. The winner is the organisation focused on the right goal and with an insatiable appetite to succeed.

This issue is so prevalent currently that in the last 12 months we’ve come across tens of cases of mediocre strategy that has been well executed trumping great strategy with an average execution.

The message to business leaders is clear. You must leave no stone unturned in the translation of your strategy into implementation. And that requires focus, a detailed action plan, measurable KPIs, and board-level interest in the results.

The often-unspoken truth is that a significant amount of online marketing activity is inglorious. It is tough, often mundane, regularly complex and at times, let’s be blunt, a slog.

To start with, it involves the efficient co-ordination of search, social, email, banners, affiliates, shopping comparison, web and mobile.  Each of those, in turn, is multi-faceted; search divides into paid and organic, social separates into blogging, various social networks, building follower bases, email requires lots of segmentation, and so on.

Online marketing specifics

Looking at each specific online channel, the individual tactics, in turn, require great attention to detail. Search engine optimisation requires the web marketer to assess keywords, think about web content, page titles, page headings, HTML tags, image alt tags, meta descriptions, site maps, Google webmaster tools and a programme of back-linking. Pay Per Click marketing requires extensive keyword research, budget management and a daily programme of managing and optimising spend in order to enjoy return on investment.

Across social, email, banners, affiliates, shopping comparison, web and mobile channels, similar levels of complexity and pedantry exist.

And this multi-channel complexity all needs to be co-ordinated.

A good blog will reinforce search engine optimisation performance, positive reviews on social media will help to reduce shopping cart abandonment, social media-based customer service will increase traffic volumes. And so on.

The demise of high-street giants such as HMV and Jessops reminds us that internet activity is no longer an optional upgrade for businesses. It is highly likely that in your business sector, hungry, focused, smart online businesses are trying to eat your lunch with great web strategy.

You need to have a strategic response. You need to have a detailed implementation plan. You need to measure it every month. Your board needs to care about it. Then, and only then, you have a chance of winning online.


Inch by inch. Play by play. Until we’re finished.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include the Irish Internet Association, The Irish Times, Ogilvy, MD Golf and Web Recruit.

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.