Digital strategy is no longer just digital

Digital strategy is no longer just digital. It's creating a customer or patient experience that is unified and consistent between both the digital and physical world. Your data, online and offline personas, journey maps, experience maps, branding, and overall "feel" of your company all need to be unified into an integrated customer experience. How do you do this? First, three questions to ask yourself to see if you're lagging behind. Then, four tips to get you pointed in the right direction.
Digital strategy isn't just digital

There was a shift in business when digital marketing became a “thing” in the mid-1990’s. As search engines (Google) emerged from human-curated web directories (Yahoo! Directory) and social media appeared (MySpace), companies changed too.

It started just by digitizing existing marketing materials. I remember in 2005 working with a large pharmaceutical company on their physician-focused website and the brand manager literally handed me a stack of brochures with the instructions, “Go make a website from these.” We took copy as-is, restructured it, and launched.

Isolated from their operational and engineering counterparts, digital was left to its own devices.

As we got smarter, we realized that when online, people consume information differently. With the dawn of smartphones, they were consuming information on the go, expecting systems to know basic geolocation information or personalized preferences, and systems remembering them from one device to another. This became much more complicated than slicing and dicing physician brochures.

So, how did marketers handle this incredibly fast change? Website teams, digital marketing teams, social media marketing teams, digital communication teams, and other internal entities were created. Not only were they created, but they were siloed. Isolated from their operational and engineering counterparts, digital was left to its own devices.

This has created a huge mess is most companies. By chunking off digital marketing into its own world, it is often segmented from the rest of the customer experience. Digital has its own reporting structure, own data, and its own business goals.

This is all changing.

Not because we want it to, but because our customers and patients are demanding it.

They are no longer content with just a website. They want relationships with companies they can trust to make their purchasing simple. You might be hearing this:

  • Can I get my order delivered the same day? Or, get pick-up at my local store?
  • Can you give me a resolution to my problem 24/7 via email, chat, social media, text?
  • Can you correctly anticipate my needs so I can get what I want faster?
  • Are you being honest?
  • Can you integrate into my phone, my wearables, my smart home devices?
  • Are you remembering me if I connect with you on all my devices as well as in-person visits? Don’t look at me as a new patient or customer every time I touch you
  • Does everything I see in real life match what I see online? From parking my car, to the signage I see, to the people I talk to, to the paperwork I have to fill out … Is it all the same?

All of a sudden, digital is mashed with real life. Consumers are demanding that you no longer look at what you’re doing as an online solution, but fully integrate it into their physical lives.

Working with companies, creative agencies, in-house agencies, and independent consultants, I see a hesitancy to embrace this new reality.

How do you know if you’re lagging behind?

  1. You only talk about digital. Manifesting itself in your profiles, customer journeys, and overall strategy, you only talk about the digital experience, ignoring *all the other things* that are going on in the lives of your customers
  2. You are physically siloed in your organization onto a digital or technology team. Your scope of ownership is just the online world with no connections to the other parts of your organization
  3. No one owns your customer or patient experience. This is why so many organizations are starting to hire Chief Experience Officers (CXO) or Chief Transformation Officers (CTO). Unifying initiatives from the perspective of your patient or customer is more critical now than ever

Okay, okay. If I have you convinced, now what? What can you do?

Here are four things to get you started.

1. Identify all your real-world touchpoints and influencers

Your customers live in the real world.

Very few businesses exist only in the digital space. Even in e-commerce, Customer’s still receive physical products or solutions which must be supported accordingly. Your product or service likely falls into one or more of these scenarios:

  • A Customer interacts with Customer Service (via the phone or email/chat/text)
  • A Customer physically receives a product to their home or work
  • A Patient registers online for a time-slot but receives the service at a physical location
  • A Customer shops online, but selects in-store delivery or pick-up
  • Goods are transported from one place to another on behalf of the Customer
  • A Customer works with an Account Manager for day-to-day execution of their contract
  • A Customer receives a monthly report via email, detailing the services you provde them

By identifying all your real-world touchpoints, you can start to pay attention and measure how you’re connecting, measuring, identifying, and marketing to your customers.

Don’t forget what is influencing their touchpoints either! Looking at reviews, seeking advice within closed Facebook groups or closed LinkedIn groups, industry events, B2B recommendations from ex-coworkers, etc. are all things we must take into consideration to understand what is going on in our customers and patients lives.

Extra credit: How could you better integrate into the real world in the next two years? Do some strategic research on new technologies your customers or patients are interacting with. Look at up and coming competitors to get insight into how your industry is set to change. Consider:

  • Web beacons and how they can sense when your customer or patient arrives, making their in-person experience optimized and streamlined
  • Wearables and how they are changing the way consumers view connectivity and data
  • Unification of data now, so your organization can be better prepared to move on opportunities in the future
  • How you’re making yourself findable to voice search

2. Understand your customer’s pain points

As you’re examining how your customer or patient connects with you offline and what influencers they are relying on for information, you’ll be able to start to better understand the unknown. Expectations are changing so quickly and as marketers, we often struggle to stay ahead.

We go into this more in depth in our article on how to talk to your customers, but you must identify the problems in their lives. They may not see it as a problem, but with the right perspective, you can start to use these interactions you have to pull out the failures your service or product has.

This will feed into our “Extra credit” above, as the more you understand your customer’s pain points, the more you can understand how emerging technology can be used to help them.

3. Challenge your team’s strategy

Don’t accept another roadmap, persona, wireframe, analytics strategy, customer or patient journey, or any other proposal if it doesn’t consider the holistic customer experience.

This may start off small in the beginning. It may be that all you can do right now is just acknowledge the full experience. And that is okay. Just saying, “We know our customers lose our digital influence as soon as they walk into the door for their appointment” is the first step. Then figure out digital can insert itself in this place. This could be a full-blown integration with your patient profile to unify your website and clinical experience or it could be something as simple as a follow-up thank you email.

4. Be the leader of change

In many companies, walking into your next meeting and saying, “But what about our customer?” will set you apart from anyone else in the room. We are often so focused on our internal politics, quarterly planning, or just getting through the next week of meetings that we forget to focus on what we are here to do: sell a product or service to a customer or patient to make money. How can we do this? We focus on them. We make it all about them.

You may not have a CXO looking at the holistic customer experience, or a CTO, looking at how your organization needs to go through a digital transformation. So, be that person.


  • All new features need to be mapped back to a customer’s need
  • All functional requirements must be written from the customer’s perspective
  • Kick-off every meeting with a reminder that we are here to serve our customer or patient’s needs
  • Identify a low-hanging fruit to integrate your digital strategy into operations or another “real-world” department within your organization. Start small and prove that this works

To be successful in your career over the next 10-years, you need to start blurring the lines between digital and where your customers or patients live. Start asking more questions, start challenging your vendor partners or teams to think customer-first.

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