It’s been fascinating to observe how the “digital strategist” role has evolved over the course of the past eight years. It’s been a journey and evolution to say the least and we’ve hit an interesting crux in marketing world. Shouldn’t everyone who works at an agency be a “digital strategist” that can tackle any facet of online marketing across any practice area or industry? Well yes, in some ideal world, that would be fantastic. But in reality, we’re far from it.

Does digital strategy touch nearly every facet of marketing communications? Absolutely. But just like media relations specialists, graphic designers or UX pros, digital strategy is structured upon a core set of skills, knowledge and personal passion. One does not become a digital strategist by just attending a few content marketing conferences or trainings. The role isn’t a simple checklist of skills you learn overnight and it’s rarely something that can be taught if the individual isn’t personally passionate about online marketing.

So then, what does it mean to be a digital strategist? Glad you asked.

My colleague Jon Yang, summed it up pretty well relative to agency world:

A digital strategist works with account teams and clients to identify business problems and define realistic goals and key performance indicators that, when paired with smart tactics and a solid understanding of the target audience, will result in empirical progress against the baseline – translation; ROI.

Clare McDermott adds insights on the broader relevant skills set in a recent Content Marketing Institute post:

Agencies used to be on the hunt for creatives. These days we hear agencies say they struggle to hire talented generalists. Lest you think that means someone who dabbles in many areas but masters none, think again. The new marketing generalist understands at a functional level multiple disciplines — including marketing technology, social, content strategy, corporate storytelling, and SEO. And they must be comfortable moving quickly, adapting, and taking risks.

Digital strategists are most effective when they apply their skills to a particular practice area or industry. Mastering digital health, specializing in B2B marketing, focusing on nonprofit marketing – it’s the deep industry and target audience knowledge that allows digital strategists to truly soar.

Ready for the real kicker? Great digital strategists aren’t just trendspotters, trainers or great plan writers. They are doers. They are folks that can conceive of an insightful and creative strategy, develop an amazing plan, sell in the plan and carry through with flawless management and execution of said strategy. These days, it’s not just the strategic vision but the tactical execution that is setting talent streams apart in the space. Vision is one thing. Vison + Execution is a completely different beast.

The truth of the matter is that good talent is hard to come by. We’re already witnessing the “digital strategist” title manifest in different ways as agencies adapt to changing communication trends and models. Those looking to make a mark are going to need to stand out from the crowd with proven ability as someone that can create the vision and get their hands dirty.

Go get ’em.

Image courtesy of stefanerschwendner.

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About Scott Meis

SVP, Digital Content Strategy @ Weber Shandwick Seattle. Outdoors. Adventure. Travel. I dig the Foto.

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