Monday, 18 March 2013

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DIGITAL STRATEGIST 101

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend an interview at 2 Oceans Vibe last week.  We experienced some WIFI issues and weren't able to broadcast live but it was aired this morning.  The topic for the interview was around new careers as a direct result of social media and the massive increase in new media and internet penetration. More specifically we chatted about the "Day in the life of a digital strategist". These are some of the questions from the interview: 

1.  What is a digital strategist? 

In my mind a digital strategist is someone who obviously has the ability to think strategically but a key skill that is required is the ability to be able to truly understand the brand, the objectives and interpret what the brand is actually trying to achieve and then look at the bigger picture from a holistic viewpoint. I often tell people that we are not digital strategists but rather just strategists or planners because in my mind there is no longer a distinct line (ATL, BTL, TTL) everything is now integrated and converged or at least it should be. A strategist has the ability to craft a strategy based on insights, research and experience that will meet the objectives established while remaining true to the brand's overall positioning. 

2.  What does a day in the life of a digital strategist entail? 

Not much sleep, just kidding. A digital strategist's life on a daily basis requires a lot of research, lots of reading and collaboration with colleagues. It also involves lots of presentations and meetings, if you are shy or if public speaking is not your strength then you might find this career quite challenging. 

A key strength as a strategist is the ability to be able to
 put your thoughts into a presentation in such a way that it doesn't result in "death by PowerPoint" and is easy to understand.  A big part of the job comes in the ability to be able to articulate your thinking simply and interpret your client's needs. 

The role also requires you to be "always connected" and by that I don't just mean to the web, I am talking about following relevant people and brands on Twitter, subscribing to YouTube channels, blogs, websites and "liking" all sorts of weird and wonderful Facebook pages. The problem comes in trying to find the time to get through all of this content. You have to become a #digitaljunkie. This was one of the main reasons why I started my Blog and my Facebook page, it forces me to spend time going through the research I flag each week. 

Personally, my knowledge and enthusiasm for the digital world enables me to think creatively and challenge briefs. My passion is strategy and showing how digital or new media can open new opportunities for clients.  I love coming up with strategies that push brands for maximum exposure and return through digital communication and engagement, utilising the correct tools and channels for campaigns.

Well conceived digital strategies and campaigns will push brands ever forward in the consciousness of their audiences and lead to long lasting adoption, advocacy and allow them to forge individual relationships with their audiences.  This is what I strive to achieve on a daily basis as a strategist. 


3.  What kind of a personality does being a marketing specialist/digital strategist require?

I would have to say that the four best traits of a strategist are: passion, enthusiasm, insights and attitude. I personally feel that attitude is the most important trait, at Base2 we have a saying: "we hire on attitude and train for skill", if you have the right attitude anything is possible and experience over time will help evolve your strategic thinking. 

You also need to be a hard worker and not take things personally, there will be many occasions where you probably only got 2 hours of sleep working on a strat and then the next morning the client bombs everything, with the right attitude you just pick yourself up and start working out how you going to evolve the strat and wow the clients socks off in the next preso. 

4.  What are some of the challenges in strategy?

There never seems to be enough time and lack of sleep is a reality but there is a lot of pressure on a strategist from colleagues and clients as they expect you to come up with the big idea or the blue print for the campaign and to always have an insightful answer.  The other biggest challenge specifically from a digital strategy point of view is the pace at which the industry evolves, you need to constantly try keep up with the latest trends and new technologies but not only keep up but actually get a comprehensive understanding of the new trend and then determine how a brand can be relevant within that space.  Consider things like Vine and Pinterest for example. 

Another challenge that you will experience as a digital strategist is something that I have termed "Digital Phobia", this is the phenomenon where clients are very apprehensive in accepting or trying digital or innovative campaign strategies because they are not familiar with the platform or how it benefits the customer or brand. This is probably one of the biggest barriers for brands out there trying to implement integrated marketing strategies. 


5.  What are some of the latest trends in the digital space?

These are by no means most of them but here are a couple of key trends:


6.  What courses would you advise someone whose looking to work in the digital space to take?

As a strategist, the more you know and understand the better, it's all about being able to have a comprehensive and holistic understanding of any campaign and by this I mean that you almost have to become a specialist in every discipline (digital media, usability, design, business strategy, marketing, research etc.)  

With integrated marketing there are so many aspects to take into consideration and the better you understand each part and the role that it plays the more effective your strategy will be. In terms of degrees or diploma's, I recommend something along the lines of strategic marketing, marketing and communications, business management and then obviously courses that offer specific training on social media, digital marketing and digital media however if you have the passion and the right mindset with experience you will soon come to understand and learn how each of these channels form part of your strategy.  The problem with the digital advertising industry is that it evolves so rapidly, so something that you study this year might be completely out-dated in a years time.  Marketing is no longer just made up of 7 P's there are a lot more additional New P's of Marketing

7.  What is your motto in life that keeps you going?

For as long as I can remember I have always lived by this quote: "Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today!"  It is all about dreaming big and then going for it! 

8.  Could you briefly describe where you started out to get where you are?

I grew up on a farm outside a small town called Vryheid in Natal.  From a young age I knew I didn’t quite have the farm “gene” and realised I had a passion for marketing and innovation. 

After high school I attended the University of Pretoria where I completed my honours degree in B Com Marketing Management. After studying I had the privilege of being part of the FNB Graduate Programme and spent four great years at FNB, working in business units like Home Loans, Cellphone Banking and FNB.Mobi. During my time at FNB I discovered the career called a “strategist” through working with the different agencies and from that point on I knew that is what I wanted to do.  From there I started at Base2 as Head of Strategy and I have never looked back.  

In April it will be my second year at Base2, can't believe how time flies! When I started we were an agency of 11 staff and two clients, now we are 45 strong and have some of the biggest clients in the country. 

9.  Words of inspiration for others out there wanting to get into this industry? 

I have always told friends and students that you are your own brand and that is how you should approach your career, everything that you do is a reflection of your personal brand so with that in mind, always do your best and give 110% no matter how big or small it may be in your eyes. 

During my career, this is probably one of the most inspirational speeches that influenced the way I approach any strategy, it is also now our motto at Base2 and forms part of our Strategic Framework and that is "Start with WHY". This is the 7th most watched Ted Talk of all times, if you watch it you will know why. 

Then there have also been some books that have inspired me along the way, here is a list of them

10.  What do you enjoy most about being a guest speaker?

The thing I enjoy most about guest speaking is being able to share my passion with others and inspire others about this exciting industry.  When I was at university I had no idea the digital advertising industry even existed, It is important for the industry in general that people know what careers are now out there and to share the insights on how the advertising and marketing world has evolved due to the adoption of the internet, new media and social media.

Thanks for the great chat 2 Oceans Vibe and hopefully we can do it again sometime soon. 



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