The big digital strategy myth
The big digital strategy myth
08 APRIL 2015 8:11 AM
So much of what makes digital effective has to do with an organization’s culture and leadership. Here are four things successful companies value when it comes to digital strategy.
One of the biggest myths surrounding digital strategy is its overarching emphasis on the digital component. Sure, digital is important, but it’s not the whole enchilada. I realize that might sound weird to many of you—particularly coming from a digital strategy consultant—but so much of what makes digital work is more about your organization’s culture and leadership than anything to do with distribution dominance, paid search prowess or social marketing mastery.
When you hear people around you talk about companies that have “digital in their DNA,” what they mean is the company succeeds despite the rapid changes we’re seeing in the marketplace — they don’t depend on any specific channel or tactic to achieve their goals and aren’t caught off-guard when the market suddenly shifts from search to social or from online travel agency to meta. Digital winners don’t divide their world solely into OTA or direct, search or social, media or mobile to drive reservations and revenue. Instead, successful companies, no matter their industry, value four things above all else:
  • Customers. Companies that “get” digital put their customers at the center of everything they do. They realize guests no longer go online, they are online, using whatever tools they have at hand to find, research, and book when and where they’re ready. And they get that these guests will switch to whatever product or service best meets their needs whenever they want. You can tie the rise of companies as diverse as, TripAdvisor and Airbnb—as well as any number of luxury and boutique hotel brands—directly to this phenomenon. In this environment, the only way to lead is to listen, to pay attention to your guests’ actual needs. And, of course, to focus your energies on meeting those needs.
  • Data. Listening to your customer depends on data. Not “Big Data;” your data. Data that helps you understand what your customers actually need. Data that guides you toward the right answer to solve customer challenges. And data that provides a barrier against competitors large and small. By definition, no one else can—or at least shouldn’t be able to—understand your customer’s interactions with your products and services as well as you can. I’ve talked about this before, but data represents the lifeblood of your organization’s success. Digital leaders understand you ignore its value at your peril.
  • Testing. Of course, data alone doesn’t tell you a complete story. Loads of opportunities exist to misinterpret what data means within your organization. Instead of relying on intuition or guesswork, digital leaders test their assumptions consistently and apply the lessons from those tests to improve the experience their customers enjoy. And that’s why digital leaders customers tend to actually enjoy those experiences.
  • Accountability. Digital leaders take accountability for delivering results and for creating environments in which their teams can produce those results. Accountability isn’t just about being willing to accept blame when things go wrong. It’s about making a commitment to your customer’s success and finding the intersection where customer success leads to business success. Google and Facebook, for example, famously didn’t know how they were going to make money during their early years. But their commitment to helping customers accomplish their goals eventually led them to seriously successful destinations all the same.
While it’s popular to claim OTAs have built their businesses entirely on the backs of hotels—and let’s be fair, some have—that’s not how they’ve continued to win in the marketplace. Instead, the leading OTAs started small, but got big by delivering key benefits to their customers, using data to learn what worked for their customers, tested their assumptions in the marketplace, and held their leaders accountable for the customer experience and their business results. Lots of new players are working to disrupt our industry by executing against this same playbook. It’s time you do the same. Assuming that your success depends on anything else? Well, that’s just a myth. 
Tim Peter helps companies put the Web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs across multiple industries. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. Prior to founding Tim Peter & Associates, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor and the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm to help hotels and resorts achieve more than $2 billion in online revenue. He can be reached at
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