Modernizing digital marketing: Strategy as a Service

Winning the hearts of clients in today’s ever-changing digital world isn’t just about being digitally savvy or talking the digital language. Rather, it’s about constantly pushing the boundaries of digital marketing services and coming up with ways to deliver on your promise to drive competitive advantages for clients.

For as long as I can remember, conventional engagement has focused on the product while strategy has been thought of as an add-on service. Now, we’re seeing a transition toward an “as a service” approach becoming an integral part of overall digital marketing services. The problem is that the “as a service” buzzword has been applied to just about everything in business.

What exactly does “as a service” mean when applied to strategy? That’s what we’re going to dive into here.

The impact of a strategy approach to digital marketing services

Cloud computing brought with it the “as a service” model, creating a rapidly changing business landscape and a boom in strategy consulting. Consultants made it easier for clients to overcome the challenges of new forms of engagement and explore transformative opportunities that align with the mechanics of business and technology.

Now, our clients are looking for long-term relationships with strategic partners that can talk about the big picture, cut through all the noise, steer clear of time-wasting jargon, stitch a story together and deliver in weeks instead of months. This is exactly where “Strategy as a Service” excels.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to take part in large-scale strategy consulting engagements where there are multiple tracks going on in parallel with different tasks ranging from employee experience strategy to supply chain optimization planning. Many times, this led to confusion within leadership as everyone had different schools of thought for their individual workstreams. But all it took was one whiteboarding session to synergize it all with the leadership team and get on a path to success.

To put this in perspective, one of India’s largest fashion companies had a vision of personalizing customer experience at their brick and mortar stores. To do this, they first had to figure out what kind of data they had available to enable personalization. This meant almost 30% of their time was spent digging out data and then another 30% was spent analyzing it, which led to a lot of overlap and confusion as each brand had a different perspective of the data.

To bring order to this chaos, a strategy approach was laid out where the objective was to be use case driven. The use cases were further divided into “earn a penny” and “save a penny” categories, making it easier to converge everyone’s time and energy.

The outcome was a prioritization of distinct use cases across brands like Market Basket Analysis for Cross Selling, Churn Modeling for Customer Win Back, and Next Best Offer for Personalization, all of which helped leaders “look for data that will help drive these use cases.” The strategy approach not only got all the leaders to a single school of thought but also ensured visibility into what each brand was trying to accomplish in terms of personalization.

Read more: In times of uncertainty, data helps us stay connected 


Strategy supports a holistic view of digital marketing services

My biggest takeaway from those experiences was the need to draw the big picture top down at the very beginning, which has a bigger impact than approaching it bottom up through multiple tracks and then thinking about convergence later. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a conglomerate you’re dealing with or a specific industry client—all that matters is how (and at what touchpoints of the overall thought process) the different pieces of the puzzle fit together. Presenting that view in the very beginning is critical.

With that experience in mind, it’s essential that we approach any business problem or opportunity with the knowledge that strategy brings in a holistic view of things. From a “Strategy as a Service” perspective, we perform discovery sessions for clients, not because we have an objective to achieve after a few months, but because we have a big picture goal in mind that needs to be achieved over a few years.

Modern digital marketing services cover all foundational components of strong marketing programs like data, technology, products, approach, recommendations, and risks. Considering all of these components together leads to a strategy that spreads much wider than short term goals ever could.

If a "Strategy as a Service" approach is working, we’ll have early indications of responsiveness from clients from a broader perspective. That might mean they’re willing to accept change, stuck at the starting line and looking for guidance or ready to take on transformation initiatives that lead to increased awareness and more channelized decisions being taken. That will be the litmus test.

Tailor-made digital marketing services with Strategy as a Service

“Strategy as a Service” is tailor-made thinking that works for the unique requirements of each individual client. The incorporation of learnings from similar industry peers and in-depth subject matter expertise will lead to faster turnaround times, greater trust in our established methodologies, and recommendations and ever more collaborative relationships being nurtured.

"Strategy as a Service" starts with understanding the current state of the client based on fact-based needs and opportunities. Then, you supplement those needs with best in case examples, design the future state with workshops and prototypes and finally come up with a value/cost implementation roadmap. Of all these steps, we must  put special emphasis on prototyping. It’s the single best means to validate an idea. And while there are plenty of tools for prototyping out there, it’s just as important to be creative in conveying the right message.

For example, the travel technology company, Sabre, uses the “Sprint Method” to validate business ideas with customers. This method is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. It’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more—packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use. With the right team and mindset in place, this method won’t take up too much time.

Another great example, and one of my favorites, is how Rick Kazman of the Software Engineering Institute explains prototyping for developing big data systems. He not only identifies the six risks involved in developing big data systems, but also highlights how you manage the risk through prototyping. I’ve seen these recommendations live in action as we applied the minimum viable product (MVP) for a data ecosystem build for one of our CPG clients. They minimize time spent on iterations by focusing only on those features that allow product development and continuously aligning with stakeholders.

Roger L. Martin has another interesting perspective on how to approach this. In his view, strategy is iterative prototyping that addresses the 5 key questions of strategy: what is our winning aspiration, where will we play, how will we win, what capabilities we must have, and what management systems are required.

None of these methods are complete without the right skillsets and professionals within a digital marketing services provider. Clients make a judgment about service providers based on the quality of deliverables and the passion showcased through this journey. It’s essential we make transformative changes to the way we upskill ourselves to talk the language that clients understand and hold their hands throughout the entire journey. Most of all, I recommend you focus on soft skills like rapid prototyping and problem solving.

We’re facing disrupted times at a scale the world has never seen before. And as companies transition to “as a service” offerings, we need to bring in levels of transparency and knowledge that generate trust with our clients.

With "Strategy as a Service", we all sail these stormy waters together, which brings in more collaborative working principles that are backed by being trusted partners in the journey that drives long lasting relationships.

But this isn’t a fire-and-forget approach or a shock-and-awe move. It’s about remaining invested in constantly adjusting the services to the changing market dynamics and client needs.

Learn more about Epsilon’s strategy and insights services.