Unless you work in a self-explanatory industry with clearly defined roles—-like if you are a “surgeon” or “knitter of delicate bow ties”—-the task of explaining what you do for a living can sometimes be just a little more fun than unclogging a lawn mower.
When I’m especially tired, my response is, “I strategerize the interwebs.” This is my tactic to distract the asker with a lame joke while I shovel food into my mouth, after which I cannot do anything else with their question because letting me chew has become the mutual priority. Most times, though, I’m up for the challenge and try to explain digital creative strategy and what I do. People look at me like I just invaded their personal space with a torrential downpour of word vomit.
So, I’m trying again.
You: “What is digital strategy?”
Me: “It is the putting on of an Edgar Suit.”
[This is when you ponder.]
You: “What is a digital strategist?”
Me: “It is someone who is crafty at wearing Edgar Suits.”
[This is when you stick with me and continue reading.]
Remember Edgar from the ’97 flick, Men in Black? Edgar is the farmer whose body becomes inhabited by an alien. First his insides get sucked out, naturally. All that remains is his Edgar shell…his skin suit, if you will. The alien puts on the Edgar Suit and stomps around town dropping demands for sugar water and causing trouble for our friends Will and Tommy Lee.
I am the alien in this scenario.
When the alien sucks out Edgar’s bones, guts and tasty insides, well, that’s symbolic of a strategist’s role during the ramp-up phase of a project: research. Research is a critical first step before we can even consider a creative concept, wireframe or proposed message. Without it, the stuff we make becomes “stuff we made” instead of “creative vehicles we designed to solve a problem.” Without it, the Edgar Suit won’t fit right.
After my belly is full of research, I slip on the Edgar Suit. Let’s start with the Edgar Suit of the brand (i.e. our client). Throughout the project, then, I’m asking things like:
- Does this meet my business need, and will it help me achieve my goals (e.g. ROI, awareness)?
- How does this differentiate us from competitors?
- Does this message jive with our value proposition? Our vision? Long-term goals?
Then, after another helping of delicious research, I slide on the Edgar Suit of the customers (i.e. my target audience, the end users). So then I’m looking at things like this:
- Is the message I’m interpreting genuine or contrived?
- Is that marketing shenanigans, or is it information I genuinely need to make a buying decision?
- Given my unique characteristics, can I easily navigate through this site?
To create engaging, accessible digital content, we have to do more than think like the brand and think like end users, we have to become them. Entrenching ourselves in their story–adopting their motivations, challenges, concerns and decision points–helps ensure we don’t bring our knowledge and preferences to the table and tarnish it with our subjectivity.
I love this statement from content strategy expert, Erin Kissane:
“To do our jobs well, we must balance an understanding of the context in which content is created (sourcing, business goals, workflow) with an understanding of the context in which it is read and used (user needs, delivery channels).”
That’s a more eloquent way of saying, “To do our jobs well, we must gladly rock some Edgar Suits.”
Now, be honest. Does this metaphor help demystify digital strategy? Or are you giving your screen the stink eye?