The end of summer is approaching, and that means two things: it’s time to close up shop at the summer house, and corporate planning season is right around the corner. While reviewing this year’s performance and preparing for 2012, it’s likely that the subject of “digital strategy” will be an important one, and a digital strategy audit is a tool that could prove useful during these exercises.

Given the fast-moving nature of interactive tools and techniques, and their far-reaching implications across the enterprise, staying current on digital trends and interpreting their impact on your business can be overwhelming. Enter an old-fashioned audit to help to make sense of the chaotic environment: a point-by-point snapshot of the company’s digital-enablement program — both in standalone fashion and vis-à-vis the competition — can help to structure organizational planning and inform investments and initiatives. The following list provides 11 reasons why working a digital strategy audit into your annual planning process this year might be a good idea.

  1. Context For Planning Discussions. Digital strategy is a cross-functional conversation – consider a seemingly simple email marketing campaign, which involves sales, marketing, and operations — and companies are structured in functional silos, so unless you have a VP in charge of digital planning, no one is proactively assessing how digital affects the company at a strategic level, and that’s a problem. A digital strategy audit examines the issues in a functionally-independent manner, which is how senior executives think about issues.
  2. Digital Affects Everything. A zealous perspective, maybe, but no industry is unaffected by digital trends, at least on some level. Yet, few companies have formal, well-defined digital strategies that articulate the vision and govern investments and behavior. An audit is a relatively painless method for establishing a comprehensive understanding of the issues, and can be used to back into an informed digital strategy. This may not be the ideal way to define a digital strategy, but it’s preferable to no strategy at all.
  3. Digital Mistakes Are For The World To See. Most companies’ topline digital strategies are transparent to an experienced analyst, and readily available for analysis and scrutiny. As a result, digital strategy-related missteps can look especially egregious in the rear-view mirror and be nearly impossible to conceal. Few are on the scale of Blockbuster’s inability to respond to the Netflix threat – one of the highest profile examples of companies that failed to embrace the digital channel – but every industry has its pundits and talking heads, and they will flock to gaffes and reference them at every opportunity.
  4. What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You. I worked with a client that realized it was being outspent by upstart competitors on digital tactics by a 3:1 ratio – two years after the programs had been running. As a result, big market share leads in growing and profitable sectors had been established, which subsequently cost millions to address. Had the issue been identified earlier, a simple re-balancing of offline/online marketing investments would’ve addressed the problem – for considerably less money and, more importantly, at a much lower profile.
  5. A Catalyst For Change. When a high-ranking colonel in the U.S. Army didn’t like the way his online recruiting program was performing, he commissioned a formal, independent assessment of his entire digital ecosystem – effectively, a digital marketing audit. The study’s findings resulted in a series of agency reviews and vendor shakeups. This basic concept is not a big new idea, but it’s not yet standard practice when it comes to digital strategy.
  6. Numbers Tell A Story. Wall Street analysts spend countless hours with spreadsheets comparing company operating metrics for good reason: they help to provide perspective on corporate strategy and inform investment decisions. An organization’s spending on R&D, for example, can tell a lot about its viability as a short-term versus long-term performance goals. Digital strategy performance benchmarks – which can be readily acquired in a cost effective manner from the slew of analytics tools available on the market – can help to put the spotlight on detailed competitor strategies and illuminate opportunities and threats, so you don’t get ambushed.
  7. Latent Opportunities Are Abundant. Most digital strategy audit exercises yield at least a dozen good ideas for consideration, and run the gamut – from solving short-term tactical problems by re-balancing the marketing spending mix to pursuing leap-frog style competitive advantage by introducing a game-changing online customer service solution. An audit can also help to inform initiative prioritization and defensive versus offensive considerations. One of my clients knowingly delayed improving its online customer service capabilities and instead focused spending on attracting new customers after examining its competitors’ behaviors and conducting cost-benefit analysis of retention versus acquisition.
  8. It’s Time To Get Proactive About Digital. For too long in most industry sectors, the pace and nature of digital strategy has been dictated by start-ups that aggressively employ interactive tactics and techniques. A digital audit can help traditional industry stalwarts understand the interactive landscape from a fresh perspective and determine how to leverage their leadership positions for competitive advantage.
  9. Spending Levels Justify The Effort. Digital-oriented investments across the enterprise can account for as much as 5% of total operating costs, and 20% of marketing spend – that is, tens of millions of dollars at Fortune 1000 companies. And spending is increasing at double-digit percentages. Most line items of significance – employee compensation, information technology, travel – are regularly audited for good reason, and it’s time to bring that sensibility to digital.
  10. The Risk-Reward Proposition Exists. Odds are better-than-average that a digital strategy audit will uncover meaningful opportunities for cost-savings, new revenue channels, and/or competitor vulnerabilities. Since a digital audit can be performed at a low cost and in stealth fashion, there isn’t much downside to the pursuit, even if the primary motive is to develop an understanding of organizational weaknesses.
  11. You Gotta Start Somewhere. It’s been my experience that many executives struggle with digital strategies primarily because they can be so overwhelming. It’s a legitimate concern; top executives need to focus on high-level priorities, and delegate accordingly. However, digital strategy is an area that often falls through the cracks because it doesn’t neatly fit into a subordinate’s roles and responsibilities, and only surfaces when a problem becomes acute. An audit is an easy way to get an objective analysis of a situation, and provide the requisite background work to initiate a meaningful planning conversation.

Contact Tim Bourgeoisat 617-314-6400 at to find out how East Coast Catalyst can help facilitate a digital strategy audit and digital strategy planning activities.