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Building Effective Web Product Strategy

As media companies struggle with their changing environment, they inevitably get bogged down on developing web product strategy. A flash of inspiration leads to intense research, the hiring of consultants and endless meetings with often very little to show for it. If legacy media companies are going to be successful in Digital Media, they will have to learn to change the way they think about strategy.

An effective web development effort looks something like this:

  1. Develop an internally consistent product insight based on various sources of market intelligence.
  2. Produce a working, clickable model exploiting the identified opportunity.
  3. Test internally and revise.
  4. Produce a development version of the product.
  5. Test internally and revise.
  6. Test externally and revise.
  7. Launch beta version and bug-fix.
  8. Marketing launch.
  9. Collect data in real time and continue usability testing.
  10. Repeat.

The above process highlights a major difference between web strategy and conventional strategy. In web strategy, you are constantly testing and revising which means that, to a certain extent, you are always getting something wrong that you have to go back to and correct. The beauty of the “new economy” is that you can do it relatively quickly and cheaply.

Unfortunately, most “old economy” companies have enormous problems adapting because they put enormous time, expense and effort into strategy, which usually ends up having serious problems and needs to be revised anyway. Most probably, this is because strategy is a high status, high paid function. Senior executives like to set the strategic direction because:

a. It is fun and intellectually rewarding

b. It reinforces their importance in the organization.

Even more problematic is the fact that media companies often outsource their web strategy to highly paid consultants, which makes the whole process slower, more expensive and more divorced from operational reality. The added expense is significant because it often creates a failure to scale the business to the opportunity, leading to unmanageable economics and irate CFO’s.

So here’s an outline of a more effective strategic process.

Truncated strategic process: You’re probably going to be wrong anyway, so do it quickly and cheaply!

Bring ideas from the bottom up: People who are closest to the data are most likely to achieve valuable insights. They can be approved and augmented from above to ensure that they are consistent with overall company strategy and resources.

Direct Traffic: A valuable function that senior management can and should perform is to ensure that everybody works together effectively. Inevitably, some important voices won’t be heard and some people will have to be reined in. A top manager can play a powerful role if they are seen to be an honest broker.

Start small and simple and then build in complexity: Developing in smaller iterations is faster, more economical and allows you to spot and correct problems more effectively and cheaply.

Flexible metrics: You will often find that a new product or feature is very effective at doing a job that you hadn’t thought of and not very good at performing the task for which it was intended. Rather than be disappointed, you should be happy that you’ve developed a product that is good at something (most aren’t).

One of the great things about Digital Media is that you are developing and changing all of the time, so you are always doing something new and exciting. Mistakes can be made, corrected and then improved upon. In order to be successful, this needs to be done cheaply and effectively, with a minimum of process. A minimum amount of process and approval from the top is essential if you’re going to innovate and implement as quickly as you need to.

If legacy media companies are going to learn how to build successful digital brands, they will have to stop trying to bring stone tablets down from Mount Olympus and learn how to pull their product strategy up from the masses quickly and cheaply.

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