The Experience Department

The Underutilized Catalyst for Success

Apr 30, 2013

I keep getting asked “What do you need in order to start sketching out an experience?” in some form or another. This post is going to encapsulate my response, thus, I’ll be including a link to this post for anyone asking me this question in the near future.

The Approach

The first thing I need to explain is my approach to digital strategy. It’s a little different than many ‘seasoned’ strategists. Upfront, I make a clear distinction between strategy and content development; strategy provides the insights and guidelines – content development involves synthesizing those insights into expressive, provocative, usable brand content.


I don’t romanticize strategy. I don’t rely on opinions very often, and when I do, I try my best to get an objective perspective. I base the heart of every strategy on key data sources. Not every project is the same, so each project requires team alignment on what data sources will be used to craft the strategy. Typically, I start with stakeholder interviews and a competitive review; if internal analytics are available, I’d typically do an analysis of that data too. Based on the type of project, I might also conduct a user survey, collect and analyze 3rd party research, conduct an SEO audit, etc.


Step 1 involves getting team alignment on what sources we’ll be using to establish the preliminary strategic framework. This could be as simple as conducting stakeholder interviews, and diving into the metrics available in the Google Analytics account. It could be substantially more complicated, and involve deep ethnographic research, user surveys, focus groups, 3rd party research, etc.

Once all of the sources are defined, each individual source can be analyzed. Findings can either be presented to the team for alignment progressively, as they’re completed, or can be compiled into the framework and just referred to in an appendix.


Step 2 takes the analysis that was done during step 1 and distills the insights into the strategic framework. This typically involves examining all of the insights collectively, grouping similar insights, and extracting/extrapolating content guidelines. (See framework section for a more detailed breakdown.)

Once a strategic framework has been established, the real strategic work can begin. It’s important to define content strategy on a project-by-project basis. Typically content strategy will be broken into at least 3 separate strategic regions: content, social, and search. That said, there are typically multiple deliverables, or areas that will require thought. Occasionally, something specific like CRM will be extracted from content strategy and dealt with as it’s own stream.


In the example this diagram was created for, the client agreed on a certain number of tasks associated with developing a content strategy. It’s important to understand that these tasks don’t necessarily have to flow in the order they’re presented, or be completed by a specific time. It’s more of a roadmap indicating all the pieces that will eventually make up the content strategy.

Going through the process of defining a content strategy may take months of tweaking and measurement before landing in a place that feels right.


Stream segmentation is often useful to focus a team on tasks at hand. Often times, my clients feel overwhelmed by a comprehensive content strategy; so I often deal with social and search as separate strategies & simply utilize the strategic framework to unite the various strategies.

All strategic streams should be established early to help ensure no important components get forgotten; and ensure the team is all on the same page.

I typically get sign-off progressively as I analyze the various data points; all-the-while laying a foundation for the strategic framework.


The Strategic Framework

Everyone seems to call this something different, so let me explain what a strategic framework is.

The framework should be a synthesis of all the data inputs that were analyzed. There is a certain amount of brand identity that’s infused to the strategic framework, which is why (on certain types of projects) it’s good to work with either a creative director or a brand strategist.

It should provide all relevant insights and guidelines & should be categorized into high-level, memorable pillars. If a company wants to earn its customers trust, a pillar might be trustworthiness or transparency. Within each pillar would be guidelines or insights that will govern content creation, interaction design, information architecture, and much more depending on how digitally savvy the company is.

Is this all really necessary?

Of course not. Some strategists rely solely on a user survey, or stakeholder interviews. Some just rely on their own experience and personal biases to develop a strategy. Some utilize psychological frameworks like Junian archetype modelling.

It generally winds up being a balancing act. Generally, the more data inputs, the more thorough the analysis and, subsequently the more thorough the strategic framework will be. This isn’t always the case, research saturation occurs when new forms of research aren’t returning new insights (or not as valuable insights). If research saturation occurs, it can be concluded that it’s time to establish the strategic framework.

Rule of thumb: a properly managed strategic framework shouldn’t cost more than 5% of the total budget, or take more than 5% of the total allotted time. This would mean that about 5k should be set aside for every 100k of project budget; and 2 days should be set aside per month of the timeline.

Do all projects need a strategic framework to be created?

Strategic frameworks are generally created once, and just updated periodically. They typically govern all content being created; and are referenced by all projects. So if you’re considering creating a strategic framework, it’s important to understand that once its created, it may require substantial work to bring the company up to the standards spelled out in the framework.

Because a strategic framework is a living document, it’s possible to create an assumptive version based on less upfront research. It would be more work on the back-end in terms of measurement, multivariate testing, etc.

Do you know what data was used to establish your strategy? Do you know how it was analyzed? Do you believe the insights? Does your strategy provide helpful insights and guidelines the team actually uses, or is it full of stuff everyone-knows-and-no-one-uses?

Think a strategic framework might be the catalyst that elevates your internal team or vendors to a higher level? It’s proven to be extremely useful for many projects I’ve worked on. Want help weighing the pro’s and con’s? Contact me

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