My Take on Digital Strategy

Every time I get into a conversation with my friends or acquaintances about what I do, it seems to take an unnecessarily long time to explain. Because of this, I tend to just say “I create strategies for websites and stuff”. That, my friends, is a cop out. I seem to always land on jobs that other people don’t understand. When I was a “Social Media Specialist”, people would say “So, you just Facebook and Twitter all day?”. After awhile, I started to give up and just say “YUP!”.

Another thing that seemingly always gets to me, is the number of ‘job descriptions’ for a Digital Strategist, and how very few of these job descriptions share any commonality at all. And then the hoards of people who list of digital strategy as a skill, not understanding that it’s more of a blanket statement for a number of skills.

A Simple Misunderstanding About Strategy

Strategy means so many things to so many different people, and that’s perfectly fine. Strategy is a direction, an un-specific journey to a better destination. It’s not the how, it’s the what. This simple fact is what many people tend to misunderstand – they over complicate how simple the end product of a ‘strategy’ really is. In fact, a strategy is often just a simple statement. It is the solution to move from where you are to where you want to be.

Strategy is a class of solution that deals with uncertainty – the idea that outside sources may inhibit you from reaching your goals. A well thought out strategy will be the statement of solution, not a prescription on how to get there.

That’s it folks. Adding any element of how to the strategic statement starts to turn it into a plan – and that is putting the cart before the horse.

Seemingly Simple, But Not So

While my above statements seem to be simple to construct, it is actually quite the opposite. There are a lot of different elements you have to know to be able to construct a strategy that will provide the great results that you intended in the first place.

In order to craft a strategy, you must first uncover the problem that it needs to be a solution to.

This can sometimes take weeks of legwork, and while the outcome is a simple statement, that legwork requires a lot of time and multiple resources.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning comes after crafting a strategy. It is the process of defining the strategy or direction, and making decisions on allocating resources to pursue this strategy.

Being a Digital Strategist

As a digital strategist, I apply the above to digital business problems clients have. That could be the need for a new website, creating more comprehensive and goal-focused navigations, or creating leads and generating business online, for example. It is important to have a strategy before you have a plan, but some people do not possess the skills to create strategies (which is totally fine). It comes down to a level of thinking that I have spent time honing and perfecting. While I am certainly not the best strategic thinker ever, I pride myself on my ability to create direction and be the voice of logic.

So that’s what I do. Voila.

Why I Buy Lime Crime

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Anyone who knows me knows how much I love lipstick. My guilty pleasure is usually of the MAC variety, and I own many of them. From Saint Germain to Rebel, limited editions, and reds galore, this is truly one of my addictions.

Nothing really beats an awesome lipstick formula, the kind that stay on for HOURS despite eating, drinking, talking, etcetera. I have found this in many of my MAC lipsticks, but especially the Mattes and the Retro Mattes. Sometimes, I can’t get the lipstick off with any amount of scrubbing, and this is a good sign.

I currently follow a lot of makeup trends and new products online, through one of my favourite subreddits /r/makeupaddiction. There, you can find tips, trends, tutorials, and stare at peoples perfect faces all day, it truly is glorious. That is where I first heard about Lime Crime Lipsticks and their somewhat stained reputation. Basically, the Coles Notes version is that the woman behind Lime Crime threatened to sue over a bad review, resulting in a PR scandal, and such.

I would see pictures of the colour payoff, the opaqueness, the beauty of the formula, and for awhile, I stayed far away. I mean, did I want to support a brand like that? Really?

Then I started to think. This woman really takes pride in her products, and is extremely emotionally involved. Plus, she makes a wicked lipstick, so does it really matter what people say/think? The truth is, some people will be turned off by bad customer service no matter how good the product is, and others will continue to buy regardless. Where Lime Crime really lucks out, is that they make an awesome product (and I’m specifically referring to the lipsticks, not the eye shadows or anything else).

This leads me to a kind of self examination. People HATE this company and spread their hate for it on social media and the like. But what is more important to ME? In the end, it will always be the product. Like they say, good customer service can’t save a bad product – BUT – bad customer service doesn’t destroy a good product. Unless a brand is doing something harmful to animals, having their products made under unethical circumstances, then the truth is, I’m still going to buy it. This is the exact reason why Abercrombie is still in business, even if they fat-shame people, skinny people still want to buy their clothes. I’m sure both Abercrombie and Lime Crime’s bottom line dipped a little from the bad PR, but that doesn’t stop people from continuing to buy their products.

Now, I’m not saying that I endorse the behaviour of these companies, but I also don’t think that me purchasing their products enables them to keep acting the way they do (they’d do it without my money). I believe in supporting good products, and after some back and forth, I bought Lime Crimes Vegan Lipstick in Geradium and I absolutely love it.

Does a bad reputation stop you from buying from a brand? Why?

 

Time to Grow Up

I feel that over the past year, my mental capacity has really evolved into more than it was before. There has been a lot that has happened, both personally and professionally, that has changed or altered my viewpoint on things in some way. In the process of “finding myself” (you could say), some things just became less important. This blog was one of them, my Twitter account was another, and I’d say networking in general kind of fell by the wayside.

That may have been a mistake, in hindsight. There is incredible value in exercising the mind enough to write a meaningful (and I do mean meaningful) blog post. Somewhere along the line, my posts stopped being meaningful – they became kind of exhausting to be honest. I would force myself to write about something that I wasn’t really interested in. Then, there was my internal frustration that I was changing direction in my career but my peers weren’t. In my own head I probably viewed myself as a bit superior, because I had come to learn different not necessarily better things. So my “hate on” kind of continued…

I couldn’t look at Twitter without feeling physically ill at some of the posts I was seeing, posts that I myself probably would have posted less than 2 years ago. “What is wrong with these people?” I would say to myself. “Don’t they see it’s about technology enabling business and revenue and not about who is retweeting you?”.

 Not long ago, I analyzed the person I had really become. This blog, my network, these were all assets, so why was I treating them so poorly? I can still absorb information from these people (most of whom are probably smarter than me anyways), and share information with them – so how is that such a bad thing?

The truth is, it’s not a bad thing. We’re all part of an ecosystem (The Digital Jobosphere, you could call it), and we all have something to contribute to one another. Now that I’m out of this teenage angst phase of my professional life, I can finally grow up and stop being such a recluse.

All this being said, it’s time to apologize (I’m sorry), and get back to the great things the digital culture has to offer. I would like to present myself, Marissa Gagnier, to you all. I am a digital strategist at Soshal Group, a really amazing Digital Agency in Ottawa (also… Calgary and Toronto). I handle web related strategy that includes lots of things, such as: Ecommerce strategy, Information Architecture, Primary & Secondary Research, Technology and Application (both Social and otherwise) Strategy, etc. These are the areas of focus that I am interested in now, so these are the kinds of things you can expect to see on my blog. I probably won’t write about social media anymore, but I promise I will write some awesome stuff.  I feel like I can be dedicated to this again, and I will do my best to deliver.

 

Leaning In

While I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s (Facebook COO) Lean In, over the past few days I’ve read some blog posts, watched some Lean In videos, and explored Sandberg’s concepts of women taking a stand in the workplace.

It’s overwhelming to listen to Sheryl speak. It hits you in a place that you didn’t know was sensitive to begin with. She gives you some facts that are undeniable…

“Since the 1970’s, women have made more and more progress, except at the top. We’re held back by lots of things. We’re held back by sexism and discrimination and terrible public policy. But we’re also held back by stereotypes. Go to a playground this weekend and you’ll hear little girls get called ‘bossy’. You won’t hear little boys get called bossy because men are supposed to be assertive and lead. Rather than call our little girls bossy, we should say: ‘My daughter has executive leadership skills’.”

All of these things are true, the more ambitious a woman is – the more she is disliked by those around her. We as women make a choice to have a family and we strongly believe that by doing that, we have to change who we are professionally. Sheryl also goes on to talk about how choosing a partner who is supportive is imperative in your professional life.

I’ve thought about all of these things over the past few years. Being liked, being judged, being stifled, being successful, being a wife, being a mother – all of these things impact how I view my professional path – and to be honest it changes almost on a daily basis. Since I was a little girl I dreamed of being successful, and as I got older those dreams have remained, but the nightmares of failing begin to takeover and you become more careful, more complacent. Listening to and absorbing Lean In over the past few days, it really caused me to reflect on how I’m choosing to deal with my career path. While I work in an environment that supports and empowers the women who contribute to the workplace, there are few agency CEO’s that are of the female persuasion.

Working in corporate environments, you see the lack of female leadership in the workplace. Executive roundtables are made up of at least 80%-90% men. The women who sit in those executive seats are always disliked or treated differently than their male counterparts, and it’s not fair. As a woman in todays workplace, you start to think that this is okay that we don’t have those positions, that we don’t show our ambitions – and that is not okay.

All of this to say that Lean In is an excellent resource for women, one that I will constantly use to remind myself of what I deserve as a professional, not just as woman. We as women (and men, too) need to work together to support each other and create leadership roles for women because as Sheryl says:

“The blunt truth is that men run the world, and I’m not too sure that’s going too well”

I highly suggest you all watch this video (it’s worth the 57 minutes of your life):

http://new.livestream.com/leanin/leanin

Resolutions at the Right Time

Every year I set new years resolutions & share them (somewhat) publicly. Every year after about 2 weeks I give up. It’s become kind of a comforting routine, actually. I find comfort in it because I know, in the back of my mind, that I don’t really have to keep these resolutions. People will forget, or not ask because they too have not kept their own resolutions.

We’re more than half way through January, and now that I have worked this years resolutions into a somewhat routine, I’m okay to share now. Most of these are personal to me, but I think I truly should be accountable for them.

1. More Focus. Some would call it ADD, some would call it ‘master procrastination’, but I can admit that I have a focus problem (until the last minute when whatever I have to do has to get done). 2013 is going to be the year that all that changes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I always get done what I have to do, I just need to focus more throughout the working process. I need to set plans and goals for everything, and make sure that it gets done.

2. Health. It’s no surprise here, I mean, isn’t this everyone’s resolution? Gym memberships soar high in January only to be abandoned come February 1st. I don’t like the gym, I hate the CULTure that comes with it. I’m not generally a show-off, so I don’t need to stare into a mirror while I work out – and I’ve had gym memberships for the last 5 years that just prove time and time again to be a waste of money. All that being said, my fiance and I have built our own at-home gym that works just fine. I’m also eating a lot better. No more starchy carbs (drool), serious cut-downs on the chocolate front, proper portioning, etc. etc. I’m actually quite proud at how well I’ve been doing with this. I don’t put harsh limits on myself, nor do I weigh myself – I know that these things will come.

3. Write. Not everyday, not every week, not even once a month – just when the time calls for it. This blog has been good to me, and I abandoned it for awhile. I got to the point where I just didn’t want to write at all, and in retrospect it was probably good for me to take a break. I have come back with an open mind and fresh eyes and I have decided that I’m gunna write about whatever I damn well please. This blog is going to host a mish-mash of information – some professional, some personal, some just bat-shit crazy and that is what it needs to be to survive and not die a slow, painful death of neglect.

4. Save money. Another typical one, amirite? No but seriously, I’m getting married and I need to feed 200 people (donations are always accepted, ha!). Also, I’m cheap, and I enjoy being cheap, so saving money makes me giddy.

That’s it. Little things, but all very important to me. Things that will make 2013 better. Here’s hoping it’s a good year!

-m.

Blog for the Right Reasons

Sometimes I sit and think “man, I really need to post something on my blog. People probably think I’ve abandoned it by now.” Have I really abandoned my love for writing and sharing? Am I really not as passionate about things as I used to be? How did I even come up with all that stuff, anyways?

No. I shake my head. I’ll get to it, after work. Then I get home and I’m too lazy, I also don’t have any inspiration to try and write anything insightful. Tomorrow, I tell my self… there’s always tomorrow.

The truth is, before, I wrote stuff just to write stuff. It came off as passionate because I used the right words. I also had a crazy sense of entitlement coupled with some frustration from work. That was the perfect combination to produce “sharable” blog content. I’m happy now, humbled. I don’t have the gasoline to fuel the fire and produce frustrated rants like I used to, and I think I’m okay with that. Truth is, every time I write now I imagine that no one is reading it anyways – I feel free enough to write like the crazy old bat I am.

We can’t pressure ourselves to be these great content producers all the time. It’s not realistic. This blog started as a “social media” blog. Do you know how many “social media” blogs there are out there? A lot. Who the hell am I on the internet? Small potatoes, that’s who. This should be a venue for my enjoyment – and I plan on keeping it that way. If that means I’m going to blog once per year, then so be it – that’s just how it’s going to work.

If you’re thinking of starting a blog – I implore you to think about it just a little bit more. Why the hell are you doing this? Do you get actual satisfaction out of writing, or is it just because you get satisfaction when you log in and see those stats rising? Do it for the right reasons, or else eventually you’ll abandon it. Maybe not, though, maybe you’ll post every day for your foreseeable future. You’ll get all the stats! But most importantly, you’ll start writing about things that don’t matter to you. Space-filling posts that deplete your soul each time you compose them.

Reading through my last couple posts, I actually like the content in them. I do have a tendency to dwell on the negative, but it keeps me sane, humble, happy. It also makes me happy that I’m not adding more useless content to the internet, the cesspool of useless content. That makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

-m.

Vacationing on the other side of the internet

As I touched on in my last post, I have been slowly inching away from the world that entrapped me for so long: social media. I, like any addict, had certain feelings of withdrawal  which I healed with things I didn’t know even existed. For one, Reddit. While it can, at times, be a place of intolerance (mostly religious intolerance, bashing, call it what you want) – it’s a place of anonymity, something I never had before. I haven’t posted much there, for fear of being downvoted – or worse – fear of being ignored. I must say, though, that it is comic relief in a life that can sometimes be far too serious. There is also a lot to be said for the things you learn on Reddit. For instance /r/todayIlearned. There’s a wealth of information in that sub-reddit, of things that you would never know otherwise.

Okay.. enough drooling over Reddit. I’m getting to a point here, promise.

In my absence from the social world, I’ve learned how much more social (IRL) I’ve become in the process. I’m not answering tweets 24/7 on my phones and ignoring the people talking to me in real life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still keep up to date with all the news, the platform changes, etc., but I’ve distanced myself from the opinions of everyone else. Become… objective, if you will. I need to stay on top of these things, because of course, it’s still a part of what I do – I’ve just taken the “social” out of it. That’s not to say I don’t value the opinions of my peers, I do. I just needed to be able to think inside my own head, instead of the heads of others. I can boil it down to just the strategy side of things, the technological perspective – the things that are really valuable to the clients we serve.

All that being said, I find myself on the other side of the interwebs. The side where your website matters more than your Facebook page. The side where someone talking smack about your brand on Twitter really doesn’t matter. Sure there’s an argument for public opinion, and the fact that you can talk to your customers (really talk to them) – but the problem with caring too much about what other people think is that it inhibits you from making properly informed decisions on behalf of your brands. Public opinion is far different from consumer behaviour. Hell, nine times out of ten, I hate the service I get at certain restaurants, but if someone is having a birthday party at said restaurant, I kind of have no choice but to pry those dollars out of my wallet and contribute to their bottom line. I get that this is completely dependant on how you purchase – a restaurant is completely different from, say, toilet bowl cleaner – but even then, if I hate them and their product is on sale… I’m probably going to buy it. Let’s just say the cheap part of my brain is stronger than some of the other parts of it.

Being on the other side of the interwebs is alright, actually. It’s a world filled with cats, memes, and intellectual discussions. Discussions beyond just the everyday chatter that I can have on Twitter. I still see so much potential in social media for brands & for people, I just see the positive side in being anti-social sometimes.

For now you can find me vacationing on the other side of the internet, the antisocial part. C’mon by, there’s fluffy kitties for all.

Moving on (sort of) from ‘social media’

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged here, and I mean, since I’ve actually written anything of value to anyone who reads it. I think I’ve been internally struggling with what to write about, since I don’t feel the same way about many of the topics that I’ve previously covered here. The truth is, I’ve grown away from a lot of the ways I view things professionally, and this place was always a way to express my professional views and opinons. The truth is, this blog grew as I did, and evolved as my opinions did – even if it was contradictory to what I felt before.

So here I am, in a state of uneasiness, wondering if those I would consider my peers will look at me funny. I want to share my views with you on a topic that is covered a million times over on this blog: social media. I also want to share my realizations of the last 4 months or so with you;

  • If social media is what you do for a living, your job won’t last forever.  This is kind of a loaded statement – no job lasts forever, especially in any tech-related business. What I mean, is that it’s a mistake to invest your life into a career that will be obsolete sooner than later. I say this because, as a marketer, I now see the bigger picture. Social media on its own, makes no sense for a business. A lot of people will say “of course not, it’s obviously just one piece of the pie” – but what I’m saying is that if you need a ‘social media strategy’ then you’re doing it wrong. You need a business strategy, you need organizational goals, you need a website, you need eCommerce, you need marketing, you need videos, and then if you have time and money left over, you need social media. The reason I say your sole job in life shouldn’t be social media is because all of the things I just listed are more lucrative careers than the ‘social media strategist/manager/officer/nun-chuck-wielding-superhero.
  • Revolutionary platforms don’t equal bullshit engagement and content strategies, be revolutionary and engagement and content will come. Facebook is revolutionary – it changed the way we look at keeping in touch, it changed the way we share photos, it changed the way we marketed. Twitter is revolutionary – it changed the way we share and consume real-time information, it opened up networking beyond just the people you knew IRL. YouTube is revolutionary – it changed everything about video, period. Instead of focusing on how to ‘make your brand look good’ or ‘gain brand awareness’ you should, as a marketer, focus on using these revolutionary platforms to do something revolutionary. It’s cause and effect. Simple. Stop worrying about who is liking your stupid Facebook post – that will come with awesome content – which will come from your users – which will be more likely to interact with your brand if they don’t have to think about it – which will come from an effortless encounter with an Open Graph app – rinse, repeat. I’m not talking about customer service, I’m talking about brand interactions through technology that eventually lead to a nicer looking bottom line.
  • Money talks. Working in an agency environment, my whole perspective on monetization has changed. Everything has a dollar value. The time I spent writing this post has a dollar value. What’s the return on this for me? Therapy (at $100+/hr, I guess it’s worth it, right?). Google Analytics and AdWords are some of the best tools ever invented – you can track every step a user or potential customer makes in your sales funnel from ad (or search) to sale. Everything is important; how long they stay, where they go, where they click, everything. In turn, everything you do as a marketer, web designer, etc. can be assigned a dollar value (whether earned or spent), so if you’re spending a lot, you better be earning twice that back.
  • There’s value beyond buzzwords.  Before, I was in an environment where I was pigeonholed. “Social media specialist”, and that’s about it. No matter how interested I was in other things, there were departmental walls that I just could not break through. I would have to learn things like Google Analytics on my own time on my own sites, and it just was never the same. I love social media, I probably always will.. but I love it from a technology perspective and a user perspective. Professionally, I see a lot more value in the digital realm as a whole – so I want to know all of it. Sure, there are some social elements in this; Open Graph apps, analytics, advertising – but on a bigger scale, all of those things are digital not social specific. I can do all those things on a website and through other means.

I kind of feel like this was a big rant, or vent, whatever you want to call it – but I think it’s important that everyone understand that I’ve moved on from my pigeon hole. I still love and will keep up with the social sphere, it’s still baked in to a lot of what I do professionally… but it is not my sole focus anymore. I’m just as interested in creating strategies for websites, diving into as many advertising programs as possible, and peppering my everyday work life with social.

-m.

Update

This past few months has been a whirlwind for me. Agency life really is a different culture than what I was used to – and while I wasn’t prepared for it, I’m thoroughly enjoying it thus far. That has been part of the reason that I haven’t been able to post lately, working in a deadline-focused environment, that is.

I’m really happy with the way things are going at Soshal Group, it’s been crazy, but I realize how much fun really means in a workplace (when you have it). Working with a smaller, tighter, closer group of people has been exactly what I’ve needed all along. While I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about my previous workplace, I know now that it was not the right environment for me.

There is certainly something to be said for the culture that comes with working at a start-up. You work hard – you play hard. You get a world of different experience working with multiple clients, and you’re forced to apply yourself in a way that I certainly hadn’t before.

All that being said, I’m going to focus a little more on blogging in my spare time. I feel like I really have something good on this blog and I’d like to see it through. In other words… You’re not getting rid of me that easily :)

-m.

My Issue with Windows 8

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I’ve been a PC user all my life. Never owned a Mac, never wanted to really. Windows was such a familiar environment that I had been groomed to love. Groomed by my family (we had a Windows-based computer since the early 90’s), groomed by my secondary schools (which had a PC-only computer lab), groomed by my post secondary school (we had a ‘laptop mandatory’ program, that required a PC), and groomed by my last job.

All of my life, I was exposed to – and for the most part, enjoyed, the Windows operating system. Something has changed.

Due to the fact that I now work in a ‘Mac shop’ at Soshal Group, I was given a Mac. It took me some getting used to, but I love it now – I don’t think I could ever go back… and it’s good timing – from what I’ve seen of Windows 8.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe, and probably always will believe that Microsoft is a great company. I have no personal vendetta towards them, for the most part they make great products. I still love their office suite, and really do enjoy using it on the Mac… but Windows 8 I do not love.

Windows 8 has so much potential, Microsoft had the opportunity to truly do something revolutionary this time around… something uniquely Microsoft. The problem with what I’ve seen (consumer preview, and numerous screenshots from metro) is that this is not at all uniquely Microsoft. From a truly consumer perspective (I’m no tech analyst), this is not an operating system I want to upgrade to from Windows 7 (which I like), even at a low upgrade price.

They’ve gotten rid of the ‘Start’ button, and replaced it with the options to pin something to your task bar or use keyboard shortcuts. That is not Microsoft, that is Apple. They’ve created what you’ll see as the tiled interface for all your favorite apps. That is not Microsoft, that is Apple. They’ved made their device synchronous across all your Metro Devices – ehrm because Win7 Phone is rampant in the mobile space. They’ve created ‘hot corners’ that will annoy the S&^t out of you because PC computer hardware has not evolved to apple trackpad sensitivity and accuracy. The only good thing they’ve done, really is created an app store… which has become industry standard for any OS. So hey… there’s that.

Other than that, the OS is still very similar to Windows 7. Your desktop pretty much looks the same… all the same features are there, they just have this clutter and un-Windows things scattered throughout. This is not meant to be a review, and I get there are many benefits to Windows 8 & Metro & Surface and all those other things – but for me, someone who would normally buy a personal PC over a Mac… this is not what I want, nor what I have come to expect from Microsoft. Sure, they’ll make a boatload of money off of Windows 8/Metro/Surface… but none of my hard earned cash will be on that boat.

Are you a Windows user or a Mac user? What do you think of Windows 8?

-m.