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Everybody wants a web strategist, until the strategist shows up.

Strategy Strategy Strategy. It’s all the rage these days.

It’s extended to higher ed, where we’re usually the last to get to anything. Social media strategy, Digital Strategy, Content Strategy. Strategymania! As someone whose career began at a time when many institutions out of the first tier were legitimately asking — with a straight face — whether they even needed a web person at all as if it were a passing fad, witnessing the professionalization and evolution of “webmastering” as it were is invigorating .

Besides, who doesn’t like seeing people get jobs?

It’s complicated though. Strategy is like the Sunday car you never drive, just keep in the garage to show your friends when they come visit. You talk about its features, take it out and wash it on Sunday afternoons because you want everyone in the neighborhood to know you have it. Then you drive it back in the garage. When your kid asks you why you never drive the ‘Sunday Car’ you make up all kinds of excuses.

 

“Well, it might rain today and I just washed it.”
“Sunday cars aren’t meant for driving, honey. They’re just meant for appreciating.”
“We’ll drive it next Sunday.”
“It’s winter and we don’t want to drive it in the snow.”

You’d never drive your Sunday car because you have a car you drive all the time. It’s practical, reliable and you’ve had it a long time. Why would you drive anything else? In this metaphor, your everyday car is traditional marketing and IT efforts and digital is the Sunday car. EVERYONE wants the best Sunday car, but NO ONE wants to actually drive it, for fear they’ll crash the thing into the side of the barn heading to Grammy’s house.

Look, strategy is a threat because no one is communicating that we’re alldoing strategy in our own ways. In an effort to professionalize our work, web people are too busy navel gazing in our own silo instead of working harder to educate the C-Suite about what it is we’re doing and the business value of those efforts. Digital is driving the monetization and keeping creaking business models alive through channels that are cleaning the clocks of traditional marketing efforts, yet we’re ignoring the people who got us there.

Everybody wants a strategist, but no one knows what a strategist actually does. And that’s a problem for those of us who consider ourselves executors; the people who worked through the ranks and understand not just how to make websites, but how to align digital goals with business strategy and overall institutional goals.

The threat is, elevating digital to the C-suite threatens the binary has up until now generally rested in the CTO/CMO world. Technology and marketing officers are mortified that the rise of the digital officer to the executive team of major companies — 25% by 2015 according to Gartner predictions — is going to render them obsolete.

For the higher ed world, there are more complicated layers to this. The bottom line is, we’re marketing to a world that’s changed dramatically. Tactics we employed thirty years ago don’t work the same way. We’re still relying too much on anecdotes and limited perspectives to drive major institutional decisions.

In a world with access to massive amounts of data, we have a responsibility to harness that information to inform the choices we make. We have an ability to make widespread changes, to assess tactics on the fly and become more nimble and adopt entrepreneurial tactics to invigorate workspaces and motivate the people who feel a great sense of pride being part of the academy.

Who can do this? Strategists.

No long can we envision strategists as merely the people who make the battle plans, but instead as tactical experts who have been in the trenches long enough to understand what works and what doesn’t work. Who monitor the shifting trends and stay connected to a larger world that keeps us connected to what’s happening.

We’re talking so much about web strategy, but nobody wants to let their web strategist loose on the C-Suite, because it’s the same battle of millennials/Gen-X v. Boomers that’s playing out throughout the rest of society. Some argue that traditional leaders have the dexterity to manage these responsibilities in their current roles. Chet Kapoor argues that anyone can serve in a chief digital role if their backgrounds match:

 

But it’s important to view the CDO as a role, not a title. This role is being filled with executives with a wide variety of titles, in fact. This person could be a chief information officer with a very strong business orientation, or a chief marketing officer or GM of e-commerce with strong technical expertise.

 

The CDO–or whoever is playing that part in an organization–is where an enterprise turns for digital leadership across lines of business, and to create a consistent customer experience.

The problem with this for the higher ed world is our heavily segmented, specialized silos don’t always lend themselves this kind of cross-training amongst the Executive suite. Digital is the province of people who’ve evolved into these roles, coming from other industries since it wasn’t possible fifteen years ago to imagine making a normal living working online. It just wasn’t a possibility yet. This is no longer the case.

Talented, articulate and experienced digital leaders proliferate our organizations. They’ll cause a paradigm shift in the way we do business, but can also operate within the confines of the organizational structure to help us improve our bottom lines.

But you can’t a test a car in the garage, you have to drive it.

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