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Strategy in a Technology World

This paper explores the critical relationship between technology and marketing strategy in my ongoing commitment to providing productive insights to marketers.

The central idea is that confusing or conflating the relationship between technology and marketing strategy is a snare destination marketers should be aware of and avoid.

To highlight and develop this theme, let us consider it from three angles:

1. How technology has changed the marketing world

2. How to understand the implications of technology on marketing, and

3. The role of strategy and its implications for technology

Technology has changed the world. It's changed tourism marketing too.

Technology has a profound impact on our daily lives and business.

From 800 numbers and sophisticated call centers to mobile phones and laptops to tablets of every size, we feel the impact of technology's presence in our daily lives.

In addition to the ubiquitous growth of technology, there has been exponential growth in information and content and the different social media platforms to access them. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flicker, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Pinterest, and more are just a few examples.

To different degrees, all of us are riding a technology wave that continuously arrives on the shores of our lives with every set of new products, new applications, or updates. One key implication of this wave is confusion – both about the technology itself and the myriad of ways it can be absorbed.

As destination and hospitality marketers, the force of the technology wave can leave us wondering which direction to take.

Technology's Appeal

When you consider digital marketing tools, numerous benefits make them more appealing. These include targeting, relationship building, increased value, and measurability. Consider . . .


Targeting allows you to reach specific segments easily, be they geographical, behavioral, or persona-based. Digital tools allow you to easily target and customize marketing offerings and communications to suit your customers' needs and preferences better.

Relationship Building

Since it is one-to-one, technology can facilitate a far more relational and personal marketing approach. If done wisely, added intimacy and relevance can often mean better customer responses, interactivity levels, and sales.

Greater Value

Another benefit is that digital and mobile marketing tools can be far more cost-effective, allowing you to reach a wider audience for the same investment (or less). Production costs are often lower than traditional advertising and usually don't require the same lead time as print or television buys. This allows for more flexibility and nimbleness, a bonus for those organizations seeking real-time relevancy.


Finally, and dear to the heart of every marketer, digital tools are inherently measurable. Knowing actual results, value and ROI makes assessing program performance a whole lot easier.

Technology certainly has enormous potential benefits for marketing. However, sometimes technology's benefits can shine so bright that they blind us to two potential errors or pitfalls to avoid. First, divorcing technology from strategy, and second, conflating technology into a strategy is a tactic. Let's look closer at each.

Why We Lose Strategy When Thinking Digital

When we gravitate to technology for all the benefits and reasons discussed above without considering the strategy behind the tools, we create a Strategy/Technology Gap. This de-coupling between the two often creates strategic alignment issues. It can also weaken your marketing efforts. Additionally, with new technology offerings or versions appearing almost daily, it can increase confusion and cloud decision-making.

Another defective view of technology's relationship to strategy is to conflate a particular technology, which is a tactic, and think of it as a strategy.

Technology marketing is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. Who cares if you have a Facebook page?

The critical question savvy marketers focus on is why they use these tools and their role within a strategy. Are these tools helping achieve goals through measurable results? The Facebook page's value comes when it helps fulfill identified marketing objectives.

Using digital marketing without a competitive strategy is like looking for a lost wallet under a street lamp simply because you are better able to see there.

The point is don't lose sight!

Strategy for Technology Marketing

Let's start with a question, "What is strategy?"

Someone at The Economist Magazine noted, "Nobody really knows what strategy is."

One thing we all seem to agree upon is that we know the strategy is essential.

When we are challenged, it's natural to react in an unfocused manner. Without a strategy, an organization can waste an inordinate amount of time and resources on not focused or effective efforts. A strategy focuses on an organization. More importantly, it makes it accountable.

Other Benefits of Strategy

The strategy provides essential advantages. It helps an organization:

· Define markets

· Pursue goals

· Unify the destination behind shared objectives

· Coordinate a variety of activities in a unified, coherent way

· Keep the focus on the priorities and help minimize distractions, and

· Maintain the destination's big picture

What Exactly Does Strategy Mean?

Generally speaking, the notion of strategy roots back to ancient Greece, where the word strategos means to align. During the 18th century, it was used to mean "the art of the general." Taken together, we arrive at the idea that a strategy is a plan of action or an alignment of things to achieve a particular goal.

Narrowing down, a marketing strategy is a process that can allow an organization to align and concentrate limited resources on the most significant opportunities to increase sales and achieve sustainable competitive advantage.

Five Elements of Destination Level Strategy

There are two levels of strategy or strategic planning to think about from a destination marketing perspective: Destination Level Strategy and Functional Level Strategy.

Strategy at the destination level is mainly concerned about how the destination successfully competes against its competitive set. It focuses on what it must do to "win" or achieve marketplace success.

At the functional level, the focus is on how each functional department or team does its part to meet its objective. Think advertising, public relations, digital and mobile, special events, and the like.

When strategic planning for your destination, the following elements should be considered by your team:

· Where do you compete?

· How will the organization get there?

· How will the destination win?

· What is our economic model?

· What is the speed and sequence of our competitive moves?

A closer look at each one of these questions reveals a different set of concerns.

Where Do You Compete?

"A fundamental choice based on extensive analysis."

• What market segments do we target?

• What geographic markets?

• What behavioral elements do you target?

• What demographic segments do you compete in?

How Will the Organization Get There?

"How the organization by which the destination competes in its given target markets."

• Do we do it on our own?

• Partner with organizations within our destination.

• Partner with organizations outside our destination.

How Will the Destination Win?

"The best combination of differentiating elements from your comp set to attract visitors."

• What is our brand Image?

• What is the level of authenticity?

• What is our pricing?

What is The Economic Model?

"How will the destination see a return on its investment capital?"

• What is the cost to implement programs?

• How do we be as efficient as possible?

What is the Speed and Sequence of Competitive Moves?

"What are the destination's competitive moves that will help realize its advantage?"

• What are our resource limitations?

• What is the level of urgency?

Asking and answering these five sets of questions are the work of destination strategic marketing planning. That said, it is important that strategizing doesn't stop there.

Strategy is an Ongoing Process

It is important to remember that strategy is a fluid process. It is not set in stone. The cycle of industry analysis, destination analysis, strategy, execution, and goal setting is ongoing in a virtuous process.

Strategy alone doesn't guarantee success. Strategy can fail. It can fail because competitors undermine it or because you undermine it through poor execution.

So, it makes sense to stress-test your strategy with questions like these:

· Does the strategy fit with what is going on?

• Does your destination's strategy take advantage of its essential resources?

• Are your points of differentiation sustainable?

• Are your strategy elements in balance?

• Do you have enough resources to pursue this strategy?

• Is the strategy implementable?

• What about the politics of implementation?

Being different is not enough. Good strategy has to provide a sustainable advantage.

Your operating environment is consistently changing, so a good strategy needs to be flexible.

Make sure all your strategy elements are easily described, in balance, and somehow measurable.

Who Is Responsible for Strategy?

Ideally, a balanced healthy approach involves the board, staff, and industry working together in an integrated, harmonious manner. The CEO must be a catalyst to develop and define strategy, but she needs to involve a broader group of stakeholders, as collective buy-in is critical.

A staff-industry vs. board dynamic will not work.

A board-industry vs. staff approach will not work, either.

Nothing happens until something gets done. Don't forget about implementation. Great things can happen when an organization recognizes it needs to change, not when change is forced upon it.

Beware of the Strategy/Technology Gap

If a destination is smart enough to respond to change in its operating environment and is always looking to improve continuously, changes are more manageable. If your organization is unwilling to change, don't waste time and effort to bother with it.

There is nothing more challenging to take in hand,

more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in

its success than to take the lead in the introduction

of a new order of things. Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Bringing It All Together

The key is bringing strategy and technology together, but also understanding the difference.

The strategy focuses on who we are, why, resources, positioning, timing, and financial reward. On the other hand, tactics focus on process, action steps, implementation, and the like.

Where Does Strategy Fit?

So, in terms of destination marketing, where do strategy and technology considerations fit? Strategy is a grand design, while technology, like other functional areas such as advertising, special events, and public relations, is how you execute and implement the strategy. Don't just set up a Facebook page or Instagram account. Understand why setting one up is part of your strategy. If you don't have that understanding, you miss the big picture.

Still, Confused?

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.

Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu

Aligning your destination strategy with your functional strategy sets you free to change the rules.

So, back to the original question: Have we lost the insight that technology is separate from strategy?

Although its appeal, technology marketing can't take the place of a destination-level strategy. It is functional, a means to an end. It is not an end in itself.

As we've seen, confusing or conflating the relationship between technology and strategy is a pitfall destination marketers should be aware of and avoid.

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