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Why your digital strategy is almost definitely flawed

View all · 06 Nov 2018 · revolutioniseSPORT

Every digital strategy that we have seen in sport in the last twelve months leads to an inescapable and somewhat dystopian description: that the Australian sports sector is a bleak landscape littered with digital strategies that cost sports a large sum of money and were last updated in 2014.

Like a junkyard in the desert resembling a scene out of Mad Max, these glossy covered documents gather dust on the desk of many a CEO, and arms become crossed when the words 'digital strategy' are mentioned.

A harsh truth needs to be spoken: the majority of digital strategies prepared for sporting organisations are almost definitely flawed.

Every flawed digital strategy rests on one or more of the following pillars:

  • The strategy is too broad without a plan for executing recommendations with no defined timeline.
  • The strategy has overestimated the current and future resources that are available to the sport.
  • The strategy solves the wrong problem or has failed to understand the current digital ecosystem of the sport.  

In the first pillar, a strategy is produced, usually by an organisation without any technological experience, that recommends implementation of a strong “customer journey”, underpinned by a "web of integrated digital touchpoints harnessing the true value of the sport". The aim is to be "impact driven" and to ensure a "dynamic responsive environment". Fantastic, but where are the actionable steps to implement those recommendations.

In the second pillar, the resources of the sport are outclassed by the resources required by the strategy. If your sport had 15 full time equivalent staff, and you were recommended that your organisation would need another 15 digital-only staff by 2025, you'd hope the consultant would be asked to come back with a more achievable goal. Think again - this is real advice provided to a national sport.

In the final pillar, the strategy solves the wrong problem. How many national and state sporting organisations have been told they need to develop a fully native application for iOS and Android? Are their consultants aware that progressive web apps are likely to be the future of our engagement on mobile devices (save for downloadable apps in industries like banking and games)? An app doesn't help solve a business problem - most of the time it introduces another one. Worse, the strategy completely misrepresents the current digital ecosystem, and advocates starting fresh, without exploring whether the current architecture is being used correctly. In the case of proposing the development of a mobile application - this does not directly solve a business problem. It does not increase participation, it does not tell you more about your members - rather it can increase the risk profile of the sport, especially if the app is poorly received.

There are two main reasons these strategies aren't thrown out by boards: the sunk cost fallacy, and 'FOMO'.

The decision to invest heavily in a digital strategy - and to continue down that path when it is over budget, behind schedule and not delivering measurable outcomes for the sport - is an emotional one. The decisions are tainted by emotional investments that accumulate through the politics of federated sport, government involvement and personal responsibility to stakeholders: it is hard to advocate the abandonment of a sinking ship that you paid for and sold to the passengers.

"Digital" is in vogue. Everyone wants a digital strategy, and far be it from a sport to aim for small, measurable, achievable outcomes - why not go big, bold, and jump in headfirst without measuring the depth of the water?

We'll put forward a proposition:

A digital strategy is actually a collection of digital projects designed to answer questions, whose solutions allow for business outcomes to be realised.

At a basic level, many sports do not truly understand their membership. A common theme is a rhetoric to "grow the sport", without understanding where member numbers actually come from. A better theme would be, "let's find out what our retention and churn rates are understand those who are new, those who are returning, and those who have left the sport". It is not a case of "growth" - it is a case of "retention". What is the merit of growing by 500 members in 12 months when you lose 1,000 in that time? A sport with 300 clubs only needs to stop 10 members per club from leaving and they will achieve a net retention of 3,000 members.

Another struggle is understanding facility utilisation, demographic spread, cost, and other socioeconomic factors that influence the uptake of a sport. These are all tied to an understanding the membership in the first place.  Each of these factors uniquely influence retention and churn.

A digital strategy for a sport should employ a 'wheel and spoke' approach - a central core 12 month strategy of understanding the membership, with each 'spoke' being a related business question to be solved. Each spoke should have a list of actionable steps, using a digital technology to assist. At the end of the year, the sport should have outcomes provided by that strategy, either completed or well underway, to highlight as a positive achievement for the sport.

Of course every sport is different - some may have a digital strategy centered around commercialisation, others around increasing visibility and market presence - but if they set out to solve a business problem, rather than adhere to high level esoteric vision statements - the chance of success is significantly increased.

In 2019, we will take a front seat with sports, to empower them to solve business problems using actionable technology-driven strategies. We're working hard on planning the next phase of sports technology. In the last quarter of 2018, we've helped write digital strategies around retention & churn, facility utilisation and participation program development. In 2019 we will continue to deliver real, exceptional results to sport, in a format that is digestible and achievable.

In 2019, we tackle digital strategy. Stay tuned.


Originally published on LinkedIn.