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  1. Blog
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What Does a Digital Strategist Do?

“Anyone who works in this field must be naturally curious.”

Woman typing on a computer
Photo courtesy of Keren Levand

This article is part of InHerSight's What Do You Do? series. This series explores the working lives of women by job title. Readers can get a glimpse of what it's like to work as an account executive, software developer, restaurant manager, and more.

What does a digital strategist do?

Digital strategists can take on many different roles and responsibilities for companies of all kinds. But they’re typically focused on digital marketing, and how the business can effectively portray their brand to connect with the right consumers. 

Successful digital strategists must have a mix of creative thinking, excellent communication skills, and awareness of their given industry so they know how to approach a brand’s online strategy. 

We talked to a couple of experienced digital strategists to dig into what these jobs are actually like day-to-day.

Saskia Sumida

Four and a half years in digital strategy

What does a digital strategist do?

A digital strategist can encompass such a wide variety of roles, but I personally aid brands in connecting their business objectives to the elusive consumer mindset and needs. Broadly, strategy deals with challenges that sit across digital marketing, consumers, creative, and technology. Though the day-to-day varies often, my role focuses on the development of the following: digital offerings and innovation, online brand presence, pathways that enhance the consumer experience, custom solutions for business challenges, and analyzing trends for testing and learning opportunities. I am also present across all areas that are relevant to a brand such as research, ideation, conception, execution, and learnings. In short, strategy is about forging connection, engagement, and relevancy between a brand and its consumers.  

What’s your professional background, and why did you pursue this line of work?

I actually didn’t know that strategy could be a career until I moved to NYC (one-year post graduation). While getting my marketing degree in Boston, I always pursued art direction, gravitating toward creative-focused classes and internships. While job hunting, I made mock ad campaigns for fun but found myself focusing more on the story than the creative itself. This curiosity led me to marketing consulting where I learned the value of data by transforming it into insights for different agencies. I soon realized that I wanted to be the one turning those insights into solutions and moved to NYC to pursue what would end up being a career in strategy. I started at a mobile agency that acted as a strategic business unit across a number of agencies and worked closely with our innovation lab at the time. I loved how fast-paced the work was and how it allowed me to partner with so many other teams, educate my peers and clients, build out pitches as a digital expert, engage with the newest technology, and even visit Mobile World Congress to observe the future of AI and debate the ethics of self-driving cars. Those same things motivate me to this day—I love challenging myself and am constantly looking for new ways to do so.

How do you help out companies?

The cliff notes version is "creative problem solving." The brands that I work with exist across a wide range of verticals and, thus, each require a unique approach. A strategist helps to define this approach to be creative, impactful, and measurable. Another important aspect of my work is bringing forward a consumer-first point of view that can often be forgotten about in the midst of other business goals. This is another reason why research is so important to the job—for example, consider the recent tightening of privacy restrictions with Apple’s iOS 14. Such a change serves as a reminder that brands need to keep focus on transparency and all existing strategies should be looked at as such. Additionally, strategists offer invaluable help in connecting all the different touchpoints of digital that a brand is invested in by sitting at the crux of producers, content, creative, PR, media, et al.

What does a typical workday look like?

It really depends on the projects I’m working on, but I often start the day by reading any interesting consumer reports published on eMarketer (especially now that they have more reports on the pandemic’s impact to various digital channels). I also get newsletters from Mobile Marketer and Digiday to my inbox, which I like to scan for new-to-market ad tech or unique targeting solutions. A large aspect of strategy is staying up to date on industry news and this research can result in potential tests for my own accounts. 

After this, I look over projects that I’m working on for my clients and connect with the various teams that I work with (analysts, creative, social teams, et al.). Strategists help connect all channels and teams because strategy work must encompass all of those vital viewpoints.

What are the three most important parts of your job?

  • Synthesizing research/data

  • Collaboration

  • Storytelling 

What skills are necessary for a digital strategist?

Digital strategy requires the ability to create solutions with—at times—only half of the information necessary. This means that problem solving and making quick deductions is critical. A large part of my role involves identifying important questions in order to guide the following research process and story build. Strategy is not linear, which is to say that there is no right or wrong answer. Anyone who works in this field must be naturally curious, able to identify connections, and confident in their work. Another important trait is being able to check your ego at the door because strategy does not exist without the perspectives of account managers, creatives, and other inter-agency teams. Collaboration allows for a cohesive plan that is both exciting and actionable, but it does mean that you need to understand your teams and their functions. 

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Ensuring that I am speaking as a true unified voice between all the different teams that I work with. Collaboration is a great part of the job, but it also means fully understanding the function of all involved teams and how they work together and across the agency. In order to build strong proposals, strategists must be able to monitor timelines, communication, and deliverables. This will always be easier with strong communication, though. On a holistic level, “defining the problem-to-solve” can also be a difficult (and interesting) function of the job as well. Challenging a client’s perception of their problem—by digging deeper and asking questions—is necessary to figure out what the direction should be. Strategists can determine where focus needs to be pulled with the help of digital education and context. 

What’s the best part of your job?

This is twofold. The first is being able to define the problem(s) and the solutions for each of my accounts. I include both because strategy is oftentimes about figuring out what is not being considered or seen. My favorite aspect of the job is curating a story that is meaningful to the brand and to the consumer, with strong research and data to support. This ownership over my work means creating and testing hypotheses are a constant. I also love working in digital strategy specifically because it allows me to incorporate and push for innovation in my work.

What’s something people might not know about what digital strategists do?

The most interesting thing about strategy is how many "invisible" tasks are required of the job. Other jobs often have clear outputs, but there isn’t a singular way to approach this role so different strategists will have very different perspectives. Strategy continuously offers ways to challenge yourself by enforcing two concurrent levels of thinking: the ultra-detailed and the holistic. Working across teams, defining new truths, using your left brain, and practicing metacognitive thinking are all constants in the strategy realm.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a digital strategist?

Try to be involved with as many different accounts as possible. Though you may only work with one client, ask to be involved in pitch work or brainstorms for other accounts. Different brands have unique problems and solutions that help to develop your own perspective and work. At the end of day, strategy is in many ways a creative role and, thus, requires inspiration.

Marek Cornett

Owner and digital strategist at Alaine Digital with eight years of experience

What does a digital strategist do? 

It drills down to one simple thing: reaching your audience or should-be audience through digital means. Now, this could mean 100 different things. There’s content strategy, email strategy, social media strategy, web strategy, and the list goes on. My specialty is paid media strategy, so my goal is to use my clients’ budgets effectively. Knowing the ins and outs of all digital paid media platforms and which would be best for my clients to use is a must.

What’s your professional background, and why did you pursue this line of work? 

I have a ridiculous past. My undergrad degree is in finance and my master’s is in public administration (basically a poli sci degree). But after I found a heart for nonprofit, I worked for one for about four and a half years. During my time there, Facebook and Twitter became more important for brands to use. I was active on both platforms personally and saw that our non-profit needed to join the game. Once I started building the online community for the non-profit, I was hooked. I began looking for a job in social media and found one at a local marketing agency. During my seven years there, I served in many roles from social media manager to social media strategist, managing a team of social media managers. I love analytics and the puzzle that is advertising, so I started leading our agency’s efforts there for paid social media. Eventually, I became equipped to strategize other paid media efforts and now I own my own company doing just that for a variety of businesses.

How do you help out companies? 

I help my clients by providing a service they likely don’t have an expertise in. Many of my clients are small businesses which are concentrating on doing a million things they have to do each day. Learning and executing digital strategy isn’t something they necessarily have the time or energy to do. By learning their businesses, I’m able to set them up for success by reaching new or existing audiences. 

What does a typical workday look like? 

It depends on the week of the month, but for most clients I’m building ads, optimizing ads, or running reports. I also try to fit in continued education a couple of days a week to stay up on my industry.

What are the three most important parts of your job?

●  Knowing my client well enough to truly own this portion of the business

●  Knowing my industry well enough to do right by my clients

●  Knowing myself well enough to say yes or no to potential clients

What skills are necessary for a digital strategist? 

You truly need to know the ins and outs of your platforms you’re working with. When you know what’s possible, creativity and intuition can lead you to make good choices. Also, being able to read analytics and make choices according to what you see helps correct any blind/intuitive choices you made.

What’s the hardest part of your job? 

What was true two years ago isn’t always true today. Each platform changes over time, and making sure I stay up-to-date on those changes is important. 

What’s the best part of your job? 

I love experiencing big wins with my clients. Whether that’s customer acquisition, eCommerce sales, or just simply awareness of their businesses, it feels great to know that I’m providing value.

What’s something people might not know about what digital strategists do? 

Specifically on the paid social side, I’m not over here just pushing “boost post.” I research audiences, get down to the customer journey and use both of those to build a strategy for how and when to reach those audiences.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a digital strategist? 

Surround yourself with people who know more than you do. There are SO MANY facets to strategy, and you’re not going to master them all. Know people you can call on when you have a project that needs a specialist in something you don’t do as well. For me, that’s SEO. There’s such an art to it, and I have my go-to strategist in the field when I need someone more knowledgeable than I am in that area.

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