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Digital Strategy

Part Three: Strategies for Mission-Driven Digital

Exploring recurring themes of mission-driven digital and how organisations can employ these to engage their users more effectively.

December 05, 2018

Adapted from a talk delivered at the Arts Marketing Association Conference in Liverpool, July 2018.

In part one of this blog, I introduced the concept of mission-driven digital and talked about some of the reasons for adopting a mission-driven approach to your digital strategy. Part two sketched out a framework for thinking about mission-driven digital in the arts and cultural sectors. In part three, I want to examine a few themes and strategic approaches that I think are highly relevant to the idea of mission-driven digital.

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There’s always another trend to explore in the heady world of digital. You could spend your whole life listening to podcasts and reading ‘thought leadership think pieces’ about ways to engage users in newfangled digital ways. But novelty without well-considered strategy is the enemy of user-centred design.

So if you’re a digital missionary, or a marketer looking to make your digital planning more mission-oriented, what should you really be thinking about?

1. Focus on the benefits digital technology brings to the user, and ignore the rest.

It can be tempting to leverage all the advantages of digital I discussed in part one of this blog by taking an existing organisational activity and attempting to digitise it by going through the user-centred design process I outlined in part two of this blog.

Consider this scenario: a convoluted paper-based process (say, for summer class registrations) gets mapped out and developed into a complicated digital user experience on the website. It is designed in a beautiful, mobile-first way, but it suffers from the same fundamental UX flaw as the paper form: it is created from the perspective of the organisation rather than the user, and as a result makes the user do all of the work. Think about the best digital experiences you encounter. They don’t feel like over-engineered digital versions of offline experiences. Rather, they are created specifically for the digital world.

Novelty without well-considered strategy is the enemy of user-centred design

Maybe-just-maybe you’ve learned something from years of processing paper forms that you can bring to the new experience. Perhaps most people select a particular option: should this be pre-filled online? Maybe everyone makes the same mistake in completing it? How could a digital experience deal with this? It might be the case that a digital solution is not appropriate at all. If the activity is not core to your business, and/or only affects a small number of users, perhaps you should leave it alone and concentrate your efforts elsewhere.

Your goal should not be to digitise the work of your whole organisation. Digital technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and we should focus on areas of our mission and business where it can make the biggest impact.

2. Don’t expect your users to be as interested as you are in the work you do.

As a user I want to get onto your site, do the thing I arrived to do, and then leave and get on with my life. You’ll have a pretty good idea what the things that I want to do are, because they’ll be implicit in the search terms that are driving traffic to your site. For most of our clients, these generally relate to products (how do i buy tickets), visits (where do i park), and similarly practical, actionable information.

On the other hand, as an arts or cultural organisation that’s passionate about your mission, you have a bunch of competing objectives like expanding your brand awareness, telling people about your world-leading education work, or asking people for donations. Finding that sweet spot between making the user’s experience as seamless as possible, and pushing your own strategic messages, is a big part of the work we do with our clients.

I wrote in the first blog of this series that few people visit parts of site that are explicitly and solely about the mission of arts organisations. So instead, we have to find ways to bring these messages to people on parts of the site that they do visit in large numbers. In the case of performing arts organisations, the most highly-trafficked parts of the site are the production detail pages.

Using these pages as launching off points, we can carefully interweave stories about the other work of the organisation into these pages, linking our users’ journeys to our mission-related goals.

Like these production pages on the website of The Roundhouse in London. Engaging story panels invite the user to find out more about the impact that the organisation is having on the lives of young people in Camden and North London, linking to a range of written and video content.

3. Digital things shouldn’t be scary, but there’s a shared responsibility to teach, learn and understand.


A big challenge in embedding digital technology into the practice of a whole organisation is the need to improve training and skills, particularly among those who set the strategic direction of arts and cultural organisations. Improving these skills doesn’t mean that executive directors need to learn to code, but they do need to develop an understanding of when a digital solution is appropriate, and an ability to work confidently with and around digital projects and digital people in order to help translate the organisation’s mission into the digital world. Digital projects require different approaches to investment, and involve different risk profiles, to typical bricks-and-mortar projects, and overseeing these means understanding these differences.

This is recognised as a challenge across the third sector, and there are a number of ways to address it, including (if you’re in the UK) applying for funding from the government to improve digital leadership.

This doesn’t mean that executive directors need to learn to code, but they do need to develop an understanding of when a digital solution is appropriate, and an ability to work confidently with and around digital projects and digital people

But even if you don’t apply for formal training or skills development, it is important to foster an attitude of skills sharing across an organisation, and one that includes the executive leadership. This obligation goes two ways; if you have responsibility for digital things, you need to involve, educate and engage the rest of the organisation with what you do. If you are a senior leader, you have an obligation of curiosity and attempt to understand the digital opportunities for your mission.

4. Adopt a ‘just do it’ mentality.

One of the side effects of caring deeply about the mission of your organisation can be an (occasionally) unhealthy attachment to perfection. We sometimes hear a reluctance to launch a new service or product until we’re absolutely sure it’s ready to go. But this attachment to the perfect can end up being paralysing. Sometimes we need to launch a new service or product before it’s 100.0% ready to go, so that we can start learning about our users’ responses to it in the real world.

In other cases, the reluctance is tied to not having fully automated the whole process, or needing to rely on some manual intervention behind the scenes to connect the dots. It can seem counterintuitive to introduce a sparkly new feature and not have it fully plumbed in, but if you can launch the user-facing feature and start collecting data, is it really a problem that you have to make some sort of manual intervention in order to report on or complete the processing of that data? After all, our primary aim should be to serve the user, and we are only delaying that if we wait for a perfectly integrated end-to-end system to be in place.

Your goal should not be to digitise the work of your whole organisation. Digital technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and we should focus on areas of our mission and business where it can make the biggest impact.

Start-ups recognise this, and a great example of this semi-automation are online travel agents. They’ll give the illusion of integration and automation by creating a user interface that feels like you’re booking directly on the website. But behind the scenes there’s a team taking that data input and processing it with the various travel suppliers they have agreements with. Over time they’ll start to automate this data processing, based on the intelligence and insight gathered from their lean launch. But they’ll only invest in this automation if the service resonates with their users, and they only find this out by launching it.

5. Measuring success in a digital world requires agility.

Baked in to the world of digital is the opportunity to measure and optimise every interaction and engagement taken by your users. Taking advantage of this opportunity requires digital missionaries to think very differently about how they package and schedule their programs and campaigns. Many organisations are stuck on annual planning cycles, for their giving campaigns, or education programmes, or funding bids. But this often works against the lighter inertia of digital, which requires shorter test-refine-repeat cycles to make noticeable progress over the same planning period.

Our primary aim should be to serve the user, and we are only delaying that if we wait for a perfectly integrated end-to-end system to be in place

How do we break out of these competing planning cycles? I think the best thing we can do is involve our missionaries in our digital planning cycles from the outset, rather than as an afterthought. Our digital planning cycles are so often led by marketing teams, who know the times of the year that they need to talk to their education or development counterparts to integrate their projects into the ‘digital plan’. If colleagues are engaged from the outset of each campaign or content plan, they can help us recognise opportunities throughout the year to better integrate our mission and our digital activity.

This needs to extend beyond campaign and content planning, and into measurement and evaluation as well. Rather than just sending the development team a report on the performance of your #GivingTuesday campaign, why not test language and calls to action in a series of emails throughout October and November, figuring out what works before launching the high-profile campaign?

There are always going to be marquee events that form part of an annual calendar, but using the regularity and access that digital technology provides allows us to shift our digital missioneering into a pattern that helps us more easily test and optimise it.

This blog is the final in a series about Mission-Driven Digital. Part one was about why Mission-Driven Digital is important, and part two is about taking a user-centred approach to Mission-Driven Digital. If you need help in becoming digital missionaries in 2019, we can help! Get in touch.