In this episode, meet Danielle Barthelemy, a Senior Digital Strategist with over 10 years of experience in marketing and digital strategy. Prior to her role at Mediacurrent, Danielle led the digital strategy team at a digital advertising and social marketing agency. She also taught Mass Communication as an adjunct professor at a Minnesota university. She currently resides in Minnesota and when she’s not in her office, she spends her time with her family, trying out new recipes, and dreaming about her next trip to the mountains.
You can’t be data-driven without understanding data! Bounteous.com is a fantastic, easy to follow blog on all things data.
Tell us about your role as a Senior Digital Strategist at Mediacurrent.
My role as a senior digital strategist involves a variety of different elements - I actively support clients in developing and executing on their strategy to accomplish their business goals through their website and digital marketing efforts. Often times that involves asking questions and diving into user data to help define priorities within the roadmap. It means collaborating with project managers, designers, and developers to execute on the initiatives in the roadmap to ensure we are tracking towards the goals. It means supporting the content strategy and offering SEO recommendations. Essentially, what it means to be a senior digital strategist, is that I get to partner with our clients in whatever way I’m able to lean in to support them as we strive to accomplish their goals together.
Also, as a senior strategist, I get to spend a portion of my days supporting the rest of the team of strategists and data analysts. Coaching and mentoring, peer reviews of our work, collaborating and problem-solving - it is SO much fun to work alongside such intelligent, fun, and empathic people. They are constantly impressing me with how they’re partnering with our clients and are pushing me to grow and continue learning!
Tell us about your background - how did it bring you to your current role?
I started out my career in market research. I led a team of 10 researchers and oversaw research studies for small businesses and government groups to better understand the perceptions and attitudes of their audiences. I transitioned into a digital marketing agency where I was a project manager and led the digital marketing for the agency. At that time I also begin working towards a master's degree in strategic communication.
Following graduation, I transitioned into a start-up agency as a digital project manager where I led the social and digital advertising strategies for a variety of clients. I saw a gap in our offerings for a more strategic approach when it comes to digital marketing so I created a role for myself - head of strategy. In this role, I was able to coach and mentor other account managers to be more strategic and to oversee the strategy for our biggest accounts.
The common theme in my previous roles is that I was leveraging research and data to understand how users were using current technology, websites, and platforms that were already in the digital ecosystem. When I was reflecting on my role at Mediacurrent, I realized that I am able to build on that foundation of understanding people and how they use technology to be able to help my clients now create new platforms, new websites, new portals for users to engage with. Creating something from nothing or staying ahead of trends in digital strategy is a tall task, but it’s an invigorating one. The knowledge and expertise I have gained throughout my career is a key piece of how I’m able to partner with our clients.
What’s your favorite thing about being a strategist at Mediacurrent?
I have too many things I enjoy to list just one. First off, the teams I work with are great - I’m challenged to be my best and supported as I continue to grow by the strategy team I just mentioned, by my project teams and from the clients I am able to work with. I love collaborating with other people and learning from their experience and expertise - there isn’t a week that goes by that I’m not learning and growing and I love that.
I also love the nature of the work. The challenges and opportunities that our clients have are complicated, nuanced, and very often there isn’t a “right” answer. It’s part of my role to help figure out the best path. I step into typically very gray and confusing challenges and help chart a clear path. The way I look at it, I understand typical best practices when it comes to digital strategy, I am constantly learning about user behavior patterns, I collaborate with our clients to really understand their business and objectives, and then figure out how to apply best practices to their situation. The best practices that are well known across the digital strategy field serve as just a starting point for us. To really see success, we need to apply critical thinking on top of those best practices to make sure it’s best for the client’s situation. Just applying a blanket best practice and not considering the nuances of the situation probably won’t return the best results.
What advice do you have for organizations in approaching their digital strategy?
Make sure you’re asking the right questions! It’s so easy to jump right into execution because time is so limited and we all have endless to do lists. I try to follow a pattern in asking questions when I’m facing a challenge or opportunity - I first take it up to the 30,000 foot view and ask myself what the overall goal is - what am I trying to accomplish and how does this challenge fit into that? Often times I’ll realize I’m giving it too much attention - it’s so easy to focus on the shiny thing or squeaky wheel! Having a good grasp of the overall goal helps to keep me focused and also avoid saying yes to too many things. If it is something I need to address, then I start getting into analyzing all of the data/factors I have available. Most of the time I don’t have all of the data I would ideally like to make the decision, but I gather as much as I can and then use that for defining a path forward.
All that to say, when you look at continually improving your digital strategy, ask questions!
Why is it important for an organization to invest in digital strategy?
I think in order to understand why they should, it’s important to understand why they don’t. I’ve never heard anyone saying, “strategy isn’t important.” No one ever disagrees with what we do. A strategic approach to any project is helpful and is the best way to ensure the highest ROI. The challenge often comes to budget or someone on the client team covers the role.
For clients with budget constraints, we can scale up and down our support on any project. At the beginning of the engagement, we would want to discuss where our support would provide the biggest value within the budget constraints of the project.
A similar response to those that have strategic roles already on their team - but first, that’s fantastic. It’s great to see an internal focus on a strategic approach! Second, we have a deep bench of expertise in the strategy discipline - it’s actually the second largest team at MC. Adding strategy to an engagement isn’t an “all or nothing” thing. We love being able to understand the needs of the project and the dynamic of the client team to best match our strategists to complement the team. We want to be an extension of the project team, not a duplication. If the client team has well-researched personas already created, we don’t need to engage our team to recreate the wheel. If there is a gap in data analysis skills on the team, we can lean in just that area if needed.
How does a website project benefit from having a digital strategist onboard?
There are a lot of benefits of engaging a strategist on a project - SMEs on user research, persona development, data analysis, goal setting and measurement, SEO, content strategy… but the primary one that comes to my mind is that we are great connectors - we operate with client goals in mind and are an advocate for the user’s perspective, we help communicate those goals to the next steps in the project - design and development - and use that knowledge as a primary factor in the decisions that are bound to come up. For example - when determining an MVP, how do we prioritize what should be a must-have versus a nice to have? How do we frame the must-haves? There are obviously a lot of factors that go into this and strategy supports pulling that information together and making a data-driven decision.
Are there different levels of digital strategy you could recommend based on organizations with a limited budget?
Absolutely. We can scale up and down our support on any project. At the beginning of the engagement, we would want to discuss where our support would provide the biggest value within the budget constraints of the project. For example, we had an engagement with a university library that had a very limited budget. In our initial conversations with them, we discussed how our team could provide the most value to them. Their biggest challenge was organizing the vast amount of content their site has in a way that made sense for the user AND the library, not just the library. We guided them through research to better understand their users and then applied that insight into a more intuitive and user-friendly navigation. We also audited their on-page content and provided recommendations of how the content on an individual page could better align with best practices and user expectations. There are certainly more things that we could have done with and for them from a strategy perspective, but the biggest “bang for their buck” was helping with their content strategy.
In other engagements, we have strategists providing a litany of guidance on a variety of disciplines - SEO, data collection, data analysis, roadmapping, persona development, requirements gathering, user testing, usability testing… we have a deep bench with a variety of expertise that we pair with clients based on their greatest needs, their budget and our skill sets.
Can digital strategy be implemented after a project has been launched? Are there any disadvantages to doing this?
It’s never too late! Ideally, you would start with strategy to ensure the decisions from the get-go are founded in best practice and research. BUT, we are agile-minded and focus on continuous improvement so adding in strategy at any time could have a positive impact on the ROI of the project! We have several engagements where a strategist was not involved in the build but was added to the team later. Sometimes that’s for a specific skill set - data analysis, SEO, etc. and sometimes it’s for the general strategic direction and roadmapping the future of the site. In an agile approach, strategy doesn’t have an end point. It’s not a matter of setting a strategy at the onset and then never adapting it.