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Strategy Is Fun Too, You Know (Well, Fun-ish)

by Pete Gaioni  |  
January 18, 2012

In this article, you'll learn...

  • Five important elements of a website redesign plan
  • Why a thorough discovery and strategy-development process is essential before a website redesign

I have some friends who are Web designers. I hate them.

OK, not really. But I am jealous that they produce beautiful work over which clients unfailingly "Oooh!" and "Ahhh!" I, on the other hand, produce stuff that by comparison resembles a tooth extraction. It's not fair.

And it never fails that as soon as I get a new client, the first question the client asks is, "When will we actually be able to see something?" Ugh. Enter yours truly, the strategist, to talk about data, analytics, and user behavior. I'm like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon: "Mwah, wah, wah... strategy... wah wah wah... analytics... wah wah wah... user behavior."

Even if it's boring to go through a discovery and strategy-development process, plunging headfirst into a Web redesign without doing so can result in solving the wrong problems—an expensive and time-consuming outcome. What's more, it leaves fewer resources for solving problems that could have a significant positive impact on your organization.

So, I do my best to get new clients through discovery and strategy development and on to the fun part (i.e., design) as quickly as possible. (I'll try not to let the door hit me in the strategy on the way out.)

The first step is to have a new client—usually a marketer like you—provide me with a variety of data inputs that will help me formulate a clear picture of the client's organization and its key business drivers. I creatively refer to that phase as the "documentation review" phase.

You can actually help expedite things by packaging some things for the project team in advance. (Try not to yawn while you're doing it; it might hurt my feelings.)

1. Your Strategic Plan

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Pete Gaioni is strategist at iFactory, a provider of innovative, inspiring, and intelligent interactive solutions to the world's leading institutions. He can be reached via

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  • by Lisa Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web

    Pete, I LOVED your article. The beginning put into words exactly how I feel about being a strategist - that the client can't wait for me to shut up so they can see what the designer's got to show. And every time that happens they end up with a pretty site but not one that's going to get them closer to their business goals.

    You checklist of questions to ask is awesome and I will bookmark for my next project. My problem though is that most of my clients are unable to really identify business goals, or separate them from website goals. In fact my small business clients will have a tough time answering many of these questions. If you have any experience with the small business (or in reality micro-business) and developing strategy for them, please consider sharing your thoughts about how to coach these people to answer these fundamental questions.


  • by kbacot Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web

    Pete, thanks for a great article. But don't forget to tell folks WHY you have to do the "boring" stuff. At the end of the day, the website needs to perform a business function.

    Customers want to perform tasks online. Each page of your website needs to have a task for users to perform (user goal) that leads to meeting a goal for your business. Strategy is figuring out the "What is the purpose for this page?" I think that part is fun, too!

    Because at the end of the day, you don't want a pretty website that doesn't perform for your users or your business.

  • by kbacot Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web

    @lisa: I attempt to get them to submit a creative brief or work with them to develop one. Then we populate their content in a wireframe and when the content is vague, I make them tell me what the goal is for each page. Then we add functions or delete pages.

  • by Pete Gaioni Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web


    I'm so glad you found the article helpful! As you rightfully point out, small (or micro) businesses are unique in terms of discovery work, in particular. In my experience, much of the "documentation" exists only in the mind of one or a few key stakeholders (like the CEO). And the data they have (if any) is often quite limited.

    Hmmm.. I think you've given me my next article idea... :)

  • by Laurie Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web

    Well said - thank you.

  • by Lisa Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web

    I would look forward to that article! :0

  • by Alan Belniak Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web

    I, for one, do not find this kind of work boring at all! So, if you, the reader, do,. let me know! Picking working partners/business partners is like picking tennis partners: match a strength to a weakness.

  • by Pete Gaioni Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web


    Well said! Without the discovery work and strategy formulation (aka, thinking) time, the new site might be pretty but it won't necessarily meet the client's key business objectives.

    I find that some clients need more hand-holding than others in completing the strategic brief - I think it's especially true for small businesses where stakeholders often provide answers with ease once I've explained the questions in detail and in layperson's terms. Do you find this as well?

    And I don't really think strategy is "boring"... ;)

  • by Ford Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web

    Pete - Good stuff! Way too little attention is paid to strategy before diving into tactics, digital or otherwise. Strategy first, then tactics...what a concept!
    Market research often entirely misses what's really going on or what opportunities may exist and that customers often have utterly no idea what's needed or what they can use. If this sounds like Steve Jobs talking, its not an echo. Suggest reading Youngme Moon's "Different - Escaping the Competive Heard" for more convicing info on this perspective.
    Frankly, I find developing strategy to be the most stimulating part of my work because having a clearly differentiated competive strategy creates a far greater likelihood of campaign success, as opposed to just running off and doing some cool tactics and wasting lots of time and money.

  • by Pete Gaioni Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web


    I'm so glad to find folks like you rallying to the cry, "It's not boring!" And you're completely correct - the chemistry between client and strategist matters greatly. This job is a good part psychologist, particularly during discovery.

    Moreover, I think I'm immensely entertaining, just speaking personally. Therefore, i believe my work is fun by association. lol.

  • by Pete Gaioni Wed Jan 18, 2012 via web


    You are a kindred spirit. I'm going to read Moon's book. Meanwhile, have you read, "Blue Ocean Strategy"? Wonderful book with a similar premise - red water is where all the sharks are swimming and cannibalizing one another; blue ocean is where you can "play" without worrying about the sharks.

    How awesome is it to find all these strategists posting stuff here?! The web strategist's new brand position: "We are totally fun AND we make sure you're doing the right stuff."

  • by Pete Gaioni Thu Jan 19, 2012 via web


    You are very welcome. And thanks for the positive feedback.

  • by Steve Thu Jan 19, 2012 via web

    I have discovered that it is important to get the client to "fail" first (and I mean this in the nicest way - not as a way of tricking them). They have to fail, to realize the importance of defining goals & the strategies to reach them.

    It is usually best if they fail with someone else, then you can ride in as the savior, lol. But if you find yourself preaching strategy, but all they want is eye candy, offer them a test. Do the eye candy and see if it increases sales in 30 days. If it does not, they must agree to take the path of defining their strategy.

    Some will try this test, others will decided immediately that they can't risk the failure and will do the strategy. The people who won't do it? - You've just saved yourself the headaches and risks of never getting paid.

  • by Steve Thu Jan 19, 2012 via web

    Hi again Pete. I re-read this article to a colleague during lunch and I would like to share some (hopefully) constructive criticism...

    1st, she wondered why the article title did not explicitly say it was for website strategy, i.e. something to the effect of "strategy before web design". She felt that the strategy discussion was a bit too broad for a website, i.e. it covered overall organizational goals, but a website can be better planned out if it is looked at as a tool that can help achieve corporate goals using specific tactics: sales leads attraction, conversion, point of sale, and customer support. Specifically the last 2 questions under #1 strategic plan, didn't make sense as to why these would be considered for a website, unless the site was being used as a software service that helps the business operate, and various depts interact through it...

    2nd, she thought you should be starting with #4, market research & business intelligence, because part of your value that you bring to the table is to use your experience and expertise to help the client use the best strategy. As Lisa's comment points out, many clients don't even know how to plan strategy, if they even have any measurable goals defined yet.

    That way you could look at their market research, determine if it is done well, or if you need to redo it.
    Then you can see the distance between where they are and where they want to be, and help them plan a route to their goals using a strategy.
    Then figure out communications, tactics, brand promises, and that entire deliverable becomes their strategic plan.
    Then the website can be architect planned as a series of tactical tools that accomplish mini goals of each website user type.

    We may have been reacting incorrectly to the article after too many Martini's, but would like to hear your thoughts after our nap is over. thank you.

  • by Dave Jensen Tue Jan 24, 2012 via web

    Well said, Pete. I just wrote an article on my blog about clearly defining strategy and tactics. I wish I would have read this post first. You provide some pretty compelling question in the marketing communication section of this article. I would be interested in hearing how you would respond to those questions.

    Thanks for the valuable information!

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