Developing your digital strategy

This guide sets out some important considerations for when you are drafting your digital strategy. It explains some key actions required to ensure that your strategy meets your organisation’s objectives and delivers return on investment.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
The inside of an opera house with a large red stage curtain in the centre
Image courtesy of Visit York © Gareth Buddo

Developing your digital strategy

1. Introduction

Developing a digital strategy helps to provide a sense of direction.  It also creates clarity amongst your team and trustees about the kind of investments needed to stay in touch with a rapidly evolving online environment.  Without a clear strategy, you can find yourself in a situation where you are responding impulsively to digital opportunities.  In the rush to keep up to date, your decisions may become a little too emergent and might lack planning and coherence.  In this sense, the digital strategy acts as a roadmap to help you stay on track to achieve your organisation’s digital goals.


2. Entrepreneurial strategy

In this resource, our expert Stephen Dobson, University of Leeds, explores how a strategy can be implemented in your organisation and why it will prove useful.

The ability to shift direction rapidly is a key strength of small organisations. Being agile in the digital heritage space can enable your organisation to maximise opportunities quickly, for example, by using existing social media platforms to respond quickly to developing current events or trends.  The organisational strategist Henry Mintzberg [1] described this form of leadership as adopting an ‘entrepreneurial strategy’, modelled in the diagram below. The leader (or indeed trustees) set a vision, perhaps relating to the adoption of the latest technology or digital resource, and the staff pursue this vision, indicated by arrows in the diagram.

Arrows, representing the contributions of staff, feed directly into an amorphous shape representing an organisation’s vision
Stakeholders pursue a shared vision

This kind of agile entrepreneurial strategy, whilst permitting for rapid action, also allows for a rapid change in vision as a new opportunity or technology appears over the horizon. In this instance, care is needed. The change can result in your team working at cross purposes or unable to shift from the old vision to the new one quickly enough, resulting in confusion over the direction of the organisation.

Arrows representing the contributions of staff aim at a shape representing a previous vision whilst missing another shape that represents the new organisational vision.
Without clear communication, stakeholders may not pursue the new vision


3. Why is a digital strategy useful?

A digital strategy can help provide a clearer direction about what kind of technology might be needed and why.  It is grounded in your heritage organisation’s goals and so helps minimise the rapid shifting from one vision to another, which can sometimes be the case when responding to shifts in the digital landscape. A digital strategy will support you in developing benchmarks and objectives, understanding your target audience, improving your marketing approach and getting a better return on investment.

Developing benchmarks and objectives

Without establishing specific goals, it’s hard to decide which technology to focus on, which skills to try to develop or the platforms and channels to use when connecting to your online communities. Your strategy should clearly outline your objectives so that decisions around digital technologies can be made based on whether they directly support these specific objectives.  Perhaps you might set up some benchmarks to measure against, such as:

  • Online sales
  • Website clicks, comments or other forms of engagement
  • Organic search rankings
  • Paid search rankings
  • Email marketing responses
  • Social media engagement (likes, shares, comments)
  • Numbers of staff having undergone relevant training

Understanding your target audience

Your audience is the primary focus of your organisational activities and so placing them at the heart of your strategy will be essential. A deeper understanding and knowledge of who your target audience is and where they can be found enables you to build events, activities and content with them in mind. Your decisions on what kind of digital content you develop and the channels you use to make this available will be driven by how well you know your audience.

The Ansoff Matrix, developed by H Igor Ansoff in 1957 for the Harvard Business Review is a useful way to visualise audience engagement within a digital strategy. The matrix is shown below:

Blue matrix showing the relationship between new/existing markets and new/existing products and services as described under the section Understanding your target audience
The Ansoff Matrix

If you are trying to reach your existing audience with existing technologies, products and services, then your strategy is more focussed on market penetration. This means your main priority is greater engagement from your existing visitors and audience through repeat visits for example.

If you want to use your existing technology and capabilities to reach new audiences, then you are engaged in market development activities.  Your focus may be on trying to reach wider audiences, hard-to-reach groups, or a different demographic/age group through better communications relating to what you currently offer.

Alternatively, you may want make use of new technologies and develop greater digital content to maintain engagement with your existing audiences.  In this case your focus is on product development. You may want staff to gain new skills to be able to support the use of new technology and equipment, or you may wish to commission designers or digital content creators to help you develop a new offer.

Finally, the strategy with arguably the highest level of risk and uncertainty is the development of new technologies, new services or new digital products in order to reach new audiences.  This strategy is referred to as diversification.  This is perhaps where you might be working with unknowns, both in terms of the new services or technologies you are using and the new audiences you are trying to attract.

Developing a better approach to marketing

A digital strategy will help you create a coherent message and approach to engaging with your audience online. Each digital marketing channel you use to promote your organisation and its work should feel like it fits together to create a holistic whole. Having a digital strategy helps to maintain the brand or ‘look and feel’ of what you do regardless of the online channel or platform you adopt.

Budgeting and return on investment

With a clear strategy in place you are better prepared to work out in advance any solutions needed, and therefore any expenditure related, to new investment – whether in terms of physical or human resources. Understanding how your digital budget might break down is also a valuable way of keeping trustees on board, especially if you have some big changes planned.

With the right benchmarks in place, you can also see whether the expenditure on digital resources, marketing and skills development is providing you with good return on investment. For example, if you’ve invested in fundraising through social media, you can compare expenditure on marketing across the relevant platforms against how much revenue you’ve been able to raise through these channels.



[1] Mintzberg, H. and Waters, J.A., 1985. Of strategies, deliberate and emergent. ‘Strategic management journal’, 6(3), pp. 257-272.

More help here

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Using a situational analysis to create your digital strategy

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Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "Developing your digital strategy (2022) by Dr Stephen Dobson supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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