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September 7, 2017

Digital Strategy Lessons From Working With the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District

Thought by Ricardo Osuna, Director, Marketing & Communications
Art mockup of Golden Gate Bridge

Defining a digital strategy and concept for a website is a complex task for any organization. Internally at FFW, we’re constantly having conversations on what it takes to successfully define a website strategy, specially for large institutions. Recently, I participated in a recent consulting project with the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District, and made a list of three principles I took away from the process. These principles were instrumental to crafting a new website strategy for the District to better serve its millions of constituents, and they can help any organization define a winning digital strategy.

All Perspectives Matter

Last year, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District served 38 million vehicles crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and over 9 million customers riding the bus and ferry transit systems. The District and the departments that make it up have a wide array of strategic goals, initiatives, and perspectives that had to be taken into account when defining a new strategy for its website. The District contracted FFW to help understand its needs, and I was one of the individuals who worked with the District's staff to map out a new digital strategy.

In order to understand the District's different goals and perspectives, FFW conducted a series of workshops with over two dozen internal stakeholders from the different departments at the District. Participants ranged from the District’s executive team to customer service representatives who field calls from users of the website every day. We also reviewed traffic analytics for the current site to further understand what information users engage with.

Doing all this was an intensive process, and the insight we gained from it was invaluable. By taking the time to understand the different perspectives of a website’s stakeholders and users, we're able to collaborate with our clients (in this case, the District’s marketing and communications team) to create a comprehensive website strategy, documented as a report and project brief.

Strong Frameworks Lead to Stronger Breakthroughs

Experience has taught us that it's imperative to establish and follow a framework in a strategy process, especially when collaborating with a large group of stakeholders. Such a framework is made up by a series of organizational devices that range from the high level (processes to synthesize quantitative and qualitative data into clear strategic recommendations) to the practical (deliberate meeting agendas and schedules to facilitate workshops and meetings).

In the case of the Golden Gate Bridge, our framework focused on understanding the organizational needs of the District through a series of workshops and research that explored four key areas:

  1. The District’s digital ecosystem, identifying strengths and challenges
  2. The target audiences served by the District, and how they interact with the digital ecosystem
  3. A comparative review of similar organizations
  4. An assessment of the District’s brand

The findings gathered through this process were analyzed and synthesized into a project brief outlining recommendations for:

  1. Project objectives
  2. Conceptual themes
  3. Primary and secondary target audiences
  4. Content prioritization
  5. Visual style and tone

Strategic work requires creative thinking, and frameworks function as useful creative constraints. The positive effects of constraints on creativity are well researched and documented across a variety of disciplines, and in my experience it absolutely applies to digital strategy processes. These frameworks lead to the “aha” moments and strategic breakthroughs that become the pillars of a solid digital strategy.

Digital Strategy is Business Strategy

When it comes to designing websites, it’s much too easy to get caught up on visual elements too soon in the process. But before a single wireframe is sketched out or a style guide is drafted, it’s crucial to focus on what the business goals of the site are. We live in a digital world, so it’s no surprise that business strategy directly translates to digital strategy. Only once there’s a clear understanding of the business strategy can the digital strategy be defined.

In the case of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, it was important to first define what the organizational goals of the District and its individual departments were. We worked together to understand who their target audiences are, and also facilitated a reassessment of the District’s brand. Once we had this understanding of the business strategy, then we went on to identify pain areas specific to the website, and eventually compile a list of strategic recommendations with a clear list of initiatives to improve the Golden Gate website.

Ultimately, the work we were able to do on behalf of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District was greater than the sum of its parts. Listening to numerous perspectives helped us build a better framework for understanding the organization’s problems, which in turn let us build a better strategy for approaching both business and digital challenges. Taking a holistic approach had great results, and we know that the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District is going to be able to do great things with that knowledge.



 

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