There are two kinds of improvements that improve digital performance. There are those changes that create marginal gains and those that create large step changes in our fortunes. As you’d expect, step changes are less common and not typically linked with tactics. Step changes usually come from taking an entirely different approach to a problem. Marginal gains happen when we tweak the design, improve the user experience or change technologies.

Richard Pullan rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, unaided in a plywood rowing boat in 2003. While not the aspiration of many, Richard knows what it takes to have a dedicated focus and complete an ambition. He used simulated altitude training as part of his preparation and had a very strong background in both cycling and rowing, as you’d expect.

His company, The Altitude Centre, focuses on helping train athletes on maximizing their performance by training at simulated high altitude. This leads to marginal gains in performance.

According to Richard’s company “winning the Tour de France is all about marginal gains”.

When Chris Froome won the Tour de France in July 2013 he completed the grueling course in a total time of 83 hours 56 minutes and 40 seconds. The rider that came in in 100th position took 86 hours 53 minutes. That sounds like a big difference but the margin between 1st and 100th is only 3.5%.

And so the argument goes that the Tour de France is won by a series of small marginal gains in improvement of technology and performance that all add up to create the difference between a highly successful player in the game and a low league runner up.

So are we to believe that small metrics add up to big gains in many walks of life including our web marketing? The answer is yes, the devil is in the detail and we mostly ignore trying to achieve marginal gains. The interesting thing is the spoils afforded to the 1st place winner are so outrageously disproportionate to that of the 100th placed competitor it’s hard to measure.

The same thing happens on the web. We can use A/B testing to find which offer works best or which user experience experiments improve ticket sales or business enquiries. We can even create minimal viable product tests to see how the market reacts to new ideas. These are all samples of marginal gain techniques used in digital marketing. We can do all of these things, but how many companies take the time? Not many.

Simon Smart worked on biomechanical engineering in Formula One for 14 years. He took his expertise from that industry and started focusing on micro gains that could be achieved in cycling.

“You’re looking for the tiny details,” he told the BBC.

“You’re looking to change the shape of something by maybe 0.1mm, and it’s making a difference.”

Every cycling component, be it the frame, wheels or even the cyclists themselves, is slowing a rider down in some way. The goal, of course, is to minimise that speed loss – known to the experts as reducing drag. The Sky cyclists would even clean in between their fingers at every stop to reduce drag caused by dirt.

Examination of data allows for many marginal gains in aerodynamics.

There is however a problem with giving all of the credit to the theory of marginal gains. Pursuing micro gains, as a career fascination in the search of scoring more customers or restaurant bookings or wine shipments is not a certain shot at success. It assumes that every other facet of the plan is robust, and everyone is concentrating on a single point or event with laser like focus like winning the Tour de France.

The Sky cycle team admits that marginal gains are helpful but explain this is only one component of a successful strategy.

So are businesses generally good at creating a high performance, step changing web strategy?

Often we mistake tactics as strategy, creating Twitter feeds and websites aplenty. We employ marketing graduates and assign them as “digital marketing managers” and believe the term “digital” to stand as a synonym for “no budget”. The marketing managers long for direction, a scientifically proven strategy but what we give them is a laptop and encouragement.

Digital strategy is a science and there is the framework to accomplishing a high performance digital marketing plan. It’s a proven process that can predict the outcome of your digital efforts before you assemble the team to execute it. A digital strategy links with the overall business plan but it has one essential difference – its desired outcomes are calculated using empirical evidence.

The web is full of data that allows us to understand customer trends, market forces, our own market position and growth engines. When was the last time we used this data to inform our decisions on where we are now and where we want to be? The data is there and the framework and process is built to allow us to use this data to construct our plans with accuracy and confidence. But how many of us do it?

If your digital marketing strategy mentions tactics like Facebook or Email Marketing then it’s probably not a strategy. It’s a tactical plan. The Sky cycle team strategy doesn’t mention bikes or roads or even marginal gains. These things are assumed. These things need to happen but they are not strategy in their own right. They are important tactics.

It was a well-designed strategy that won the Tour de France for Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. The strategy informed which tactics were important. The strategy had built-in leadership so when it came time for tactics, everyone knew exactly what they were trying to achieve, what they should be doing and equally what they should be ignoring.

So what’s your winning digital strategy?

iONOLOGY are digital business transformation experts based in Ireland. Their digital strategy framework is taught by the University of Ulster as part of its Marketing courses and is widely regarded as an industry standard method for creating digital marketing strategies.

If you would like to know more, get in touch!

REF : BBC Technology