Digital Programmatic Spectrum

Earlier this year an amazing spectrum graph popped up showing where Democratic Presidential candidates fell on different issues. Inspiration struck and it was clear to me we need some sort of clear spectrum graph to talk about Digital Programs. If you’ve read my other content or book “The Digital Plan” you know I spend a lot of time thinking about how organizations tackle their digital work. What has frustrated me is how varied programs are and how many can feel like a success when they are unknowingly underperforming in core digital areas. Thus spurred the creation of the Digital Programmatic Spectrum.

This is the first take on creating a framework for gauging digital programs in a visual and intentional way. If you think something was left out let me know in the comments.

First, I wanted to create a visual way to represent how organizations were performing in key digital areas. I used three radial bands to gauge how an organization is performing in each category. As an organization develops from basic strategy to highly proficient that piece of the graph is filled in


Tier 1 — Basic Strategy

At tier one organizations are taking care of basic tactics and entry-level strategy. What that looks like in practice is an organization with basic email tactics means they have are sending emails and maybe testing content sometimes. Basically they are using email as a tactic and have some knowledge of strategy.

Tier 2 — Tactical Strategy

Falling in the tier two band means the organization has thriving tactics and tactical strategy. For the email example, we would be talking about things like consistently A/B testing and having creative plans for different kinds of content and testing those ideas.

Tier 3 — Growth Strategy

By tier three an organization is reaching expert level tactics and strategy that deepen engagement and growth. In email this means deeper testing by cohorts, focusing on email deliverability, list growth strategies, and engagement that is increasing.

I broke Digital Programs into 10 key areas I often think about. One not represented by its own area is data and analytics but for the majority of organizations, I would blend that into Digital Strategy and Tier 2 and 3 for most of the 10 key areas.

Digital Strategy — Beyond tactical proficiency how are we thinking holistically about a digital program that weaves each area together to strengthen the organization. Digital Strategy is what leads an organization to break beyond the basic and tactical tiers and thrive as a modern organization.

Email — The organization’s ability to send basic email from a platform to an expert level email program.

Mobile Strategy — The organization’s ability to send basic text messages to expert level mobile strategy.

Web Content — The organization’s ability to create engaging content for its web pages and blogs.

Web Development — Beyond the content on a webpage the organization’s ability to build basic web pages to complex websites. Whether that skill and strategy is in-house or strategically working with external support.

Social Media — From having a basic presence on social media platforms to driving engagement and messaging with your community.

Design — The organization’s ability to create engaging visual designs that support web content, emails, social media, video, mobile, and all aspects of digital. Whether that skill and strategy is in-house or strategically working with external support.

Video — The organization’s ability to create basic video content that spreads messaging and drives engagement. Whether that skill and strategy is in-house or strategically working with external support.

Digital Advertising — The organization’s ability to create digital advertising campaigns that support organizational engagement, growth, and fundraising. Whether that skill and strategy is in-house or strategically working with external support.

Digital Organizing — Too often believed to be only for political campaigns and political organizations. The organization’s ability to leverage digital tools and community to engage supporters to make change on whatever issue the organization is working on.


Applying the Digital Programmatic Spectrum broadly

The Average Organization

Many organizations I encounter in conversations or online is what I would call the average organization. They are seeing success with email working at a Tier 2 level. But leaving a lot of potential engagement on the table across the board operating at a basic level in the other key digital areas.


Too Many Organizations…

Sadly, if that’s the average that means a lot of organizations look more like this. No shade, trust me I know how hard it is to transform a legacy organization into a digital integrated organization.

So many organizations are not engaging with mobile, consistent video, digital organizing, and digital advertising. One of the pain points organizations at this level have is they spend a lot of time on basic tactics without stepping back to assess head on a path to true digital strategy and engagement.


Organizations that are thriving with digital

The Email Centric Organization

Beyond the average and those struggling is the Email Centric organization. Honestly, it is what I thought of first when I imagined a digital spectrum. Don’t get me wrong email as a tactic and strategy is still the king. It is the most well documented and most effective way without ads to drive engagement and fundraising.

Many of the email centric organizations I’ve seen leave a lot of behind when it comes to other channels for narrative and engagement. This means they don’t invest in storytelling and the mediums to do it like video, web content, and design. The larger orgs in this space normally excel at digital ads for list growth and the rest fall somewhere on the spectrum down to the lower and of the basic tier.


The Social Centric Organization

There are far fewer of the Social Centric Organization and most of them came into being in the last few years with the rise of social media. Some even started as a Facebook page or event. To feed social media interestingly you often need more of the other key areas like design, video, and web content. There is often some inherent digital organizing these organizations engage in over social media even if it isn’t intentionally named that.


Where to go from here

The Minimal Balanced Digital Organization

If you are somewhere on the low tier to average digital on the spectrum the next step is to figure out a balanced digital strategy for your organization. Getting all of your key digital areas to basic and the tactical strategy tier. Getting here allows you to balance your options and tactics for engagement and gives you a solid base to push deeper for great tactical strategy and get to the growth tier.


The Strategically Balanced Digital Organization

If you are already hitting the tactical tier across the core areas the next goal is to become a Strategically Balanced Digital Organization. This doesn’t mean you have to be at the growth tier for every key area. It is all about getting your digital strategy and capacity in a place to decide where you can make some truly strategic decisions about where to invest time and resources to push which areas into growth tiers. But the truth is moving growth tiers is easier when all key areas are pushing the edge of the tactical tiers.


Gauge your organizition

To gauge your organization we have a Free class coming up where we’ll roll out a system for assessing where you are on the Digital Programmatic Spectrum.

Gauging your Digital Program using the Digital Programmatic Spectrum

Join us October 3rd at 3ET/ 12PT.


If you are looking for support in transforming your digital strategy take a look at support options from The Digital Plan here:


Brad (Schenck) Caldana

Brad (Schenck) Caldana

Author and Senior Digital Strategist & Trainer at The Digital Plan

Brad is the author of The Digital Plan, founder of the website and training community.  Currently, Brad helps nonprofits, campaigns, and organizations of all sizes with their digital strategy, coaching, and training. 


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