Where to start? Importance and viability in digital strategy.

So many choices...
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One of the biggest problems with implementing a digital strategy is figuring out where to start. This gets even worse when there are many options. And let’s face it, there are always many options. Do you focus your efforts on your search engine optimization or do you throw yourself at building a mobile app? Do you spend your time getting up to speed on social networking or do you start a video blog?

A tool I use to help break the logjam feeling of “where do I start?!?” is to think about “importance” versus “viability.” I was introduced to this tool by Dani Giandomenico and have been grateful ever since. Maybe it’ll be useful for you as well.

Importance and viability

When we’re presented with lots of options, as in figuring out what to implement or execute in a digital strategy, it’s helpful to have an aesthetic for sifting the options. That’s all that this importance vs viability thing is: a way to make sense of our options.

What’s important?

If you’re one of those people who likes to talk about “priority” a lot then you already have an inkling of what’s important. But for this tool to be really useful we need to get more concrete. Something is important because without it, your organization will cease to exist. So, in business, something is important only if it provides your team with the resources to continue operating.

That might be a little bit ruthless. But given the temptation to make everything “top priority” making this kind of distinction is a real life-saver. It prevents organizational paralysis.

If you aren’t good at making these kinds of decisions or assessments then it’s a good idea to get some help here. A trusted mentor, a good friend, a consultant.

Here are some questions to help you get started on figuring out how important something really is. These are all yes/no questions. Maybe isn’t an acceptable answer for any of them.

  • Can the organization still generate revenue without doing this?
  • Can the organization still generate revenue in 8 months without doing this?
  • Are our competitors using this to generate revenue?
  • Have our best customers explicitly asked us to do this?
  • Are the observable actions of our customers pointing us towards doing this?
  • Have our best consultants been able to draw a straight line between doing this and the health of our organization?

What is viability?

If you found thinking about importance to be a challenge because there were a lot of “well that would be important if we could do thus and so” then you’re up against viability. Viability is the ability of your organization to actually do the thing that you want to do. It’s your ability to implement and it’s your ability to execute.

The main thing to think about, when examining viability, is “Can we do this right now?” Here are some yes/no questions to help you determine how viable something is:

  • Have we done this in the past?
  • Do we enjoy and look forward to doing this?
  • Do we have all of the physical gear that we need to do this?
  • Have we done anything similar to this in the past?
  • Are we going to allocate the time required to do this?

Digital strategy in two dimensions

So now that you’ve got a sense of what I mean when I’m talking about Importance or Viability, let’s put it together. Take a pile of options available to you and go through them assigning a number value for Importance and for Viability for each one. I recommend a scale of 1-5 for each one. Anything more than that is really just splitting hairs. If you get really ambitious you can plot them on a graph.

A chart to help with Digital Strategy by plotting out importance and viability on x and y axis.

Importance is related to how necessary the thing is to reaching your goals. Viability is how prepared you are to do the thing.

The meaning of each “point” for “important” differ from company to company, even within the same industry. The meaning is even more varied for “viable” from one company to another. So please take the following scale definitions as just an example.

Scale Definition: Importance

  1. Worth doing but not very important.
  2. Not very important, but is perhaps a step towards another more important goal.
  3. This activity has a meaningful impact on our revenue or profit.
  4. Our future plans require this to be done. This is how we find new customers.
  5. Our organization cannot generate revenue without this.

Scale Definition: Viability

  1. This activity will require training, equipment and time but we’re willing to do it.
  2. This is sort of like something we’ve done before. We’ll need time and equipment or training to do it.
  3. We’ve done this a little bit before but we’ll need new equipment or training.
  4. We have done this before and enjoyed doing it. We have all the equipment we need.
  5. We’re actively engaged in this right now and enjoy doing it.

Sometimes when I talk to organizations about viability and ask them about whether they enjoy things or not they look at me like I have three heads. It’s important to think about whether you enjoy what you’re doing because it has a huge impact on whether you’ll do it or whether you’ll burn out. Or whether you’ll burn out your team.

Thinking about whether you enjoy doing something is only touchy-feely until all the talent on your team (including yours) goes away.

An example of using Importance and Viability to get started on a digital strategy.

So let’s put this to work for an mythical example, but one that I encounter all the time. Let’s take a hypothetical company: Smile Corp. Smile Corp wants to get new customers and they’ve read all the same blog posts about web marketing that you have.

Smile Corp has come to the conclusion that they need to do some search engine optimization on their website and that they also need to start doing video. Unfortunately, Smile Corp has limited resources and can’t quite get started whole-hog on both of these at the same time.

Time to break out Importance vs Viability!

Smile Corp Digital Strategy Importance vs Viability: Video

First up, Video. Smile Corp has identified video as a requirement for future plans and as a way that they can find new customers. Something to do with actually seeing people smile increasing the likelihood of moving massive amounts of product. They assign Video an Importance of 4 based on this assessment.

When thinking about Viability, Smile Corp realizes it has no clue how to make a video. They’ve never made one before. They also don’t have a video camera. No one on the team dreads making video, but no one is especially excited to make videos either. They assign Video a Viability of 1 based on this assessment.

A chart showing that Smile Corp considers video to be important, but not very viable.

A chart showing that Smile Corp considers video to be important, but not very viable.

Smile Corp Digital Strategy Importance vs Viability: SEO

Next up is search engine optimization. Smile Corp considers SEO to be pretty important for reaching new customers. Something about 78% of customers looking for new smiles starting their search on the internet. Based on that assessment they rate SEO as a 4 in terms of Importance.

When considering the Viability, Smile Corp has to consider it pretty closely. They haven’t done real search engine optimization before. But from what they gather, it involves writing stuff and publishing it to the web.

The team has written a lot of things in the past and feels comfortable doing it. They also have all the technology they need to write things and publish it to the web. The team will need some training to learn some of the technical ins and outs of SEO, but they feel it’s within their reach. In fact, two of the team members are really excited to learn how to do search engine optimization (poor souls).

Smile Corp averages all of this together: having done something similar, having all the tools required, and having excited team members and come up with a viability of 3. If they didn’t have excited team members they would have only given it a 2.

A chart showing that SEO is both viable and important for Smile Corp

SEO is both a viable and important activity for Smile Corp

Smile Corp Digital Strategy: Taking action.

Once the charts have been made, Smile Corp senior leadership goes through and makes the call on what to do. The chart that has the biggest blue box is the “low hanging fruit.” In our example, SEO has the biggest blue box so that’s where Smile Corp decides to get started.

Viability, Importance and the role of leadership in digital strategy.

This particular case was pretty easy for deciding what to do. Sometimes the charts have the same size blue box but are weighted towards either Importance or towards Viability. It’s at these times when leadership is especially valuable.

Some leaders will focus on the axis that represents Importance and compel his organization to improve any deficiencies in viability. Other leaders will lean towards the axis that represents Viability and use rapid iteration to stack a quantity of lesser-importance achievements together into a greater whole.

Sometimes there isn’t a right answer on these things. But the decisions that leadership makes when faced with decisions of viability and importance, will define the character of the organization both inside and from the outside.

One thing to keep in mind while using this tool, is that you will get better at it the more you use it. The reason is that your ability to assess how important an activity is or how viable the activity is for your organization will improve. If you are in a position to be making decisions about importance and viability, learning to separate and assess these two characteristics will help you improve those decisions.

Ultimately, the ability to assess these things will have an impact on the success of your decisions.


  1. Posted September 4, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for this in-depth post. I think you’ve presented a very logical and practical way for agents and brokers (or any business owners) to decide what marketing initiatives to approach next. It’s very clear that the pace of innovation continues to increase and that there will always be yet another thing to add to our respective marketing to-do lists. However, no individual or organization can “do it all,” and if they do, much of it will not be done well.

    I especially like the list of questions to ask to determine what’s truly important, especially this one:

    Can the organization still generate revenue in 8 months without doing this?

    Many agents, in particular, would benefit greatly from asking themselves this question when they feel pressured to jump on board with the latest hot thing (assuming that their marketing plate’s already full), such as, I don’t know… a Facebook fan page. Good to have? Yes. Must have? No. 😉

  2. Posted September 12, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    This is a great blueprint for anyone with a set of goals. Thanks Gahlord! I’ll definitely be using this.

  3. Posted November 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Craig and Mark: Thanks for stopping by. Glad you found this useful.

  4. Vicki Allpress Hill
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Just wanted to thank you for this great model, which I refer my digital marketing clients to a lot! It’s a way that even small organisations can more systematically determine priorities. It’s a very easily understood and manageable model that is a useful combination of the tangibles and intangibles that go towards making a decision around digital priorities.

    • Gahlord Dewald
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      So glad you find it useful Vicki. Glad to pass it along.

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