Last December, TNS released its ‘Digital Life’ report suggesting that “misguided digital strategies are generating mountains of digital waste, from friendless Facebook accounts to blogs no one reads.” At last, a major study honest enough to comment on something more than social behaviours and the rise of mobile.

Are you surprised? Probably not. But why is this happening? Why when everyone is going ‘digital’ are so many strategies failing to achieve their objectives – why the “mountains of digital waste”? My belief is there are three main reasons for this failure:

1. Shiny new things
2. Missing the point
3. Bad strategy

These reasons are interrelated, but for simplicity’s sake I will focus on ‘shiny new things’ before outlining what I believe you need to do to avoid their glittering allure.

The digital landscape is already fragmented – and it will get worse before it gets better, for every Pinterest there is a Juxtapost and a Wookmark. Coming soon, expect serious hype around connected TV and the Internet of Things (to name just two).

This fragmentation and the rapid rate of change led to a constant race to keep up – brands feel they simply must be on the latest social platform, exploiting the latest augmented reality technologies, they must, quite simply, be at the ‘forefront’ of the digital revolution. This is not a new phenomenon – a good number of brands dived into Second Life – at considerable cost – because people like me, ‘digital strategists’, promised them it was the future and they simply had to have a presence.

The point here is that you may be racing to keep up, but whom are you trying to keep up with? Take social media – Gartner recently estimated that 50% of enterprise organisations are wasting their money on social media, which is hardly surprising when you consider that 61% of UK consumers do not want to engage with brands through social media (TNS, 2011). Of the UK consumers that do – 61% are driven to engage by an offer or promotion (TNS, 2011). 52% of respondents to The Amaze Brand Survey found that social media initiatives do not meet their objectives. Hardly the engagement nirvana promised a couple of years ago, is it?

At the same time many branded mobile applications are lucky to get a thousand downloads and yet we see more and more of them every day.

Madness? Yes. But is there a cure? Well yes, but it’s not very sexy – it requires an approach that is rigorous and ongoing.

Having a strategy in place is not enough to ensure a successful program. Results from a survey we carried out earlier this year, The Amaze Brand Survey, show that whilst 71% of brand marketers have what they would define as a digital strategy, 56% do not have a roadmap in place for the next three to five years.

Here are the four steps you need to take to avoid the lure of ‘shiny new things’…

1. Get close to your audience. Really close.

This means going beyond Target Group Index (TGI) crunching to understand your audiences’ behaviours, expectations and motivations. Those days are gone, things are simply way too complex. The forward thinking brands are utilising new ways of getting to know their audience, such as ethnography and private brand communities, and using them alongside the more traditional techniques. It sounds like a bit of a pain, data analysis is so much cleaner and easier – but it’s no longer just a nice to have. Get close.

2. Map key customer journeys

Understand where and at what point in the lifecycle your customers and prospects are likely to touch your brand, to do this properly requires both effort and expense (touch-point modeling doesn’t come cheap). But it is vital if you are to avoid a ‘fingers crossed’ marketing model, whereby you simply do stuff and hope it works.

3. Map out your digital ecosystem

When I ask marketers what their digital ecosystem is, very few can answer this simple question. By digital ecosystem, I mean understanding your brand’s key platforms/channels and the relationships between them. Based, primarily, upon two things – your marketing/brand objectives and deep audience insight (see 1 and 2 above). This ecosystem will be different for different segments and will constantly shift – but you must know where you should be investing and where you can afford to go for a ‘light touch’ or where to ignore altogether. The alternative? Spend a fortune on the race to keep up.

4. Move away from the ‘Big Idea’

Strategy isn’t very sexy – not half as sexy as creative concepts or big, cool sounding ideas. The number one reason I believe digital strategies fail? Because there is no strategy – no rigorous process and no detailed roadmap that aligns to the overarching strategic approach. Rather there is a ‘cool’ or ‘big’ idea that a brand buys into because it sounds right, followed by a number of tactical implementations which appear to support the central idea or theme.

With half of the brands surveyed within The Amaze Brand Survey revealing they did not have a clearly defined customer experience strategy, it is no surprise that so many digital strategies are failing to meet the overall brand and business objectives.

This is closely linked to the third reason of why digital strategies fail, ‘bad strategy’. So whilst I won’t talk at length about it here, it is well worth taking a minute to consider whether you actually have a digital strategy at all? If not, it’s not too late. Most of your competition won’t either, so the game is still there to be won (I always like to finish on a positive!).

Rick Curtis is Chief Strategy Officer at Amaze