Online strategy and the Renaissance

I’ve stumbled upon an unlikely metaphor to illustrate the polarity in approaches often applied to implementing online strategies at established behemoths of industry, and eager upstarts with little more than a domain to their name.

A couple of years ago I found myself navigating the stonewalled alleys of Florence, close on the heels of our tour guide who substituted Pied Piper’s flute with an orange umbrella. Deftly, she’d use the beacon to draw our attention to the bronze baptistery doors of Lorenzo Ghiberti, make note of the outdoor art adorning the Piazza della Signoria, and by day’s end lead us to the entrance of the city’s famed San Lorenzo leather market.

This partially engaged and desperate attempt to “do Florence” with minimal fuss or stress resulted in the city’s inescapable dome and postcard-perfect bridges being mere geographical points of reference – devices to help find our way back to our hotel, or locate that orange umbrella should we get lost.

Earlier this year, my Father’s Day bounty included tomes on the Renaissance, on the Medici family who had a dark and complex relationship with the city of Florence and bequeathed it an indelible legacy, as well as first-hand accounts of life in the city.

Suddenly, that gargantuan dome became Brunelleschi’s dome, whose improbable construction is an audacious miracle of architecture.  Bridges like the postcard-perfect Ponte Vecchio had their own history.  And as for that leather market, tucked away around the corner waiting to be explored stood a façade-less chapel adorned with Michelangelo’s first dome.

So what is the allegoric relevance of my travels to how traditional organisations execute online strategy, and how start-ups succeed at capturing our imagination?

So-called anointed champions of online at many organisations are akin to the disconnected and fleeting tourist I was in Florence.  They opt not to stray too far from the security of their comfort zones, rarely embracing the online habitat of their customers.  They rely on others to create a new experience for customers, content with extending their already impressive vocabulary of jargon the way I collected postcards and fridge magnets.

Contrast that with entrepreneurs at start-ups, who are like immersive travellers spending months learning a new language, studying the history and culture of the towns and communities they’ll encounter on their itinerary.  At the end of their journey, they come away with richer experiences and new found perspective.

Everyday, countless visitors to Florence are fortunate enough to enjoy the murals adorning the walls of the Hall of 500 at the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall.  Only a handful would be aware that it’s most precious treasure just might remain invisible.  On a hidden wall behind Giorgio Vasari’s paintings of the Medici’s military victories is believed to be Leonardo da Vinci’s largest painting ever – The Battle of Anghiari.

Wonder if the orange umbrella toting guide would know where to look?

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2 Responses to “Online strategy and the Renaissance”


  1. 1 Griff June 10, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Dude what an insight. We know where you’ve been. Where do place those behemoths that have evolved from start ups?

  2. 2 Vineet June 11, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Large organisations certainly execute online strategy, and successfully too. The challenge is whether they are capable of empowering talented people who “get” the online space. Too often the person building/running an online team has limited experience in that space themselves. Therein lies the problem.


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