Agile Marketing Planning: Flexibility Meets Results
Marketing planning is hard. Building a plan without having a clear picture of what’s to come is even more challenging. We are a few weeks into 2021 and it’s anyone’s guess as to how this year will go. Yet the planning must march on.
What a marketer to do?
Traditionally, marketing has relied on lengthy, rigid, long-term plans. The plans that take a long time to develop – and yet sometimes only three months into execution, we realize that the world has changed so much that our plan is no longer useful. This sounds like March of 2020, doesn’t it? How many of you had to throw out your content strategy and editorial calendars?
And even putting the pressure of the pandemic and economy aside, many internal and external factors require us to rethink traditional marketing approaches. As customers change, new competition enters, and new technologies emerge, AEC firms must be able to flex and adapt. And fast.
In the recently released Content Marketing Institute’s 2021 Planning Guide, a group of experts agrees that we must create a strategy that’s flexible.
Enter Agile marketing planning!
Understanding Agile Marketing Planning
One of the common myths of Agile marketing is that it's anti-planning. But this is not a call for marketing without a plan! Modern marketing is complicated, and it can't succeed without a solid plan behind it.
This is also not about constantly shifting gears – marketing activities take time to yield results.
Agile marketing teams are never disconnected from strategy and still execute against a plan. Ongoing planning, alignment with goals and continual test-measure-improve cycles are the very foundation of Agile.
However, Agile marketers prioritize incremental planning over traditional long-term planning that leaves no room to flex and respond to changing conditions. So, for example, you would still plan your calendar year, but recalibrate quarterly and revisit and adjust monthly. This also makes it much easier to switch gears and refocus your efforts before you spend too much time going down the wrong path – if and when needed.
What’s even more critical is that when circumstances require, agile marketers embrace change and make necessary adjustments rather than continue to blindly follow a plan.
Customer- and Data-Driven Planning
Customer needs and data-driven decision making are the foundation of Agile marketing. Even if you don’t follow Agile processes, today’s marketing relies on customer- and data-driven learning, so you must start with marketing research.
Has anything changed in your company’s definition of its “ideal” client? And if you don’t have your ideal client defined, start there.
Even if the type of clients you are pursuing hasn’t changed, think about all the changes in your clients’ world – have their needs and priorities changed? Do they need and want the same things from you and similar firms as they did a year ago? What does your firm need to do to become essential and a true partner to its clients in 2021?
Conducted customer research to understand your audiences’ evolving needs – perception surveys, one-on-one interviews, client feedback questionnaires.
Assuming that there have been no major changes in a business direction and that you perform competitive research on a regular basis, this could be a quick scan. Focus on the areas you need for your annual marketing planning: What has changed since last year? Are there new competitors? Are your competitors doing new things?
Fortunately, the overall transparency of today’s communications and easy access to information simplifies this process. For example, take a look at the competitor’s websites and other public channels, and you can easily audit their positioning and message, offerings and key areas of expertise, or the strength of their brand, content and social media marketing.
Brand and Communications Audit
Conducting a brand audit is often perceived as a huge, time-consuming undertaking – and one filled with the anxiety of not knowing what you’re going to uncover.
But the marketplace is changing at a rapid pace – and especially at this moment in time, causing even the strongest of brands to become disconnected from the business strategy.
And of course, any business changes, such as M&A, leadership transition, entering new markets, or launching new products or services, trigger the need for a brand check-up.
Keep in mind that auditing your brand doesn’t always call for complete overhauls, but continuous fine-tuning. Auditing it annually will ensure that you can invest in smaller, incremental improvements and gradual brand evolution over time.
Take a look at your marketing communications. Are your brand expressions, marketing materials and touchpoints working as hard as they should? Do they support your firm’s desired brand perception? Do they provide a rewarding customer experience?
Identify what’s missing in your toolbox – and also what tools are outdated or no longer needed.
Putting Planning Into Practice
Marketing planning has always required significant investment in time and resources – often wasted on endless planning based on nothing more than assumptions. It also typically results in a marketing plan with too many unrealistic ambitions and competing priorities – and not enough time and resources allocated to executing each goal.
Marketing plans are often overwhelming because they are not developed with the realities of execution in mind. Follow these three steps to make sure that your plan aligns with the realities of execution:
- Break it down into quarterly and monthly goals. Planning and working incrementally means that you receive feedback at each key point in the process, allowing you to continually refine and improve, iterating your way to a better final product.
- Eliminate activities that don’t directly contribute to accomplishing your goals. Agile advocates for looking at all “work to be done” as a problem to solve, not a series of tasks to accomplish.
- Determine whether you have the capacity, skills and resources to execute successfully. If not, how does the plan or the goal need to be adjusted, or how can you acquire the necessary capacity?
A plan on paper means nothing. Setting realistic goals will ensure that you can actually execute and show results.
It’s tempting to try to do it all. Yet, AEC firms are better served when they stay laser-focused on a few high-impact goals that are executable.
Agile gives your team the power to prioritize what’s truly important – for your clients and for your company’s bottomline. Most of all, it empowers your team to do the right work that matters at the right time.
Learn more in Increasing Productivity, Relevancy and Results – A Marketer’s Guide to Agile.