Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan: build an agile marketing plan that flexes to take advantage of opportunities and changing market conditions
Did your plan get punched in the mouth?
You and your team have just built the best plan ever using the Marketing Plan Framework (MPF) outlined in the most recent blog post in our planning series, on Building Great Marketing Plans. The plan you built fully aligns with the goals as they stand today and details a comprehensive strategy for achieving them. You start executing the plan to perfection and then out of nowhere the roadblocks to success start to appear. Before you know it, you are off course. Building an agile marketing plan can bring you back.
Common Reasons for Marketing Plan Failures
The list of reasons for how your plan can crumble is long. Below are some common examples of marketing plans that could fail:
- Economic volatility causes budget cuts
- Competition comes out with a new and improved product or revised pricing
- You have employee turnover of key marketers on your team
- Your plan isn’t achieving the stated goals
- The sales team is not prepared to do its part
- The CEO changes the company direction
- The R&D team does not hit its release dates
- The industry you sell to starts drying up
- You fail to get traction in a new geography
- You have to overspend on a marketing campaign so you need to modify the plan
- The team does not understand or buy into the plan
- You hire the wrong skill set or onboard someone late, creating a capacity gap
- New hires don’t pan out, leaving you shorthanded
- Vendors you hire don’t understand the plan and have misaligned output
- The sales team decides to take a different approach or direction
- Your partners do not hold up their end of the bargain
- Lead generation emergencies arise and distract the team
- Campaigns and programs get delayed creating a ripple effect downstream
- Major marketing events get cancelled
- Marketing leadership changes
How many of these have you experienced? Hopefully, this list did not send a chill up your spine, but these are the key contributors as to why CMOs have the shortest lifespan in the C-suite. So what does this mean? It means you need to build a plan that is flexible and prepares you for different scenarios. In other words, you need to build an agile marketing plan.
Why do you need to be agile in marketing? Because stuff happens—both good and bad. In either case, your plan can get back-burnered while full effort is put toward taking advantage of the new opportunity or resolving the current issue at hand.
All too often, after the disruption subsides, the plan is derailed and the team engages in rudderless marketing activities hoping that something works. The problem is that hope is not a strategy, and more often than not, this only results in unachieved goals.
3 Components of Agile Marketing Plans
An agile marketing plan is made up of 3 key components:
- Flexing for opportunistic marketing
- Underachievement scenario planning
- Overachievement scenario planning
Flexing for Opportunistic Marketing
Depending on your company size, numerous unplanned opportunities will emerge over the course of the year. For example: a customer wants to do a press release with you, an industry analyst ranks your product or service the best on the planet, or a partner wants to OEM your product and do joint marketing.
In marketing, you are constantly working with the outside world. The problem is that you can’t control what these external audiences do or the timing of the opportunities they place at your feet. You can only control your end of the equation.
Typically there are three reasons you pass on unplanned opportunities: timing, resources, and budget. But if you have that information at your fingertips, then you can quickly compare a new opportunity against the current plan to determine which will have more impact on the goals.
For this reason, the key steps to the evaluation process are:
- Assess if the opportunity helps to achieve the annual marketing goals and is executable
- Prioritize by comparing new opportunities against existing marketing campaigns
- Collaborate with the team to plan for new opportunities and modify existing campaigns
- Reallocate funds accurately without going over budget
- Re-engage with the original plan to get back on track
A word of caution: Don’t let frequent urgent opportunities distract you from the original goals-based plan, but be flexible if the opportunity is too good to pass up.
Scenario Planning for Under- and Overachievement
When building an agile marketing plan, start with your baseline plan (the one that was built to achieve the original company objectives) and use it as a barometer to build your scenarios— these are a set of restated goals, either up or down, determined by business outcomes that deviate significantly from the original objectives. These scenario-based goals have a material impact on the marketing plan’s strategy, campaigns, and budget. The purpose of scenario planning is so that when you recognize changes in the business, you have a pre-built plan to quickly course correct.
When creating scenarios for your agile marketing plan, the first step is to define a new set of goals based on under- or over-performance. Once the objectives are established, create a set of goal-based scenarios that are triggered by pre-defined potential outcomes. These scenarios are designed to either prepare you for dealing with bumps in the road that cause under-performance, or leverage over-performance to supercharge your marketing.
For underachievement, it’s not necessary to create more than one scenario, but having two [slight underachievement (25%) and significant underachievement (50%)] is recommended if your business has variability or ambitious goals. If you feel there is a chance underachievement could be greater than 50%, you may want to redo your original plan. Companies with this level of variability are usually start-ups or businesses with little to no historical data.
For conservative marketing plans with potential revenue upside, you might want to also look at an overachievement scenario. When building this, check with the CFO to confirm that if revenue targets are exceeded, marketing will receive some of the proceeds for additional programs. Ideally, you will want to leverage the newly acquired funds (house money) to conduct experiential marketing initiatives aimed at expanding your current repertoire of campaigns and programs.
Steps to Building Scenarios
There is a seven-step process for building and executing scenarios:
- Identify the driving forces behind the potential risks, issues, or decisions
- Determine the impact on the current goals
- Create a new set of goals that map to underachievement or overachievement
- Rank the strategies, campaigns, and programs by criticality (highest impact to the business), keeping in mind marketing budget management thresholds (especially in case of cuts)
- Align the ranked marketing initiatives to the scenarios based on severity up or down
- Assign a numerical ranking or categorization such as keep, consider, cut
- Build a tiering structure based on the level of under or overachievement
- Select metrics for monitoring and create thresholds for when scenarios are triggered
- Assess the impact of switching to the scenario and adjust accordingly to alternative strategies
Alternative strategies for overachievement are limitless, but when you underachieve, human and financial resources usually get tight. There are some inexpensive marketing options to explore if you have to put together an underachievement plan. Switching from paid to free marketing is the best place to start. Strategies such as content, social, viral, word of mouth, and joint marketing with partners (splitting the expenses) can be very cost-effective and will stretch your discretionary spend.
If the cuts are primarily to headcount, reallocating financial resources to AI-related marketing software can create lots of efficiencies across the board. You can also look at cheaper offshore vendors for activities such as design, SEM, and telemarketing.
Plannuh is a marketing performance management solution that helps marketers build detailed plans including campaigns, activities, and budget that accomplishes key marketing goals. Learn more about our marketing planning software.