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Top 5 Agile Tips for Marketing Planning in 2021

It’s 2021, but we’re still dealing with the effects from 2020. In-person events are a non-starter and digital is still ruling lives inside and outside of work. As marketers are left asking themselves a familiar question:

“How can I create impact and do more with limited resources?”

To drive revenue and growth in 2021, marketers need to be faster, flexible, and iterative. Marketers need to be agile.

Here are our top five tips for for building agile marketing plans:

  1. Plan with the expectation things will change
  2. Complement your marketing plan with an investment strategy
  3. Learn to recognize pivotal moments
  4. Make time for reflection
  5. Bring finance along for the ride

1. Plan with the Expectation Things Will Change

Planning in the wake of a global pandemic and economic crisis can seem impossible. As can imagining a road to recovery, the new normal, or a return to how things were. Marketers need to embrace scenario planning as a way to make the impossible possible.

It also happens to be the most effective form of risk management and the smartest way to plan and budget your valuable marketing spend. Be agile by game-planning in advance and being prepared to take on any scenario. There’s no situation where your marketing team or company wouldn’t benefit from having an array of levers to pull that create business impact.

Goals that we set at the beginning of the year don’t change, however how we obtain those goals depends on the market. Things happen. You can plan as much as possible, but life happens and you’ll have to pivot.

Marina Antestenis, Director of Marketing, Comcast Business 

As you get into scenario planning, make sure to map each one back to your strategic targets. Will you still hit your targets? Does it draw resources away from other critical programs? Look at everything with a critical eye and game-plan possible implications for the rest of your marketing strategy. 

And don’t make the mistake of outsourcing scenario planning to junior team members. McKinsey research notes that when senior marketing leaders only engage with scenario planning in the final stages – or when it comes time to pull the trigger on an alternate plan – they are much less likely to act on them. Marketing leadership can’t afford to delegate scenario planning and must take an active role in the process for scenario planning to be an effective strategy. 

2. Complement Your Marketing Plan with an Investment Strategy

Use relevant performance-based metrics to build a list of data-driven activities that best support your strategic plans for the quarter. Striking the right balance of confident investments and flexible options leaves your CMO and marketing budget owners with a series of levers that can be pulled to create business impact as needed. 

Two things to remember:

  1. Don’t get caught up in historical data. If a traditionally-stable product line is tanking, look to other product lines that perform better now and are more relevant to the current market.
  2. Accept that your market will influence your investment mix. If you’re in an established market, you may spend more on competitive intelligence compared to marketers in growing markets where it’s wise to invest more in brand awareness. 

A plan is just a plan without resources.

Gartner

Ideally, your organization has a view into which programs can drive the necessary results. If you don’t have the necessary performance metrics, focus on quick-test projects that will improve overall insights into impact. After culling through the list of potential programs based on performance, your ideal final marketing plan and budget will be:

  1. No-regret Moves – A series of investments that will advance your strategic goals in any scenario. We never call anything a “sure bet” but these are as close as you can get.
  2. Plausible Options – Investments that have a low up-front cost, but can be scaled up or down at the right time. 

3. Learn to recognize pivotal moments

The perfect marketing plan is having the right activities at the right time. As you build options into your agile marketing plan, identify tipping points that trigger the execution of an alternative plan. These points are either: 

  1. The moment just before a scenario becomes critically necessary
  2. The moment your current plan starts to become irrelevant

We know what you’re thinking: great… but how do I know when I’m in that moment? 

You’ll need to think through the impact of opportunities that can’t be missed and how the performance of various scenarios relates back to marketing’s overall investment. Do this by asking yourself the some of the same questions you would expect finance to ask about any marketing investment:

  1. What’s the time to revenue?
  2. What’s the impact on revenue?
  3. What other opportunities will this impact?
  4. What are the risks of investing early?
  5. What are the implications of passing on the opportunity?

To make it easier when you need to flip the switch and change to a new plan, make sure a portion of your marketing budget is bookmarked as a slush fund. Keep it between five to ten percent of your total budget. 

It’s time to change habits. The CMO is no longer just the bullhorn for the brand; they are the lead conductor of the company’s growth engine. 

Gartner

4. Make Time for Reflection 

An important component of Agile marketing is hosting retrospectives where the team talks about what went well with their last program and what could be improved for next time. 

Time is a valuable resource. But not taking the time to reflect, learn, and iterate is choosing not to invest in the growth and future of your marketing team and the company as a whole. Regular retrospectives are a must to understand if programs are supporting strategic targets, if they need tweaks, and when they need to be culled from the program calendar. 

Measuring success means nothing unless you’re analyzing the results and looking for opportunities to optimize. Dig into where in the buyer’s journey you’ve got gaps or bottlenecks and focus efforts there. 

5. Bring Finance Along for the Ride

The whole organization needs to be in lockstep moving towards concerted targets and results. To do their part for company growth, marketing needs to know:

  1. What are the company’s top priorities for the quarter? For the year?
  2. What pipeline and revenue numbers is the company aiming for this quarter? For the fiscal year?
  3. What adoption rates, or implementation goals are set for our product? 

Marketing’s objectives, activity goals, and financial targets should all be created with the view of supporting and hitting corporate’s targets. This is the key to aligning expectations and plans, coordinating team efforts, and holding everyone accountable for achieving results. 

In our recent benchmark report with Iron Horse, we found that 96% of marketing teams who saw a 10% or greater budget increase post-COVID said their finance counterparts view them as a strong partner. Partner with finance to establish a common understanding of where marketing is investing, why, and how that compliments the company’s investment portfolio. 

Finance is an underutilized resource for most marketers, and in worst-case situations is viewed as the enemy instead of an ally. But finance’s expertise and perspective on revenue, ROI, and performance as it relates back to the company’s goals shouldn’t be ignored. And in this economy, it can’t afford to be ignored. Do yourself and your company a huge favour by working with finance. 

Broader market trends and how we run the business of marketing will continue to shift in response to the pandemic. Agile seems like a natural response, though many teams are scared off by how many changes they’ll need to make. But the scarier option is continuing to run the same marketing plans that you did back in 2019. These agile tips will help you assert control back over your marketing plans and budget, and get 2021 off on the right foot. 

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