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A Guide to the New Era of Agile Marketing Planning

Are you prepared to meet marketing’s goals with less resources, and to do it in a constantly changing landscape? Last spring was a wake-up call to all marketers that the traditional planning process isn’t working anymore. Planning programs and locking in spend a year in advance leaves no room to pivot when markets shift or company processes demand it. We’re twisting ourselves into knots that we can’t get out of. 

Marketers are working harder, with less resources, and need to make a bigger impact to drive revenue and growth. To achieve this, we must be faster, flexible, and iterative. 

We need to be agile.   

Adoption of adaptive marketing processes was boosted by the pandemic’s shock. Everyone was ill-prepared. Everyone wishes they could be nimbler and more resilient. Unfortunately, you’re only as fast as your slowest part. The expectation for both teams and executives should be that things will change in the direction of adaptivity. But not overnight.

Kathleen Schaub, former IDC analyst

Agile is a process marketers are tackling, but it’s not an out-of-the-box solution for their needs. You’re not going to overhaul your entire system of processes overnight, and you don’t need to. Especially because Agile itself isn’t done evolving. It’s about introducing the right concepts to make your team more flexible. 

 47% of marketers implement a hybrid approach because neither Scrum or Kanban is a perfect fit. Take the strengths of Agile and adopt it to fit your organization’s needs.

Create a Strategic Blueprint for Your Marketing Plans

When you move away from the traditional, annual-only planning process, you need to replace your framework. The best structure to support marketing plans is a strategic one. 

(Aligning to corporate objectives) allows you to create a plan that is specific to certain business targets and that is scalable and repeatable, and at the end of the day, can show a return on corporate investments.

Ken Evans, VP Demand Generation & Marketing Operations at Fuze

Strategic planning is a critical tool if you want to thrive in the new era of marketing. An agile mindset and tactics need to be grounded by goals that your team is working towards. Here’s how to set it up:

Align to Corporate Strategy 

The whole organization needs to be in lockstep moving towards concerted targets and results. You need 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? 

Set SMART Strategic Goals for Marketing

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. 

Two principles that will help you succeed:

  1. You’ll never know why plans worked or the best option to double-down on an investment unless you measure success. Use your strategic goals as a yardstick for measuring success. If markets have significantly shifted, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate goals – but make sure any changes still reflect the company’s targets. 
  2. Prioritize resources and limit your overall number of strategic goals. The purpose of agile is efficiency, so focus resources on projects with big impact that advance marketing’s objectives.

Planning should be based on data and alignment across functions to create a solid operating plan. The more you know about the business, the more precise you become, and the process starts to change.

Doug Sechrist, VP of Demand Marketing, Zenefits

Lay-out Your Investment Strategy

The next step is deciding on your mix of investments. Use relevant performance-based metrics to build a list of data-driven activities that best support your strategic goals. 

Two things to remember about your investment data:

  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. 

How to Pivot Your Marketing Plans to Support a New Strategy

Alignment across the marketing team, and the business as a whole, results in stronger decision-making by every marketer because they can gauge plan and budget adjustments against current goals, plans, and business objectives. 

There are two additional tactics marketers can deploy to help make their strategies extra flexible. 

  1. 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. 
  2. High-growth organizations are three times more likely to have collaborative marketing and finance teams. Partner with finance to establish a common understanding of where marketing is investing, why, and how that compliments the company’s investment portfolio. This will help with setting SMART strategic targets, scenario planning, and reporting marketing contributions so everyone understands the impact. 

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. 


Marketing Planning Best Practice

Marketing organizations often 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. 

Keep reading to move forward on the path to agility and a new era of marketing planning!