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How to plan your way through uncertainty and become an agile marketer

By Charlie Boon

One of the hardest things about marketing with high levels of uncertainty is how to plan effectively.  

Marketing plans require the ability to predict the future to some degree – we need to have confidence that events will take place when and where we expect, that people will behave in predictable ways, that policies or regulations will remain consistent, so we can plan our marketing schedules around them.  

Of course, we now face a global pandemic and likely a global recession. Events are being shut down as social distancing is enforced. People are behaving in erratic and idiosyncratic ways and regulations are changing weekly. Existing marketing plans are being torn up as we speak, and new ones will be out of date as soon as they are written. 

So what can we do?  

In the past year, we have adopted a method of agile marketing planning which is perfectly adapted to these kind of uncertain conditions. Marketers using this approach have found it gets us into action quicker, delivers results faster and reduces wastage and time lost in needless planning. 

How to plan your way through uncertainty and become an agile marketer

This figure outlines our typical agile marketing approach. The diagnosis and strategy phases are used to ensure we’ve understood the challenge correctly and developed some principles upon which to base creative ideas. These principles are not ‘rules’ and are loosely held and updated when real-world data corrects them. 

Creative development is done in a series of phases, first by developing ‘routes’ to test (broad spaces for ideas) which can be trialled internally or with trusted customers. The next step is the development of creative assets, which are tested in the real world using multivariant methods. 

The importance of retros We release creative in a series of phases, giving each set time to perform in the market before we evaluate it in retrospectives. Retros are regular meetings which give everyone in the team the chance to see the data on what’s performing and suggest ways to improve it. This way we avoid the finger-pointing and blame that occurs when things don’t work out, or worse, the fudging of figures to make a poor campaign look successful. We just tweak it, or bin it, and get the next round of creative in the market for further testing.  

Retros also provide the chance to adapt to real-world changes as they arise. Marketing teams that have regular retros would have been quick to adapt to the fact that customers are self-isolating, while less adaptive marketers were still struggling to just get a meeting in the right people’s diaries. 

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