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Brave enough to go with the flow?

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I’ve always liked the Benjamin Franklin quote “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”, but I’m starting to feel strangely relaxed these days.

Now I’m finding that in-depth marketing plans, detailed to the minutia, end up being limiting, restrictive and creatively stifling. Effectively, the plan gets ripped up.

I’m suggesting not that we ditch the high-level plans, but that we structure them in a way that allows us to be nimble for ever-changing demands and opportunities.

As the pace of change gets faster, customers’ expectations get higher and their attention spans shorter. They are exposed to more messages through so many more options, and the media landscape shifts every day.

More than ever, we can monitor and learn from our marketing, on the fly and pretty much in real time. Thanks to the tendency of social media users to be willing to voice opinions, it’s likely you’ll find out soon enough if your marketing message or creative approach are really off the mark. Or our analytics tell us exactly how they interacted with any online marketing.

Developments in digital marketing allow us to try different ideas without the huge financial risks we endured before social media and online marketing were integral to our toolkit.

It isn’t so long ago that, to reach a particular audience group our marketing would have been dominated by ‘offline’ options which limited our willingness to take risks with our marketing budgets. For example, before the 40-something mums were glued to Facebook, we might have tried to reach them through a combination of radio advertising (as they dropped the kids at school), ads in the lifestyle sections of their daily paper and perhaps some direct marketing if we had a decent database. 

With the level of investment needed, unless you were blasé with your budgets or prepared to risk your brand’s reputation, a huge amount of planning and consultation would go into making sure the message was right, the look was appropriate and the media choices relevant. (And, of course, it still should.)

It took longer to put a campaign together. Approvals and sign off on details would go higher up the decision-making chain for even the slightest nuance. The time between conception and delivery would be lengthy, with all the risks of changing priorities that that entailed.

As digital emerged, we got braver. Now, we try a tester idea, to see what people think. We play with variations in wording and see what people click on.

Couldn’t do that with the back cover of Tempo, could we!

I’m starting to investigate more about ‘agile marketing’. I was cynical about ‘agile’ as a concept but am seeing it used positively by a client in the tech space, where the philosophy has its foundation. I can see how the agile methodologies would give those who may be risk averse confidence to try a more flexible approach in their marketing.

The basic premise seems to be that there are benefits in using short, finite periods of activity. After each burst of activity, measure impact and outcomes then incrementally adapt the approaches to improve the results continuously over time. If it doesn’t go to plan, the damage is less than with long-term exposure.

Being prepared to ‘fail’ is perhaps one of the biggest barriers to this approach in the marketing sector, and among fragile creative teams. No-one wants to be responsible for a campaign that doesn’t work. They are our babies, born out of heartfelt creative deliberation, emotional connections built with the brand we’re marketing and a growing relationship with the audience we’re trying to reach.

From what I can see, ‘agile’ isn’t an excuse to change your mind about the fundamentals or to bounce through your marketing daydreams being purely reactive to what’s happening around you. It’s just about being prepared to adapt.

There’s not much that’s new in the world and, in many ways, the agile marketing approach seems quite recognisable. We have always had flexibility to do some kind of testing and segmentation. Marketers have tried campaign ideas in short bursts before, or offered up different approaches and compared the results. 

Like all marketing and communications, it’s about understanding what you ultimately want to achieve, who you’re talking to and why – this is always at heart of the matter. Know your voice before you speak, but perhaps be open to variations in tone. Know who you are talking to, but perhaps offer up differing metaphorical conversations.

Consider the impact of getting it wrong if you take a more iteratively staged approach and be comfortable with your level of risk. But if you’re clear about your brand, I can’t see failure as part of the plan.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz