How to Build an Agile Marketing Plan

nextcmo25 May 2023
Community: The Next CMOThought LeadershipUncategorized

Did your marketing plan make a left turn?

You and your team have just built the best plan ever using the Marketing Plan Framework (MPF). 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 the roadblocks to success appear out of nowhere. Before you know it, you are off course. Building an agile marketing plan can bring you back on course.

Why 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.

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:

  1. Economic volatility causes budget cuts
  2. Competition comes out with a new and improved product or revised pricing
  3. You have employee turnover of key marketers on your team
  4. Your plan isn’t achieving the stated goals
  5. The sales team is not prepared to do its part
  6. The CEO changes the company’s direction
  7. The R&D team does not hit its release dates
  8. The industry you sell to starts drying up
  9. You fail to get traction in a new geography
  10. You have to overspend on a marketing campaign, so you need to modify the plan
  11. The team does not understand or buy into the plan
  12. You hire the wrong skill set or onboard someone late, creating a capacity gap
  13. New hires don’t pan out, leaving you shorthanded
  14. Vendors you hire don’t understand the plan and have misaligned output
  15. The sales team decides to take a different approach or direction
  16. Your partners do not hold up their end of the bargain
  17. Lead generation emergencies arise and distract the team
  18. Campaigns and programs get delayed creating a ripple effect downstream
  19. Major marketing events get canceled
  20. 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? You must build a flexible, agile plan that prepares you for different scenarios. In other words, you need to build an agile marketing plan.

Components of Agile Marketing Plans

An agile marketing plan is made up of 3 key components:

  1. Flexing for opportunistic marketing
  2. Underachievement scenario planning
  3. Overachievement scenario planning

Flexing for Opportunistic Marketing

Depending on your company size, numerous unplanned opportunities will emerge over the year. For example, a customer wants to do a press release with you, an industry analyst ranks your product or service as 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, 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 triggered by pre-defined potential outcomes. These scenarios are designed to prepare you for dealing with bumps in the road that cause underperformance or leverage overperformance 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 agile 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 marketing will receive some of the proceeds for additional programs if revenue targets are exceeded.

Ideally, you will want to leverage the newly acquired funds (house money) to conduct experiential marketing initiatives to expand your current repertoire of campaigns and programs.

Steps to Building Scenarios

There is a seven-step process for building and executing scenarios for agile marketing plans:

  1. Identify the driving forces behind the potential risks, issues, or decisions
  2. Determine the impact on the current goals
  3. Create a new set of goals that map to underachievement or overachievement
  4. Rank the strategies, campaigns, and programs by criticality (highest impact on the business), keeping in mind marketing budget management thresholds (especially in case of cuts)
    1. Align the ranked marketing initiatives to the scenarios based on severity up or down
    2. Assign a numerical ranking or categorization such as keep, consider, cut
  5. Build a tiering structure based on the level of under or overachievement
  6. Select metrics for monitoring and create thresholds for when scenarios are triggered
  7. 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 implement 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 stretch your discretionary spending.

If the cuts are primarily to headcount, reallocating marketing budget and financial resources to AI-related marketing software can create many efficiencies across the board. You can also look at cheaper offshore vendors for design, SEM, and telemarketing activities.

Learn more about Planful’s marketing planning software and how it helps you allocate budgets and manage marketing goals, plans, and campaigns.