By Kate Uhry
Your yearly marketing plan and budget took weeks or months to create—and you fought for every dollar you are planning to spend. Now that it's in place, you know exactly how much you should be spending and what your goals are for the year. Genius.
So why are some marketers abandoning the traditional marketing plan and moving to the concept of agile marketing?
The key advantage of agile marketing is being able to react and shift directions as the customer, market, or competition changes. Agile marketing relies on quick, responsive planning—which is completely counter to the traditional “plan, spend, analyze at the end of the year, adjust” cycle. With agile marketing, there are shorter time periods, called sprints, that last 7-10 days. During that time period, ideas are tested, assessed, and either abandoned or put into action. It’s a quick, decisive method of marketing, and proponents of the system cite the following benefits:
- Marketers can react to quickly changing market conditions.
- Processes are streamlined; reactions are quickly executed.
- Testing ideas is encouraged at a small, low-risk level.
- Larger projects, like website launches, can be tweaked as they are developed, rather than when they are completed.
Agile vs. Traditional Marketing Example - A Content Calendar
Let’s take the example of a blog post content calendar. A traditional calendar is laid out sometimes months in advance. Topics are based on the keywords you are targeting for SEO purposes and what your competition has been doing. Planning ahead allows you to approve topics, schedule writers, and monitor the results. If a post does well, you might shift your strategy, but the budget stays the same, and the schedule stays the same for the most part.
With an agile marketing execution, the cycle of creating blog posts is much shorter. The strategy and execution of the blog posts are reactive and quick. Topics are decided based on the prior cycle’s results of what worked, what didn’t work, and what the team thinks can be improved—or the topics can be changed as a response to news in the market or a shift in what the competition are doing. Because there are several people on the team who are capable of writing, reviewing, and approving a blog post on a team, there is less need to schedule time in advance. Turnaround is a matter of days, not weeks.
How can you take advantage of an agile marketing plan if your company follows traditional yearly budget cycles and you need to justify every dollar you are spending?
9 Strategies for Aligning a Traditional Marketing Budget with an Agile Execution
1. Educate Yourself
Agile marketing is a relatively simple methodology, once you learn the rules. Because each player on the team needs to be educated, and you’ll need someone to tailor agile marketing to your particular way of doing business, the best way to get everyone on the same page is to hire or learn from an expert.
2. Prepare the Agile Plan and Budget
Agile marketing budgets are flexible. Although they can have overarching goals and plans, sometimes they look ahead no further than the end of a project. They are designed to be adjusted on the fly, as productivity increases or new aspects of the project are added or removed.
3. Sell It
Agile marketing allows for an overarching goal, called a theme, that you present to your stakeholders as part of your yearly plan.
We plan to spend $500 a month on LinkedIn advertising, covering the cost of copy, graphic design, and ad placement. This is based on last year’s spend, plus an increase of 10 percent to account for an estimated increase in writer’s fees. Our goal is to increase lead generation by 10 percent year over year.
We plan to spend $6,000 over the course of the year with the goal to increase lead generation from LinkedIn by 10 percent by the end of the second quarter.
4. Prepare Your Manager for Fluidity
Assuming your company isn’t already an agile company, you may need to explain the benefits of agile marketing. Prepare your team, especially the ones who are watching your spending, to expect constant adjustments and shifts in where the money is spent. Assure them that you are doing low risk testing before committing to large amounts.
5. Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Track your progress at the Theme level. While it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day successes, remind the team that you are focusing on consistent results and metrics that are based on quarterly or yearly numbers.
6. Analyze and Adjust Often
Rather than monthly analysis and adjustments, evaluate how to allocate your budget every few weeks. For example, you might test a method that brings a huge response and you want to scale it up. That means you might add a completely new line to the budget, and another channel or planned spend will be put on the back burner.
7. Be Transparent
Keep your manager apprised of your progress. As an agile team, you will be holding retrospectives, or assessment meetings, on a regular basis, and the results of those should be shared openly with your manager. Let them know what worked, what didn’t work, and why, as well as what will change the next time around. Retrospectives should include an element of cost versus actual spend. If you are over or under your budget, discover why and how you might improve in the next cycle.
8. Take Small Risks
Rather than committing to a large, high budget, high risk idea, encourage your team to take small, low-stake risks, and push the boundaries of their ideas.
9. Be Prepared to Substitute
If you choose to roll out a new idea, be sure to pull the money from another part of the budget. You may need to make some hard choices about how you want to spend your money.
Transitioning to an agile marketing strategy isn’t for everyone. The benefits are clear for those who are looking to become more responsive to a quickly changing marketplace. Blending a traditional marketing budget with an agile execution strategy is possible if there is adequate planning, education, and buy-in. If you are interested in trying it, educate yourself, find an expert to lead you through the transition, get the buy-in of the people who are approving and watching your budget—and then sit back and have fun!