Develop Your Marketing Strategy With an Agile Approach

June 19, 2020

Contributor: Rama Ramaswami

In times of crisis, marketers should trade conventional strategic plans that become outdated for agile product development principles that offer a more dynamic way to respond.

Many brands rely on traditional strategic planning for marketing programs. But this approach is often inflexible and time-intensive, without the fluidity to manage fast-moving challenges such as COVID-19. For marketers in crisis management mode, agile strategic planning offers a more effective way to handle disruptions and seize opportunities.

Agile marketing has made inroads into organizations, but only in a desultory way. “Most businesses have adopted a lightweight version of the concept that doesn’t accommodate the more strategic pivots recent events may require,” says Ewan McIntyre, VP Analyst, Gartner.

“Perhaps the largest obstacle to agile strategy adoption is cultural change. It takes time and diplomacy to transform long-entrenched attitudes.”

A truly agile (or adaptive) strategy focuses less on specific marketing deliverables and more on business outcomes. It considers strategic planning as a process of continual refinement rather than a one-off exercise. But it can be hard to get C-suite buy-in for agile methodologies. To do so, marketing leaders need to build a business case highlighting their core advantages: 

  • Less time planning and more time testing ideas

  • Gathering data and feedback to make smart adjustments

  • Addressing ever-changing business needs closer to real time

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Define the minimum viable requirements for success

The principles of minimum viable product (MVP) development are key to making agile successful. By bringing MVP into play, CMOs can build dynamic and responsive plans that lead to stronger business results. An MVP is a product developed with minimum possible resources and time, comprising just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future development. 

“The key to defining minimum is identifying what you absolutely need to successfully move forward,” says McIntyre. “Cut, reprioritize or create a parallel path for the rest.” 

Start by asking a few simple questions:

  • What are the minimum elements you need to create an informed path toward the minimum outcome?

  • Can you remove any elements to create shorter-iteration strategic plans?

  • Are there any areas you can scale back or work on while moving forward with executing strategy?

Use strategic sprints to focus on key areas of execution

In product development, MVP focuses on achieving the least possible functionality to enable rapid testing and indicate the path of future iterations. Applied to planning, this means that not everything is doable and not everything is high priority. Think short-term, effective “sprint” strategy sessions. A sprint is a short, finite period of intensive work. It helps test ideas earlier in the development cycle and enables further adjustments as more information becomes available.

Strategizing in sprints breaks an otherwise long and complex process into smaller chunks that can be accomplished faster. For example, a traditional strategic plan might call for a 12-month social content calendar covering five platforms and a dozen other large-scale, long-term projects. But sprint sessions that are part of an agile strategy will focus on high-level goals broken down to a few key areas of execution that can be adjusted quickly as business conditions change.

Sprints are particularly important as the COVID-19 crisis evolves. Marketing leaders need a solid strategic element to act on in a short time frame (weeks or months) and get a sense for what works during an uncertain period. Even in less volatile times, the competitive environment and customer needs can change, sometimes very quickly. It’s more effective to revise the marketing strategy on the spot rather than find out a year later that a painstakingly built plan has failed. Strategy sprints are an ideal way to incorporate vision, creativity, testing and modification.

Perhaps the largest obstacle to agile strategy adoption is cultural change. It takes time and diplomacy to transform long-entrenched attitudes. But CMOs need to lead the change and shift from rigid planning to adopting a flexible, nimble approach to strategy.

Gartner clients can learn more in Build Stronger Marketing Plans in Uncertain Times With Adaptive Strategic Planning. Gartner clients can also visit the Gartner COVID-19 Resource Center to learn more about how to lead through the disruption of coronavirus.


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