When it comes to B2B Marketing – is Strategy Canceled?

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Volatile times demand forward momentum – at what cost?

The best laid schemes of Mice and Men
Go oft awry.”
“To a Mouse” by: Robert Burns

B2B marketers have a cancel culture all their own. We’ve canceled demand generation in favor of ABM. Canceled content marketing in favor of thought leadership. Canceled marketing automation in favor of demand orchestration. 

Now strategy is fixing to be canceled and replaced with agility altogether.

Am I being glib for emphasis? A little.

Let me start by saying that I can’t blame the marketing leaders of 2020. Baptism-by-COVID meant budgets were cut, layoffs transpired, the workforce went exclusively remote and the field schedule evaporated. Many were simply trying to keep the lights on, nevermind executing on a thoughtful strategy.  

Many of us have caught our breath and slowed down enough to think about 2021. What now? 

The answer is resilience and agility. 

In the last few years, agile marketing has flailed when the software design principles are applied, apples-to-apples, to the marketing function. It just doesn’t work the same.  But the sentiment of agile marketing is spot-on: prioritizing ideas and interactions, responding to change, putting the rubber on the road with an MVP as quickly as you are able. 

These are qualities that our client’s look for in a consulting partner. Volatile times demand forward momentum. The expense of over-planning is perceived to be greater than the cost of misdirection. 

I’m not in favor of canceling strategy yet. To do so would throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, let’s apply agile principles to the planning process by starting with the following tips:

The expense of over-planning is perceived to be greater than the cost of misdirection. 

1. Embrace the “micro-program.”

If you asked me to define a campaign a year ago, I would tell you that it’s a 12-18 month long series of activities that belong to different families of programs – all laddering up to an umbrella theme in support of a particular objective. 

While the themes you select for your campaign may last for 12-18 months, the programs that bring those themes to life must be executed, expanded, or constricted depending on variables internal and external. 

Break down your 12-month campaign into micro-programs, 1-3 month long initiatives with a defined start and stop in support of a specific objective. Keep your systemic programs running (ie: pre-MQL/A nurturing, and other lead management programs), and layer micro-programs over top.

  • A micro-program should take no-more than two weeks to plan, and can be in- market in 3-4 weeks depending on how complex the execution is and how many people you need to do it. 
  • Build an A/B testing plan for messaging into the micro-program. This will help you to avoid over-thinking.
  • Focus on creating a program that launches and continuously improves, versus one that takes longer to launch with little room for iteration.

2. When it comes to ideation, balance instincts and inclusivity

Two heads are almost always better than one, but in an agile environment, it’s critical to know when to go with your gut as opposed to incorporating the ideas of a broader team simply for the sake of it. If you’re taking a gamble – know when to hold ‘em, fold ‘em, and most importantly, when to walk away.  

3. When it comes to execution, prioritize trust and autonomy

Prompt execution is negated when it is met with a quagmire of required approvals. It’s a momentum killer and it’s bad for morale. Trust your team to do their best, and foster a culture of experimentation and forgiveness instead of layer after layer of approvals.

Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” This adage encapsulates my view of today’s agile marketing environment. While the creation of plans, onerous documentation or overly detailed design is not necessary – it’s crucial to spend time thoughtfully modeling how your efforts are going to make money for your company. What’s more: you want to be able to confidently say how your marketing is supporting the strategic goals of your business. 

Strategy isn’t canceled yet, just make sure your foot is on the gas. 

Check out Strategy and Technology – The Classic Case of Chicken and Egg?