Any new marketing undertaking begins with an idea. Usually that idea is a solution to a problem you’ve already encountered. Maybe your brand is hoping to reach a specific demographic more effectively, so you’ve come up with a diversified strategy for increasing engagement. Maybe you’ve even already determined that Facebook, YouTube, and a new blog are the appropriate channels. Now all you have to do is create the content and get it running.
If you consider that any marketing strategy decision is essentially a decision to change something, it follows that effective change management will lead to better marketing results. Effectively managing change starts with setting a vision for the new reality you intend to create, and marketing professionals have become experts in describing that new reality and using data and impact reporting after the fact to determine whether that new reality has been achieved.
However, the journey from an initial idea to results can be complicated and unpredictable—and honestly, usually is. And without the best plan, people, and production possible, that journey may never be completed.
Your planning process is more than simply writing down each step you want to take and then applying deadlines to each one. Certainly a detailed timeline is very important, and that will often be the outcome of the planning process.
For the best plan, it’s still good to start by documenting the order of activities you feel to be ideal for the situation, and then to focus your energy on cross-examining your understanding with tough questions, such as:
- How should we adjust if a team member becomes unavailable?
- What unexpected side effects could this work create?
- What are we NOT doing as part of this work?
- What could get in the way of us staying on time and/or under budget?
- How will we know when we’re “done”?
- What are we forgetting?
- What’s most important: scope, time, or cost?
It is a common (and dangerous) mistake to assume everything will go as planned. By interrogating your perception and the situation, you create flexibility in your plan and increase the likelihood that the work is executing successfully.
Having the right combination of people working on a project can make all the difference in your ability to effectively navigate the journey ahead. This is especially true when applied to today’s marketing landscape, where small creative decisions can have extensive digital ramifications, and vice versa.
Effective and efficient work can feel impossible when expertise isn’t the first characteristic considered when assigning work. There are obviously other important factors to consider, such as availability, cost, location, and familiarity—expertise alone isn’t a game-breaker. But making anything other than expertise your first priority when building a team means you aren’t making the best possible result your primary objective. Identify expertise first, and then use the other factors to determine who among your pool of experts is the best for your specific need.
Once a team is selected, it’s about identifying roles, assigning responsibilities, and forming a shared vision for success. Some good questions to ask as a team:
- Who has final say on strategic decisions?
- How will we communicate throughout?
- Who will review our work, and when?
- How often should we meet as a full team?
Here’s a helpful exercise to go through after the team is assembled for the first time: have everyone picture the project as complete and a resounding success. Then ask them how they would have worked together to get there. The answers may uncover important communication expectations, unclear responsibilities, or even gaps in your planning.
It’s tempting to dive directly into the production of work as soon as an idea strikes. It’s natural to want to get started as soon as possible—some of you may even be reading this and thinking that the Planning and People stages are just wasting precious time. Certainly there is value in taking steps forward as soon as possible, and marketing today is essentially a constant duel: to be slow is to be dead.
But misinformed, poorly assigned movement is rarely movement in the right direction. Rushing in without a roadmap or a team prepared is simply a recipe for disaster. Why? No marketing work makes it from idea to results without some deviation along the way, and if that deviation starts right off the bat, you’re in for a challenging journey.
The best predictor of production success is taking the time to get the right plan and the right people in place, and then accepting that your project is not going to move in a straight line—instead it’s going to be a circular journey of iteration and reflection.
What does that mean?
You’re never going to hit the perfect form of any deliverable in one shot. So it’s smart to start out each and every project with that fact in mind. Iteration is going to be the name of the game with pretty much everything you do.
What does that mean? It means less wasted effort and no big surprises. As early as possible, start creating the “final” version of what you’re making. Only make throw-away facsimiles (e.g., mockups, wireframes, or drafts) when it’s absolutely necessary. Get feedback on your work often as you progress to avoid unintended adoption of bad ideas. Work that feedback into your “final” version as you go, and eventually you’ll be able to take the quotation marks away—it’ll become your actual final version much faster and with a lot less pain.
If you steam madly ahead without taking the time to look at where you’re going, you’re going to run headfirst into a wall. It’s critical that you think actively about what you’re doing and why as your project moves forward. What does that process of reflection look like?
It means frequently talking about the plan and the way the team is working. Set regular meetings to look back at where you’ve been and how you got where you are now. It’s a way of leaving breadcrumbs, so that any deviation is easily correctable. It eliminates the possibility that changes in the team lead to changes in the work. Also make sure you look ahead, and make sure you’re still heading in the intended direction as much as possible. Remind yourself what you set out to do and how success is supposed to look. And make sure you’re still on the right path to get there.
More complicated marketing demands smarter organization
As marketing gets faster and more complicated, involving more specialties and stakeholders, it will only become more challenging to balance and steer. That goes double if you don’t take the time to examine and interrogate what you’re doing before you start, while you work, and after you’re done. Having a good plan, identifying the right people, and producing work thoughtfully will keep you moving in the right direction.
Before arriving at Element Three, Brian spent nine years managing event marketing campaigns for major international brands. He’s attended some of the world’s largest sporting events and music festivals, all while honing his craft in what many would consider an ultra-competitive industry. Today, he leads our Delivery Management Team ensuring great work gets done on time—and on budget.
Dustin Clark // Strategy
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