Today’s marketing campaigns, and the work that goes into planning and tracking them, look nothing like traditional campaigns most marketers learned about in school. In an environment focused on real-time marketing, “micro” campaigns and agile thinking, marketers have to act fast to capitalize on every opportunity.
“Old-school campaigns were like the Titanic,” says Andrea Fryrear, editor in chief of The Agile Marketer. “They took a long time to build, they cost a lot of money, and if they sank it was a really big problem. Marketers used to devote months to planning and executing campaigns, and then we might never be sure how successful they really were. Now a marketing team could feasibly plan and execute a campaign in a week. To take advantage of an emerging opportunity or deal with a crisis, we might be measuring progress in hours rather than days.”
I talked to several marketers about how marketing campaigns continue to evolve, and how marketers can flex to meet new planning, execution and tracking norms.
The campaigns have gotten shorter
Instead of planning “Titanic”-sized campaigns, marketers are breaking up their campaigns into bite-sized pieces. Jim Ewel, a former Microsoft marketer and longtime proponent of agile marketing, says that many campaigns have evolved from relatively long (quarters and months) to relatively short (days and weeks).
While thinking “micro” is definitely trending, Fryrear says that doesn’t mean your planning can be slapdash. “Even the most rapid micro-campaign needs to be strategically relevant,” she says. “Doing something fast just for the sake of speed isn’t doing us any good. We still need to pause and examine the impact our work will have on our larger objectives before we run off and throw a campaign together.
“Micro-campaigns need to be just as carefully constructed as their Titanic-sized cousins, even if they get done much faster,” she says.
But the buying cycle has gotten longer
Even as marketers focus on short campaign bursts, there’s been a move to build longer-term customer relationships, and to support ever-lengthening buying cycles, especially in B2B. And not everyone agrees that “micro” is the way to go. B2B marketing strategist Ardath Albee says she’s been arguing for years that instead of thinking “short,” we need to move to a continuum approach — campaigns that extend across the entirety of the buying process. For her clients, she says that process can range from nine months to more than three years. Not exactly micro.
Marketers should look for ways to make the buying process shorter and easier, she says, but also account for buyers’ challenges: the increasing number of buyers involved in every decision, the need for more information as solutions get more complex, increased concerns about risk and the challenge to manage internal change.
Ewel says marketers can address those long sales cycles by first breaking them down into milestones, then finding real-time (“micro”) marketing opportunities to move customers through them.
I like the way Gartner’s Jake Sorofman describes the current state of marketing as “two-speed marketing.” The first speed is campaign-based — “time-bound, centralized and tightly orchestrated.” The second speed is continuous — “decentralized, organic and conversational.” The most successful marketing teams figure out how to do both speeds of marketing in tandem, running campaigns in real time while also accounting for customers’ buying challenges and building long-term relationships. Open source tech provides the most flexible backbone for these types of operations.
Everyone’s gone agile
No matter what stance you take on micro versus long-term campaigns, we can all agree that marketers’ work has gotten more iterative. Ewel says that traditional campaigns were “one and done” in terms of creative and copy. But modern campaigns are iterative learning experiences, and marketers constantly adjust the creative and copy to improve performance.
Albee agrees: “Change is continuous. That includes buyers’ preferences, perspectives and learning requirements. So agility and speed to address changes must become the norm for marketers.”
Fryrear’s advice for marketers who want to run more iterative campaigns: “Treat your plan less like printed directions and more more like the guidance you get from your GPS. Printed directions can’t adapt. They represent one way and only one way of getting to your destination. That’s how most people think about long-term marketing — we made a plan, we’ve got to stick to it. But really we can still arrive at a long-term destination by making adjustments to our route as we go. We learn about the roads, we encounter obstacles, we find a shortcut, and we should respond intelligently to all this incoming data.”
Performance tracking has become more intense
Just as many campaigns have gotten shorter and more iterative, we’re also watching performance more closely, ready to shift our spend. Instead of measuring reach and frequency of ads, we’re watching metrics that matter for the bottom line, like conversions.
“The metrics are available more quickly, and modern marketers are acting on the metrics more quickly, adjusting placements, creative and copy frequently during the campaign,” Ewel says.
In order to build truly iterative campaigns, Fryrear says marketers have to test. “Do a small experiment, measure its success, and then build on what worked,” she says. “We have to track things on a much more granular level and analyze data much more frequently.”
As the pace of marketing continues to pick up speed, Ewel says marketers will find the biggest improvements when they move away from a “one and done” campaign approach and move to an iterative approach, based on learning and improving over time.