Agile marketing is often trumpeted as the way forward for larger businesses in turbulent markets. Although, when implemented properly, agile does have many advantages it is not without risks.
It is important to make a clear distinction of what is agile marketing vs ad hoc marketing. In this post we clarify the difference between the two approaches.
What is Ad Hoc Marketing?
Ad hoc marketing is jumping from one marketing tactic to the next in response to events without any clear plan or direction. Its driver is short-termism, (alleged) competitor action and everyone’s an expert syndrome.
In most B2B organisations, there is pressure on sales to achieve, often demanding, targets. Marketing supports sales in their task and (should) also retain responsibility for product, audience and market definition.
The pressure on sales numbers can lead to a reactionary response. We will get back to the plan later, but for now we need to do this! That new (off-plan) activity is often driven by something someone outside marketing has heard or read. Or by competitor activity – Our competitor is getting marvellous results by doing ‘X’ so why aren’t we doing that?
Ad hoc marketing is not driven by data or analysis, but by fear and guesswork. Who says competitor X is achieving stupendous results? Is it based on hard data, guesswork, suppliers (with an agenda), or worse still, the information the competitor puts into the public domain?
What is Agile Marketing?
The dictionary defines agile as ‘(adjective) the ability to move quickly and easily.’ From a business perspective, the Association of Project Management defines it as ‘several iterations or incremental steps towards the completion of a project’… ’the benefit of iteration is that you can adjust as you go along rather than following a linear path.’
The CIM defines agile marketing as ‘ a process to improve communication, align to the business aims, and increase the speed and responsiveness of the marketing team.’
In our view, it is the ability to swiftly change direction to exploit opportunities (or avoid threats). Decision-making is in real-time, based on facts, not supposition. It relies on well-trained, motivated people within an organisation taking effective decisions. With those decisions based on hard facts established at the front line.
The Main Differences Between Ad Hoc and Agile Marketing
So how can we distinguish agile vs ad hoc marketing you ask? Surely they are both reactive and driven by events? Yes they are, the difference is agile is within a structure.
With agile, the first step is planning based on a thorough audit of a situation. The plans describe how to achieve defined goals.
Often a set of scenarios are constructed and plans are tested against those scenarios. This can lead to the development of a subset of plans to put into operation if necessary.
From that point on the development of tactics and short-term operations develops and flow based on hard data of what is happening in the marketplace. But, the overall umbrella strategic plan remains in place.
In Ad hoc marketing, the plan is abandoned at the first sign of trouble. There is no analysis of reliable data or a detailed thought process. Personalities take over and force a way forward.
We covered many potential dangers of Ad Hoc marketing in our post on Manufacturing business marketing challenges. Generally, Ad Hoc marketing delivers lower returns at higher costs.
Agile Marketing – Risk Factors
Agile marketing can quickly degenerate into Ad hoc marketing. To succeed it needs consistent support from higher management and a supporting organisational structure.
Company personnel need to be trained on what agile is (and what it is not). This all takes time and money, but without structure agile marketing is likely to fail.
There needs to be a robust overall plan in place and clear goals and objectives. A poor plan will lead to poor outcomes.
Although agile is about reacting to developing situations and giving people in the field the responsibility for making decisions, it still needs top-level control. Reporting structures must be in place but should be slick and reliable.
Agile marketing then has its risks. It is not a quick fix and needs investment, support and time to put the supporting organisation in place. That said, for companies that operate in turbulent markets, it is far superior to the knee-jerk response and resulting low ROI of Ad Hoc marketing.