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An Iterative Approach: Marketing During Uncertainty

by Jen Williams

COVID-19 and related “stay at home” orders have essentially canceled the U.S. economy, at least for now.  Most companies have put marketing efforts on hold as they use this time to regroup.  While no one knows when exactly the economy will jumpstart again, one thing is for certain—once the threat passes, marketing efforts will need to ramp up. Marketers will want to make up for lost time, and also plan for the future beyond that with a clear plan. So how do you create a marketing plan during a time of immense uncertainty?

The answer is iterative marketing. Iterative marketing is the opposite of a one-time annual plan. It allows for tactics to reveal themselves more fluidly as time goes on and conditions evolve, so marketers can be more responsive to their markets in real-time. 

Think of it as less of a roadmap and more of a compass.

An iterative marketing approach has four main components. Nailing these can give you (and your organization’s leadership) the concreteness and confidence you’ve come to expect from a traditional roadmap-style plan.

1. Persona-centric: Your end consumer is a real, live human who has real pains and needs. These need to be identified at scale (read: by conducting consumer interviews) and then crafted into a fictional manifestation of those consumer learnings. And remember, those needs may have shifted during the pandemic, so revisiting existing personas is a must. Your personas should be the ultimate check back for every tactic you consider. 

2. Program-minded: Think about marketing programs that address the pains and needs of your customers along their journey. Forget about campaigns for the time being—they’re too finite and don’t lend as well to iteration. Programs are ongoing and replicable, and therefore, iterative. A programmatic approach is the ongoing effort to create value for your intended audience when they need it most. Some tactical ways you might create value include content, tools, or access. It is important that each program has a clearly defined goal, and as conditions change over time, different tactics can be harnessed to achieve that goal.

3. MVP-oriented: To borrow from the Lean Startup world, a minimum viable product is “the version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” For marketing, the tactics you use to achieve program goals are your MVPs. Try several things on a small scale, apply insights as you go, and reduce or eliminate tactics that don’t perform. This is in contrast to a heavy research-driven tactical  roadmap approach that attempts to identify all the best tactics on the front end. The MVP approach assumes there will be more tactics that come to light as time passes and conditions change, allowing you more flexibility to react to consumer needs.

4. Data-driven: Results and trending data are the best decision-makers in an iterative marketing approach. Not leadership, not committees, and certainly not “same as last year”. Identify how you will measure success for each MVP tactic and then do so relentlessly. Make sure to dig deeper to uncover the “why” behind your data. This will be the insight that fuels adjustments to your personas, tweaks to your programs, and edits to your MVP tactics.

And obviously, none of the above will work if you don’t have clear marketing goals that ladder up to your company’s business objectives in the first place. 

These are truly uncertain times, and with no clear timeline for when COVID-19 will be behind us, it feels impossible to plan for the marketing work ahead. But the truth is, the consumer landscape was already rapidly changing and full of unpredictability, even before the virus. Embracing iterative marketing now will set your organization up for success for the long road ahead—with the best compass possible.

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