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Agile marketing (or why the plan is never the plan) 20 March, 2009

Posted by Jay Ball in Uncategorized.
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From Flickr Creative Commons

From Flickr Creative Commons

There’s a comment that gets made about military strategy that goes something like: when the war starts the first thing to go out of the window is the plan.

While in marketing no one is generally in danger of dying (at least not in the kind I do), the principle is a pretty sound one. If, like me, you’ve sat in any number of planning and strategy sessions, you can quickly get the idea that the future is being mapped in front of your eyes. First this will happen, then that, then that… It’s quite seductive.

But, of course, the world doesn’t work that way. As soon as you do X, your competitors will simultaneously do Y and the whole damn market will do Z. At around this point, all that future-gazing slideware doesn’t look quite so certain anymore.

Of course, this is a problem the military had to overcome some time back (primarily in the wake of the carnage during World War I). The result was an approach that spent a long time determining the overall objectives (the ‘commander’s intent’) and which left precise tactics to officers in the field who were empowered to adapt to changing circumstances as long as they kept moving towards that overall intent.

The approach was then further refined (primarily by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd) to focus on the ability to make very fast, very adaptable decisions (within a ‘decision loop’) that would outmanoeuvre the opposition.

It’s a principle that, I believe, is critical for today’s marketers. You will never be in possession of perfect visibility. Events will never pan out exactly how you envisage them. That’s just life.

The key is to have a robust, defensible ‘commander’s intent’ and to look at strategy more from the perspective of if X then Y rather than first X then Y. And finally, to never be wedded to any one set of tactics – if traditional media isn’t working, shift to social media, if that isn’t working try face-to-face. Better still try multiple approaches in a low-cost way and let the fittest survive and thrive. In doing so, you can create a  living strategy that can react and adapt to changing circumstances while they are changing and while there is time to make a difference in the market.

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