Marketing Strategy and Planning for the 2020s and beyond
Originally written in 4Q2019, the issues in this article were completely side-swiped by COVID. As we enter 2023, industry and society seek responses to significant hikes in energy prices. Their effect is much the same as evolving technology: they trigger major changes in Buyer requirements, which in turn drive innovation among Suppliers …
NEW TECHNOLOGIES DRIVE CHANGE
To be honest, the annual marketing planning and budget cycle has left me feeling frustrated. The old strategy and planning methods no longer provide a valid answer to the changes currently taking place in B2B markets. But why should that be? After all, we’ve lived with dramatic change since the 90’s. What’s different?
From the 90s onward, the primary effect of the new technologies (see box) has been to drive invention across a wide variety of sectors, to trigger new market segments and to promote growth. In this context of economic expansion, the primary function of marketing was to generate ever more demand, with greater efficiency and satisfy it ever faster.
To the list of New Technologies – originally compiled by Mark Birch, back in 2014 – I would add:
- the rapid electrification of actuators in industrial machinery (to replace hydraulic or pneumatic methods);
- the availability and adoption of electric sensors at scale;
- widespread use of Bluetooth for device communication;
- and the take-off of Artificial Intelligence software for automated data analysis.
Taken together, these technologies permit the automation of closed-loop control mechanisms, which in turn leads to ‘intelligent’ industrial machinery.
The effects of those new technologies are increasingly noticeable throughout industry and society. They appear as new ways of thinking and doing. On the demand side: new ideas and practices; new social values and work attitudes. On the supply side: new methods and processes; enhanced abilities to meet new requirements.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE 2020s?
What’s different is that, major geo-political and trade re-alignments are also taking place. And their effect is to dampen demand. The immediate prospects for many B2B sectors in Europe is low- or zero-growth in 2020, 2021. That combination of structural and generational change plus low growth creates enormous tension for B2B markets.
Here’s a brief illustration of how these factors can play out – for example, in the packaging machinery industry:
- Consumers highlight the environment as a hot issue: sustainability, pollution, recycling, single-use plastics are all under scrutiny.
- Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) manufacturers are now looking for new packaging machinery that will take advantage of innovative materials to address consumer concerns and protect their brand.
- At the same time, new investments must address production issues like flexible packaging formats, shorter downtime for change-overs and smaller batches …
- … as well as addressing buyers’ financial and economic issues like lower total cost of ownership, or planned maintenance services to protect the value of the investment.
In this example, changing end-user requirements becomes the primary factor driving innovation of B2B products and related services: the new demand exists because the earlier generation of products no longer provide an adequate solution. It seems that the changes many B2B sectors are experiencing today are caused by technology churn rather than growth in demand.
The B2B investment goods manufacturers who bring innovations to market in a timely manner will be allowed to stay in the game. Those who don’t, won’t. If an incumbent supplier fails to meet changing requirements, loyalty will break down and key accounts will move to a new supplier.
THE IMPACT FOR B2B MARKETING
In this scenario, B2B marketing is caught between a rock and a hard place. In markets characterised by product / service innovation, there is a lot of additional execution and implementation. The daily work for the marketing professional is not “repeat the same message more often” or “roll-out to a wider audience”; it is not simply a matter of increasing frequency, repetition, roll-out or re-use of what already exists. Instead the work is “create new messaging”, “develop new customer experiences” across a wide range of touchpoints. The emphasis is on the design and build phase of marketing not simply the execution. This creative and development work is far more resource intensive and requires longer time scales to deliver.
In theory then, marketing requires more resources to meet the demands of a fast-moving target. In practice however, it won’t get them. In zero-growth markets, budgets tend to stay constant – or are reduced. Meanwhile, the end-user demands and the customer requirements continue to evolve, creating a larger workload that must be achieved with constant resources. In spite of this, many B2B organisations continue to follow annual strategy and planning cycles. This is a recipe for getting left behind. By the time the plan is implemented and the results have been measured, the target market has already moved on.
Customers simply will not wait: they will follow whichever supplier can best adapt to meet their needs. For marketing leaders, the need to align strategy, planning, budgets, resources, staffing to business objectives is more urgent today than ever before. Annual planning cycles can’t keep pace with the speed of change in the marketplace.
WE NEED A NEW APPROACH TO MARKETING STRATEGY AND PLANNING
What B2B marketing needs is a way of doing planning that is faster. One that delivers quicker identification of key issues, permits shorter reaction times and enables more rapid adaptation to changing market /or customer needs.
How not to do it
Simply re-using current marketing planning methods more often will not work. Increasing the frequency from annually to quarterly means four times the effort and reduces the amount of resources available for productive work.
Accepting the increased workload will not generate the right result either. Stretching scarce resources too thinly across too many projects increases the risk of failure across the board. At some point, there has to be prioritisation – which means defining acceptable criteria for saying “no”.
Thoughts on dynamic planning
To adapt smoothly and swiftly to rapidly changing customer demands, marketing strategy, planning and execution must be managed dynamically.
In a dynamic approach to marketing planning, the Quarterly planning cycles are re-designed so that each consumes less than one-quarter of the current annual effort. In short, this means re-thinking the objectives and re-designing the process behind the dynamic planning cycle.
External view of the context
The first step in dynamic planning is to identify changes in the market and the evolution of customer needs that will impact marketing plans. Ideally, this type of analysis is lightweight: easy to learn, and quick to use. It should be defined in advance so that participants in the planning process know what to look out for, and when to raise a warning flag.
One way to achieve this is with a company-specific version of a PESTEL analysis (political, economic, social, technology, environmental and legal) in which relevant factors are noted. By scoring or ranking each factor for impact and likely duration, they can be evaluated and compared. Capturing this information and presenting it graphically simplifies internal discussion & rapid decision making within marketing teams. A visual summary also serves as an aid to communication with peers and stakeholders as well as reporting up to senior management.
Long-term business objectives
The foundation of an actionable marketing strategy is a clear statement of corporate objectives and how marketing aligns to them. The next step is to develop a Marketing Roadmap – company-specific way of recording the current status of internal systems and resources. Think of this as being similar to a MarTech Stack, but with a far wider scope: it should show not just technology and systems but also data flows, business processes, staff skill sets and budgets.
This “as-is” portrayal of the current resources shows how these are combined to form the customer-experiences that are essential to your business objectives. Depending on the maturity of your products and markets, the focus may be on customer nurturing, acquisition, repeat business or retention processes; on end-users, partners or channels. The Marketing Roadmap serves as the foundation of your future plans for short- medium and long-term development.
Gap & Maturity Analysis for Prioritisation
One thing is certain: today’s marketing processes will not meet customer’s needs three years from now. Which means that a shift in focus is essential. If marketing resources are only applied to running operations and meeting the targets of the current quarter, then processes will swiftly become outdated. Instead, every marketing team needs to be actively allocating and investing some of today’s resources on the task of designing and building the processes that it will need tomorrow.
A Marketing Roadmap provides a great way to identify opportunities via Gap analysis. This is where you identify functional or process gaps and highlight opportunities for future improvement. You’ll probably want to explore a variety of options for bridging those Gaps, because each path will have its own advantages and disadvantages. Brainstorming possible solutions gives marketing planners a way to compare options and define milestones.
A Maturity Analysis is a valuable technique to use in this stage because it enables you to compare solutions to gaps in the Customer Experience. You can also set priorities and allocate resources so that key milestones can be achieved.
Agile Project Management
Experience shows that the most effective way to implement key Milestones is to combine a variety of different project management techniques.
In the goal-setting stage, OKR (Objectives and Key Results) records both qualitative and quantitative aspects of each component to provide clarity for managers, focus for team members and a framework for reporting on progress to senior stakeholders.
Design Thinking and MVP (Minimum Viable Product) concepts enable Marketers to scale their solutions to the size of the opportunity to maximise RoI. When used in tandem with KanBan boards, they can also match deadlines and schedules against available resources. By implementing in Sprints, marketers have regular opportunities to re-assess priorities – and if necessary, switch resources in a flexible manner.
Re-designing customer experiences and improving internal infrastructures are long-term projects that are best broken down into manageable stages to ensure success.
These projects require collaboration between stakeholders and co-ordination between disciplines (Sales, IT, Legal, etc.). It is highly likely that opinions will differ. And as such, Digitalisation projects are also change management projects. Ongoing internal communication – with senior management sponsors, stakeholders, peer groups who provide skills or resources, individual team members is a key element of success.
DIGITALISATION IS AN ONGOING JOURNEY
Numerous B2B commentators describe Digitalisation as a journey, not a destination. And while it often begins with optimisation of existing methods, sooner or later the focus shifts to the opportunities for re-designing a Business Model, a Customer Experience or an internal process, with the goal of creating even more effective relationships between Buyer and Seller.
This goal in turn highlights three insights about the most effective way to implement new business processes via Digitalisation:
- ignore vendors claims that they provide a ‘solution’ and instead treat technology as a toolset (best of breed) that will evolve over time;
- the most valuable processes are company-specific, built using a combination of tools;
- company-specific processes are designed and built by people, not delivered out-of-the box .
CORPORATE SURVIVAL IS OPTIONAL
“We’re far too busy with daily business to have time to change our planning methods.” I have heard this comment many times and sympathise with the pressure: I know about life in a busy marketing team only too well. But I don’t agree that this is a safe policy. The impacts of current changes – in political alliances, tariffs and trade, employee skills shortages, new technology and changing business models – are not at all obvious. 2020 will not be a year of economic expansion, prosperity, growth and “a bigger pie” that means larger slices for everyone, but quite the opposite.
Instead, the situation at the start of the 2020s is about far-reaching structural change in society and industry. In B2B markets, established business practices are being uprooted. Customer organisations demand faster innovation and adaptation. There will be increased competition simply to maintain current volumes of business.
In the medium to long-term, outdated products and services will become unsaleable. The number of suppliers will consolidate. Relationships between buyers and suppliers will form around new business models, new constellations of products and services. Right now, the pressure of day-to-day marketing is the greatest threat to your long-term future business prospects.
By planning and implementing major projects as a series of Milestones, you invest this year’s marketing budget in a longer-term future. Alignment of marketing strategy with long-term business objectives provides a framework for clear communication between CMO and the board or CEO.
Defining a Roadmap that shows the current status of people, processes, data and systems is the foundation for your short to medium-term action plan. By defining the improvements to infrastructures and processes that are needed to create tomorrow’s Customer Experiences, you create a vision of the future that describes strategy to the CEO and explains tactics to team members.
It also provides frame of reference for collaboration with other major stakeholders: such as Product Management, Business Development, Sales, IT, HR, Legal and Finance. And at the departmental level, it provides a common language and set of goals for the different teams within marketing: online and offline; digital and analogue; customer-facing and corporate.
A dynamic planning process that increases the frequency of Marketing strategy and planning using a “little and often” approach (quarterly, for example) is a smart idea. One that benefits not only the CMO, the marketing and sales teams, but the entire company as well.
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Most Important New Technologies 1990 to 2015
1. the internet
7. 3G network
8. the cloud
10. social networking
11. open APIs
12. mobile computing
14. 3D printing
Source: Mark Birch