A Sureshot and Inverta Webinar Conversation

What Is Marketing Synchrony?

Marketing Synchrony is built around the idea that marketing is more impactful when it is coordinated to achieve a shared outcome. However, many marketing departments have trouble pursuing marketing synchrony. A few reasons for this include engaging in activities that are not connected to the pursuit of a common goal or shared outcome. The growing trend of a distributed workforce also plays a role in the disconnect. While synchrony should be a common goal across all marketing functions, from project planning to activation, and beyond; today we are focusing on how synchrony impacts the activation of campaigns.

Meet Your Marketing Synchrony Panel

David York – Founder and CEO of Sureshot, a technology company that relies on software integrations and services to achieve marketing synchrony and run coordinated, cross-channel, data-driven campaigns using the tools in their martech stack.

Kathy Macchi – Vice President of Consulting at Inverta, a B2B services company that is focused on executive-level advisory regarding demand creation, account-based marketing strategies and activation,  and marketing technology.

Ashley Shailer – Vice President of Marketing at Inverta and webinar hostess and moderator.

Synchrony vs. Agility

Synchrony and agility are not the same thing. Although agility is a popular marketing buzzword, it can often be interchanged with “reactive marketing.” While it’s okay to be agile enough to react to an event, situation or opportunity, it’s better to be more proactive and actually plan for the unexpected.

Ashley: Kathy, what have you observed about organizations that claim to have an agile marketing model?

Kathy: When I hear someone has an agile marketing department, my first thought is:  although the idea of agility is good, agility is not a substitute for having a strategy in place. A lot of “agile” marketing departments participate in fire-drills all day long and this is not ideal for anyone, and it’s certainly not a path that leads to reaching organizational goals. I think people have taken the concept of how agility works for a software start-up or product developer and blindly applied it to marketing, and it just doesn’t work. Being agile makes sense in your execution optimization, but again, it is no substitute for good planning. I believe marketing departments need to have a solid six-month plan in place. Yes, things are going to come up, like market changes, and require a rapid response from time to time, but your reactions and responses should still be on a trajectory that aligns with your overall strategy.

I believe it was U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower who said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” I love that quote because it underscores the truth that you don’t need a plan that is so detailed and overworked that it becomes a heavy burden to execute it. But you do need to work toward some clearly defined goals. My problem with the term agile marketing is that it leads to “random acts of marketing.”

Companies that talk about being agile are often just busy doing stuff and trying everything. It’s like a hamster on a wheel – you end up going in circles and wearing yourself out. Marketers need to step back and think about where and how they need to be agile. Having a strategy and plan in place does not mean you are just plodding along without being agile. It does mean you are being thoughtful in your approach to marketing and determined to work toward a measurable outcome.

Ashley: David, I know sometimes agility is used as a scapegoat for a lack of planning, and that can have real ramifications from a martech standpoint. Will you share with us your views on this subject?

David: In my experience, when the SVP of Marketing comes down the elevator to the marketing department – that’s when you have to exercise agility. When some new campaign or idea gets birthed on the top floor and now it ‘s got to be done, that’s where marketers have to adjust quickly to accommodate whatever mandate has come their way. Fortunately, most marketers are creative and can strike a balance with regard to those elevator moments.

However, when it comes to technology, you can’t connect your apps, systems and programs without planning and strategy. You can’t execute a well-orchestrated and synchronous, omni-channel campaign without planning its coordination on a technical level. Without a strategy, the output of your campaigns, the level of automation, and your overall campaign coordination are going to suffer. You cannot achieve the right outcomes without proper planning. If you are overly agile in your approach, then your campaigns are going to become a one-trick pony from a campaign delivery perspective.

I’m a strong believer in planning things several months out. For example, if you have a campaign that you want to run in three months, then the question you need to be able to answer now is: do I have the tools and integrations in place to execute this campaign? Setting up, automating and executing multi-channel campaigns takes time and coordination. If you wait too long to line everything up, the campaign will not perform the way you want it to. 

Ashley: David, I feel like I had PTSD when you talked about the SVP coming down the elevator – ha! But it brings up a good point and that is: fire drills start at the top. Oftentimes the ones who feel the most pressure to perform are the ones cranking out these needs for additional assets and tactics. Kathy, what do you say to a marketing leader about how to reconcile top-floor demands with the realization that marketing will not be able to achieve what it’s supposed to if we are constantly changing directions every time senior management feels a need to do so?

Kathy: If there is a big change in the market, I think you do need to have a rapid response. Covid is a great example of an unplanned event that required people to respond immediately. Hopefully, we won’t have to have another pandemic for people to realize how important it is to collaborate with one another.  This is why it’s so important to have a plan. If you have a plan and your executive team is asking you to drop everything to respond to something, then, you can show them your plan and say: 

  • Here is what we’re planning to do
  • Here are our current deliverables
  • What would you like to take off of the schedule?
  • Where do you want this project added in?

When executives come down the elevator with an emergency, it’s important to recognize that somehow they feel that something is not being done to address whatever their concern is. That’s why they are interfering. They are not seeing something they want to see. Perhaps it’s an anxiety regarding not getting enough leads in the pipeline, but something is happening to bring them to this point.

Of course, there’s always the issue that everyone thinks they have great marketing ideas. When you have a plan you can show your executives: here’s who we’re talking to, and here’s what we are saying — so what message do you feel is not being addressed?

I had a marketing colleague that I worked with that had a new leader come on board at her company. He kept complaining that marketing wasn’t doing anything, and so she put together about five slides to show him precisely what marketing was doing. In the first slide she explained what marketing does and in the next she explained the roles of each team member in marketing. Next, she went over all of the acquisition campaigns that were running that quarter and then she explained how the acquisition campaigns functioned. Lastly, she showed him the project calendar and he was blown away. Most leaders do not come up through marketing. Just as we must meet our customers where they are, it’s important for us to meet our executives without marketing backgrounds where they are.

Ashley: David,what can organizations do from a technical standpoint to set themselves up for a rapid response situation?

David: I think you have to take a strategic approach. I recommend evaluating all of the martech tools in your stack, so you can identify the gaps. Next, you need to be honest about whether you are “semi-automated” in your marketing efforts. When I say semi-automated, I am referring to marketing departments that have technology to automate parts of the process, but there are human beings performing manual steps throughout other parts of the process. If that is your situation, you will be hamstringed when it comes to anything that requires a rapid response. If things aren’t fully automated, then you are going to have to pull people off of other more strategic and important projects to do whatever needs to be done. If you don’t have your technology stack in order, you will end up having to rob Peter to pay Paul. The best thing you can do in order to be agile is to have your strategy in place and your technology synchronized. You want all of your technology pieces prepped, in place, and automated to a point where things aren’t completely reliant on your team. You want your people to plan strategy, but your technology to do all the heavy lifting of execution.

Ashley: David, I think that is really great, practical advice. So now, let’s recap our discussion on synchrony vs. agility.

Synchrony Is Not Necessarily Agile

Are you being agile or reactive? Here are some areas of caution:

  • Is the word agile used to explain why there’s no time for planning?
  • Have the technical ramifications of programs, campaigns and changes been considered?
  • Do you and your colleagues share the same desired outcome at a business level?

How can you work toward better synchrony?

Ashley: Kathy, if we want to be more synchronous as an organization, what are some of the things that you recommend we do with regard to campaign management?

Kathy: First, you get your campaign plan together. Next, you need an amazing campaign/project manager, who is holding everyone accountable to the schedule. This person essentially manages all of the steps between creation and launch for all of the people involved. Ideally this person is a sort of professional nagger, who moves projects forward by helping team members prioritize deadlines. You might have a great plan, but if you don’t have someone breaking down the project work and prioritizing when each piece is due, your campaigns are not going to make their goals. Plans without accountability are only good intentions.

A good project manager is also able to keep people honest about what they can realistically do in a set period of time. I don’t think people miss deadlines intentionally, they are just overly optimistic about what they can do. They may look at something and say, “O, it’s just a five-minute task,” but what they may fail to consider is that they have 400 five-minute tasks in front of them.

Ashley: I agree, Kathy. I know at Inverta we have become extremely precise about the projects we do regularly, especially with regard to how long they take and what the inputs and outputs are. However, I think companies should also consider the benefits that a third-party project manager can bring to their campaign processes. One of the benefits of a third-party project manager is that they have no political or cultural bias when managing a project for you.

Ashley: David, how do you coach your clients to become more synchronous when it comes to activation?

David: Marketing today has a number of systems in place that all need to be working together. Think of it like a car; there’s the electrical system, the fuel system, the engine, and all of these other systems that must work together to make the car go down the road. In marketing you have multiple systems, too, including data, activation and analytics. In addition, each of these systems has multiple steps, pieces and components that play a significant role in moving your marketing down the road.

Data is a system that has a lot of moving parts. As a marketer, you need to know how you are collecting, cleaning, enriching and sharing data. Campaign activation is another system where you need to look at what parts of this system are working and what needs work. Then, there’s the analytics system. If you have all of these systems in place and they are working well individually, you should be able to focus your time and attention on how to make them work together.

A good example of the need for these systems to be integrated is found in campaign activation. Most companies have content that’s locked up in other systems. You may have a web team and a content team that are pushing out all kinds of great stuff to your website, but if you can’t leverage that content to its fullest potential and use it in all your email and cross-channel campaigns — that’s a breakdown in your system. It’s a case where a lack of synchrony is slowing you down and costing you more in additional content production because silos are in existence.

At Sureshot, we think about all the different systems and how we can optimize each one individually, and then we focus on getting them to work together collectively. Obviously, there’s a human component to all of this, as well, but we tend to focus on the technical side of things, and how we can align and integrate systems to lighten the burden on marketers. 

Ashley: Yeah, the plumbing has to be working, right? How do you feel organizations should be balancing the need for both strategy and agility?

Kathy: I think organizations need to have people who are tasked with working on strategy. I also think it’s critical to put processes in place, so you know how long it takes to bring something from ideation to the marketplace. To David’s point, you need to be able to look at the processes you have in place and identify where the issues are in your systems. For example, are you wasting time waiting on pieces?

Is there a bad apple on the team or are people unaware that they are causing the hold-up? Are there team roles that are missing, such as someone to handle strategy and planning? Here, again I can’t stress enough how important it is for organizations to have clearly defined roles for each team member.

David: We’re a software company, so we do agile methodology on the IT side. One of the things we do when we think about our development processes and timelines is plan for disruptions. For example, when going into a project, we have the known variables, which are: we have X amount of people with X amount of hours. Now, we can factor in additional time for the unknowns based on historical data.  We typically build a 15 percent cushion of time into each project schedule, which enables us to plan for disruptions and be agile in our overall strategy without incurring huge costs.

When you have capacity baked in, if the CMO doesn’t come down the stairs, then you can get things done faster. But if he does, you can relax a little knowing you’ve planned for it. My advice is to look back at the past year — although maybe not 2020 — and look at what disruptions happened. Then, you will have a good idea of where you can add time to projects, so there’s a more realistic timeline for them.

Ashley: Being able to plan for agility is also a morale booster because you can share with your team – hey we planned for this.

Key Takeaways

  1. Project Management
    Don’t skimp on project/campaign management
    Critical to getting things done and keeping people on the same page
  2. Start With One Process
    Lead management, scoring, funnel taxonomy, whatever it may be — start with one process and gain momentum to do another
  3. Agility Does Not Cancel Strategy
    Acting without keeping the larger outcome in mind is not agility, it’s a wasted effort

Check out Part One of How to Create Coordinated Campaigns With Marketing Synchrony.