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Marketing
Hasse Jansen, 08 Dec '16

The ‘Hypothesis-Driven’ Marketing Strategy

The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. Continually test and refine a network of hypotheses to keep marketing relevant.

There were times when a good idea now, would still be a good idea next year. You could confidently plan ahead marketing activities for months, and marketing plans lasted an entire year. There was a “BIG idea” approach to marketing strategy, developed by top marketers with almost supernatural powers. It was based on the opinion of people who knew it all.

Now, fast forward 20 years later, it seems even the present is going… ehm, fast forward. Big marketing plans become outdated before execution starts. In 2016, most static marketing documents become useless pretty fast.

The traditional BIG-idea-marketing-plan becomes less relevant every month from its creation onward. You’d wish it was just ‘useless’, but in can be even worse. When you’re chained to activities you agreed upon 10 months ago that now even counteract your cause, you’d prefer not having any marketing plan over a binding outdated plan.

Wouldn’t it be great if your marketing strategy would actually become móre valuable month-over-month? That’s the whole point of investing right?

Make your marketing plan more valuable month-over-month. Make it hypothesis-driven! Click To Tweet

To keep your marketing strategy aligned and relevant throughout the year, you have to take a radically different approach. Let me introduce you to the network of hypotheses that is your new agile marketing plan.

The traditional versus the ‘hypothesis-driven’ marketing plan

When we were younger, there was this thing called the ‘market research’ phase. Surely, there are some situations left when extensive research yields useful information, but in today’s complex and volatile environments there is often no time for elaborate studies.

There is no time for defining marketing challenges properly and there is no time for listing a generous collection of solutions to be carefully considered by a panel of ‘yesterday’s experts’ that gather once a month to drink wine, eat French cheese and do a bit of marketing. And who then bet the entire budget on a single horse.

When environments are so volatile that new challenges pop up and new information becomes available before you can make sense of yesterday’s best practices: go hard and go early. Leave the competition to figure out how you pulled ahead, in a 6-month long investigation.

Nowadays research is not a phase in marketing. Today, marketing = research. It is about continuously adjusting activities to find the perfect product-market fit and associated proposition. Select the most promising hypothetical goal or solution early on and attempt to refute or confirm it. Ship early, get your products out the door and see what sticks.

Or as leading strategy professor Liedtka puts it:

“In an environment of ever-increasing information availability and decreasing time to think, the ability to develop good hypotheses and test them efficiently is critical.”

Create a network of hypotheses while keeping an overview

Moving with the times and being agile is not a game of “who can plow through chaos the fastest”. It is not about doing more phone calls or patching up a host of confusing problems quicker than the competition. Agile marketing, when you do it right, involves a lot of strategizing.

In essence, the agile marketing plan is a network made up of hypotheses about which goals to pursue to take the company from the present to the desired future. What we call a ‘goal tree’ is a visualization of which commercial results are expected to be required for the achievement of higher goals.

An agile marketing plan is a continuously updating network of strategic hypotheses. Click To Tweet

Any result achieved for any of the sub goals should have an influence on their respective parent goal. Think of it as a provisional, dynamic but well aligned value chain of goals that ends with marketing success.

The agile marketing strategy does not include descriptions of tasks to be performed. Those will be decided upon along the way, based on the latest input.

Continuously update the network after hypothesis confirmation or refute

When you’re done outlining the first version of your network of hypotheses in a goal tree: go live! Your hypothesis driven marketing strategy that will undergo a theoretically infinite number of iterations along the way based on new insights acquired.

Now is the time consumers can judge your performance. Continuously monitor how your customers like what you did. Your hypotheses about what goes on in the complex and fragile mind of the consumer may well be refuted, but when you’re working with an agile marketing plan, that’s nothing to worry about.

You use information the consumer has given you to your own advantage and formulate another, more suitable, hypothesis to be tested in the next sprint. You iterate to improve goals and their alignment in the ‘goal tree’ to get ever closer to your big goal. In a hypothesis driven strategy you replace the big plan with the big goal.

However, you may never reach your big goal. Just as you are about to reach it, consumers are likely to change their behavior. But you will be light on your feet, conscious of where they went and ready to chase them down much quicker than the competition.

You can never really win at marketing, there is no referee blowing a whistle to say the game has finished, but with an agile marketing plan, my hypothesis is that you will be ahead of every other marketing organization out there. Which makes you a winner in my book.

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