Reactive Marketing: 4 lessons learned in building an agile marketing plan

It was the Fall of 2014. Bill Gross just announced that he was leaving PIMCO and his flagship fund to join Janus. This created a bit of a stir during a rather steady market. Our team turned on the afterburners to respond to this event but, in a large organization, being agile and responsive is a pain point, especially in a highly regulated industry. Briefs had to be written and approved while planned campaigns were deprioritized and resources reallocated to jump on this opportunity.

During this time, I was brainstorming with my VP, trying to identify a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt project. It was a requirement for me to obtain this certification. We were a bit stumped on what would be the most impactful process improvement for the team, while this need stared us in the face. Colleagues were outside the door, bartering their offspring and limbs to get assets built and out the door. When it clicked that we should build a new, more responsive marketing process to respond to events like this, we were a bit hesitant knowing the uphill hike it would take to recommend a more agile process for our organization. I was given time to think about the challenge and I dug into identifying the value.

It was benchmarked by Morningstar that PIMCO lost nearly $48 billion in outflows from Gross’s departure, with more than half occurring in the last days of trading in the September following his move1. At that time, it was taking our team an average of 79 days to get from plan to publish. While we did respond to this event and even trimmed our run rate down to less than 30 days, we missed out on some of that asset-gathering opportunity. We knew that we had to develop an improved process to get competitive, and that to be best-in-class, our quick-response marketing needed to hit within 24-hours of any event like this.

As I was analyzing our current process, I concluded that it wasn’t flawed, it just wasn’t designed with speed in mind. My organization was good at building custom campaigns with striking messaging and material. It’s like comparing fast food to 5-star dining. To be best-in-class responsive, we needed a process more like McDonalds.

Here are lessons I learned leading a team that built an agile plan to be in-market within 24 hours of a major economic event:

Senior Leadership Sponsorship
Outside of the hard work from our working team, much credit of success goes to my VP for championing this initiative to peers across the enterprise. In the initial phases, we were getting pushback from stakeholders doubting success was possible. This wasn’t the first attempt in the organization to build a quick-response procedure. There was definitely a barrier here, but my VP greased the wheels by providing awareness to senior leadership, enabling negotiation and approval of service level agreements (SLAs) to go smoothly when we transitioned into the later phases. Also, senior sponsorship was selected from Product and Distribution, giving the different pillars of our organization stake in the outcome.

Takeaway: To ensure your success, get backing vertically and horizontally across your organization. This enables your working team to be change agents, knowing they have their leaders’ support to break down barriers and the authority to innovate.

Cross-enterprise Representation
Due to the “Center of Excellence” structure of my organization where horizontal support teams serve needs of all vertical businesses, there are a large number of stakeholders that need to be informed about new procedures. I built a working with representation from each team that contributes to the campaign process. Going broad with the team resulted in the need to extend our initial timeline because of meeting scheduling, but the result was exceptional. This larger team was a bit reserved in the first couple meetings, but then the magic happened. Stakeholders went from just informing the process to being vested in owning the process. We efficiently built a comprehensive plan due to the all-inclusive working team. Also, because these stakeholders were part of the larger working team, and would be the same team leads during the live version of the campaign, there was little training needed at the back-end.

Takeaway: Cross-enterprise representation from a large working team isn’t lean, but I recommend having everyone in the same room while building your process. It enables a collaborative and transparent light to guide you through the journey.

Definition and Approval of Events
It was apparent that this new process fulfilled a need, but it wouldn’t replace the normal campaign process. The foundation of the new process had to center around defining requirements and approvals. What are the requirements to activate this quick-response process and who has to approve it? Given the dynamic of the asset management industry, the need to be reactive can overlay an extensive set of factors, whether they be market-related, like a severe correction, or firm-related, like Bill Gross’s departure. We approached the defining of events in broad strokes to allow for a high ceiling of agile movement. But the approval process would be extensive. It would required unanimous senior leadership approval from Marketing, Product, and Distribution. This would ensure that the pillars of our organization were on the same page with a direction shift from our current in-market focus.

Takeaway: Establishing a clear definition of qualifying events and required approvals to activate a quick-to-market campaign is key to success. This speed of process means associates have to go above and beyond. To ensure engagement, do the due diligence in building an extensive approval process to prevent any false-starts, wasted resources, or unaligned teams.

Menu Templates
To meet the 24-hour requirement, we needed to find a solution to deal with leadership and compliance regulatory approvals. What typically takes weeks needed to be condensed to a few hours. It was apparent that there was no time for briefing on creative or the experience. It was also a tall order to get Compliance reviewers comfortable with agreeing to the need for speed when reviewing new collateral in a matter of hours. So we put the cart before the horse.

We built a campaign that would resonate over a multitude of events, aligned it with our value proposition, and gave Compliance the time needed to get familiar with the assets prior to a live event. A campaign of templates for materials from email to social media content was built using open copy blocks and different versions allowing for customization defined by the event. The campaign is 90% built, ready to be used at the drop of a hat. Knowing tactics and having a campaign plan in advance means we only needed to write copy to drop and go.

Takeaway: The expectations to build a campaign entirely from scratch within a few hours isn’t attainable, regardless of the industry or regulations. Pre-building templates and a campaign that aligns to your value proposition allows your brand to flex and be agile when your customers need the support. You may have to sacrifice a level of customization or personalization, but when your audience needs a meal on the fly, they don’t expect restaurant level service, they are fine with fast food.

As you can guess, this project was an uphill hike. It took us about 10 months to get from the “Define” phase to the “Control” phase, with the majority of the time spent in the “Improve” phase. The pressure to deliver in a timely matter, knowing any day could be a day that you need to react may keep you up at night; having this campaign on the shelf, ready to lean into means you need a few less sheep to count.

If you have a leader who is asking you to spearhead this type of project or an executive that needs innovation to occur within the team, use this insight to give you a head start. Feel free to reach-out if you have any specific questions.

  1. “Pimco Sees $48 Billion in Outflows After Gross Departure” The Wall Street Journal, Kirsten Grind, 5 November 2014.
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