When you start a new marketing program, your goal should be to start as small as possible. We call this a minimum viable marketing program (MVMP). You might recognize the idea. While it’s a straight lift of the term minimum viable product (MVP) from the startup community, but the concept is just as applicable to marketing. By starting with a minimum viable marketing program, you can ensure success by leaving time and budget to adjust course while setting more reasonable expectations with stakeholders.
Ensure Success (or Fail Fast)
We marketers have a vision. A lot of vision. We visualize our big ideas gaining traction, getting passed around and snowballing into something bigger. And we never think about failure.
But all the careful planning and research in the world won’t guarantee your next campaign or program will be successful. The fact is, humans are unpredictable. If we weren’t, all of us marketers would have been replaced with computers long ago.
In investing there is a concept called downside risk, or the possibility of an investment’s actual return being below the expected return. If you think of your marketing programs as investments (and you should) then it becomes important to manage the downside risk on those investments. If I were your stockbroker, how would you feel about me placing the next 6-12 months of your income into a single stock?
If we start with the smallest possible marketing program, we can prove the viability of the overall idea, concept, channel or “hook” for the smallest investment possible. If we see traction, we can iterate, improve and grow into that initial investment. If there’s no traction, we have managed the downside risk and can safely kill the program without upsetting stakeholders or incurring significant losses.
An MVMP ensures we never put ourselves in a position of, “but I have to make this program work because we’ve invested so much money into it.”
Leave Time and Budget for a Pivot (or Two)
I wish we could all get it exactly right the first time. But I can tell you the Nostradamus gene isn’t in my gene pool and I don’t know anybody else with a perfect track record either. The beautiful thing about a MVMP is that you don’t have to get it right the first time.
Eric Ries, the individual behind the Lean Startup movement, coined the term “pivot” to apply to startups changing direction in their core business. The idea being that the business keeps one foot firmly planted and shifts direction toward a new market or objective. In the startup world, the foot you keep planted might refer to a core technology or competency. In the terms of a marketing program, it might refer to a key creative idea or communications channel.
Say you have a program which is converting visitors to your landing page, but the media supporting the program is failing to get people to your landing page. In that instance, you might keep the landing page the same and re-evaluate your targeting methods or the type of advertising you are using.
When we launch a big campaign, it makes noise. Our goal as marketers is to make noise with our target audience. However, whether we attract the attention of our target audience or not, another audience is sure to notice – our executive team, shareholders, partners or other stakeholders. And when they see the rah-rah-rah of the big campaign, they are going to wonder two things: What did this cost? And when can I expect the business to roll in?
By starting with an MVMP, we have the opportunity to scale back our program to test the core ideas, targeting method, media channel, and content. And we do so quietly.
If we set up our program as an MVMP, we’ve already communicated that this is a pilot to our stakeholders. They have low expectations out of the gate. If it works, we expand the targeting. We add layers. We experiment and iterate. And before you know it, we have positive results pouring in before the stakeholders take notice of the money we’re spending to do it.
With a big campaign you generate exuberance followed by potential disappointment. With an MVMP you generate cautious optimism followed by surprise and delight. And who doesn’t want a little more surprise and delight?
Build on Your Insights
I’m not a huge sports fan. But I’ve spent time with a few very enthusiastic sports fans over the years. I love watching a game with someone who catches all the subtleties of each team’s actions. One of the subtleties I usually miss, but my friends catch, is how the teams adapt to each other over the course of the game.
When a team starts a game, they come in with some preconceived notions of the best strategy to beat their opponent. Based on what they know of the other team before the game, they put forth their best plays, coverage tactics, or other strategies. But as the game unfolds, the team is constantly taking what works, doing more of it, and adapting it.
By starting with a minimum viable marketing program, our game has an opportunity to develop more slowly. We have an opportunity to gain insights into our personas – how they react to certain content, which channels they live on, etc. We can do more of what works, less of what doesn’t and adapt as the game plays out. Every insight gleaned feeds our strategy for the next layer — and the benefits compound.
I can’t stress enough the advantages of starting small. It’s not easy. Our marketing minds have such great vision and often so little patience. It’s hard to fight that feeling that we are missing opportunity by delaying adding scale or depth to the program. But the returns are there. Go ahead, design your super-deluxe-ultra-mousetrap program, but start by finding some mice and making sure they like your cheese.