Change is prolific in marketing today. From programmatic media buying to the death of the third-party cookie, or providing ROI of marketing activities, change in this industry is inevitable. Yet one aspect of marketing and advertising has seemed to avoid evolution — the campaign.
Advertising campaigns have historically followed a predictable lifecycle: conduct market research, decide on a target audience, set a budget, design the creative theme, select channels, schedule media, and execute the campaign. Once executed, media runs until a predetermined date, when the campaign is usually scrapped and replaced with something new. In fact, it’s odd if a campaign runs indefinitely.
While the tried-and-true method of time-boxed campaigns have been practiced for decades, and even romanticized thanks to the Mad Men of the 1920s, campaigns leave gaps in messaging, miss out on valuable insights, and make it nearly impossible to measure ROI.
Replacing Campaigns With Programs
Unlike campaigns, marketing programs run indefinitely for as long as they produce a return on investment. Rather than letting a campaign run for a predetermined amount of time, reporting on the results, and then brainstorming a new idea, marketers ensure a marketing program is profitable by regularly analyzing data and making frequent optimizations to messaging, bids, creative and targeting.
By frequently optimizing a program’s activity, marketers improve or iterate upon, their advertising based on data that proves what is and is not working. This not only ensures that marketing dollars are being spent where their value has been proven but produces greater and greater returns over time. This continuous improvement is a fundamental difference between marketing programs and campaigns.
Another point of differentiation between marketing programs and campaigns is that programs use creative that has been tested and proven to resonate with an audience based on data or experimentation. Gone are the days when advertisers can think that “cool creative” is all it takes to capture an audience’s attention. The creative may be “cool” and the message may be catchy, but unless data proves it is receiving engagement from the right audience, there’s no reason to continue paying for or promoting it.
Breaking the Campaign Pitch Cycle
Marketing programs do not follow traditional campaign pitch cycles. While campaigns are pitched in grand proportions, marketing programs are best executed when they start small as minimum viable marketing programs (MVMPs).
We liken minimum viable marketing programs to the process of planting a seed. A seed must germinate, grow roots, stems, and leaves and then mature before it grows into a recognizable plant. By starting with an MVMP (your seed), you can closely monitor a small iteration of your marketing activity before increasing its scale, investment and reach. In essence, you are “testing the waters” before sailing out to sea. Minimum viable marketing programs are excellent ways to test the effectiveness of marketing to a new geography or target persona and advertising a new product or service without a large investment.
Moving from Campaign to Program
If your existing marketing activities are already following a traditional campaign cycle, there are ways to integrate aspects of marketing programs into your work. We recommend finding opportunities that can become repeatable or continuous within your existing campaign.
For example, if one aspect of your advertising campaign includes the marketing of a white paper, consider testing different white paper titles, or different creative. Run the winning version of your variable until you see diminishing engagement (we recommend checking the effectiveness of your media on a monthly basis). When engagement declines, test a new version of creative, or another variable of your choosing, and repeat the process indefinitely, or as long as the budget allows. Making these frequent optimizations helps your program improve and adapt over time to the changing needs of your audience.
Google Ads is a great illustration of how marketers making small changes to an indefinite program see long-term ROI. When marketers regularly optimize keywords bids, text ads, and placements in paid search, campaigns increase in overall click-through rate, quality score, and search impression share over time. Plus, they maintain a consistent presence with their audience.
Are You Ready to Replace Your Marketing Campaign?
While the idea of “killing” the marketing campaign might sound harsh, maintaining this outdated pitch cycle can cause more harm than good for your marketing activities. By learning to embrace the idea of a continuous marketing program, brands and clients will benefit from consistent exposure with their audience, data-proven creative and messaging, and ever-improving ROI based on frequent optimizations.
Not sure if it is time to kill an underperforming marketing tactic? Download our free decision tree, “Is It Time To Kill Your Underperforming Marketing Tactics?” to help you decide.