Ruthless prioritization: The key to marketing momentum

In order to do our best work we have to stop spreading ourselves, our budget, and our team too thin.

Most marketing fails to deliver its maximum potential. And the reason is simple: lack of prioritization. 

“If we just had more time and resources then we could produce a better result.”

This might sound familiar. In fact, most marketing teams are drowning in work, overwhelmed with requests, and unable to keep track of everything that’s happening.!


I’ve worked with marketing teams of all sizes across a wide range of industries and it’s often the same scenario — complete chaos. You’re not alone.

If marketing organizations hope to deliver on the promise of marketing then we must address and fix this fundamental problem. Marketers have a responsibility to recognize and accept that this problem is within their control. 

It’s time for ruthless prioritization.

Accepting limitations

Capacity is arguably the biggest challenge facing marketing teams. In today’s environment there are so many options and avenues to explore in order to pursue the goals of marketing.

There are dozens of ways to reach your ideal customers with new channels and distribution methods popping up constantly. Change is the only constant of marketing. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with the persistent barrage of updates and algorithms. And new tools and technologies lure us in with their bold promises of better, faster, and easier results.

On top of it all, the marketing organization is inundated with innumerable requests that pile up and create a massive logjam. 

When will we get all of this work done? And how will we ever achieve our goals?

If we are to be successful as marketers we must first accept our limitations. After all, we have finite time, resources, and energy. 

There is an important difference between the limit of what we can do and the limit of what we can do exceptionally. The most successful marketing teams are the ones that focus on the latter and not the former, which happens to be the lower limit.

I’m fond of the analogy from Jerry Weinberg who calls it the “Law of Raspberry Jam”. The more you spread it, the thinner it gets.

For our marketing efforts to be impactful we must stop spreading ourselves, our budget, and our team too thin.

Ruthless prioritization: The key to marketing momentum

Prioritizing ruthlessly

As marketers, we like to think that great marketing should be complicated or complex. After all, doesn’t more effort and involvement imply, and justify, an increased outcome?

There isn’t enough capacity, time, or budget to waste on marketing that doesn’t work. We must be critical of every initiative from the beginning before embarking down a road destined for disappointment.

For every initiative we undertake, we must understand how big of an impact it will have on our results and how confident we are in our ability to achieve that impact.

In short, we must prioritize ruthlessly.

Prioritizing ruthlessly is a simple process that:

  1. Applies an objective and consistent evaluation filter to every initiative and commitment
  2. Rigorously focuses on ensuring confidence and consensus among decisions
  3. Allows the marketing organization to evolve and make smarter bets over time

In other words, every initiative must pass a trial by fire. And every decision is revisited, reviewed, and used to tweak the prioritization process. 

The obvious outcome is that only a few priorities emerge as worth executing. But the secondary outcome is just as valuable, if not more-so.


Stop turning around

Imagine taking a road trip and making a few wrong turns. No big deal, right?

Now imagine making wrong turns so often, and needing to turn around time and again, that you run out of gas before you reach your destination.

That’s exactly how most marketing teams approach their marketing. Taken off course time and again from internal requests, the promise of a new channel, or adopting new technologies.

Prioritizing ruthlessly helps prevent your team from wasting time, money, and effort on useless activities, assets, and endeavors that wouldn’t have a major impact anyway. In other words, it stops your team from having to turn around more than necessary.

Marketing strategy is what sets the final destination. Ruthless prioritization is the GPS system to keep your team on the fastest and most direct route.

How to prioritize ruthlessly

There are four steps to prioritizing ruthlessly and the entire process is collaborative, fosters useful discussion, and takes little time.

Here are the steps, demonstrated via example of a marketing team considering which marketing events to pursue and invest in.

Step 1: List out all of the potential activities, efforts, or decisions

Write down every event and the high-level details (name, date, brief description). Share the list with the team who will help evaluate the potential alternatives to select from. Everyone will have their own opinions and biases of which events are best, which should be chosen, and which are a waste of time. These opinions aren’t bad (they might actually be right), but they can’t be accepted blindly.

Step 2: Map the list of items onto the prioritization matrix

One at a time, place each event onto the map based on the two axes:

  • Potential: How much will this move us towards our goal and produce the desired result?
  • Confidence: How certain are we that we can realize the expected impact?
Ruthless prioritization: The key to marketing momentum

For instance, one event may have a huge attendance of ideal customers (a high potential) but it may be our first time attending that event (low confidence).

The team — as a group — decides where to place the item on the map. This is where the discussion and debate enter the picture. Go back and forth until the team comes to a consensus on a reasonable place for the item.

During this mapping process, the team can discuss ways to mitigate risks, improve odds, and thereby move the placement of items on the map. For example, attending a big event for the first time is a risk and constitutes low confidence, but perhaps there are partners you could work with to increase the confidence of being able to successfully participate or sponsor the event. If so, that would raise the confidence of attending the event.

Step 3: Identify the Top Choices

Items located in the top right quadrant of the map will reflect those that have a high potential of success and that the team has a high degree of confidence in achieving. These are the top choices, but we’re not done yet. It’s time to be even more ruthless in our prioritization by passing each of these items through a series of filtering questions.

If there are too many items in the top right quadrant, take only those items that fall within the extreme top right corner of the map and continue on.

Step 4: Evaluate & Reject Options

The last step is to take each item and ask the following questions, keeping in mind that eliminating options is desirable. If too many options pass through your filtering questions then the team’s assumptions or objectivity may be faulty.

Here are the questions to answer for each option:

  • Why now? Justify the immediate need and identify dependencies.
  • What’s better? Compare the alternatives to this option and ensure it is the superior choice.
  • What if we don’t? Uncover the risks of not choosing this option, or if it is chosen and fails.
  • Are we ready? The final question to ensure that the team accepts this as a priority.

After answering each of these questions for the remaining items, the decision will become clear. The items that have survived this quick yet rigorous process are worthy of becoming full fledged priorities—and nothing else.

These are a starting set of filtering questions you can use. As your team embraces the process and revisits the outcomes of their choices, they will develop more filtering questions that will help in further tightening the selection criteria.

Building marketing momentum

Prioritizing ruthlessly doesn’t end once you decide and commit to the finite set of actions you and your team will pursue. Having a retrospective at the conclusion of every effort is a vital part of reflecting on whether or not it was a valuable priority to have selected. 

Whenever an initiative is completed and it was deemed a successful and worthwhile priority, celebrate with your team. And if it wasn’t successful or worthwhile, reevaluate the assumptions and data points used to accept it as a priority, then tweak the prioritization filter accordingly. This often takes the form of notes, guidelines, and additional questions you and your team develop over time.

Marketing isn’t going to slow down. In fact, it’s only going to keep accelerating. Things will continue to change because that’s what marketing does best.

The most successful marketing teams are those who can embrace the volatility, maintain the requisite speed, and prioritize ruthlessly.

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About The Author

Tim Parkin is a consultant, advisor, and coach to marketing executives globally. He specializes in helping marketing teams optimize performance, accelerate growth, and maximize their results. By applying more than 20 years of experience merging behavioral psychology and technology, Tim has unlocked rapid and dramatic growth for global brands and award-winning agencies alike. He is a speaker, author, and thought leader who has been featured in AdAge, AdWeek, Inc, TechCrunch, Forbes, and many other major industry publications. Tim is also a member of the American Marketing Association, Society for the Advancement of Consulting, and an inductee to the Million Dollar Consulting Hall of Fame.

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