How to Use Scenarios to Achieve Marketing Agility

Agile companies want to be able to rapidly adjust on all fronts, including Marketing. Companies are interested in marketing that’s agile because they believe it will help them deploy the right elements of the marketing mix at the right time to influence the specific outcome they want to achieve.

Scenarios to Facilitate Agility

Scenarios are postulated sequences of events or other developments. Creating scenarios helps you consider a range of possible outcomes and drivers of change. Accordingly, scenarios are a powerful tool for understanding potential situations and then developing appropriate strategies for each of those situations.

In short, scenarios help you anticipate. They help you ask better questions and prepare for the unexpected. They increase your readiness—thus setting the stage for agility. And scenario analysis is an essential part of creating agility.

Creating scenarios that will be useful in helping to make marketing agile requires data and timing information. Therefore, you need answers to the following types of questions:

  • What data can change, and by how much, regarding customers, the market, and the competition?
  • What data are predictive of a key prospect or customer behavior?
  • What data are essential for effectively engaging with customers and prospects?
  • What data are required to support a consistent cross-channel customer experience?

How to Create Scenarios

To effectively use scenarios and incorporate them into your planning, you need to cover the full range of possibilities. They require both art and science, so follow these general principles:

  • Look for events that are certain or nearly certain to happen.
  • Create scenarios that cover a broad range of outcomes.
  • Identify at least 3-5 critical uncertainties.
  • Develop at least four scenarios to address each of these uncertainties. (Why four? So people don’t lean toward the middle one.)
  • Create a weighting scale to evaluate the probability and risk of each scenario.
  • Use the scenario with the highest probability weighting as your primary case.

Before you create your scenarios, however, define your scope and time frame. Ask what information would be of greatest value to the organization at what period down the road. It might help to look at the past and think about what you wish you had known then that you know now. Clarify the issues that are key for Marketing, then identify the industry, political, economic, societal, technological, and legal, trends that might affect those issues. Next, you are ready to identify the key uncertainties—those events the outcomes of which are uncertain and which will significantly affect the issues you are concerned with; note the relationships among those uncertainties, and keep those trends in mind.

You’re then ready to construct your scenario themes. One method is to organize all the possible outcomes from a high vs. low probability and your degree of preparedness. Then…

  • Evaluate each outcome in terms of its likelihood within the time frame.
  • Remove outcomes outside your time frame. Eliminate any that are implausible, inconsistent, or irrelevant.
  • Identify themes that are strategically relevant.
  • Organize the possible outcomes and trends around those themes.
  • Conduct research to flesh out the details and increase your understanding of the remaining scenarios.
  • Evaluate each scenario.

Avoid selecting one or two scenarios immediately and discarding extreme scenarios as a waste because you don’t believe they can happen. Ignoring outer scenarios leaves you exposed to risk and could result in implementing only moderate improvements. Sometimes the most interesting and insightful scenarios are the ones that at first seem the most unlikely.

Pick the scenarios the outcome of which seems most likely, and then create a plan based on each scenario. Include clear contingencies if another scenario—or one that hasn’t been imagined—begins to emerge instead. Insure that each scenario tells a story of how various elements might interact under various specific conditions.

The scenarios you choose should help you develop a strategy portfolio, challenge your assumptions, stimulate internal discussion, and help you detect early warning signals.

Apply Scenarios to Your Planning Process

Companies have employed scenarios in the planning process since the 1970s. Why use them in your planning? Because scenarios help you understand the magnitude of a trend and the uncertainty of your environment. They provide a vehicle for developing a set of strategies that optimize your chances of success under nearly all possible outcomes.

Agility requires having a strategy portfolio—i.e., different strategies at the ready based on a set of possible, realistic scenarios.

When you incorporate scenarios into your planning, you can explore the combined impact of various uncertainties. You can change several variables simultaneously and help identify patterns and clusters among numerous possible outcomes.

Where do scenarios fit into the planning process? They are applicable once you understand the problem you are trying to solve or the outcome you are trying to produce. You build the scenarios after you identify the trends, forces, and uncertainties, and before you develop your strategies.

Again, applying scenarios to your planning process improves your ability to predict and adjust more quickly.

If your organization is new to scenario planning, it may be helpful to engage a third party with expertise in both scenario planning and incorporating it into your marketing plan.

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