Tuesday Thought: Be Inflexible

Why flexibility is not a plan...

Greetings from [undisclosed location].

I got some great feedback from my sister-in-law yesterday:

“Your newsletter frequency is too high.”

So thank her for why I didn’t write one yesterday.

Today’s newsletter is part 1 of a 2-parter.

It’s about 2 different marketing podcasts I listened to recently, that struck a chord with me.

I usually hate marketing podcasts. If you have any recommendations, I’m all ears.

The next newsletter sponsor is locked in. Get yours now. $5.02. @danny-weisman. Inflation hurts.

Let’s think…

Tuesday Thought

The first podcast I want to talk about today is a recent Digiday podcast with Pereira O’Dell president, Natalie Nymark.

You can check it out HERE.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Pereira O’Dell is a full service creative and media agency.

The topic of the podcast was 2024 media planning.

According to Natalie, budget planning for “next year” is happening earlier than ever.

While her agency usually has conversations with clients about the next year starting in October, this year, they’ve been happening as early as July.

This was lightblub #1.

For smaller brands not committed to TV upfronts, I do think it’s fair to think of the planning cycle more so on the Jewish calendar than on the traditional one.

Like the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, mid to late September is basically the start of the new year. The “oh shit” moment.

Let’s get our shit together and start thinking about what we want to accomplish in the next year.

And like Yom Kippur, it’s a good “let’s repent for our sins” moment.

Let’s reflect on what worked and what didn’t in the last 12 months, promise to not make those mistakes again, and start building a new strategy or plan that will make us more committed to our principles for the next 12 months.

That will set us up for a roaring Jan-Mar, a solid Apr-Jun, and a sleepy Jul-Sept, and then we’ll do this whole thing over again.

The rest of Nymark’s interview though was when the real, non-religious lightbub went off.

When asked what the theme of 2024 planning will be, she said “flexibility.”

You can read more at the link I shared earlier, but the gist is - if your marketing plans aren’t flexible next year, and if they don’t have flexibility levers built in, you’re doomed.

I’m going to argue that it’s actually quite the opposite.

I’ve written about this before, but marketers have never been more scrutinized to perform and impact the businesses they work for.

So much so that it’s leading to many marketers opting to cover their ass over driving real business impact.

“Flexibility” is similar. It’s a dirty word that’s basically a synonym for fear.

Flexibility sets you up for failure in a few ways.

First, in 2023, two things are probably true:

  • It’s never been more expensive to reach your audience with marketing

  • Your marketing budget has never been lower

There’s a good chance that these things will continue to be true in 2024.

In Natalie’s world, flexibility means parking some of your already limited dollars on the sideline, and using them only when an appropriate opportunity strikes.

That would essentially mean marketing your brand with one hand tied behind your back, in an already expensive marketing environment.

Instead of fully funding your media plan to succeed from the get go, you’re purposely playing from behind and not letting it reach its potential.

Second, planning for flexibility means planning for invisibility.

The most flexible media channels are often the ones that are most behind the scenes. The ones you’re most “blind” to as a consumer.

Search. Display banners. Etc.

And when marketers opt for flexibility, they take the money from non-flexible channels.

Aka, the most visible, impactful ones that are actually best suited to build your brand for the long run.

Things like TV, OOH, partnerships, tentpoles, etc.

There’s a reason they’re premium, and that they come at a high cost with limited flexibility - they’re more exclusive, and often, more effective in the long run.

The third and final reason to not plan for flexibility?

It pulls you off course.

Nymark said something to the effect of, “flexibility should be the plan.”

But flexibility is not a plan.

A plan is a differentiated way your brand needs to show up in the market to stand out, capture attention, and build a connection to sell a product or service.

That plan takes commitment. It takes overcommitment. It takes saying no to a lot of things, and yes to only a few, in order to achieve it. And it takes time.

Flexibility means none of that.

It means initially saying no to something, but then saying, “just kidding, I meant yes.”

It means pivoting.

It means loose commitment, like saying yes to Friday night plans you don’t want to go to, when in the back of your mind you know you are going to cancel the whole time (I should know, from experience).

It means short dopamine hits of “low” customer acquisition costs to prove to your boss you know what you’re doing, instead of putting the brand on a path for long-term and durable success.

By the way, I’m not saying it’s always bad to be flexible. I’m reading Michael Schur’s book How To Be Perfect (much better than Rick Rubin’s piece of shit garbage).

In it, he explains that Aristotle wrote that in order to truly flourish and be happy, we must become fluent enough in each virtue, as to be flexible in it for when new situations arise.

So we, like the best comedic actors, can improvise our way through it.

My beef with flexibility though in Nymark’s context is that it rarely seems to favor incredible acts of marketing.

It rarely favors the bold.

Sure, there is the spur of the moment social post or jumping on a cultural trend that grabs a PR headline.

But I find that these are few and far between.

And, when the economy gets tough, it’s hard to not read between the lines at Nymark’s words and infer that she’s talking more about cutting things that work for things that say they work.

The thing is, I feel for Nymark and her agency.

Clients will unfortunately, more often than not, pull all agencies to flexibility.

Their necks are the actual ones on the line for performance.

But the worst thing we can do as agency partners is give into that.

I’ve been there before, and I’ve hated myself for it.

Because I know it’s the answer they want, and it’s the wrong answer.

We need to collaborate on building a path, and sticking to it.

And being mostly inflexible to achieve it.

Flexibility is not a plan. If it is, it’s a plan for short-termism.

And it’s a plan for failure.

Stay thinkin,