The second quarter of the financial year is going to start in a matter of weeks, giving you ample opportunity to reflect on what the year may have brought so far. If your company has not progressed to the point you’ve wanted it to, could it be that the marketing strategies you’re employing are outdated?
Some companies experience a modicum of success with a single marketing strategy and then ride it until the wheels fall off. Since this marketing technique was useful to them once, this company might not stop to think whether the same strategy still serves them as they’ve advanced and changed.
In other instances, a company might start doing things one way, then they experience such massive growth that changing their methodology seems too time-consuming and difficult. Yet if your company is hurting yourself by sticking to methods that no longer work for you, it’s worth considering a refresh.
Waterfall marketing, while not new, is a reliable strategy that marketing agencies and companies often use. If you’re not familiar with waterfall marketing management, you’ll want to keep reading, as we’ll explain it ahead. In this article, you’ll learn about the waterfall approach, the advantages and disadvantages of this model, and how to make your own waterfall marketing charts.
What Is Waterfall Marketing?
Before we can get into any of that, we want to begin with a clear, concise definition of waterfall marketing. The waterfall method refers to planning your marketing needs and execution in a linear format. It’s named after a waterfall–a body of water that flows downwards–because the model mimics that same style.
The logic flow starts at the top of the model and then ends at the bottom, reaching several key points along the way. The example we have to show you even looks like a waterfall, what with the blue color-coding and the organization of items. While this may not always be the case for your own waterfall model, the illustration may help solidify the concept.
Image courtesy of MarcTech
8 Phases of Waterfall Marketing
- 1. Conception
- 2. Information gathering and initiation
- 3. Analysis
- 4. Design
- 5. Construction
- 6. Testing
- 7. Implementation
- 8. Maintenance
There are generally eight common phases of waterfall marketing, but some industries may omit certain phases or even condense them so there’s fewer, as the example above shows.
The Phases are as follows.
The first phase is starting at the very top of the waterfall with conception. The project or product is identified here, as is a plan to complete that project or achieve the goal.
2. Information gathering and initiation
Before further work is done, the company must dig around and get more information on what it will take to make the project a reality. Nothing moves forward yet, but at this point, the company is more well-informed on the effort required. If this seems feasible enough, the company moves on to the third phase.
That third phase of waterfall marketing is the analysis phase. This is yet another introspective time in which your company reviews the upcoming project from all angles. Methods or tactics that may bring about its completion can get tossed around and battered down, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Instead, by the fourth phase, the design phase, that’s when ideas begin to really come together. Any useful suggestions brought forth during the analysis phase could now contribute to the design of this project or product. That said, just because something is included in the design stage does not mean it will make it all the way to the finished product, so to speak. We’re only halfway done through the eight phases by this point, so a lot could still change.
While not always referring to construction in the literal sense, this fifth phase is all about making things happen. You’ve analyzed your idea and designed it, so now you want to make it into a reality.
Before anything goes live into the world, it requires testing, and this project of yours is no different. Thorough testing must be performed to find any flaws within; when these are detected, they will need to be ameliorated quickly before being released to the public. That’s why the ideas that were presented in the early stages can get phased out later, especially during this critical testing stage.
If all is well to this point, then it’s time to implement the project or product and officially put it out into the world as something people can buy and use. This should only be done after repeated testing reveals there’s nothing wrong with the product.
Finally, your company would enter the eighth and final stage, maintenance. This is where you address complaints that may come about from customers and see if something can be done to make the product even better.
You can use the waterfall methodology for all sorts of things, such as developing a stronger sales pipeline, moving your company’s marketing to automation, or any other tasks that arise as part of a marketing agency’s daily duties.
What Is the Waterfall Approach in Marketing? Agile vs. Waterfall Marketing
We can’t have a discussion about waterfall marketing without talking about agile marketing as well, as it’s a strategy that’s often lumped together with the waterfall method. First, let’s define agile marketing, then we’ll compare and contrast it with the waterfall approach.
What Is Agile Marketing?
Agile marketing is a strategy intended for better organization across offices of all kinds. Utilizing cross-functioning, teams are organized among themselves to work better together and get more done quickly. The point of agile marketing is to promote a marketing department’s efficiency, flexibility, quality, and speed.
To do their jobs the most effectively, an agile marketing team should look at a list of incoming projects and select the ones that seem to be the most valuable to them. Then, they’d review analytics and related data on the project, which updates over time, to get the project off the ground and even into the hands of customers as a completed product if that’s what the work requires.
There are three frameworks of agile marketing: scrumban, scrum, and Kanban; here’s an explanation of all three.
- Scrum: The scrum method is intended for speed, with project duration as little as one week at the shortest and four weeks at the longest. Each of these weekly or multi-weekly periods represents a different marketing cycle.
- Kanban: As an alternative to scrum framework that’s more direct, Kanban centers around workflow visualization. Sticky notes or cards may be used so all team members understand what the workflow is supposed to look like, with transparency and communication two key trademarks of the Kanban model.
- Scrumban: As the name suggests, scrumban combines both Kanban and Scrum methodologies into one framework. This means high visualization while also maintaining flexibility and speed for great results.
The Similarities and Differences between Waterfall and Agile Marketing
Waterfall and agile marketing share some traits, in that they’re both marketing strategies that firms and agencies use every day. They also involve a well-defined structure, although that structure can change depending on which agile framework you decide to use.
Otherwise, the differences are far clearer, such as the very nature of both methodologies. Take, for instance, the waterfall process, which focuses more on the big ideas that come up around marketing. Every last facet of your project needs to be planned, discussed, analyzed, and tested from beginning to end. For that reason, the duration of a project creation from beginning to end can take months.
If you recall, agile marketing strives to close that distance, putting out products or projects within weeks, sometimes as few as seven days. In doing so, it’s not necessarily about cutting corners or looking at things with a less analytical eye just to get something done. Instead, teams are mobilized to bring out the best in everyone.
Also, since agile marketing doesn’t have as many phases as those associated with waterfall marketing, there’s more room for improvisation and creativity. Testing can occur early on in the agile marketing process or later depending on where it’s needed, not only because it’s the fifth or sixth stage in a model like it is with the waterfall methodology.
The Waterfall Model: Advantages and Disadvantages
That’s not to say the waterfall methodology isn’t valuable for some marketing companies, as it absolutely can be. While we do suggest weighing the differences between agile and waterfall marketing carefully, you should also read on to this section, as we’ll now discuss the pros and cons of the waterfall model.
The Pros of Waterfall Marketing
The biggest advantage of the waterfall methodology by far is the great attention paid to detail. The eight waterfall steps needed to plan the conception of a project from beginning to end leave nothing to chance. A plan is created, it’s spoken about, it’s set into motion, then it’s tested before anyone outside of the company ever gets to use it. Even once the item/product goes live, the last stage of waterfall marketing calls for monitoring and maintenance.
Few things are worse than a marketing company making an embarrassing yet preventable gaffe. If your company could have avoided such a mishap through a little more research, planning, or time, then the waterfall model suits you especially well. This marketing strategy will ensure nothing slips through the cracks and gets missed. Your company’s reputation can remain sterling, ensuring you drive more business in the future.
Besides the time and effort that go into the making of a waterfall marketing strategy, another benefit would be the deadlines. Sometimes, projects can drag on unnecessarily, but that won’t be a problem with the waterfall process. From one phase to another and then all the way to the eighth and last phase, deadlines are set that have little flexibility. This keeps everyone accountable and on-task from the beginning of the project to the end.
The Cons of Waterfall Marketing
That said, for as advantageous as waterfall marketing can be, there are some downsides we must discuss next. For one, the lack of flexibility is a problem, as the waterfall method is quite known for its rigidity, especially when compared to agile marketing. For that reason, if your projects start as one thing and quickly evolve into a whole different beast early into the conception stage, you may have to abandon the waterfall model for one that’s more relaxed.
The time that goes into the eight phases of the waterfall methodology can also be a bit much for some. As we said, compared to agile marketing, in which project delivery can happen in days or weeks, the months at a time the waterfall process requires is indeed a little lengthy. If time is money, then you don’t want to waste any unnecessary time, and the agile model has far more output for less time spent.
The late testing phase of waterfall marketing can also be an issue for some companies. Let’s say you had an idea for a project/product, but it wasn’t the best-conceived idea, even if no one picked up on that for a while. This project passed through the first several phases of the waterfall method without any red flags, until it reached the testing phase.
It was only then that you realized there were several holes in your project that were pretty insurmountable. By this point, you’ve already invested so much time and likely money to create and test this product that abandoning it outright seems like a huge waste. You’re left with two options then: to proceed anyway with something that might be a buggy mess or to start from scratch with a lot of time and money lost.
While yes, you could always go back later and fix this product so it performs better during the maintenance stage, by then, the damage could already be done. Your customers may have bought/downloaded the product and found that it’s not to their expectations, which hurts their perception of you.
Is Waterfall Marketing Right for Your Business?
By this point, we’ve compared and contrasted waterfall and agile marketing. We also covered the pros and cons of the waterfall methodology for your consideration. Now it’s time to make a decision, and it’s quite a big one: is waterfall marketing the best marketing strategy for your company?
To answer that, you have to look deeper into the type of business you run. As we mentioned in the last section, if your company is the type to have wild ideas that start as B but look more like N by the middle stages, then such a project is likely too advanced and rigid for waterfall techniques. You’re likely to feel pigeonholed and even trapped with your project due to the tight processes and deadlines necessary with the waterfall marketing method.
If you have a project that you intend to be shorter-term, then you’re better off using agile marketing over the waterfall process, as it’s not conducive to you getting your project done on time.
Also, if you’re the type of agency that shifts from one idea or project to another before necessarily completing the first one, you might want to refrain from the waterfall method as well. It requires you to stay focused on Project A before attempting B, C, D, and even E.
What about when you should use waterfall marketing? There are plenty of instances of this, too, such as if you’re developing a product for the first time or improving upon a preexisting product. You can put as much time as you wish into the research, testing, and feedback before the project ever goes live. This allows you to produce a high-quality product that’s in line with your company goals and values.
If you’re a B2B or even a B2C marketing firm that deals with lengthy sales cycles, the waterfall methodology is a natural fit for your company. The way you must pass certain benchmarks or goals before moving onto the next is very reminiscent of the way your business already operates, making it easy to adjust to a new marketing strategy.
Sizable projects that could really put your company on the map deserve more time dedicated to them, in which waterfall marketing is also suitable. You’ll quite appreciate the conciseness of every step in formulating a fantastic new project for your company.
How to Create Waterfall Marketing Charts
You’ve decided you’d like to use the waterfall method as your marketing strategy going forward. To get started with that, it helps to have your own waterfall marketing chart. What should one of these charts look like and how would you even go about making it?
Waterfall marketing charts, sometimes just called waterfall charts, are a type of marketing graph that displays your final value.
Your chart would begin with an initial value, such as a goal or project. Then, you’d cover all the intermediate values that could affect your project along the way, both bad and good. For example, perhaps you go over budget or a key company member exists the company. Both would be detrimental to your final goal, so you’d have to accommodate for these. Even if your company has a boom month and you get an influx of cash for your project, that could speed up completion time and thus must be considered.
You’re then left with the final value, which may look somewhat different from the initial value (although hopefully not too different).
As a marketing company, you can make your own waterfall marketing charts to track blog traffic, traffic sources, leads, or any other important metric that matters to you at the time.
Image courtesy of HubSpot
The above is a visual example of a waterfall chart; yours may look similar, in that you can map out data for a year, or you could do less, such as several months. Also, this chart goes into a lot of detail in terms of positive and negative intermediate values. Instead of simply calling these good or bad, the chart reviews all positive gains, all negative gains, all positive losses, and all negative losses. These are then tallied up into gain or loss subtotals.
If you don’t want a marketing waterfall chart that’s as complex, especially if this will be your first one, that’s your prerogative. Here are the steps to follow to make your own waterfall marketing chart today no matter how involved it gets.
Step 1: Open Microsoft Excel and start a new blank table. In your table, you want to add the values you’ll use as the backbone of your waterfall chart, be that traffic, opt-ins, or the like. This will require you to add the data manually, so take your time. To keep track of whether your values are positive or negative, always add a minus sign or a negative sign in front of a negative number.
Step 2: When you’re pleased with the progress of your Excel waterfall chart, select all the values in the chart so they’re highlighted. In the Excel menu, click Insert, then Chart, and finally, Waterfall Chart.
Step 3: Clean up your waterfall chart if all the formatting isn’t perfect; you can do this in the Chart Editor, which you can see by selecting the three ellipses on your chart. In the Chart Editor, you have the freedom to toggle gridlines, a chart legend, or bar colors.
Step 4: Save your chart, print it if you want, or send it among your marketing team members to discuss the results.
It’s also possible to make a waterfall chart in your favorite marketing software, but this will depend on which software you currently use.
Given how easy it is to create waterfall marketing charts, you can quickly begin studying the analytics and metrics that matter most to your company in your waterfall campaign.
Waterfall marketing is a type of marketing strategy that follows a top-down format, much like the waterfall, it’s named after. Many marketers use waterfall methodology all the time, especially when planning large projects that are more time-intensive.
Another marketing strategy that the waterfall method is often compared to is agile marketing. This is a shorter-term method that’s not as rigid as the waterfall process. While both marketing strategies have their own pros and cons, waterfall marketing works for many companies, maybe even yours. Best of luck!