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Marketing retrospectives give your team the opportunity to improve marketing processes by analysing the good and bad of your campaigns. Agile marketing teams should run a retrospective meeting at the end of every sprint run but this is an important practice, even if you’re not engaged in agile marketing or you run a hybrid system of agile and other methodologies.

In this article, we explain why marketing retrospectives are so important, what you need to run them and how to prepare your first retrospective meeting.

What are marketing retrospectives?

A marketing retrospective is a specific type of meeting that you hold at the end of a campaign (you can find out more about the other types in our guide to running effective marketing meetings). In agile marketing, you run a retrospective at the end of every sprint campaign to review the marketing processes and activities.

The general format of a retrospective is to answer three questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. What went poorly?
  3. What can we improve?

Retrospectives are held with your marketing team (no shareholders or board members) to analyse the specifics of your marketing processes and actions – both as a team and individually.

By discussing the three talking points above, the goal is to generate three key insights from your marketing retrospectives meetings:

  1. What to keep doing for similar campaigns, strategies and marketing actions.
  2. What to stop doing or optimise to improve results in similar scenarios.
  3. What to do differently in your marketing processes for future campaigns.

Here at Venture Harbour, we run retrospectives at the end of every campaign and we also often run them weekly or bi-weekly for long-term and ongoing campaigns.

Why are marketing retrospectives important?

Marketing retrospectives put everyone on the same page in terms of what works, what doesn’t and what you need to improve. Above all, your aim is to improve marketing results by fine-tuning processes but retrospectives also play a key role in maintaining team harmony.

Improve your marketing processes

The primary goal of running retrospective meetings is to take an honest look at your marketing processes and identify opportunities to improve them. At the end of every meeting, you want a list of actionable steps you can implement to improve future results.

Actionable is the key word here and, if you’re not producing these tangible next steps by the need of every retrospective, you need to rethink your approach to these meetings.

Keep everyone on the same page

Marketing retrospectives analyse the effectiveness of your marketing processes and campaign performance. First, you’re looking at results to see what works and what doesn’t. This part is easy because the numbers don’t lie but your final aim in your meetings is to understand the why behind the numbers.

Why did A work? Why didn’t B work?

This is crucial for keeping all of your team members on board with your marketing processes, believing in your methods and following the instructions they’re given. By taking a data-driven approach to retrospectives, everyone can see why these systems are in place and there’s little room for debate.

Acknowledge & celebrate successes

By discussing what worked on a recent campaign, you’re essentially talking about the things you should carry on doing in similar, future campaigns. This is the keep doing what works philosophy but this part of your retrospectives also plays a key role in boosting team morale.

You’re not simply saying X, Y and Z worked so let’s keep doing them, you’re also acknowledging and celebrating the successes of your marketing team. This is an opportunity to say “well done” to the team and individuals for everything that went well on the most recent campaign, which is integral for keeping team members happy and motivated – especially when the majority of your meeting is dedicated to talking about what didn’t go so well.

Create a results-driven mindset

Retrospectives led by reporting and data help you create and maintain a results-driven mindset in your team. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter how great a campaign idea feels at the time of launch if the results fall short of expectations and this is the mentality you want in your team.

Without this mindset, your marketing decisions are always vulnerable to compromise from the most popular ideas, accepted best practices or the path of least resistance – least amount of risk, easiest to implement, etc.

This stifles creativity and makes it difficult to analyse your own marketing processes with impartiality, which is precisely why you need to trust the data. By developing this mindset in your team, you can also promote an environment of innovation where a wider scope of ideas are accepted because you’re scrutinising the results – not the ideas themselves.

Give everyone a chance to raise concerns

Another key role of retrospective meetings is they give everybody a chance to raise any concerns or issues they experienced in the most recent campaign. While the data should guide the conversation throughout the majority of your meetings, it’s important to have space where individuals can put forward their own experiences. You want your team members to know they have a voice and you could learn a thing or two that your data simply can’t diagnose.

It might be a specific software tool that’s slowing people down or lacking a crucial feature. It could be that certain marketing processes are inefficient and force team members to waste time on unnecessary admin tasks. Or you might discover more pressing issues like your remote working system is making it difficult for team members to collaborate at the key moments.

Just make sure the concerns raised are relevant to the campaign you’re discussing.

What do you need to run a marketing retrospectives meeting?

To run marketing retrospectives effectively and come out of every meeting with actionable improvements, you’re going to need a few things in place first.

A meeting agenda

Before every meeting you hold (not only retrospectives), you should create an agenda outlining the key points of discussion and send this out to everyone invited so they have enough time to prepare for the meeting. You want every part of the conversation to have value and every team member to come along with something useful to add.

You can find out out how to create a meeting agenda and use our free template in our guide to marketing meeting agendas.

Campaign results

As we’ve touched on several times already, data is the key ingredient to every retrospective. The entire purpose of this meeting is to review campaign results and get valuable takeaways from this data so make sure you’ve got all of the reports you need in place before you schedule the next retrospective.

Objectives report

While it’s obvious to review the completion of campaign goals in a retrospective meeting, it might not be so obvious that you should also analyse the completion of objectives throughout the campaign. Before we go any further, let’s quickly summarise the difference between marketing goals and marketing objectives, as explained in our Marketing Strategy: The Ultimate Guide:

  • A marketing goal is a broad, long-term result you want to achieve, such as increasing revenue, reducing customer churn, increasing engagement by 40%, etc.
  • A marketing objective defines the specific, measurable actions marketers must complete to achieve specific goals. For example, if your goal is to reduce customer churn, one objective might be to increase email open rates by 30+%.

Essentially, objectives are the milestones you need to reach along the way to completing marketing goals and falling short on these can make it difficult to achieve larger goals.

In many ways, analysing the objectives of your campaign is more important than assessing campaign goals because they often provide more context and detail about the successes, failures and challenges you had along the way.

A log of campaign issues

Speaking of challenges, you also want a complete log of issues raised during the campaign so you can discuss them in your retrospective meeting. You don’t necessarily need to discuss every issue but you will want to spend time discussing problems that still haven’t been resolved, issues that were particularly difficult to overcome or anything that could add value to future campaigns.

You’ll also want to leave space for team members to raise any other issues that haven’t been flagged up or already discussed – as well as any solution ideas that could be valuable.

Solutions report

As well as a log of campaign issues, you should also have a report of the solutions put in place at every stage of the campaign. Generally, you’ve got three categories of solutions: those that solved the intended problem, those that didn’t and, finally, the ones that haven’t yet resolved the issue.

In true retrospective spirit, analysing these solutions will help you identify the fixes that work and could work again in the future – or, better yet, how to avoid the same problems altogether. Likewise, you can try to identify why certain fixes didn’t work and determine whether the approach itself was wrong or whether there were other factors at play.

The more you analyse campaign issues and solutions, the better your team becomes at avoiding similar problems in the future and solving similar issues faster.

High & low points

This is where you discuss the highs and lows of the campaigns and it’s worth approaching this at three different levels:

  1. Campaign highs & lows: The successes and failures of the campaign itself.
  2. Team highs & lows: The best and worst moments for your team, collectively.
  3. Individual highs & lows: The achievements and lessons of each team member.

The reason for this three-tiered approach is that you want to distinguish between campaign performance and team performance while crediting individuals for their achievements while maintaining that results-driven mentality.

The marketing manager or meeting host can lead this discussion by starting with the successes and failures of the campaign to keep these goals at the centre of the discussion. Then, you can lead into the team highs and lows in relation to campaign goals and discuss these as a group. Credit the team for their successes and explore the not-so-great moments to learn from them (this is a retrospective so your aim is to determine what to keep doing, what to stop doing and what to change).

When it comes to individuals, let them speak about their own highs and lows. Ask them to explain what they think their biggest achievements were during the campaign and what they learned from anything that didn’t quite go to plan.

Note, the wording above, too, in terms of only using the word “failure” for the campaign itself. For the team, we’re talking about the best and worst moments while acknowledging the achievements of individuals and talking about “lessons,” not failures.

The aim is to credit teams and individuals for their accomplishments and emphasise the benefit of learning from things that didn’t work – not blaming anyone.

Takeaways

We’ve touched on this couple of times already but you need to go into every retrospective with the expectation of ending the meeting with actionable takeaways. At this point, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves of the key objectives of a retrospective meeting:

  1. What to keep doing for similar campaigns, strategies and marketing actions.
  2. What to stop doing or optimise to improve results in similar scenarios.
  3. What to do differently in your marketing processes for future campaigns.

At the end of each meeting, you want a list of tasks or next steps to take, especially on the final point of what you’re going to do differently. This could involve implementing changes to marketing processes, making slight changes to individual workflows or taking an entirely different strategic approach to similar campaigns in the future.

How to run your first marketing retrospectives

In this section, we take you through the key steps to follow for running your first marketing retrospectives. We’ve got an 11-step process of all the key things you want to cover in your first retrospective meeting, which also acts as a process you can follow and adapt for future meetings.

Here’s a preview of the steps we’re covering:

  1. Create your agenda
  2. Invite the right team members
  3. Analyse campaign goals, objectives & milestones
  4. Discuss campaign issues
  5. Analyse the solutions applied
  6. Determine how to avoid the same failures, low points & issues
  7. Analyse your marketing processes
  8. Analyse your toolkit
  9. Evaluate goal ambition
  10. Ask attendees to raise any other issues
  11. End with an action plan

Essentially, all of the steps in this process are geared towards achieving the final, eleventh step of producing an action plan from every marketing retrospectives.

Step #1: Create your agenda

We’ve talked about agendas several times already in this article and this is always the first step of running any marketing meeting. Again, you’ll find everything you need to know in our guide to meeting agendas, which explains how you can create an agenda for each meeting by including the following elements (a template is included):

  1. Meeting name/type
  2. Meeting goal
  3. Metrics & KPIs review
  4. Performance analysis
  5. Achievements
  6. Challenges
  7. Goals & objectives review
  8. Budget review
  9. Ideas & issues
  10. Takeaways
  11. Next steps

You’ll notice several of these elements overlap with the steps we’re discussing in this 11-step process for running your first retrospectives. This is no coincidence because your agenda acts as the guide for your meetings, ensuring these steps are followed and all of the key points are covered in your meeting.

The two most important elements on your agenda are the second and the last: the meeting goal and the next steps (ie: the action plan). Every meeting you hold should have a clear goal and, in the case of retrospectives, this is identifying ways to improve the effectiveness of your marketing processes.

You may have more specific goals for certain retrospectives, such as identifying why a specific solution failed to solve the problem in question but it all comes back to learning lessons that improve your marketing processes – and it’s your next steps/action plan that will achieve this.

Step #2: Invite the right team members

You should always aim to invite the relevant people to marketing meetings and avoid having anyone in the room who doesn’t need to be there. For retrospective meetings, you’ll normally invite the whole marketing team (at least, everyone who was involved in the campaign) but you may also invite other individuals for specific parts of the meeting – for example, programmers if there was a marketing issue related to a feature rollout, product update or any other development activity.

Step #3: Analyse campaign goals, objectives & milestones

We’ve touched on most of this during several parts of today’s article and determined the difference between goals, objectives and milestones. Essentially, your aim here is to achieve three things in this part of your retrospectives:

  1. Acknowledge & celebrate achievements of the campaign, team and individuals.
  2. Determine why any goals, objectves or milestones were missed and learn from these reasons for future campaigns.
  3. Review marketing processes to do more of what works and fix what doesn’t.

While it’s important to acknowledge achievements, the bulk of your retrospective should focus on identifying why any goals, objectives or milestones were missed and how to avoid this from happening in future campaigns.

Step #4: Discuss issues encountered during the campaign

At this point, you want to discuss the issues encountered throughout the campaign in two broad categories: the issues you managed to resolve and the ones you didn’t. In the next section, we’ll talk about analysing the solutions you applied to each of these problems but, for now, the priority is to determine whether any of these issues were unavoidable.

For this, you need to understand the root cause of each issue so you can decide whether you have the means of preventing them from happening again. If you don’t already have the preventative means, you can discuss ideas to test for future campaigns that might avoid the same issue or mitigate its impact.

For example, if campaign progress was held back by a dip in traffic in early Q1, you might discuss ideas to boost traffic from other sources for the same period in future campaigns.

Step #5: Analyse the solutions applied to the above issues

While there are two broad categories of campaign issues to discuss, there are three categories of solutions, as we explained earlier.

  1. Solved the intended problem
  2. Failed to solve the problem
  3. Haven’t yet solved the problem (but might)

Solutions that solve the intended problem are successes in their own right so you should take the time to acknowledge and celebrate these. More importantly, these are the successes you can often learn the most from because they overcame unexpected challenges.

With solutions that failed to solve the target issue, you have to try and determine why no resolution was achieved: was the approach itself wrong, do you lack the required processes to make this solution work or were there other factors that made the solution ineffective in this specific case?

Ongoing solutions or any that generated inconclusive outcomes are worth analysing, too, within the context that they could still solve the issue or may have better success in different circumstances – the challenge is pinpointing what these specific conditions would be.

Step #6: Determine how to avoid the same failures, low points & issues

Once you’ve analysed the failures, low points and campaign issues (while also acknowledging successes), you have to determine how these negative outcomes can be avoided in future outcomes. The answers lie in your data and the bulk of your retrospectives should involve analysing the numbers to find these answers. Avoid opinion and speculation at all costs.

If you can’t find answers in your reports, determine why this data doesn’t exist and whether this means your analytics processes need reviewing. Then, you can discuss ideas to test that may prevent or solve the same negative outcomes in future campaigns. This test and learn approach means that, even when you’re coming up with ideas to improve marketing processes, you’re always allowing the data to prove the effectiveness of changes, not intuition.

Step #7: Analyse the effectiveness of your marketing processes

By this point, you’ve finished analysing the campaign in question and it’s time to step back and take another look at your marketing processes. You want to identify whether any aspect of these processes contributed to negative outcomes or made positive outcomes more difficult to achieve.

For example, a common issue many marketing teams have is that it takes too long to get new campaign ideas or resources launched. In other words, the processes of planning, ideation and implementation are too inefficient for the team to put marketing actions into effect quickly enough. This makes it difficult to respond to campaign issues – even if the idea itself is solid – because performance drops too far by the time you implement fixes and/or there’s not enough time to get things back on track.

Step #8: Analyse your marketing toolkit

Technically, this counts as an integral part of your marketing processes but even the best processes can fall short simply because the wrong tools are being used – so it’s worth taking a look at this separately. Also, the best people to discuss this with are the team members who are using these tools every day and have the working experience to judge whether they’re up to the task.

Step #9: Evaluate goal ambition

At the end of a campaign, you should have a good idea of how ambitious/achievable the goals were, especially once you’ve analysed everything in your retrospectives. Certain processes and strategies may have overachieved while some objectives could have been very difficult to reach – in some cases you may fall way short of expectation or overachieve by a wide margin.

With this information, you can now say whether the goal set for the campaign was ambitious enough. Obviously, if goals are too easy to achieve, this suggests you’re not aiming high enough while you may need to adjust your expectations if you’re constantly failing to achieve results.

As with most things in marketing, there’s a fine balance to strike between ambition and results.

If you feel your team can achieve bigger things, this is an important message to deliver to shareholders and executives who may be willing to make more funds available.

Step #10: Ask attendees to raise any other issues

You should always make space in retrospective meetings for team members to raise any issues or ideas that haven’t already been discussed. When you’re creating your meeting brief, you should include all of the key points that will be covered in the meeting and send these out to attendees early so they have time to prepare for the meeting. If you have time, it can be worth getting feedback from attendees before the meeting so you can add any points they raise before hand – again, this allows everyone to prepare.

Even after doing all that, allow time for attendees to raise any points that didn’t make it into the discussion or came to mind during the meeting while others were talking.

Step #11: End with an action plan

The goal of every retrospective meeting is to end with an action plan of next steps to follow and you want to specify time frames for these. At the very least, you should consider the five following types of next steps to specify by the end of every retrospective:

  1. Immediate tasks: Tasks individuals and teams need to complete as soon as the meeting is over.
  2. Short-term tasks: The items that should be completed on the day of the meeting or a fixed short-term deadline.
  3. Mid-term tasks: These should be completed by the end of the week or a specified deadline.
  4. Long-term tasks: Tasks that probably extend beyond the current campaign, which should be added to the backlog.
  5. Nice-to-dos: Tasks that would be beneficial to undertake if the opportunity presents itself.

You want to assign these tasks at the team level and individual level so everyone knows what they’re supposed to do next and in similar, future campaigns.

Improve your marketing processes with retrospectives

The overall goal of retrospective meetings is to clarify the causes of successes and failures so you can keep doing what works and improve what doesn’t. By running regular retrospectives, you analyse individual campaigns but you also assess your marketing processes to identify weaknesses, complications, productivity killers and other systematic issues getting in the way of your marketing performance.

Hopefully, this article will give you everything you need to run your first marketing retrospectives or make your meetings more effective if they’re not producing meaningful insights or actionable next steps. As always, let us know in the comments below if you think we missed anything or you have any other suggestions for running retrospective meetings that improve marketing results.

Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a copywriter & digital strategist specialising in helping agencies & software companies find their voice in a crowded space.