Picture this: You just finished a creative brainstorm, full of enthusiastic new marketing ideas from your colleagues. Coffee fueled, you open up the Google Doc, buzzing with potential viral hits and Webby contenders. You can’t wait to get started on next quarter’s planning.

Then, it hits you.

How do I even choose what to do next?

No matter which area of marketing you’ve worked in, you’ve likely dealt with the great white whale of good idea prioritization.

A naturally creative endeavor, marketing can be riddled with dreamy ideas that are all reasonably cool or enticing to try, yet it’s naturally impossible to accomplish them all.

Simple prioritization (marking things as important vs. urgent) can sometimes be enough to move forward. But building a marketing machine that is repeatable and scalable can benefit tremendously from a straightforward, consistent framework to vet every new idea.

While many of these frameworks are born from the product world of feature prioritization, they can also be a beneficial tool to vet large campaigns, experiments, new channels and website optimizations for your brand.

Here are three simple prioritization frameworks that help you separate high-quality ideas from the crowd.

Three prioritization frameworks:

  1. Value/Effort Matrix
  2. PIE Framework
  3. RICE Framework

Value/Effort Matrix

One of the most straightforward frameworks to start with is a 2×2 priority matrix that shows ideas on two axes: value and effort.

In the case of marketing campaigns or content ideas, the concept of “value” can be subjective: Either value to the business (if it’s a brand or revenue-generating campaign) or value to the audience in terms of the type of information it gives. The effort refers to the time and effort it would take to get the idea off the ground. The 2×2 matrix is a good filter since it essentially allows you to bucket your ideas into four quadrants:

The Quick Wins: High Value, Low Effort

Ideas that are quick to accomplish, resonant with value and would take minimal effort—either few stakeholders or little time to complete. Sharing a meme on social to get your brand into the conversation or a small optimization on your website to dramatically change conversion rate could fall into this category.

The Big Bets: High Value, High Effort

Ideas simultaneously high in value and high in effort are worth pouring energy into but can be considered riskier because of the effort involved. Reframing them as “big bets” acknowledges the risk and value. Something like a Superbowl commercial, which has almost guaranteed awareness and brand impression, could fall into this category.

The Backups: Low Value, Low Effort

Low-effort ideas are often worth doing simply because they are low investment, but ones in the “low value” quadrant can be considered backup ideas–nice to have, but usually good to fill in the gaps if there’s time.

The Time Sinkers: Low Value, High Effort

Also known as the money pits or white elephants, these are the ones you should aim to avoid. These ideas could be considered ambitious, but it’s an easy filter for your list if they give back limited returns, have an unclear impact or have an especially heightened risk.

While they could look like big bets on the outside, the insight and data behind them (or lack thereof) can plummet them quickly. Take something like making a music video or having your engineering team make a fun pop-up in an app–both ideas seem cool but certainly labor intensive. They may not be the first candidates to prioritize.

A matrix showing where priorities fall in terms of both effort and business value

Ultimately, it starts with aligning what “value” means to the team and what budget constraints exist. It’s rare that money gets consistently poured into big bets.

PIE Framework

The PIE Framework builds on the Value/Effort matrix by breaking down value a bit further. PIE stands for Potential, Importance and Ease. 

Potential

Potential refers to the impact based on the size of the audience, and more specifically for experiments, an estimated lift to a metric (like traffic to a website or conversion rate on a sign-up page). A campaign with high potential could be run on a high-volume channel or broadcast to a large audience.

Importance

Importance refers to the impact based on your company objectives. This is an important lever away from the Value/Effort Matrix since there could be very important company initiatives that don’t have especially high potential. These are the things you simply must do.

Ease

Ease refers to the complexity and time demands of the implementation, very similar to effort from the Value/Effort Matrix. Anything that takes time, has technical dependencies or requires many cross-functional stakeholders would continue to be high.

Implementing the PIE framework is as simple as listing ideas and giving them a PIE score, ranking each dimension from 1 to 5. In this case, a 1 would be very low viability (low reach, low importance and incredibly complex) whereas a 5 across the board could signal a huge win.

An example of the PIE Framework scoring system

 

While something like a Superbowl spot could be incredible for the company, it also requires a lot more investment than posting a Little Miss Meme. This framework is a simple way to rank-order initiatives by putting more thought into what potential and importance means for each idea.

RICE Framework

Taken from the world of product management feature prioritization, the RICE Framework works similarly to the PIE Framework by adding a new component: personal confidence. RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Effort and Confidence. 

While Reach, Impact and Effort are fairly easy to connect back to the definitions of value and effort in the above frameworks, adding confidence as a lever allows you to devalue ideas with less insight or data backing.

An example of the RICE Framework scoring system in a matrix

 

While a back-to-school video could have scored highly in a PIE Framework, it could be something entirely new or risky for the company to try–adding the confidence lever allows you to levelset.

When should you prioritize?

Prioritization can be a double-edged sword–while it does help you better rank and organize ideas, there are also many times when prioritization can slow you down.

For bigger companies, urgency can take over priorities regularly. New bugs, PR emergencies and reactive needs are alive in every company and can often trump formal prioritization.

For smaller companies, prioritization might be futile because of the inherent level of risk. Almost every idea could be a “big bet” or “time sinker” simply because it hasn’t been done and there are resource constraints.

But, if you have lots of ideas and you want to sell some more than others, prioritization can not only be a good way to find patterns in your best ideas, but it can also be a strategic way to show that you are conscious of evaluation.

One difficulty in a corporate environment is coming up with an extremely exciting idea and removing ego from the equation to pull the plug on it before it goes too far. Frameworks allow you to remain objective, removing your own emotion from planning and judging everything on the same merit.

At the very worst, prioritization frameworks can help you think deeply about what “value” means for the organization and make you a better strategic marketer in turn.

Ready to take your prioritization to the next level? Get a lesson from Sprout’s social media team on communicating your social media marketing priorities to outside stakeholders.