What It Isn’t
The term “agile marketing” has been bandied about quite a lot recently and there’s still some confusion on what it actually is … and what it isn’t. Let’s talk about what it isn’t:
- Being ready to make spur-of-the-moment social media posts to take advantage of trending topics and hashtags.
We’ve seen big brands doing just that – seizing the opportunity to “newsjack” hot hashtags and using them for their own promotion. Case in point: Oreo’s famous “You can still dunk in the dark” Super Bowl tweet or Nokia’s tweet-jacking of Apple’s release of brightly-colored phones.
Some large corporations have even recruited entire teams who are dedicated to sitting in an office during big events like the Super Bowl, ready to pounce on tweetable activity – a significant marketing investment to jump on a news headline that may just go viral!
Although I would certainly agree that this type of activity is nimble, opportunistic and requires thinking on your feet, it doesn’t come close to the true definition of “Agile marketing” or “Agile for Marketing”. (Nor is it necessarily conducive to driving revenue for the respective businesses.)
True Agile Marketing
I like to think of Agile marketing as turning your marketing department into a “lean, mean marketing machine” using the Agile framework. It’s a system adopted from the Agile software development model which has been around for over 2 decades and is a strong contrast to the traditional waterfall method of development that permeated the software development industry until the advent of agile. Writing a marketing plan that covers the next 12 months of the marketing agenda is no longer a viable solution. With the oodles of data that we now have at our fingertips, and the constant hunger for communication of our consumers, planning for much shorter periods of time is the only way to go.
The Agile methodology, from a marketing standpoint, lends itself very well to projects that have short feedback loops and short shelf lives. It’s also perfectly-suited to those projects that have high uncertainty and an unpredictable nature – app development, paid search, social media, SEO, web development. So the digital marketing space is an ideal candidate for agile because it mimics the way that software development cycles work – plan execute, learn, adapt…
Here are some of the features of agile methodology which turn those of traditional marketing on their head:
- Short, customer-focused prioritized cycles (called sprints) that are 2 weeks to 1 month in length of work done by small teams
- User stories that focus on the customer experience and distinguish what needs to be achieved during each cycle
- Concentration on a heads-down approach during each sprint (no interruptions)
- High level of collaboration between team members – cross-functional and cross-organizational.
- Short, daily stand-up meetings – scrums – (which should last no longer than 15 mins). These meetings will focus on what’s done, what’s working and what’s keeping the team from doing more (impediments).
- Ownership and accountability of each deliverable (product) by a product owner who represents the interests of the stakeholders
- High level of transparency between team members with open sharing of tasks and sprint status
- Numerous data-driven testing experiments at the end of each sprint to promote optimal performance
- Regular review of accomplishments and lessons learned from the last sprint – retrospectives
Companies such as Amazon, Hubspot, Cafe Press and Xerox have been leveraging an agile marketing strategy for a few years now, but don’t necessarily follow the true Agile processes outlined in the Agile Marketing Manifesto. We’ve found that a hybrid style of agile mixed with traditional waterfall methods can work very well, and we’ve seen major benefits such as the ability to manage priorities better, increase productivity and project visibility and boost team morale.
More Responsive, Better Decisions
With the ability to launch online campaigns and creatives quickly and get immediate feedback on whether they’re working, iterative and frequent testing is the backbone of the process, and budgets can be managed more efficiently than with legacy marketing models.
To be a customer-centric business today means that you, as a marketer need to be able to think and act in real-time. Shortening the time between analytics discovery sessions and pulling data insights fast and often, is a signature characteristic of the “Agile Way”. As a result, decision-making becomes sharper and easier, allowing CMOs to solve the attribution puzzle and, in turn, drive revenue.
Smaller Units of Production
…marketing professionals are faced with a new age of engagement – an age in which a series of targeted short-term promotions or messages are beginning to outperform more traditional long-term “integrated campaigns”.
Breaking the work down into smaller units such as “micro-campaigns” makes things more manageable and optimizable. For example, in a content marketing scenario, splitting your content releases into smaller chunks, testing them “out in the wild” and then republishing the pieces which were most popular – all within a 2 week window – allows much more accuracy in honing in on the best content.
Agile is very multi-task-based in the sense that several efforts could be in progress at any given time during a sprint, using a queuing system. But if something more urgent comes up during the sprint, priorities and resources can quickly be shifted to focus on the new task. (This scenario uses Kanban principles). The result? Multiple deliverables are completed in two weeks or less, and the team is constantly making room for new ones. Traditional marketing methods don’t allow for such adaptability as you’re stuck in much longer development cycles and limited to the manpower and resources originally assigned to the project.
Agile marketing promotes internal collaboration amid cross-functional groups with diverse skills. Your company’s business, marketing and sales departments are encouraged to share insights and ideas between them and become highly collaborative when it comes to making decisions. An example would be the CIO and the CMO having a much closer relationship in the planning and work phases, because technology and marketing are so tightly-bound in the digital marketing space.
Agile also strives towards laser-focused communication with the customer. Keeping your finger on the pulse of what the customer wants at any given time, and delivering exactly that, is an integral part of the iterative nature of agile. (highlight to tweet)
After all, it’s the buyer, not the seller, that has seized control and sets the terms of the relationship in today’s New Age of Digital.
Taking the Plunge into Agile
Start small. Pick one small project or campaign as a pilot and transition it to agile. This way you’ll be able to take a slice of your marketing process and run an experiment on it. At the end of the experiment, you’ll use the data to gauge how successful the effort was in comparison to your legacy marketing process.
A microsite development, an app, digital advertising – projects that have short feedback loops lend themselves very well to this initial transition.
Having executive sponsorship for the effort is ideal. Figure out how Agile can work for your unique situation and leverage it strategically. There are no hard and fast rules – just getting the correct mix of Agile into the system to make it run like a well-oiled machine! (highlight to tweet)
Agile marketing doesn’t have to be as dogmatic as the original Agile software development methodology, since it’s sometimes necessary to tweak the processes to suit the project at hand. Indeed, certain aspects of the marketing machine don’t even lend themselves to “Pure Agile”. And that’s OK! However, when the basic principles (listed above) are embraced and followed through, many positive changes can be made.
At the end of the day, Agile is a framework, but if you can stick to the majority of the ceremonies like scrums, sprints, backlog grooming, they can be modified to suit your individual needs. Keeping the core rituals intact, in our experience, is very useful. How you go about running the planning meetings, using story-points or not, using planning software such as Jira or Trello – none of this is important. What is important is getting the team engaged, communicating and collaborating. In fact, as a starting point, we’ve found just a whiteboard or blank wall and sticky notes are perfectly adequate “tools” to get the ball rolling.
Agile marketing is slowly being adopted by marketing departments in a wide range of verticals. In this Tweet Chat run by Content Marketing World with Andrea Fryrear, CMOs and marketing professionals have chimed in on how they integrate agile into their companies and what agile marketing means to them.
Do all processes of marketing merit being turned into Agile ones? Not necessarily. It’s in its infancy as this article is being written, but is likely to soon become a disruptive force in the way that marketing in the modern day is performed.
- http://earnworthy.com/agile-marketing-tools-tactics-frank-days/ [PODCAST]