Increasing Productivity, Relevancy and Results – A Marketer’s Guide to Agile

Agile marketing guide for business leaders and CMOs

“Agile Marketing” brings about 350,000,000 in Google search, but is it truly a more effective approach to marketing or mostly hype soon to be replaced by the next trend? To understand why going Agile might be one of the smartest moves your company can make, take a deep dive into the world of Agile marketing.

The Origins of Agile

In 2000 at Oregon’s Rogue River Lodge and again in 2001 in Snowbird, Utah, a very frustrated aerospace engineer named Jon Kern and a band of 11 other equally frustrated software development leaders gathered to discuss the challenge that was killing their industries:

Application delivery lag.

The problem? The time between requesting a software solution and actually having the solution in hand was three years. In aerospace and defense, the lag time was as long as 20 years.

It took so long that by the time the solution was delivered, the systems, requirements, and sometimes even the team that had made the original request had changed.

Something had to be done. Enter Agile Software Development – a methodology that enables teams to respond and adapt to quickly changing conditions by working incrementally and iteratively, allowing for real-world, real-time feedback during the process and, thus, ending application delivery lag.

Fast forward to 2012.

A different band of thought leaders – this time from the marketing industry – gathered at an event called Sprint Zero with the goal of creating the future of modern marketing.

The challenge was similar. Marketers had learned that their carefully staged approach to creating and executing plans was resulting in too many missed opportunities in today’s fast-moving digital world. Marketers painstakingly planned campaign strategies for months only to find their work irrelevant by the time it made its way through the rounds of feedback and layers of approvals.

Marketers realized they needed to become Agile, and the Agile Marketing Manifesto was born.

“We are discovering better ways of creating value for our customers and for our organizations through new approaches to marketing.” (Agile Marketing Manifesto)

Why Agile Marketing?

Agile marketing uses an iterative process to develop and test marketing campaigns, working in short increments rather than lengthy periods of time. By capturing data that provides real-time feedback, teams are able to evaluate, adjust and iterate to the next step very quickly.

High-performing Agile marketing teams are able to run multiple campaigns simultaneously while continuously launching and testing new ideas – all without the typical chaos associated with most marketing operations.

To enable this type of speed and efficiency, Agile marketing follows a disciplined and intentional process for prioritizing what to work on and preventing inevitable fire drills from derailing projects in progress. Agile marketing dismantles outdated systems and practices that make it unnecessarily difficult and frustrating for marketers to keep up, achieve their goals and deliver results for their companies.

The Time Is Now

Rapid changes in technology continue to push companies to rethink the way they do business. The greater number of opportunities and significantly more competition for a customer’s attention call for more flexibility and a faster, more effective decision-making process.

In other words, it requires a drastic change in how companies approach marketing. Agile offers a solution for managing marketing in the age of constant change.

The Benefits of Going Agile

Gaining clarity around the value of this approach will be a critical first step in championing change within your organization. What benefits can you expect from going Agile?

  • Save money and time: Agile’s iterative approach and frequent testing lead to faster insight, which means you immediately can cut what’s not working rather than invest additional time and resources going down the wrong path.
  • Strictly focus on top priorities: Agile marketing’s very nature and supporting processes ensure that focus remains on delivery. Firmly following established and agreed-upon priorities prevents daily interruptions from getting in the way of the big picture. In fact, the Agile process forces healthy boundaries and empowers individuals and teams to say no to immediately jumping on anything that’s not a priority.
  • Increase collaboration, transparency and shared accountability: Marketing’s accountability for attaining ROI is often made more difficult by functional silos that still exist in most companies. Yet, the collaborative, open nature of the Agile process creates a foundation for cross-functional teams that depend on each other for information and insight.

Is Agile for Your Company?

Shifting from a traditional to Agile mindset – becoming Agile – will require making significant changes in operational structure and company culture.

However, simply adopting Agile techniques – doing Agile – can still make a big difference in the efficiency of your daily operations and the overall effectiveness of your company marketing.

Doing Agile

Doing Agile requires deeply understanding the underlining methodology of Agile and adopting Agile-specific management processes and tools.

Processes and Practices

Agile processes and practices, once committed to, will organically change a company’s culture. So in addition to being a required tool for doing Agile, they also provide the structure for more easily and quickly becoming Agile.

It’s important to realize that Agile marketing is a model and has its own language (e.g., chickens and pigs, burndown charts, user stories and other Agile marketing terms). So to strictly follow the Agile practice, you’ll need to learn the language and all the steps and processes involved.

However, no “Agile police” will show up in your lobby if you don’t use the language or follow the model exactly. So feel free to ditch the terms, coin your own, try out various aspects or simply incorporate the general philosophy. The idea is to generally get a feel for what it means to do Agile.

Here are just a few Agile marketing practices that will help you pave the way to executing the approach (whether you use the language or not):

  • Scrum Teams: The scrum team is the collaborative, cross-functional team that follows Agile practices in order to plan and execute projects.
  • Sprints: Scrum teams work in short-length (1- to 4-week) iterations called sprints. Each sprint has a defined set of project deliverables that are evaluated and incrementally improved upon in the next sprint.
  • Priority task setting: The team starts with the sprint planning session to agree on priorities up front. This provides the rationale and motivation for the discipline needed to stay on task.
  • Taking of ownership: Once priorities are set, ownership is actively “taken” by the team members – not assigned by a manager. With practice, the team learns how much capacity it has and, thus, what it can take ownership of during a specific time period (the sprint).
  • Daily stand-up meetings: Also called a scrum meeting, it’s the daily check-in – limited to 15 minutes – where team members report on what they did yesterday, what they’ll do today and any roadblocks in the way. Fun fact: the scrum meeting is where pigs and chickens appear.
  • Using a shared project management board: Called the burndown chart, it arranges all projects according to their priority. Each project is then moved along the execution timeline as its delivery status progress from backlog to in-progress to done. Traditionally, teams used sticky notes to move items, but today there are software options like Trello for creating virtual task boards.

A great time to start adopting Agile practices is during annual marketing planning where you can apply the principle of flexible over rigid planning during the process.

You can also test run Agile on a specific project and see what unfolds. For example, using growth-driven web design, which shares many of the same philosophies and covenants as Agile, for revamping the company website offers a very contained way to see if your team is ready for Agile.

However, we often find that taking even smaller steps, such as developing a task board, staying firm on priorities, and getting into a habit of holding morning scrum meetings, can bring much-needed sanity to your daily routine – even if you are a marketing team of one.

Being Agile

Being Agile is a mindset that requires a very specific company culture – one that includes and supports cross-functional teams. In these teams, all members are engaged in the Agile approach and follow its processes; embrace customer centricity and user feedback; and are committed to experimenting in a disciplined manner.

All successful Agile organizations have these characteristics in common:

  • Purposeful leadership
  • No functional silos
  • Customer centricity
  • Culture of learning, openness and collaboration
  • Commitment from all levels of the organization

Being Agile will require the marketing team to evolve, embracing new skills, behaviors and mindsets.

Top 5 Characteristics of Agile Marketers:

  1. They are highly adaptable. Agile marketers are adept at switching direction mid-air. This takes practice and openness to change, but it is what gives Agile marketing teams their competitive advantage.
  2. They continuously test and measure everything. Then they retest and measure again – using direct feedback, data and analytics. They act on facts, not opinions.
  3. They are collaborators. Agile marketers see customers (internal and external) as collaborators, listen to and welcome customer feedback, and respond quickly to customer concerns.
  4. They are curious learners. Agile marketers thrive on experimentation and always are looking for new/better ways of doing things.
  5. They prioritize delivery over perfection. Agile marketers are laser-focused on completing each task, project or campaign. The iterative process allows for perfection over time, but agile marketers emphasize delivering results within a shorter timeframe.

Agile in Action

The Agile project management framework allows marketing teams to make better and more informed decisions faster, which results in overall increased productivity and increased effectiveness of marketing deliverables.

Traditional Scenario

A marketing department is tasked with creating a lead generation and nurturing campaign to assist the executive leadership and sales teams in meeting their annual goals. The campaign will require a substantial investment of time and resources.

The marketing team will:

  1. Develop the full campaign plan, often in a vacuum
  2. Present the plan to leadership to get buy-in
  3. Create all campaign-related communications
  4. Get approvals on all communication materials before launching the campaign
  5. Become distracted by daily fires and/or additional input from leadership and sales
  6. Launch the campaign – 8 months later
  7. Pray the campaign works.

Of course, the campaign better work or the company will have wasted time and money and missed many opportunities that presented themselves while the marketing team was too busy to pursue them.

Agile Scenario

With Agile marketing, the scenario is very different. This time the marketing team will:

  1. Develop the campaign plan in collaboration with leadership and sales, and make decisions based on existing data
  2. Prioritize the deliverables with the goal of launching with a minimum viable product, and embark on a two-week content and creative development sprint
  3. Avoid distractions thanks to agreed-upon priorities and the ability to say no
  4. Launch, collect data and analyze results
  5. Fine-tune/iterate (this time in a one-week sprint to test the adjustments)
  6. Create the rest of the campaign following the same steps
  7. Build on success through continual but incremental improvement

This means that the campaign is generating results in just a few weeks, not eight months, and producing data that can be used to refine the message and communications.

Because leadership and sales were involved from the inception and the campaign was developed using data, not guesswork, the review and approval process is significantly truncated.

Additionally, the mindset of experimentation, the decreased initial investment of resources and the data-driven approach enable the marketing team to test multiple ideas and adjust on the go for improved results, while reacting quickly to new opportunities.

Taking Action

Whether your company formally adopts the Agile approach or not, it’s important to consider that more and more of your competitors will likely continue to find ways to decrease the time and resources it takes to get their message to market.

So at the very least, examine any systems, processes and practices that may be restricting your marketing team’s ability to gain insight, be proactive and respond quickly, and then knock down as many barriers as you can.

At Substance151, we help companies do marketing more effectively. Contact us to start a conversation and let’s discuss how we can help your company develop a brand and action plan that puts you far ahead of your competition.