On Agile Marketing 

It’s Not Just “Moving Faster”


Over the past few years I’ve worked with a number of clients whose marketing departments were operated based on agile marketing methods. For anyone who doesn’t know what agile marketing is, it’s a movement that’s gained traction recently based largely off the success seen from developers who deployed agile software development processes.

In 2012, a small group of marketers gathered at a summit of sorts called SprintZero: The Physics of Agile Marketing. Out of SprintZero came The Agile Marketing Manifesto, which reads as follows:

We are discovering better ways of creating value for our customers and for our organizations through new approaches to marketing. Through this work, we have come to value:
1. Validated learning over opinions and conventions
2. Customer focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
3. Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns
4. The process of customer discovery over static prediction
5. Flexible vs. rigid planning
6. Responding to change over following a plan
7. Many small experiments over a few large bets

That manifesto is very good, in theory. In fact, I agree with all of it. Even in practice.

However…

I’ve come to realize there are a lot of marketers out there who don’t truly understand agile marketing. There are a lot of marketers out there who seem to think agile marketing simply means “move faster.” There are a lot of marketers out there who have morphed flexible planning into no plan. They’re really missing the point.


Imagine this scenario:

You work in marketing communications (marcomm) at a company that takes great pride in utilizing an agile marketing model for all of its corporate marketing programs. “Agile marketing” is dropped in conversations, phone calls and meetings at least a couple times a week. It’s on everyone’s mind always.

Your company has just announced a big corporate restructuring. You’re changing the audience you sell and market to, requiring a lot of adjustments throughout the organization, most notably in marketing.

Adjustments for a department utilizing agile marketing practices? No big deal, right?

One of the first things your company does after making the decision to change its target audience is revamp its messaging. Your old messaging doesn’t resonate with your new audience.

You review data on the new audience, understand how your company’s products will be beneficial to that audience and envision how your product with this new audience fits into the larger market context. Using all of that information, you develop new messaging targeting the new audience. Because messaging is so critical to an organization, this activity involves numerous people throughout the company — executives, product engineers, marketing, communications, etc.

Next, you build a marcomm plan for introducing the new messaging to the market, current customers and newly targeted customers.

Then you executed the plan. It takes about three weeks in total from the time you begin updating the messaging to when you begin the marcomm plan. That’s not bad considering all the corralling of schedules, feedback and edits required as part of the message development.

So now you’re executing.

Nope. HOLD.

Your executives decide the messaging should change. “That’s ok. It’s just part of agile marketing.” Remember how I said that term was dropped frequently in your company?…

You go back and proceed through the steps again — messaging, marcomm plan, begin execution.

HOLD.

The company decides it doesn’t like certain aspects of the marcomm plan. It will have to be changed. “Agile marketing….you know how it goes.”

Back to revising the comms plan.

HOLD.

The messaging needs to change again.

Are you starting to see a pattern emerge here?

Messaging is the center of everything we do as marcomm professionals. We need to have something to communicate or else there isn’t much for us to do.

Finally it comes to a point where you’re told, “I don’t think we need a plan. There aren’t really plans in agile marketing. We have to be flexible. We need you to just go execute, get us some media coverage.”

Ok… So what exactly are you pitching to media to get coverage on? You can’t just pitch your company or product and say, “you need to cover them.” Journalists want to hear some kind of perspective or opinion from you. So what is your company saying? You really need that messaging, at least a draft of it that everyone’s comfortable with being pitched.

Your request is met with, “how about you just come up with some messaging and we’ll go with that?”

I don’t need to go further with my example scenario for you to understand what I’m getting at. This imaginary company took flexible to an entirely new level which resulted in lots of spinning wheels and very few results. it failed to truly understand and embrace agile marketing and its principles. It’s not “go fast” and it’s not “no plan.”

This isn’t a real-life scenario, by the way. It is a scenario derived from multiple experiences from my career. Unfortunately, a situation very similar to this could actually occur.


I think two lines in the Agile Marketing Manifesto are what some find confusing and lead to misunderstanding.

5. Flexible vs. rigid planning.

It’s not saying don’t use a plan at all. It’s saying don’t approach a plan with tunnel vision. Be open to edits, updates and changes in direction.

6. Responding to change over following a plan.

It’s not saying DON’T follow a plan. It’s saying don’t get so preoccupied with executing a plan that you fail to notice opportunities that could present themselves along the way.

You can argue in favor of agile marketing all you want, and I’ll agree with you on most points; however, there is some value in consistency. This is especially true for startups. If no one knows you and you’re trying to make a lasting impression, people need to hear consistency from you. It’s noisy. We consume more content than ever before, so when someone hears about a new company, it’s pretty likely they’re not going to remember it. But when they hear about that same company a few times, that starts to leave a mark. If each time they hear about your company they’re hearing a different message, they might as well be hearing about you for the first time.

That consistency can be supported by 1. having a plan in the first place, and 2. being thoughtful in how, when and why you deviate from the plan. I’m not saying value consistency above all else. A marketing or communications plan should never be written in stone, especially nowadays with the real-time nature of social media. You have to be adaptable, but you also need to understand the effects of changing course.

I like agile marketing. I like the Agile Marketing Manifesto. I like it even more when people understand it.