What is Agile Marketing?
As marketers, we can all agree that today’s marketing is evolving at an extremely fast pace. This is primarily due to the influence of technology and the number of devices, media channels and touch points available to consumers. Consequently, companies are becoming increasingly concerned with understanding how to adapt their marketing activities to the continuously changing customer behaviour and competitor landscape.
A big part of successfully responding to the changes in the external environment consists of actually being able to anticipate and embrace change in a proactive manner. This article will present the definition of agile marketing, its key advantages, as well as how to adopt agile marketing that some of the agile frameworks experience in the context of marketing.
Agile marketing is an optimised approach to people, processes and tools in marketing planning and execution, in response to changing customer behaviour and market trends. It provides a way to add, remove and/or modify marketing targets, strategies and tactics on an ongoing basis. Agile marketing centres on a change in business mind-set from the traditional marketing structure to a more flexible (agile) structure that has been so successful in the information technology industry. It champions data-driven marketing decision making, with an emphasis on value creation from a customer’s perspective. Every member of the agile marketing team must embrace the core values of the agile methodology in order to facilitate this shift in mind-set and support the successful completion of the team’s activities and the achievement of the team’s objectives.
This shift in mind-set is most visible within the creation and execution of the marketing plan. An agile marketing plan is one that is continuously reviewed and updated within each quarter, even though the overall allocated marketing budget and time remain constant. This article won’t cover the ins and outs of creating a strategic marketing plan, but it is important to emphasise the importance of creating a marketing plan before actually attempting to implement agile marketing.
Certainly, traditional marketing has already adopted some elements of agile methodologies. In particular, this refers to the iterative structure of the marketing calendar. Most strategic marketing plans are structured in four iterations (quarters) of three months each, which aligns with the iterative nature of agile methodologies. Each quarter in the marketing calendar can then be subdivided into three sprints of one month each.
Agile marketing recognizes that short term marketing plans are more stable than long-term plans. You will definitely know what you want to be doing and achieving in the first quarter of your marketing plan, but do you know what marketing channel, Google update or technology will emerge or dominate the market in the next 12 months? Adopting agile marketing provides the flexibility needed to abandon (sometimes at short notice) the marketing strategies and tactics that don’t work and redirect the remainder of the marketing budget into channels that fit better with the profile of your target audiences. This helps to address the biggest challenge of marketing: creating and successfully executing marketing campaigns in the face of uncertainty with changing customer expectations and buying patterns.
To better understand the needed change in mind-set, consider the following scenario:
Sharon is the CMO of a global B2B technology company with her marketing team spread across four continents, where she is supported by multiple country managers. Due to the time difference between the regions, she schedules the daily meeting (scrum) to 4pm UK time to accommodate team members in Europe, North America, Middle East and Africa. They also meet at the end of every month to review how everyone is preforming in relation to the predetermined KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) as defined in the integrated marketing plan. Each team member also presents a summary PowerPoint presentation to the entire team at the end of each quarter. The meeting’s attendees include the heads of departments for Social Media, SEO, PPC, Lead Generation, Marketing Automation, Web Analytics, Conversion Optimization, Website Product and Content Marketing. Each attendee updates everyone with any new developments or hindrances within their department’s scope of work. At the end of each month, each member prepares a Power Point presentation to provide a summary report of the positives and negatives during the month and how it impacts other marketing channels and the strategic marketing plan as a whole, following which the CMO meets with each head of department to review the lessons learnt during the month and define what needs to change for the following month.
In addition to benefiting the company externally (i.e. with engaging its customers), adopting an agile approach to marketing also helps break down tactical silos within the organisation and improve internal company communication. More specifically, it helps to foster more open communication and better information flow amongst team members and across different departments (teams) within a business. Agile can help marketing teams think more effectively from a customer’s perspective to make smarter marketing decisions that remove the ‘us’ against ‘them’ mentality and this can have a significant direct impact on the company’s return on investment (ROI). Agile marketing does this by reducing duplication of marketing goals and enables flexible campaign planning and execution, which in turn helps to reduce marketing waste and overall marketing costs, so that more profit is retained within the company.
Although the agile methodology has been extremely successfully implemented in IT software development, its framework would require some tweaking to be adopted successfully within marketing teams. In the previous article we presented the agile values and principles that need to be integrated within marketing teams to increase the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and their success rates. This article presents in some more depth the key advantages of agile marketing and some considerations for its implementation across the industry.
Although agile marketing is gaining traction due to its flexibility and applicability in a range of different business contexts, this does not mean that agile will work for absolutely any business. There are still some industries that need to work with the waterfall approach, either due to the nature of their products or their target audiences. However, for those companies willing and able to switch to agile, here are the key advantages (benefits) that their marketing teams can expect to experience:
Managing large marketing teams can be frustrating for people in senior management, lower level managers and even team members. Agile marketing provides tremendous visibility and transparency through daily meetings and the use of agile project management tools which highlight the contribution of every team member in terms of tasks they are working on and objectives they are trying to achieve.
Agile projects involve obtaining regular customer feedback on an ongoing basis and not just at the beginning when we create an integrated marketing plan. Feedbacks from customers helps form a better understanding of what is working as it relates to our marketing strategy.
We all agree that the modus operandi of our customers and competitors changes — and frequently. Being able to identify and accommodate these changes relatively quickly is the key reason why the methodology is called “Agile Marketing”.
Agile marketing team members relate to each other in a positive and encouraging manner, which is based on Respect, Openness, Commitment, Focus and Courage. These core values contribute to the high employee engagement and retention experienced in companies that practice agile marketing.
The agile marketing methodology includes several practices that enhance productivity. The collaborative and cross-functional nature of agile teams means that each and every member of the team is continuously learning from others, as well as contributing to the learning of others.
Agile includes a range of different frameworks and some of them are not necessarily useful for marketing. However, there are a number which can be adapted by most marketing teams. The two most widely accepted agile frameworks that marketing teams could adopt to improve marketing process, communication and team interactions are the Scrum framework (created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland) and the Kanban framework, which originated in the manufacturing industry in the 1950s and has since then entered the IT industry and (now) the marketing industry. But what about large corporations heavily reliant on large marketing teams? As a point of illustration, have a look at the following scenario.
Rachel is the global CMO of a cosmetics company which employs 7,000-strong worldwide marketing team. She decided to introduce agile marketing across the entire marketing team but she is confused as to how 7,000 people will all attend a daily standup meeting of 15 minutes. What can Rachel do to successfully introduce agile to her team?
Industry consensus is that the recommended team size for agile teams using the scrum framework is between 3–9 people. This is said to guarantee optimal performance, interactions and effective communication within the team. For global marketing teams with hundreds (or, as in this case, thousands) of members, it would make sense to adopt an enterprise agile framework. This would involve providing on-the-job training for the entire marketing team about agile, working through the Scrum framework as a foundation, and then adapting any of the other frameworks mentioned below, depending on which one is the most suitable one, given the size, scope and complexity of the marketing function within the company.
The first value in the agile manifesto is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” — this means that the key to implementing agile is to foster open and positive working relationships within the marketing team. Although virtual communication tools like Skype and WebEx can complement communication within agile teams, it is extremely important to have agile teams co-located in the same office space if possible. Additionally, it would also be needed to hire an independent contractor to coach the entire organization (not just the marketing team) through the agile marketing adoption process. Clearly, with 7000+ members of the marketing team it is not possible to implement co-location and face-to-face communication on such a great scale. However, a framework can be devised which would allow country marketing teams to implement scrum on their micro-scale, and the transnational activities and decision making can then be supported by one of the scaled agile frameworks.
Marketing teams today are often siloed by default and this makes consensus-driven decision making difficult, particularly in large-scale organisations that operate in a number of global markets. The bureaucratic, hierarchical, demand-and-control driven nature of most marketing teams does not empower team members to be self-organizing, proactive or flexible, because targets are usually set top-down, with little input from grassroots marketing) and a culture of fear dominates the workplace, which stifles creativity and interest in trying new approaches.
Agile marketing can help in dealing with these issues and transforming the way companies communicate with their customers and the impact this has on the final ROI, however, the key is in identifying and adapting the agile frameworks that are appropriate for the particular industry the company operates in, the product(s) it is selling and customers it is serving. The process of how companies can adopt agile marketing will be discussed in my next LinkedIn post.
About The Author
Femi Olajiga an Agile Marketing Coach who provides Agile marketing training workshops and coaching that helps CMO’s, Directors and Marketing Teams adopt agile marketing. He is also the author of the book: Lean-Agile Marketing: How to Become Agile and Deliver Marketing Success. Available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. He enables companies to become agile across marketing to drive business growth. For further information, connect or follow me LinkedIn, Twitter or visit my blog CXconversion.com.
If you’d like to learn how to develop an agile mindset or just generally learn more about Agile and Scrum in Non-IT Software teams or about Agile marketing specifically, consider reading the book above — Lean Agile Marketing: How to Become Agile and Deliver Marketing Success.