Agile Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide
Today’s business environment is undergoing rapid and constant change – rapidly and constantly changing customer needs, business practices, marketing approaches, technology, you name it.
Any business that wants to survive in such a dynamic environment needs the ability to quickly respond and adapt to these changes, and the only way to do this is by being agile.
When I say agile, I am talking about being fast, dynamic, responsive, adaptive and nimble.
This is particularly true when it comes to marketing, because marketers must not only respond to changing customer needs and demands, but also to changing marketing methods and marketing platforms.
In the modern world, traditional marketing methods are no longer working for marketing departments around the world. Sticking to traditional methods is a surefire way of driving oneself out of business.
In order to keep business flowing, businesses need to reconfigure their marketing teams to create Agile War teams that can move fast and effectively, experimenting, implementing, and optimizing their approaches in accordance with the market needs.
Want to build a vibrant, agile marketing team?
In this article, I am to give you a step by step guide to agile marketing.
Before we get to that, however, let’s take a moment to understand what agile marketing is.
WHAT IS AGILE MARKETING
Agile marketing is a marketing approach that allows your company to continuously manage innovation and change.
It is an organizational strategy that manages and improves the working of your marketing team by streamlining communication, team structure, workflows, and processes to increase efficiency and quality.
You can also think of agile marketing as the long-term, deliberate use of a stipulated agile methodology in project management for marketing departments.
The advent of agile marketing goes back to the mid to late 90’s and originated from software development industry. Software developers had noticed that the existing development process was filled with challenges.
The normal development process back then involved having project managers gather information about specifications that were desired for a particular product and forward it to the developers.
However, this was taking too much time and extending the budget, and by the time the product was launched, some of the customer preferences would have already changed, rendering the product less effective than it was supposed to be.
In addition, there was a disconnect between the users of the end products and the developers themselves, leading to challenges in customer satisfaction.
In order to solve these problems, seventeen software developers convened in 2001 and wrote the Agile Manifesto for software development. Instead of the long development process employed before, the agile manifesto championed for a continuous but faster development process that relied on customer feedback to make improved iterations of a product in order to ensure customer satisfaction.
Later, the principles of the agile methodology found their way into marketing and other aspects of business as they were found to be useful in improving the existing approach to marketing and business organization.
The State of Agile 2018 report showed a 37% adoption rate of agile marketing by marketers across the United States.
Following this shift to agile, they are enjoying immense benefits. 55% of marketers who embraced the agile approach found it easier to quickly change gears, 47% reported a higher quality of work, and 52% reported better awareness of project status.
FEATURES OF AGILE MARKETING
Some of the features of agile marketing include:
Validated Learning Over Opinions and Conventions
More often than not, marketers find themselves in inertia.
The idea that “things have always been done like this” makes them ignore chances to do things in a potentially better and different way.
This can be quite compelling especially when it’s coming from above, leaving no chance for an alternative.
Agile marketing works with tests to validate assumptions as the basis for doing things better.
If a new approach was tested and there is data to support it, combined with the right metrics, then fewer risks can be expected.
Being agile leaves room for improvement and can uncover new opportunities that could lead to more success.
Customer Focused Collaboration Over Silos
In the traditional framework, marketing was taken as a siloed function within both the internal marketing, PR and Branding departments and externally within the operations and sales departments.
The silos lead to knowledge and information hoarding where views are not shared across teams, which in turn lengthens the improvement times as teams learn independently.
With agile marketing, the silos are broken down leaving all the focus on customers.
Teams are derived from various departments to offer solutions for specific customer concerns.
When working collaboratively, knowledge is distributed freely and can thus be used by different teams to produce customer-centered marketing approaches.
Adaptive and Iterative Campaigns Over Big Bang Campaigns
Traditionally, marketing is designed with long-term plans.
That means considerable effort and time is required to cover timespans ranging from 3 months to years.
The long-term plans are then broken down into campaigns that are meant to produce a big bang effect.
Consequently, concepts are developed and various partners informed before the campaign can be implemented. Not only does this take a lot of time, it also stretches the budget.
In the case that the campaigns fail to meet their desired goal, too much time has already been spent and nothing much can be done to rectify the situation.
Agile marketing, on the other hand, takes an iterative and adaptive approach.
The planning cycles are dismantled and run in sprints to test ideas, share with the team and get quick feedback.
These iterations provide a learning opportunity for the team.
They quickly learn what works and what does not.
This quick learning enables the team to adjust their approaches and continuously improve.
These campaigns do not require as many resources (compared to the traditional approach) to complete and can also be completed within a short period.
The Process of Customer Discovery Over Static Prediction
Traditional marketing plans are basically created on myopic forecasts of customer behavior which over time become outdated.
They are mostly based on expensive and resource-intensive research, which unfortunately enhances the organizational commitment to these plans.
Such an approach poses a huge risk for marketers who dive in blindly without the audacity to question the validity of such forecasts. The blame is put on the tactics and strategies instead of these underlying assumptions.
An agile approach focuses on ongoing customer discovery rather than forecasts.
The team focuses on understanding the needs and problems of actual customers and testing hypotheses.
Thus, the agile team is continuously on a learning exercise where they know who their customers are, their perceptions, their needs and expectations and how they can be served better to increase value.
Customer discovery is built into the DNA of agile marketers, in their activities and plans to continuously gather customer insights and knowledge.
Flexible Vs. Rigid Planning
Traditional marketing entails a rigorous and detailed planning process.
Unfortunately, the complexity of the world today means things move too fast, and thus working with such a rigid plan becomes extremely difficult.
With agile marketing, the plans and processes are flexibly built so as to accommodate change.
They have to be adaptable when new information is brought on board or when there is a shift in circumstances.
This is in contrast to traditional marketing which is excessively rigid and would have to be discarded if it doesn’t work as expected or if there is a shift in circumstances.
Agile teams are constantly testing, reviewing, and prioritizing so as to improve ongoing deliverables and check if the strategies are working to result in the desired expectations.
Responding to Change Over Following A Plan
Change is inevitable and is thus a valuable resource for designing marketing plans. In the past, marketers were opposed to change and the implications it had for their work.
Thus, they blindly followed plans and consequently missed out on chances to develop more engaging, resonant and impactful marketing.
As change was not entwined within their plan, they took on a more reactionary (rather than proactive) approach which cost them a lot. Teams had to focus on the reactionary efforts, leaving work they have been focusing on instead.
In an effort to react to change, there wasn’t enough time to meet these changes and thus quality would decrease.
With agile marketing, changes are accommodated systematically.
The framework allows teams to quickly respond to change, thus enhancing project stability.
These new events are incorporated into the ongoing work, and change is seen as a chance to add value rather than an obstacle, resulting in success.
Many Small Experiments Over a Few Large Bets
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon attributes Amazon’s success to the vast experiments they conduct daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.
Marketing can’t always know for sure what will and won’t work in advance.
Yes, they can borrow from their intuition, experiences and learning, but accurately predicting performance with certainty is close to impossible given the changing market landscape.
In the past, the ability of marketing departments to experiment was limited because of time and budget constraints, since creative media back then required huge investments in both of these.
This meant making big guesses and waiting for the eventual outcome. At times, this non-strategy worked, but more often than not, it did not work.
Digitization has changed the playing field and marketers now have the scope to enable them try out ideas quickly, at a small-scale and with little to no costs.
The winning experiments can be adopted for large distribution with minimal risk.
Marketers can now forecast their likelihood of success by first making small bets and then leveraging the winners. The more they can experiment, the higher the probability of knowing the winners.
STEP BY STEP APPROACH TO AGILE MARKETING
Step 1: Get the Agile Marketing Framework Right
You can think of the agile framework as one embedded in three layers:
- Approach: Agile is a set of guidelines and values which collectively stimulate how marketers behave, think and respond to various scenarios. The agile approach entails flexibility, responsiveness to change, validated learning, customer-centered collaboration, and iterative and adaptive campaigns.
- Methodologies: The Agile approach is delivered through certain methodologies. The familiar ones which exist in a broader pool include Scrum, Kanban and Lean. Marketers choose the ones to use depending on their business contexts and can change with the circumstances.
- Practices: The methodologies dictate the practices that the marketing team will follow. These include meetings, roles, tasks and tools that compose the methodologies. Agile tools include sprint cycles, backlogs, Kanban Boards and stand-ups.
Step 2: Creating the Agile War Team
The Agile team is different from the rest of the teams within an organization. They think, behave and act differently. Many marketers refer to the agile team as the ‘war team.’
This means they are like soldiers using the most strategic tools to conquer in their field.
The main mission of the war team is to conduct quick experiments aimed at creating bottom-line impact, and then implement the winning experiments.
Here are some of the characteristics that agile marketing teams possess.
- Perception Change: Agile teams think and act differently. They collaborate, show respect to each other, are able to respond and adapt to change, and are always learning. This kind of mindset is critical in developing high-performing groups who are focused on creating customer value.
- Experimentation And Iteration: Within the agile approach, long-term and rigid plans will not work. Instead, agile teams should be more focused on frequent experiments – the results of which will be applied to the next work load.
- Compliance With The Agile Manifesto: The agile team should look to the Agile Manifesto as the final arbiter to the team’s conflicts, dilemmas and decisions.
- Team Work And Collaboration: The agile framework is reliant on the combined efforts of groups in order to work efficiently. Marketing heads must ensure that their people are working smoothly with each other to realize the desired goals.
- Data-Driven Marketing: In the modern marketing world, all teams rely on data to guide and validate their efforts. The bulk of their work should be measurable and based on empirical evidence to support their actions.
The Composition of the Agile War-Room Team
The most crucial element for success lies with the people. An agile team should be composed of talented individuals who can work together to deliver results quickly.
They should be drawn from multiple departments and possess different skills.
They should also be released from their daily routine tasks so they can focus on working collaboratively as full time members of the agile war team.
The composition of the war team will depend on the tasks that the team is supposed to undertake. A small team is usually encouraged for accountability purposes.
A team of about eight people should be enough and should they exceed, a maximum of twelve is ideal. According to Jeff Bezos, you should be able to feed an ideal team with just two pizzas.
Clear lines of communication must be established within the war team and without so that other departments can have quick access to crucial information.
For example, when buying assets, the team will require approval from the legal and procurement departments.
Therefore, these other teams must have access to ensure that things keep moving quickly.
There have been situations where the marketing team meet a lot of resistance from legal as a result of competing priorities.
This shows just how critical it is to plan ahead in time and inform all major stakeholders before the launch of the agile framework. Marketers must be ready for resistance and should identify where it can mostly emanate.
The war team is typically led by the scrum master. He or she has usually had experience in the agile framework and will mostly work with an assistant.
The role of the scrum master is to set the priorities, states the hypotheses, handle the backlogs, forward the necessary resources, and manage the sprints.
Other members of the war team include the analytics team lead, design team lead, LOB lead, campaign strategist, media lead, copywriter, art director, and SEO lead among others. These roles can either be internal or outsourced.
In addition, the war team might also need to work with external roles, such as IT, legal, marketing acquisition lead, and so on. These external roles will add depth in resource areas.
For these other external departments, working at the pace of the agile team will seem challenging as it will shift established workflows, but the performance will encourage other teams and boost support.
There is also need for supervision by marketing seniors as they oversee the execution of tasks and ongoing activities.
However, this should be conducted in a lightweight way – for example during the sprints – without any attempt at micromanaging.
Step 3: Create Awareness
Agile marketing is a relatively new approach to marketing.
This means people do not quite understand it and have misconceptions that might deter them from fully committing.
If you need to shift to agile, then you must get people to buy into your idea. Everyone in the organization must be willing to embrace the agile approach. This is especially important for senior management.
Take a moment to educate them on what agile marketing is and what benefits it will bring to the organization.
Create a vivid picture of all the changes that will come with the shift to agile and why they are good for the company.
In addition, make sure they are familiar with the components of agile marketing before they embark on the journey.
If you get buy-in it will be easier to implement the agile war team from different functions across the organization.
There will also be lesser chances of resistance if all departments are aware about your intentions.
In addition, when senior management have bought into the transformation, it will be easier to get them to allocate tools and resources to the agile marketing team.
Step 4: Start Small
A gradual approach to agile marketing is the best way to go. Don’t be in a rush. Start small and expand gradually. Begin by choosing one specific area you want to improve and let that be your blueprint for the rest.
The specific area you chose should be composed of a small task – one with a definite beginning and end.
This should act as your first experiment. Try out various agile methodologies to see which one fits your business the best. Many marketing pros recommend Scrum if you are a newbie as it is quite user-friendly.
With time, you will become familiar with other agile practices and you can continuously adapt and adjust to fit your requirements. Give yourself a chance to learn.
Step 5: Ask for Support
A report by Wrike dubbed The State of Agile Marketing showed that lack of knowledge and training are the biggest impediments to implementing the agile approach.
Working with agile marketing practitioners can save time, frustration and ensure success compared to doing it on your own. These pros have had experience with the agile framework and are aware of the mistakes you need to avoid.
They bring a fresh perspective and can help you navigate across the framework till you are totally conversant with it.
Working with a coach will educate your team and show you how the methodologies work and which ones would be best for you.
They will help kick start your experience at the beginning so that you have a smooth ride through the rest of the process.
Such a start will help transform your team into an agile war team that is more productive, engaged and fruitful.
Step 6: Measure and Evaluate
A major component of agile marketing is validated learning and several small experiments.
The agile manifesto requires that marketers validate their learnings through evidence-based data.
You ought to come up with metrics that help you measure what is working and what is not.
This will not only help you to determine if adopting agile marketing is working for you, it will also allow you to identify opportunities to improve and achieve even greater results.
If you want your company to survive in the modern and highly dynamic business environment, you must ditch the traditional approach to marketing in favor of agile marketing, which calls for flexible, fast and responsive marketing team that can quickly respond and adapt to market changes, helping your company to remain competitive.
Agile marketing is all about making small, continuous improvements to your marketing campaigns, using data to support and drive the improvements.
The steps discussed above will help you implement the agile marketing approach within your organization.
Remember, start by getting the agile marketing framework right, create the agile war team, create awareness for the change, start small and scale gradually, ask for support, and finally, measure and evaluate your progress.
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