Agile marketing: Rethinking the approach to marketing in the digital age
Attention is the currency of the digital age. Companies are desperately seeking the attention of consumers - read my tweet, watch my video, like my post, recognize my logo, click my display ads, signup for my newsletter, follow my feed, read my blog, and (for crying out loud!) buy my product!
Do I still have your attention?
Consumers are more skeptical than ever, and grabbing and maintaining attention is not so easy. It is elusive, slippery, fleeting. The marketing industry spends billions of dollars every day trying to direct your gaze towards products and services. They compete with one another to appeal to deeper and deeper instincts on more and more nuanced levels, to the point that many consumers don’t even know that their attention is being bought and sold on a marketplace.
But, the approach that most marketers are taking to reach consumers and cover all online and offline channels in an ever-changing world is proving to be unsustainable. Today’s business environment is nothing like it was 10 years ago, yet many marketing departments continue to operate as if it were still the same. Applying conventional marketing practices – large, expensive, yearly, product-focused campaigns – to an environment where consumer interests change in a flash, is creating a disconnect in the marketing world, not to mention exhausted marketing teams and a growing backlog of tasks. Using a “big bang” marketing approach to tackle constantly multiplying channels, fluctuating and personalized messaging, all while trying to create deep customer relationships just doesn’t make sense.
The only solution is to completely rethink the entire marketing approach. Over the past few years, a new, alternative approach to marketing has emerged - Agile marketing.
What is Agile marketing?
Agile marketing means leveraging data and analytics to continuously source promising approaches or solutions to problems and business objectives in real time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating. Agile marketing allows marketing in the digital age to become fast, nimble and dynamic.
Where did this new idea come from? The Agile methodology has actually been in use for a while. In 2001, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development sparked the use of Agile in the software development space and revolutionized and optimized the way applications are built. Product and development teams started focusing primarily on customer needs while delivering a high-quality product, fast. This was achieved through an iterative approach where large, complex projects are broken into many smaller projects or “sprints” with the goal of increased speed, flexibility, and improved responsiveness to feedback.
Thanks to Agile development, between 2001 and the present, there has been an enormous influx of new products and services for marketing teams to promote. Hence, the current dilemma in which marketers are finding themselves. Product development optimized, but marketing didn’t.
Thankfully, though, a group of marketing experts began taking notice of the positive outcomes of the Agile approach, and in 2012, they constructed a manifesto of their own. The publication of the Agile Marketing Manifesto, kicked off the start of Agile marketing era….well, kind of.
Many marketers are still trying to figure out how to apply the theories outlined in the manifesto to everyday operations. Here is a brief, applicable interpretation of the agile marketing manifesto:
1. Data takes the wheel
Customer data and data pointing the business outcomes is at the center of all marketing decisions. Always.
2. Be fast & flexible
No more long, drawn out, “big bang” campaigns. Break down campaigns into tasks that can be delivered bi-weekly or weekly. Based on the data, identify the highest-value tasks and tackle those first. Block out all of the other noise. Be flexible, responsive, and adaptive. If the data tells you to move in a new direction, don’t hesitate….go!
3. Collaborate & communicate
Forget hierarchies and siloed departments. Cross-functional teams should be formed from the beginning, communicating daily and working collectively to push a task through a sprint or workflow. Include everyone who has a role to play, even outside of the marketing realm – IT, legal, finance, etc., to avoid surprises, roadblocks, bottlenecks, and delays.
Becoming an agile marketing team
Now comes the giant hurdle of applying Agile methodology to daily operations. Since Agile marketing is fairly new, best practices are still being developed and vary depending on the make-up of a team. There is no exact formulation or one singular tactic that will result in immediate agility. Because Agile marketing at its core is a culture shift away from conventional marketing methods, it should be approached as an evolution that will take time to cultivate. Taking a macro, strategic approach initially will help lead to an eventual embrace of Agile thinking over time.
Here are five tips to consider when easing into Agile:
1. Get support from above
This involves more than getting approval to move forward with a plan. Getting management buy-in to become Agile means that management also agrees to adhere to Agile principles. Agile teams are collaborative and non-hierarchical. That means no micro-managing from above and no random directives that throw a wrench into marketing plans. Instead, the data is the beacon guiding the work and teams need the freedom and time to discover customers and develop creative plans.
Reset expectations with management. Flashy marketing campaign kick-offs are a thing of the past. In Agile marketing, the pace of deliverables and releases will increase, but those events will be smaller and more focused. Also, Agile teams require concentration on a small number of prioritized projects versus a long, running to-do list.
If you are worried about getting a big “no” from management at this point in your pitch for Agile marketing, don’t fret. It’s time to tout the benefits of Agile marketing. Agile marketing comes with less risk. Because the thumb is always on the customer and market trends, Agile marketing is less likely to be off-the-mark. Anytime messaging happens to be off-the mark, it can be adjusted quickly and easily. Also, there is less initial investment in Agile marketing. A smaller team has greater impact, and less money is spent for big, flashy campaigns. And, don’t forget the outcomes – higher conversion, deeper customer relationships, increased sales – how could you go wrong?
2. Invest in analytics
Do you have an analytics hub that give you access to continuous, real-time analytics on customer data and business goals and outcomes? If not, invest in these types of technologies ASAP. Analytical insights are at the core of Agile thinking, so investment in a robust business intelligence solution is essential. If you already have dashboards, but they are not helpful, invest in transforming them.
3. Stand up
The simplest way to begin on the journey of Agile marketing is to implement daily, standup meetings. This is where each cross-functional, task-focused team gathers for 15 minutes each day to communicate project status and challenges. This practice ensures that everyone is on the same page, all activities are focused on the highest priority tasks, and projects are meeting timeline goals. This daily communication increases transparency, accountability, and focus.
4. Prioritize and focus
If an overall marketing strategy has been developed and everyone understands the big picture, next, it is time to start thinking about breaking down the mammoth project into smaller, more manageable initiatives that can be accomplished quickly. This exercise gets at the essence of Agile thinking. Embrace the “less is more” mentality and use data to identify the highest-value and highest priority tasks. Get used to saying “no” to others who insist on adding tasks to the marketing backlog. The highest-value tasks should always be the main focus.
After identifying a small list of highest priority tasks, it is time to let the marketing team start performing their magic. There are a few different Agile methodologies to use when managing the workflow of each task. The easiest to implement into existing marketing operations is Kanban. A Kanban chart is a tool that visualizes the workflow, so that it is easy for team members to see the status of each task. The chart also plays to the psychological need to work to visually move tasks through the workflow, and encourages an adherence to the strategic direction. Scrum is also a popular method, but is used primarily in software development and has more of a structured workflow.
5. Less helicopter
Agile teams function better when managers avoid daily directives and step aside to allow team members the space to collaborate and find the best approaches through discovery and experimentation. It is also important to let each team member determine their own capacity and then build timelines based on those realistic parameters. If the overall goal is to release messaging once a week, then the amount and type of messaging to be released should be determined by how much high-quality messaging the team is comfortably capable of producing.
Challenges of Agile marketing
Agile marketing sounds great in theory, but there are a few challenges that may make it difficult to implement.
If either a team member or manager is not on board with transitioning to Agile practices, then it might be hard to be successful. A dynamic, optimistic team focused on shared goals is necessary for Agile to work. Transitioning to an Agile work environment should be seen as a culture change, and a change management plan will be required in order to overcome reluctance and anxiety.
2. Client expectations
For marketing agencies, client expectations may be a barrier to applying Agile marketing practices. It might be hard to sell a client on the “less is more” approach when they are used to large, multi-channel marketing campaigns. Start small with reluctant clients. Prove the ROI of Agile marketing and the alignment of data and messaging through small endeavors. Over time, clients will become accustomed to Agile marketing practices.
Frankly, I’m amazed to still have your attention at this point of this article, but if you’ve made it all this way, hopefully you’ve been able to gather some useful tips on agile marketing that you can beginning applying to your practice.
To get ahead in the attention-grabbing, digital marketing game, ditch the cumbersome, linear marketing initiatives of the past. Begin to optimize with an agile approach, one that is analytics-driven, iterative, focused, and fast.
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