As part of our 333 series, we ask three marketing experts, three questions, in a three-minute read.
This week we explore the definition of ‘Agile’ in marketing as we see more and more marketers needing to be nimble and flexible in how they plan and respond in their marketing practices.
The recent Covid situation has accelerated this trend in many cases. We have seen more agile behaviour and ways of working in many marketing departments across the world, breaking silos and old structures to deliver increased speed to market.
We asked three questions to an expert panel below and their answers follow.
What is your definition of Agile Marketing?
Jim – “Agile Marketing” takes its inspiration from Agile Software Development. It shares some values with Agile Software development. For example, both manifestos value responding to change over following a plan.
The other values of Agile Marketing are slightly different:
- Rapid iterations over big-bang campaigns
- Data and analytics over opinions and conventions
- Individuals and interactions over one-size-fits-all
- Collaborations over silos
Agile Marketing improves the predictability, the productivity, and the effectiveness of marketing.
Neil – At its simplest level Agile Marketing is concerned with the application of agile principles to better serve marketing and business objectives. It requires customer-backwards approaches to be right at the centre, more data-driven decision-making, adaptiveness and continuous improvement balanced with a strong vision and direction. It is about working faster but it’s also about working smarter in reducing unnecessary hand-offs, inefficiencies and being more adaptive in your strategy and execution.
Rachel – It’s a bit of a sad indictment of Marketing that we haven’t managed to come up with a cool, short definition. But I’ve never seen one. Even the Agile Marketing master himself, Jim Ewel, has one that runs to a full page of powerpoint. So here’s my best attempt:
What: Agile Marketing enables brands to deliver more effective, efficient and adaptable marketing.
How: through the coming together of customer focused, collaborative teams who have clear measurable goals, deliver many rapid iterations and small experiments, and use testing and data to make decisions.
What do you think are key success factors when planning to implement Agile ways of working in marketing?
Jim – Many people start implementing Agile in marketing by implementing process: Scrum or Kanban or some mix of the two. While process is important, to be successful, experience tells me that teams need to take two steps first: one, they need to get alignment on some key questions. Why are they implementing Agile? What does success look like? And how will they measure whether they are succeeding or not? Second, teams need to decide how they’re going to structure their organization. Do they use cross-functional teams or stay in their skill-set silos? If they implement cross-functional teams, should they go big, implementing them all at once, or start small, implementing one or two cross-functional teams and grow from there? Hint: start small, learn and grow. Will everyone be in cross-functional teams, or should some functions continue to be performed by skill-set teams?
The other success factor is that teams need to increase what I call their marketing metabolism. That doesn’t mean producing more marketing materials. What it does mean is doing more and more testing of their marketing, more and more interacting with customers, which leads to greater and faster learning. If you do no testing today, start with 1 or 2 tests a week. Increase the number of tests until you are doing 5, 10, 25 tests a week, depending on your size and ability to test.
Neil – A key shift is in viewing marketing activity as a continuous programme of work rather than just campaigns. This often means breaking things down into smaller, achievable elements, regular reprioritization based on customer feedback and interaction, setting clear and measurable goals, and a focus on outcomes rather than outputs which can help ensure that teams are not wedded to one way of solving a problem. It’s very motivating for a team to see the value that they are creating and tracking the velocity of work and fast feedback loops can facilitate this. The mindset has to be around regular delivery, customer value, concurrent working with other disciplines, and always learning.
Rachel – Firstly, the brand has to know why they are doing it. Just like any good marketing brief, having clear objectives and measures of success are critical.
Secondly, senior leadership not only have to be bought in, they really have to understand the implications. To be truly agile, the teams need to be autonomous. Once the strategic objectives are set, agile marketing teams make their own decisions. There’s no room for HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) in agile, which can be a major behavioural shift for the top guys.
Thirdly, the members of the agile teams have to have the right mind set. Anyone can learn how to run a stand up and what Scrum is, but it’s almost impossible to teach someone how to be agile. People who have a growth mindset, who love discovering new things and collaborating to deliver customer and business value will thrive.
What are good and bad examples of implementing Agile ways of working in marketing?
Jim – In my experience, good examples of implementing Agile in marketing revolve around cultural change, changing some of the beliefs and behaviors of the marketing organization. I call these changes in beliefs and behaviors the Four Shifts of Agile Marketing:
- From a focus on outputs (more content, more ads, more campaigns) to a focus on business outcomes
- From a campaign mentality to a mentality of continuous improvement
- From an internal focus to a customer focus
- From top-down decision making to de-centralized decision making
These four shifts help organizations realize the promise of Agile and go well beyond simply implementing isolated practices like daily standups and Sprints.
Neil – Agile marketing requires a good balance between vision and iteration. Implementing agile is not an excuse not to plan, and so a clear direction is explicit but flexibility and embracing change (even late in a process) are built in. It’s wrong to think that there is one definitive methodology for agile marketing – each business and team operates in its own unique contexts and so the best approach is to formulate a vision for what agile practice means for your team and balance alignment with a degree of autonomy and self-organisation to find the best operating model.
Rachel – I’ve seen agile marketing work really well where the company had a clear view of both its strategic objectives and why it wanted to be more agile. It started small with one agile marketing team, made up of a mix of existing staff with a growth mindset, and external people who had run agile marketing teams before. The senior leadership team knew what they were signing up to, set crystal-clear, high-level objectives, then let the team make their own decisions on the activity to deliver and how to go about it.
I’ve seen Agile Marketing go wrong when the company did a large sheep dip of its teams through an agile training programme, and a major restructure which put people into cross-functional teams, then didn’t follow through. Like any major change, it takes time and focus to be successful. An expert agile coach on hand to help keep the ship on course, and regular reviews of progress against the agreed objectives are critical.
If you would like to chat more on these topic or find out about how Flock can help with your journey to agile marketing please don’t hesitate to get in contact.