Agile marketing: A step-by-step guide
When people hear the word agile, they want to be “agile”. Here’s how to make “agile marketing” happen while meeting these three parameters: people, process, and technology
An international bank recently decided it wanted to test a new email offer. They put together a mailing list, cleaned it up, tweaked copy and design, and got legal approval for the time-sensitive campaign. Eight weeks later they were ready to go.
In a world where consumers can abandon a webpage in three seconds and companies answer online mortgage questions in ten minutes, eight weeks for an email test pushes businesses to the edge of irrelevance.
Marketing can get complicated. But agile marketing is a new approach to the craft, featuring flexibility and changeability in order to provide the best possible results for businesses of all types.
Understanding agile marketing
Your idea starts when you understand your target audience. Who does this product benefits? What do people like most about what we do? Then develop the most relevant and efficient message – “do one thing, do it really well” (hat tip to Steve Jobs).
Imagine that you are trying to sell a new coffee machine for families. You want to encourage your target audience of busy professionals who make coffee at home, but don’t have much time to relax during the day. They also prefer premium coffee and are willing to spend more on it if they can get it with less effort, time, or money, but not all three. You want to target this audience with an email campaign that gives them a deal on caffeinated bliss at work or home without requiring a tremendous investment of energy and time by either parent or child.
A successful campaign will be relevant and useful to your target audience, which is why you should use a collaborative approach to develop ideas instead of relying on top-down directives from marketing bosses. Agile teams work with the customer to find out what really matters, often by getting out into the field for extended periods of time through either “on-the-job” training or “immersion”. They then “dogfood” their product in an effort to see how it works in the real world, and begin to create a marketing plan based on what they learn from both customer and consumer.
Agile marketing is always a test process. Ideas are put into action by small teams of producers (both internal and external) who, during a sprint period, experiment with different methods to make sure it’s worth the time. This approach balances output while accounting for feedback that could provide additional insight into ways to improve the product or message in future tests.
Agile teams also rely on collaboration as a means to achieve goals instead of command-and-control tactics. While this may look like a lack of leadership, it’s actually part of the process to ensure that everyone is on board with meeting a specific goal in an efficient and effective manner.
In many ways, agile marketing goes against everything we have learned during our years at business schools about brand management, positioning statements, competitive analysis, and the like. But it’s also a way to ensure that marketing goals meet strategic objectives while producing excellent results for customers / users in a timely manner.
Agile marketing is not limited to technology or digital platforms; the key point is flexibility. People, process, and technology work together as a means to achieve agility:
People : Agile thinkers see a world where everyone matters and wants to be part of the process. They work collaboratively, encourage critical thinking, and embrace change as a means to achieve maximum results within a short period of time.
Process : Agile marketers focus on doing the right thing: small teams that deliver results using collaborative methods; real-time data as a means to make decisions; and fast learning to ensure relevance in the marketplace.
Technology : Agile thinkers embrace technology as a tool for collaboration, communication, and flexibility. They are willing to test new platforms to achieve their objectives while keeping the end-user experience in mind at all times.
A recent survey by Harvard Business Review confirms that agile thinking is a growing force in marketing, with more than half of respondents seeing value in the approach. However, only 38 percent admitted that their companies have implemented agile techniques to get work done quickly and efficiently.
The good news is that there are many tools available for marketers. You can either build your own or use one of a number of third-party solutions.
Co : BambooHR and Marketo are just two companies that have developed platforms for agile marketing. They can be used to manage and share information, collaborate internally on projects, leverage social media as a means of learning from customers / users in real-time, and track analytics providing valuable feedback to assess public reaction to specific products or services.
Agile marketing is not for everyone, nor will it work in every situation. The key is to integrate the approach into your overall business strategy by determining which tools will provide maximum value based on your specific objectives and needs. To succeed at agile marketing you need to start with a collaborative team effort, ensure that processes are flexible, and embrace technology as a means to measure results in real-time.
New opportunities afforded by digital technologies now require companies to be able to quickly react.
Marketing teams today are expected to seamlessly and quickly roll out new campaigns by using data and analytics. If you want to compete in the rapidly changing world of marketing, your team must be agile.
Many marketing organizations think they are agile in their work, but when you look below the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that they’re only partly agile.
For example, marketing often doesn’t have the support of the legal department, IT, or finance. The result is that approvals, back-end dependencies, and spend allocations are slow. Agencies can also become bottlenecked should their technology partners not be able to keep up with the need for speed. Simply put: if you’re not agile, you’ll stay behind.
So how does an organization become fully agile? I recommend that marketing teams use six key maturity steps to achieve this goal:
- Measuring Marketing Agility – This involves setting up a scoreboard for your specific marketing goals and objectives so that you can see them in action on a daily basis.
- Defining Agile Team Members – As you define your agile team members, make sure they have the skills and abilities to achieve objectives on time, in budget, and with the highest possible return on investment (ROI). Ask yourself: What does each person bring to the table? How do we measure their performance? And how do we incent them for results?
- Allocating Marketing Resources – With agile marketing, resources can be allocated on multiple initiatives that offer the highest ROI without sacrificing any of these efforts. In addition, you can now create cross-functional teams to achieve goals faster and more cost effectively than ever before. This means that different types of professionals from across the organization can be involved in the creation of a product or service, including business units, finance, customer relations, legal and so forth.
- Creating an Agile Marketing Culture – This requires that everyone has a stake in the game. If not, you risk lowering your scorecard! This is perhaps the most critical piece of becoming fully agile.
- Building an Agile Platform – To be fully agile, you need a platform that connects the entire ecosystem with relevant information in real-time. This platform should tie together internal teams and external suppliers so everyone can work faster and better than ever before to execute at speed.
- Articulating Your Agility Score – It’s important that your marketing team can recognize and articulate their agility score to others, including senior managers, so they can assess not only the effectiveness of an initiative but also its ROI.
The first step in any agile transformation is measuring performance over time. Measuring the level of agility for specific initiatives is key to knowing where improvements must be made.
So how do you make your organization agile from the start? As a starting point, identify where agility would best add value to your business and what your strengths and weaknesses are. This will help you understand if any team members are not capable of contributing as well as when it’s time to part ways with them.
Figure out what resources your team currently has. Also, determine which ones it needs according to the strategy. It will be pointless to invest in people, technologies and systems that don’t contribute directly to making agile work for you.
One of the most important aspects of improving agility for a business is to look at current staff or team members and ask if they have the skills needed.
As you continue along this path, work to create a culture of collaboration and trust between your internal stakeholders and external suppliers.
Any company can get faster, better and more profitable when they become fully agile. It just takes time and patience to get there.
It’s equally important that your organization has an agile foundation to provide maximum impact in today’s fast-changing environment.
As consumers rely more and more on the internet to make purchase decisions, marketing organizations must be agile.
After transforming your organization into one that is fully agile, you will have the ability to view and control all customer interactions and rapidly invent and deliver new ways of providing great customer experiences. It’s not easy but it’s very possible, and when you reach this goal there won’t be any more excuses for not being able to get exceptional results in a shorter period of time.
Change your organization’s agility score to the point where there will be no more excuses for not being able to get exceptional results in a shorter period of time. Lead from the front, and your team will follow right behind.
Here are some highlights of the key findings from Gartner’s new report:
1) “Agility is an ability to change and a willingness to embrace change.”
2) “If you want agility, invest in the six pillars of marketing agility. However, this will only suffice if you have absolutely brilliant people who are able to achieve their objectives with consistently superior performance,” according to Mr. Wanko.
3) “Agile marketing is not easy. It takes a lot of team members who speak the same language, who know what they are doing and who work very fast.”
4) Gartner found that this deficit in speed is exacerbated by large global companies’ inability to select only the best marketing talent. This often leads to marketers being unable to meet their agility goals.
5) According to Gartner, marketers are at risk of being left behind if they do not make the necessary changes. This stems from breaking down silos between marketing business leaders and C-suite executives. Without these connections, organizations will be unable to hire agile teams or invest in IT infrastructure that would enable them to meet agility goals.
6) Marketing leaders should trust their instincts when determining whether or not to invest in agility. “Gartner clients who don’t believe they can move the needle are simply never going to become agile marketing organizations,” said Mr. Wanko
7) Gartner found that 41 percent of global marketing and sales executives consider themselves totally agile. However, 30 percent said they are facing real challenges when it comes to becoming more agile.
8) Not adopting the marketing agility mindset can lead to a failure to train or mentor team members who are in charge of leading the transformation. It also could cause them to look outside their organization for talent rather than on-boarding and developing junior marketers within the company.
9) Agile marketing is all about cross-functional collaboration and the ability to rapidly respond to changes in the marketplace. It gives organizations and brands the tools, processes, infrastructure and culture it needs to make decisions faster.
10) Adopting agile marketing requires that you revamp your organization’s approach from top to bottom. It is, as Gartner put it, a comprehensive approach that includes adopting certain processes and systems to support cross-functional teams.
11) “Marketing leaders can achieve marketing agility by looking beyond top-down approaches and instead focus on bottom up initiatives,” said Mr. Wanko. “They need to create an environment where they can collaborate effectively with agile teams that are capable of making fast decisions and taking action. This will also help them to get the necessary buy-in from all levels within their organization.”
12) Marketing leaders can only succeed by shifting their focus from what they do best—which is market research, brand management, competitive analysis and marketing communications—to what they don’t do well, which is developing the behaviors that give them an edge.
13) Gartner found that agile marketing leaders must learn to focus on what’s more important than what they know. By embracing change and seeing its benefits, agile marketers have a competitive advantage in their ability to respond and act quickly.
The following topics are essential aspects of an agile marketing strategy. Within each topic are actionable tips to help you transform your organisation into an agile model.
1) Purpose of Agile Marketing Approach: An agile marketing approach is customer driven, data driven and focused on delivering immediate results. A high-performing team can test and implement changes in a matter of weeks rather than months, allowing for quicker adjustments in the marketplace. The agile marketing team should be viewed as a reflection of the customer journey; it is more connected and has access to all available information in real time.
2) Value Proposition: In an agile marketing environment, marketers can increase their visibility across the organisation by generating key insights that will help drive revenue rather than emotions and messaging. By delivering on a set of strategic goals and actionable insights, the agile marketing team ensures that the organisation maintains customer engagement.
3) Gaining Customer Trust: Customers appreciate companies who understand their needs better than anyone else because they feel heard. By doing something unexpected for your customers in order to gain their trust, you can differentiate yourself from competitors.
4) Collaboration: An agile marketing team is a cross-functional mix of people who need to work together, communicate effectively and deliver results. The only way for an organisation to grow in this competitive marketplace is by utilising the strengths of each individual within the team.
5) Tools: Technology plays an important role in an agile marketing strategy. The use of technology is often a key factor in how agile marketing teams can optimise their work processes and perform tests faster.
6) Accountability: An organisation that values data over opinion, measurement over intuition and action above inaction will always be better equipped to compete in today’s marketplace. Agile marketing requires smart people who operate within the framework of a prioritised plan.
7) Outcomes: The most important aspect to an agile marketing strategy is measurement. A team will only be able to deliver real value if outcomes are measured for effectiveness and if performance is monitored regularly.
Putting the agile marketing team together.
In order to adopt an agile marketing strategy, it is important to research your customer needs and have the necessary technology in place.
These technologies are tools that help marketers harness, aggregate, and manage data from disparate systems; make decisions based on advanced propensity models or next-best-action models; send campaigns across channels to end customer’s devices; and input message performance back into the system.
In order to successfully implement the agile workflow, senior marketers should take on a stewardship role, monitoring and supporting new processes as they come face-to-face with inevitable resistance.
The most important element of project success is the people—bringing together a small group of talented individuals, who can work as a team to execute quickly.
Good team managers should have skills that span across a variety of work functions. They need to be freed from monotonous day jobs so they can give their full attention and energy to the project. And these people need top be in close contact with one another, operating from the same central location.
The goal of the war-room team is to complete quick turnaround experiments to create an immediate bottom line impact.
Different tasks may require different types of staff, so the makeup of your war-room team can differ between projects. For a project with many complex personalization factors, more analytics and UX designers will be expected than on other conversion-rate optimization testing tasks.
No matter what the structure of your team, the war room needs to have clear lines of communication with other groups throughout the company and a fluid process for accessing them.
Short teams are central to the success of any organization, whether it’s a company or an extracurricular club. Most people find that groups larger than 10 can become too big for everyone to know what other people are working on.
Jeff Bezos famously referred to “two-pizza teams.”
The scrum master aims to manage projects and responsibilities, while ensuring their team has what they need. They set priorities and are in charge of creating the project’s backlog, managing “sprints”, providing necessary resources for each sprint, and leading each team member on their next task.
Building an agile war room requires that you work with external agencies, adding depth to key resource areas such as media buying, creative, and UX design. This may challenge your agency’s established processes, but we have found the performance boost is worth the change in procedures.
Senior leaders need to be involved with the war-room team and should communicate with it in a lightweight manner. Dashboards should be created that provide metrics on key indicators.
Reading about what war-room teams do, one might think agile processes only apply to direct-response marketing activities. However, product development, marketing mix, and brand marketing can all be improved using agile methods. Agile methods allow for frequent feedback to make adjustments more quickly and testing ideas in the market before investing too much time into them.
An agile marketing team has a series of steps that are repeated as jobs start and finish.
High-level overview: Marketing is done on a project basis, where the marketing team works to advertise or decrease exposure for different products. Each milestone is broken down into smaller milestones, all managed through an agile process developed by Scrum Alliance.
Aligns with leadership to set team expectations.
Once the war-room team is assembled, it works with marketers and other key stakeholders to establish concrete objectives that everyone can rally behind.
After the ground rules and norms for a project are thrown out the window by the war-room team, members must meet to establish themselves in their new culture. The team emphasizes continuous collaboration, speed, unpredictability, data trumping opinions and accountability—which is all put into place with customer satisfaction at its center of focus.
Analyzes the data for opportunities.
A team ought to be up and running the second day after being hired. This begins with jointly coming up with insights based on targeted analytics.
Insights should identify instances where pain points or issues occur in decision-making. Every morning the team holds a daily stand-up to tackle issues and agree on a plan for that day. This practice makes accountability easier because everyone has to report back in person the next day.
Designs and prioritizes tests based on company goals.
When a new idea is proposed, the Facilitation Team can suggest improvements and also propose on how best to evaluate that improvement.
When we want to find things that might make business more profitable and easy for the company, we prioritize them. This makes it so priorities are bumped to the top of the queue for tests right away!
The team runs tests for 1-2 weeks at a time to validate whether proposed changes contribute to the desired goal of completion rates.
The team needs to work efficiently. This means that meetings are infrequent, and when they do happen, it should be for a short duration. Additionally, there is a need for an efficient production process with approval strings cut as close to the diminishing line as possible to keep up efficiency levels at an evened out rate, producing a smoother throughput of projects for the sprint.
The Scrum Alliance created a framework which defines all of the roles, responsibilities and processes to help give people an idea on how to build out their own agile teams. They cover everything from product management and software development to marketing and IT professionals.
Iterates ideas based on results to find the best one that correlates.
The team must have an effective strategy for monitoring the performance of their tests. The scrum master will lead review sessions to review and adapt test findings quickly, so that they can scale up successful tests and kill off those which didn’t work.
The team holds a standup to review any lessons learned from the previous sprint and communicate results before reporting those findings to key stakeholders. The scrum master then reviews priorities for the next sprint based on test results in the prior one and uses them as guidelines for feasible goals for this next sprint.
What is Agile Marketing Like With Kanban?
Scrum is a highly prescriptive approach to project management. It has strict opinions about how work should be done, and when it should be done. Kanban takes an adaptive stance on what is necessary for successful project management, instead of being rigid with its expectations.
Kanban is not a rigid system that forces you to abide by specific guidelines. Rather, it is a continual improvement process.
Kanban is based on the idea that by limiting your work at a given time, you get more done.
Kanban is a useful system that urges you to focus on finishing rather than starting something.
The Kanban Board.
A Kanban team needs a kanban board that portrays how work is really done on the team, not how we wish it could be done or how managers think it should be completed.
By making the process visible like this, we can see where things are getting stuck—called bottlenecks. As a team, we can start to make adjustments that will eliminate these bottlenecks and improve efficiency.
If you’re having trouble figuring out how to structure the board, think about any major gatekeepers in your workflow and use those as columns.
The board should represent the outer limits of a workflow.
If some of the sources for my team’s work are outside the team, like sales, then planning new projects should come later in our workflow visualization.
Once you’ve submitted your content for review, without including the review stage as a part of the workflow, you may incorrectly think that content is “ready for review.” In reality, if it hasn’t been approved by legal or otherwise prepared for publication while waiting on approval, it’s not in Review but in Done and awaiting approval.
One more thing to keep in mind about the board: you need it to mirror how work is done on your team and be as simple as possible.
In order to avoid complexity, you should aim for no more than seven columns in your workflow. If the system needs more complexity than that, it may be time to split into two different boards.
If your team has small sub-sections that focus on different kinds of work, keep in mind to create several boards with their separate types of discussion.
The point of all this visualization – the efficient movement of work across a team – is to locate where blockers are preventing it from moving freely.
Agile teams need to set up a WIP limit that limits the amount of work in each state at any given time. This is one of the most powerful tools in an Agile kit.
We don’t want a work in progress limit that’s too high, because then we have tasks that sit idle.
If the number of unassigned writes is too limiting, then some people will be idle and not have any work to do. In both cases there’s slowness in workflow throughout the system, which is not desirable.
To improve workflow, we need a limit on the number of WIPs that is just right. Ideally, this would be no more than one bottleneck in a system at any given time.
One issue is that we’re only operating at maximum capacity for one step in our workflow.
Everyone will have moments of downtime, or slack.
Slack is a great byproduct of high functioning Kanban or Agile teams because it allows you to take some time-outs when you’re not doing anything productive. During this period, team members can think about ways they can improve the process, do some professional education, or strategize about their next project with their colleagues.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, but the fact that members on a marketing team are given time to reflect is a major improvement over marketing teams who spend their time running without any intention or knowledge of where they’re going.”
As you’re working towards this goal and setting your first WIP limits, start higher than what you may initially think is reasonable.
You will need to input enough text in order to see cleanly where improvements are needed. If you don’t do this, your tasks may not be sufficiently represented in the process and the areas of improvement may not be visible.
The more team members there are, the greater the need for workload management. Consider doubling initial WIP limits to accommodate individual personalities and work preferences. Four writers would have a maximum of eight item on their plate at any given time because human beings thrive when they’re working within an environment that is well suited to their personality type.
Making Policies Clear
It’s crucial to establish clear guidelines about how work should be done by your team before implementing a Kanban system. The most efficient way to do this is to create explicit policies that state the one correct way of completing each task.
We need to clarify the structure we use for retrospectives and backlog refinement since sprints don’t factor in these aspects.
This process is powerful because we can have retros every week, but only work on the backlog when it has less than five items.
These two activities don’t have to happen at a certain time, or be tied in with any Sprint.
Make sure that your backlog refinement, retrospectives, and releases are defined. Standup meetings should happen daily to get the best results.
Projects with deadlines should be given higher priority over those that don’t have a deadline, while urgent requests from the C-suite may need to sequester all other in-progress work.
The Kanban Work Item Types
The easiest way to implement policies is to categorize your work. For example, if you define categories or buckets for different jobs, then when new work comes in, it will be categorized and the team will know how they should handle it.
Kanban teams are able to avoid estimating individual work items thanks to the combination of work-item types and explicit policies.
It is difficult for the team to remember work types if there are too many, so try to keep your list fewer than six items.
The policies that you set for work items should be easy to remember.
Who is Kanban for?
The following are four characteristics that may indicate Kanban is a good fit for you.
Kanban is ideal for teams of any size, but it can be especially useful if you and your team fall out of the Scrum range.
To some extent, the Kanban system is utilized by single person teams and can be scaled up as needed without much additional effort.
Second, if you rely on external resources for your work, such as another department in your organization or agencies or freelancers to complete tasks, then Kanban might be the best way to manage those vritual deadlines.
Kanban may better serve those in your organization who do not want to make a change, as it is designed for gradual improvement without requiring huge changes.
If you want to help your marketing team adopt Kanban, you should consider some of the following tactics –
Make sure to establish a kanban board.
These can be visual aids that help you, your team and stakeholders better understand the process of completing tasks at hand by showing the queue and workflow.
Establish limits on work-in-progress (WIP) for any given task.
Limit your WIP according to the capacity of items in the workflow.
Keep your WIP limits low, preferably under three items at a time. You can increase this number if you come up with better processes for managing and tracking those work items.
Regularly conduct standups on the status of all your projects and tasks, so that once the sprint starts everyone is in sync on where they are at with their work items.
Follow the one task-one feedback rule – for example, if you are working on a project then make sure that you do not have multiple tasks open at once to prevent double or triple handling of issues. Make open loops visible on your kanban board.
To avoid future problems, regularly reflect on what went well and what could have been done better in the previous sprint.
When a new member joins your team, ensure that they understand how the team operates with respect to task management and getting feedback from stakeholders.
The above information will be very helpful when it comes to running a successful kanban experiment for marketing. It is important that software development teams also have roles assigned during a sprint. Make sure to define your role for any incoming job and ensure you have the correct resources allocated for them before commencing work.
When it comes to managing projects, marketing teams can use kanban boards to help prioritize their tasks by visibility of content and which project each task belongs to. If you are interested in trying out kanban for your marketing team, there is a lot of useful information out there to help you get started and build the best process around it.
The following are three powerful reasons why you should consider Kanban as the platform to manage your digital marketing projects –
- It can boost productivity.
Kanban has been proven to increase productivity by managing and visualizing your workflow. It removes the clutter of to-do lists, emails and other similar task management tools with the kanban boards displaying only what’s relevant at a given time.
- Your team will be more organized.
When you use Kanban, it is easy to keep your backlog manageable by reducing unnecessary tasks and focusing on delivering only the highest priorities. Plus, focusing your efforts on getting tasks done one at a time will make it easier to track them through completion.
“The less you have in progress, the faster you’ll go from concept to cash.” – Paul Graham
- You will reduce risk of failure.
Addressing only the highest priorities that serve your business goals and ignoring everything else will dramatically reduce the risk of failure. You will achieve your key objectives in a timely manner while avoiding other risky projects that can delay or even undo your company’s growth.
- Kanban helps you with continuous improvement.
Kanban allows you to improve your existing workflows with the help of regular retrospectives. With these, you can identify how your process could be improved to make it more efficient and useful for your organization.
- Kanban is well suited for Marketing projects.
Kanban boards are great project management tool for marketing teams because they clearly show what tasks are in progress and their status (e.g. to do, in progress, done). This kind of visual management can drastically improve the efficiency of your team and provide for a more lean approach in delivering projects.
Span throughout the company.
The ultimate goal is to have the marketing organization work in an agile way, which requires a lot of time and effort.
The key factor in scaling is building credibility. As you watch the war-room team work through their various tests, the results of agile practices will begin to spread across your company’s marketing organization.
For each promising test result, the team is able to forecast the impact at scale and provides a brief for explaining how these findings can be operationalized when marketing initiatives are undertaken. With credibility we know there’s an easier way to add more agile teams; one retail company operating across thirteen war rooms alone has scaled up its operations.
Companies need to ensure each of their war rooms are focused on one specific goal or problem. For example, an organization might have a team dedicated to customer acquisition and another to cross-selling existing customers or retargeting those who didn’t purchase before.
When first creating agile teams, it is best to add them one at a time to allow the new team to become established. As more agile processes are put in place and more expertise is gained, these teams can grow larger and take on additional work.
A systematic approach to bringing new teams online provides support for those with less experience and creates an efficient metric dashboard for leaders.
The control tower plays a key role in synchronizing the work of all departments so they can focus on their own tasks to deliver products more quickly.
As organizations invest more in agile practices for marketing, the insights they generate will shape a greater percentage of the organization.
In the face of stagnation, market executives should abandon tradition in favor change. By actively adopting agile practices, marketers can transform their organizations to fast-moving teams that continually drives growth for the company.