How IBM and Aviva Got Started with Agile Marketing

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NewsCred held a ThinkContent Lab in London at the end of November, bringing together marketing leaders from Aviva and IBM to discuss the topic of agile marketing: what it is, what they’ve learned, and how technology plays a vital role in its successful implementation.
This article was written following the event by speaker Scott Stockwell, Editor in Chief at IBM Europe, and was originally published on LinkedIn and has since been lightly edited.

I recently joined Aviva’s Global Head of Digital Marketing, Mike Oakey, at their super spec’ed out Digital Garage in Hoxton for an afternoon exploring agile marketing.
The event was part of NewsCred’s ThinkContent Labs, where my LinkedIn article, “7 learnings from agile marketing,” led to them asking me to share my experience at IBM. Mike and I both had the opportunity to present on our journeys and takeaways from transforming our teams into agile marketing organizations.

The major advantages of agile marketing

There were many similarities between my experience at IBM and the journeys that Mike shared. The major overlaps and points of emphasis were breaking down silos to bring cross-functional teams together, giving teams the autonomy to direct their own paths that drive results, and realizing value for customers and clients more quickly.
Mike pointed out the cultural shift that going agile has allowed to happen. Their teams have become so close they’re bonding. Another observation he spoke about was that agile transformation has resulted in people who have cross-skills — in other words, jacks of all trades. “It’s important to know your specialization, but you also need to know enough about it all,” he said.

Does technology or people drive the change?

One fundamental difference in our experiences was our starting off points. For Aviva, the technology had been the starting point. In fact, one of their KPIs was getting more people to use technology. At IBM, we started with the people and the way we work together, scaled the processes, and then implemented technology for support. Ultimately our paths converged, but it was very clear that the starting points were different.
IBM’s CMO, Michelle Peluso, has spoken often about marketing being “agile to the core,” customer first, and data-driven. Mike and I both started out by bringing cross-functional teams together — each of us thinking we had started something unique — both to find out shortly afterwards that the software world’s “agile approach” had already inspired new ways for marketers to work together. Since then, each of us has seen agile scale in our organizations, ultimately becoming the defining way that we collaborate to serve our customers.

What “It’s a Knockout” can teach you about agile marketing

I started my presentation with a clip from “It’s a Knockout.” If you’re unfamiliar with the TV show (as about 60% of the audience weren’t when I checked in with them) — picture a school sports day with bigger obstacle courses, everyone in over-sized costumes, and presenters who laugh more than they commentate — and you’re about there. For me, it encapsulates working collaboratively to achieve a shared goal with clear customer value. And if/when the team fails or strays from their intended path, there’s a system of support to get them started on their way again.
The rest of my presentation described our journey to becoming agile — from one team in one room, very much testing and learning, to all marketers receiving face-to-face education supported by a league of agile champions, the use of an “agile health radar,” a certified training program, and a digital playbook. 
The takeaway here is that it’s not a quick-fix, easy change to make. It involves taking time and resources to educate your team, bringing in all stakeholders, and ultimately changing the way that they work. There might be some pushback in the process. Mike mentioned that at Aviva, though their PR team was supportive, the branding and communications teams weren’t fully on board with agile at first. But, and as Mike concurred, the transformation to agile will help you deliver on things quicker and more efficiently, so it’s well worth it in the end.
Scott Stockwell is the Editor in Chief of IBM Europe.

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