In June 2012, 35 marketing enthusiasts met in San Francisco to build the Agile Marketing Manifesto. Today, that plan guides a marketing approach destined to transform your entire organization. Because who needs physical agility when you can do it in your promotional efforts?
In this guide, we’ll discuss just how agile principles can apply to marketing teams today, and how you can use them. Oh, and what agile marketing actually is. So let’s start there.
What, Exactly, is Agile Marketing?
We’ll let McKinsey define this for us:
Agile, in the marketing context, means using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real-time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating.
At scale, a high-functioning agile marketing organization can run hundreds of campaigns simultaneously and multiple new ideas every week.
Sounds promising, right? It’s all about speed and, well, agility. That tends to result in faster learnings, results, and potential adjustments.
This concept of agility originally comes from software development, and it’s been around for a while. In that field, short ‘sprints’ of incremental building blocks lead to more quality assurance and better products.
In the marketing world, the same concept is just starting to gain a foothold. Its benefits, though, are just as significant.
The marketing approach most organizations take is linear. You learn about a project, then put a team together, execute it, and evaluate it after the fact.
The problem with this approach is how long it can take. Break a project down into linear steps, and even a simple email campaign can take two months to execute.
How does agile marketing differ? Let’s examine those benefits.
A quick disclaimer: agile marketing is not effective when used as a crutch to avoid thoughtful strategy or planning. It requires just as much planning, strategy, and execution as more linear approaches; the difference is that those steps happen concurrently, in smaller increments, and are supported by evolving data to become more flexible and data-based.
The Marketing Benefits of Going Agile
With increased agility comes increased flexibility; it’s what makes yoga so appealing. While yoga is great for physical agility, going agile can give your marketing efforts these advantages:
- Speed. According to one survey, 36% of agile marketing teams release and publish projects faster than they would otherwise. Speed reduces backlog, as well.
- Strategy. More than 85% of agile marketers feel that they are strategically aligned with their organization, while less than 80% of traditional marketers feel the same way.
- Teamwork. Going agile requires the entire marketing team (more on how to build that team below), increasing project ownership and involvement.
- Adaptability. The ability to change gears quickly is the most frequently cited benefit of going agile. Who are we to disagree?
These advantages don’t even include the benefits carried over from agile software development. The aforementioned increased quality assurance is especially valuable to anyone looking to avoid mistakes in their work.
These benefits aren’t automatic, of course. You need the right infrastructure in place to implement agile marketing strategies (did we mention that a marketing orchestration platform like Welcome is a must?). You also need to make sure that the agile philosophy guides all of your marketing functions. Let’s get into that.
7 Values to Guide Your Agile Approach
Remember that Agile Marketing Manifesto from the SprintZero event in San Francisco? It’s still the best way to examine the details of what actually makes the concept tick and the philosophy behind it.
It’s also not nearly as controversial as some other manifestos out there!
The core piece of the manifesto is its 7 values to guide agile marketers:
- Validated learning over opinions and conventions. In other words, throw out the status quo and focus on the data instead.
- Customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchies. The more cross-functional the team, the better. We’ll get to that soon.
- Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns. No more set-and-forget until the budget is gone. Instead, think about it as a constant stream of checkpoints, small adjustments, and feedback loops.
- The process of customer discovery over static prediction. Understanding your audience never ends, and every bit of marketing should contribute to discovering just who your customers are.
- Flexible vs. rigid planning. The best marketing plans are never final. Instead, they constantly change and evolve based on real-world learnings.
- Responding to change over following a plan. Why would you continue running something when the feedback is worse than expected? Adjustments in your workflow are not a bad thing, they should be encouraged.
- Many small experiments over few large bets. Don’t attack with your entire army of marketing tactics. Try to win on many fronts, then continue learning and adjusting based on each iteration and experiment.
That sounds complicated. But it’s worth the investment and philosophy adjustment if you build the right team around you.
How to Build Your Team of Agile Marketing Avengers
Agile, no matter whether we’re talking about marketing or software development, is a team effort. Building the right team around you will increase your chances for success.
Here’s our recommendation: a two-level, collaborative approach that ultimately brings your entire organization into the fold.
- The war-room team plans, learns, and improves. It consists of 6-10 members from all relevant areas of your organization.
- The advocacy team spreads the news across the organization. These are the cheerleaders, aiming to get all levels of the org chart to buy in.
That war-room team is the hub. Team members should include planners, strategists, and members of the creative team.
In other words, these are truly cross-functional teams.
The hierarchy is relatively flat, but three leadership roles do stand out as crucial to success:
- The scrum master is the leader of the team. Scrum masters are familiar with the agile methodology, setting priorities and timelines while managing sprint planning and execution.
- The analytics lead is the data geek. They know what numbers and metrics to track, and what they mean, creating the reports needed to reach benchmarks and judge successes.
- The project manager keeps everyone on track. They keep an eye on the work in progress, the timeline for the next sprint, and the workloads required.
Last note: you don’t necessarily need c-suite representation for your agile marketing teams. But they should be kept in the loop to provide resources when needed.
The 5 Things You Need to Create an Agile Marketing Process
How do you get that yoga-like agility that truly unlocks the advantages of this modern marketing methodology?
The short answer: implementing an agile approach is complex.
The longer answer goes beyond simple concepts like using a whiteboard or improving your content marketing. Instead, you need 5 things in place to make your agile attempts successful:
- Buy-in at the highest levels
- A clear goal
- The right attitude
- A basic understanding of agile concepts
- Agile-optimized project management tools.
Let’s dig in.
1. Buy-in at the Highest Levels
A truly agile emphasis goes beyond your marketing department. But it also goes beyond those cross-functional teams we mentioned above. You need true buy-in at the highest levels of your organization.
That’s not just your CMO or another marketing leader. It should include as many members of executive leadership as possible.
One way to accomplish that goal: regular check-ins with all relevant stakeholders so they become active participants in the process. They may even become part of that advocacy team that spreads the word about your successes.
2. A Clear Goal (And Then a Few More)
What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish?
At the highest level, you might be looking to improve your digital marketing processes or even pieces of these processes, like social media or content marketing. The most comprehensive approaches, though, aim to reform your entire marketing strategy.
High-level goals are not enough, though. Take some time to define where you need to improve your marketing strategy, and how going agile will accomplish that. This could be any number of things:
- Faster time-to-market for new marketing campaigns.
- More successful product launches.
- Improved creative processes in both quality and timing.
Quantify your goals whenever you can. Attaching a specific timeline and KPIs, such as a percentage reduction in time to market or resource spend, can help you evaluate your agile marketing success – and sell the process to your entire organization once you reach your goals.
3. The Right Attitude
It might sound like a cliché, but attitude is a significant part of the agile philosophy. You need a healthy amount of retrospective, combined with a strict continuous improvement mindset.
Every past campaign, project, or experiment is an opportunity to learn. Nothing is ever perfect, and everything can be improved. Once that attitude settles in across your organization, you’re halfway to agile.
4. A Basic Understanding of Agile Practices
Agile marketing owes much of its heritage to agile software development. Many of the same concepts apply here as well, so your war-room team, at least, should be familiar with at least a few of them. That might include:
- The aforementioned sprints, which are quick, one or two-week periods when small chunks of work or tasks are done.
- Kanban boards, which show projects along with who’s responsible and the progress that’s been made.
- The concept of short, daily stand-up meetings to get the team on the same page and distribute roles for the day.
- Iteration of processes, or repeating core steps of the project with minimal changes to isolate issues and learn from changing results.
Those are just a few concepts key to agile, of course. Familiarize yourself with common agile and scrum glossary terms to learn how they contribute to the larger philosophy.
5. Agile-Optimized Project Management Tools
Finally, you’ll need the right software behind you to execute all those concepts. Above all, that means a project management platform designed to help you collaborate, move quickly, and learn from your sprints and projects.
Ideally, the platform you choose isn’t just optimized for agile, but also for marketing teams. Who knows? It might even include templates to help you get started more quickly.
And wouldn’t you know it, Welcome has been developed with just that purpose in mind. The best part? Depending on your needs, you might not even need to pay for it.
So why wait? Get started with a free Welcome account today, and start embracing agile marketing.