Agile Marketing

Agile Marketing: Five Tips To Do It Right

Agile marketing makes marketing departments more effective by using agile software principles that allow marketers to move faster in response to customer-centric needs. Agile marketers work in sprints — focused, one- to two-week projects — under a scrum master in cross-functional teams. In our practice, we have found the fail-test-succeed iterative nature of agile to be extremely helpful in ensuring that business-to-business (B2B) revenue growth is based on the right drivers, especially locking in customer value.

Structuring teams to allow them to pivot midstream can prevent losses due to a stubborn resistance to letting go of existing low-value programs. Finally, the one-and-done mindset of annual or biannual marketing planning can create lumbering, non-responsive tactics that do not allow our stakeholders to move to meet market demand. Agile takes care of these pain points neatly.

Following are five ways to make your marketing department more agile, with a very important caveat before you start: Make sure your internal (marketing department) and external (e.g., agency) teams are aligned for speed as opposed to a careful and plodding approach.

1. Prep your culture. 

The only way agile marketing works is if you can go beyond silos and assure fast sign-off and responsiveness from all of your stakeholders. This doesn’t sound like most companies, does it? While this sounds great on paper, without solid change management practices and executive sponsorship, you might be in for an uphill battle.

I advise “lunch and learn” and other informal consensus-building team meetings prior to any change. Because you must gain their input prior to the change, your staunchest opponents can become your biggest cheerleaders.

2. Stay data-driven. 

Using agile requires up-to-the-minute data, and that means excellent marketing automation capabilities. As a Gartner article explains, “According to the Gartner CMO Spend Survey 2017-2018, marketing analytics now gets the greatest share of marketing budget spend among 13 marketing capabilities and 62% of CMOs say they will increase analytics spending in 2018.”

This includes letting executives in on more granular information via dashboards that you’ve designed so well, they won’t prompt an anxious call from the top floor. 

3. Learn to love failure.

Agile marketing only works if your teams become comfortable with being wrong. Because agile works on a test-fail-retest cycle, some of what you’re doing won’t work. That’s really the beauty of it: These ideas are the ones that will have the most customer impact and the best chance of success.

The good news is that no matter how many things you get wrong, agile marketing allows you to reap the benefits of all the right things you do and repeat them more frequently to achieve better results. I have worked with marketing teams that were unable to admit that the underpinning of most of their activities was built on shaky ground. These types of teams aren’t able to leverage failure as one of the most important tools in their arsenal to grow closer to the customer. Thus, they can’t safeguard the revenue-generating power of a truly customer-centric marketing team.

4. Stay committed to the process. 

When we gain more frequent feedback from the projects in our marketing mix from a wider group of stakeholders, we follow very stringent reporting guidelines. We do this to ensure the testing and retesting of strategies doesn’t threaten team members and sponsors who might otherwise feel vulnerable when their “pet” projects are taken off the docket or changed significantly based on inputs from the sprints.

These teams have various levels of comfort with change. In my experience, commitment comes when these stakeholders and team members experience greater returns more often and witness cost-savings based on the ability to throw out what’s not working much faster than before. Commitment to the process and the ability to create nimble ways to react to customer data without getting caught up in pet projects — or in emotional reactions to missteps — will be crucial to your agile empowerment.

Frequent dashboarding of commonly agreed-upon key preformance indicators (KPIs) shared in a collaborative project platform will help scrum masters use real-time reporting to alleviate these issues. Creating a matrix of measurements that turn up red-yellow-green when triggered allow all of those involved to understand when cost-risk guardrails are being breached. (This isn’t difficult when you’ve got the right MA tool).

5. Create a discipline-driven framework.

Experts like McKinsey also coach us to place a person with solid agile experience as a scrum master. This person runs a team of cross-functional decision-makers who have been individually empowered to work on these projects. All of this takes a lot of discipline, but it’s OK to work with the idiosyncrasies of your company to empower agile marketing appropriately.

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I understand how some might write off agile marketing as a difficult sell for stakeholders. It signals a sea change from dictatorial marketing programs to transparent, cross-functional empowerment for niche experts like analysts, developers, designers, UX gurus and managers savvy enough to let them do what they do best.

The best agile marketers create impactful programs backed by solid business intelligence whose worth is measured iteratively and whose direction can change on a dime. I have used agile marketing to enable better organizational responsiveness to customer mandates. In doing so, we were able to prove our worth again and again. We may fail fast, but we succeed even faster.

Note: this article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

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Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan has 25 years of marketing, technology, and senior management experience. As both a marketing executive and services provider, Chris has created and executed numerous programs that build market awareness, drive lead generation and increase revenue.
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