Complete guide to Agile Marketing components and practices

The first layer of the Agile Marketing Framework is Agile Marketing as an ‘approach’. This approach reflects the principles and values that collectively guide how we should think, behave and respond to different situations and scenarios. It’s the overarching mindset of Agile Marketing, the philosophy and belief system from which everything else stems.

As Agile started to emerge in the world of software development, a group of early proponents gathered together and defined a set of core principles and values that they published as the original ‘Manifesto for Agile Software Development’ back in 2001. This stated the aims for what Agile should represent and how it should be applied. It was intended to focus purely on how to deliver higher quality software on a more sustainable basis, yet its tenets soon started to resonate beyond the field of software development to influence and be adopted by other disciplines.

Agile became the best practice management approach for executing strategy when either a) the environment in which you’re operating is fluid and shifting, and you want to rapidly sense and respond to those changes, or b) the media in which you’re delivering your strategy is malleable and has fast feedback loops, giving you the ability to iteratively optimise your execution quickly and cheaply.

As such, an Agile approach is both applicable and highly valuable to Marketing. Agile Marketing, therefore, started to gain traction to meet the challenges faced by changing customer behaviour and demands, growing market volatility, and managing the proliferation of technology. In a similar fashion to the software development community, a group of Agile Marketers met in June 2012 at what was referred to as ‘Sprint Zero’, a two-day meet-up where they drafted the ‘Agile Marketing Manifesto’. This echoed the Manifesto for Agile Software Development but considered the role of Agile in a modern marketing context.

The Agile Marketing Manifesto

By 2012, it was clear that if Agile Marketing was going to become a real movement, it needed a single point of reference. This was encapsulated at Sprint Zero as the Agile Marketing Manifesto which defined the central idea of what agility in marketing actually means.

The Agile Marketing Manifesto is intended to offer a broad perspective on what Agile Marketing is and how to apply it. It’s NOT meant to be a prescriptive set of ‘rules’ that must be adhered to at all costs, rather it should be seen as a set of ‘ideals’. Agile is about being able to adjust and adapt, and the Agile Marketing Manifesto was designed to offer the scope for individuals and teams to take its guidelines and iterate to make them work for them and their businesses.

Also, the manifesto is expected to evolve over time as marketing as a profession evolves. It states, “We are discovering better ways of creating value for our customers and for our organisations through new approaches to marketing.”

The manifesto consists of seven values:

❶  Validated learning over opinions and conventions
❷  Customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
❸  Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns
❹  The process of customer discovery over static prediction
❺  Flexible versus rigid planning
❻  Responding to change over following a plan
❼  Many small experiments over a few large bets

It’s important to note that the things on the right still have value, but the new ways of marketing result in us giving more emphasis and importance to the things on the left.

Some of the values are more than a little abstract (as they should be), which can make them challenging to interpret and apply at times. Therefore, let’s walk through them so you have an idea of what each entails and can understand their direction:

Validated learning

As marketers, we often get caught by inertia. Whether explicitly or not, we’re frequently faced with the “this is the way it’s always been done”, or “this is best practice” mentality. We’re focused on how people have always done things so we ignore the opportunities to do them differently and potentially better.

This can be especially hard to resist when it’s the ‘highest-paid person’s opinion’, colloquially referred to as the HiPPO. If it’s coming down from above, it can be especially tricky to argue for an alternative.

Highest Paid Person's Opinion

Agile Marketing favours frequently running tests to validate our assumptions and find better ways of doing things. It’s all about, “Did we test it? Do we have data? Do we have the right metrics?” We’re able to conduct small experiments rapidly and regularly, meaning quicker results and less risk.

Our past experience of what works does matter, but we should always be striving for improvements. We do this through learning backed by data which is much harder to dismiss (looking at you Mr or Mrs HiPPO!).

Agile is all about letting the best ideas win.

Customer Focused Collaboration

Traditionally marketing has been a very siloed function, both internally within marketing disciplines (Brand, PR, Social, Search, etc.), as well externally with other teams and departments (Sales, Finance, Operations, etc.).

Silos create customer experiences that are incongruous and inconsistent in an age where our competitive position and long-term commercial success are dependent on them. They result in knowledge hoarding where learnings and insights aren’t shared with other teams, lengthening improvement times as each team has to therefore learn independently.

Agile Marketing breaks down these silos by turning our focus onto our customers. Teams are brought together from across functions to solve specific customer problems. Collaboration distributes knowledge freely so the teams can apply it to their work and produce more customer-centric, hence better, marketing.

Adaptive and iterative campaigns

Marketing has historically been built around long-term plans. These take significant effort and considerable time to prepare, often weeks or even months, and then cover anything from three months to multiple years in timespan, most likely six months or a year.

Once these long-term plans are in place, we break them into campaigns, usually intended to provide a ‘Big-Bang’ - the big product launch, big promotion, or big new website. We come up with a campaign concept, spend time going back-and-forth with various agency partners before running the campaign for three to six months. And then at the end, we’ve spent so much time, energy and money that we make more effort doing the post-evaluation to somehow prove that it actually made a difference.

But if these campaigns don’t work we’re in trouble! It’s then too late to go back and do anything about it.

Agile Marketing campaigns take an adaptive and iterative approach. They collapse planning cycles and run in short bursts to put activities out there, test ideas, and get quick and frequent audience feedback. Each iteration is an opportunity to learn what works or doesn’t work, allowing us to adjust our approach and continuously fine-tune our aim.

Adaptive campaigns require fewer resources to complete...which means that they’re less risky...which means we can do a lot of them very quickly...which means we can learn a lot in a short space of time.

Customer discovery

Old-school marketing plans are generally built on grand predictions of customer attitudes and behaviours which then become rigidly set in stone. These are often based on resource-intensive and expensive research, consequently increasing the business’ commitment to them. It’s too much of a risk for marketers to question the validity of these predictions when things don’t turn out as expected, therefore they question the strategies and tactics rather than the underlying assumptions.

Agile Marketing emphasises ongoing discovery of our customers. Customer discovery focuses on testing hypotheses and understanding customer problems and needs – in front of actual customers. By structuring all of our marketing as a learning exercise, we can continuously understand who our customers are, what they think, what their problems and concerns are, what they’re interested in, and how we can serve them to add value.

Agile marketers build customer discovery into their DNA. It’s baked into all of their plans and activities to build an ongoing and relevant repository of customer knowledge and insights.

Flexible Planning

As I pointed out in the ‘Busting the Myths of Agile Marketing’ section, Agile Marketing employs a very detailed and rigorous planning process.

There’s so much complexity today that modern marketers have to deal with and things are moving so fast that we simply can’t operate without some form of plan.

The difference with Agile though is that those planning processes have flexibility built-in so they can accommodate change. When circumstances move, new data comes in, or new factors emerge, the plan can adapt.

Unlike traditional marketing plans, there’s no need for a major overhaul, or even to throw it out altogether and start over.

Agile Marketing planning is a continuous cycle of prioritisation, testing, review, and re-planning to improve ongoing deliverables and ensure that strategies are moving in the right direction to achieve the desired outcomes.

Responding to Change

Change is a valuable tool for creating great marketing.

Traditional marketing management tries to wrestle the change monster to the ground though and pin it down so it goes out for the count. Traditional teams find themselves blindly following a plan and thereby missing opportunities to create more impactful, resonant and engaging marketing. Change is outside the plan and therefore reactionary - which comes at a cost. Team members are yanked into reactionary efforts meaning the work they were originally going to do is either pushed back (causing a ripple effect on other things that were planned behind it) or just dropped. Or, there’s a heroic attempt to just work harder and squeeze everything into the same timeframe by sheer force of will. Quality suffers, everything else slows down, and the team ends up getting burned out. As marketing reacts improvisationally to more and more unexpected, urgent issues it degrades its ability to execute well thought out plans in an efficient and coordinated fashion.

By contrast, Agile Marketing accommodates change systematically. Agile approaches to planning, working, and prioritisation allow teams to respond quickly to change. The flexibility of Agile actually increases project stability, because change becomes predictable and manageable. As new events unfold, the team incorporates those realities into their ongoing work. Any new item becomes the opportunity to provide additional value instead of an obstacle to avoid, giving marketing teams a greater opportunity for success.

Many Small Experiments

Many Small Experiments

In marketing, we don’t know exactly what will work in advance. We can get a steer from our own experiences and intuition, learnings our organisation has acquired, or what we’ve seen our competitors do, but ultimately predicting how our activities will perform is nearly impossible given the complexity and pace of todays markets.

Historically, our ability to try things was been limited given the timelines and costs of developing creative and running media. We would therefore make a few big bets on our best guesses and see what happened. Sometimes these worked, sometimes they didn’t.

The digital world has now changed the playing field, giving us the scope to try ideas on a small scale, quickly, at relatively little expense. We can then take the winning experiments to adopt and scale for wider distribution at relatively low risk. We can determine which big bets have the most likelihood of success by leveraging the learnings of many small bets first. The more ideas we can try, the greater the probability we have of discovering winners.

Agile Marketing Principles

Elaborating on these core values the Agile Marketing Manifesto also offered a series of principles that Agile marketers use to guide their actions. These values and principles together represent the overarching Agile Marketing approach. The subsequent chapters in this Guide will then take this and look at how it’s applied through the different methodologies and practices of Agile Marketing.

The Principles of Agile Marketing

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of marketing that solves problems
  • We welcome and plan for change. We believe that our ability to quickly respond to change is a source of competitive advantage
  • Deliver marketing programs frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale
  • Great marketing requires close alignment with the business people, sales and development
  • Build marketing programs around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done
  • Learning, through the build-measure-learn feedback loop, is the primary measure of progress
  • Sustainable marketing requires you to keep a constant pace and pipeline
  • Don’t be afraid to fail, just don’t fail the same way twice
  • Continuous attention to marketing fundamentals and good design enhances agility
  • Simplicity is essential