What Changes With Agile Marketing?
Agile Marketing is a new philosophy and operating model for marketing that stems from the widespread adoption of agile and lean practices in product development and operations. Studies have proven that these methodologies can have a significant impact on how marketing teams operate and what they can achieve:
However, when you hear phrases such as “iterative planning”, “data-driven” and “customer focussed”, you have to think, so what? What’s new? Isn’t this how we’re supposed to be doing marketing these days?
Simply put, yes, but Agile Marketing encompasses so much more. It’s a discipline in its own right that constitutes a completely new and different approach. So, what changes with Agile Marketing?
There are five core aspects or dimensions that we have to consider and address when it comes to adopting an Agile Marketing approach:
Agile Marketing requires a new mindset, way-of-thinking, and set of values. It is a philosophy of continuous refinement and improvement; deep collaboration; pride in ownership; focus on delivering customer value; and adaptiveness to change. These core tenets represent the pillars of the Agile Marketing culture. At first glance, they may again seem obvious and already ubiquitous; yet individually they are largely neglected in today’s marketing teams, and collectively, very rarely applied.
Agile Marketing is based on a central premise that to meet the needs and desires of customers who are more savvy, demanding and critical than ever before, we must constantly innovative. This requires a belief that we’re never done, that we must continuously strive for improvement in every aspect of our marketing thinking and execution.
Continuous innovation is predicated on deep collaboration between individuals, teams and functions. This isn’t just working together; it’s about having an unwavering commitment to the collective - to being prepared to constantly look at where and how you can add value for the team. Agile Marketing is built on pull-systems of self-management. These are where individuals determine their own work by ‘pulling’ from the top priorities to ensure that the overall project is delivered. This necessitates deep collaboration to draw on others inputs and feedback to be able to determine what needs to be done, and then bring in the skills and expertise where necessary to get tasks completed. Everyone must have each others backs - ongoing. This level of joint commitment and accountability also dictates a higher level of communication. Teams must have open, transparent and continual dialogue to know where each other is, what needs to be done, and to overcome any blockers or hurdles.
In this system, the individual becomes paramount. The strength of the team is determined by the weakest link; so everyone has to step-up to the mark. There’s no hiding in Agile Marketing, everyone is accountable to the group for what they deliver, so it’s crucial that individually they have pride in ownership. Management is diffused to the edges where individuals are closer to the actual customer, and understand better what needs to happen to deliver the desired outcomes. Individuals must therefore be prepared to take ownership, have responsibility, and strive to deliver their best. If not, this becomes quickly apparent to the collective.
Deep collaboration and individual ownership are focused around delivering customer value. The customer is the ‘North Star’ for Agile Marketing teams; they put customer value at the beginning, middle and end of everything they do. This unequivocal focus eliminates superfluous thinking and actions; if something isn’t adding value for the customer, it’s deemed irrelevant. This gives an un-questionable guide for making decisions and plans – opinions, projections and hypotheticals are minimized or eliminated altogether.
"Agile Marketing places the customer voice at the heart of all activity, creating a customer-centricity that many organisations are struggling to achieve."
Finally, Agile Marketing is about an attitude of adaptiveness to change. It’s having the sense of the customer, market and environment to see and understand change so that it can be acted upon in real-time. There are still long-term strategies and plans, but how they’re delivered is flexible. An openness to change, allows us to optimize our actions and deliver results that are more relevant to the pertaining conditions.
Agile Marketing breaks down traditional structural silos, with individuals joining forces to do better work in more efficient ways. Deep collaboration can’t happen in highly demarcated teams where there’s little cross-over of knowledge, thinking and ideas. Agile Marketing structures are therefore flat, with teams coalescing around individual customers, or groups of customers.
“We found we could significantly reduce headcount but actually improve flexibility in deployment, simply by minimising the number of steps to get to market.”
Steve Walker, former CMO & Corporate VP, Sony Mobile Communications
Agile Marketing requires people to work in small, cross-functional teams that are empowered to make decisions based on an agreed strategy. Teams are largely self-organising; they define their own practices and disciplines, being guided by the customer and holding each other accountable. Work is determined by a transparent group prioritisation, focused on maximising customer value and outcomes. The team then decides the best ways to accomplish these priorities in an iterative and experimental manner.
Leadership’s role in this context is servant – they are there to help the team succeed, not to dictate work, direct actions, or fixate on the numbers. It’s in their, and the business', best interests to allow the team to operate at maximum efficacy and efficiency, so Leadership’s role is to put in place the conditions and resources to enable them to do this. This is a big leap for Leadership – yet when ownership and accountability are moved to the edges, much greater results are attained with more commitment, insight, and understand for how to succeed.
An Agile Marketing strategy requires BOTH deep thinking and evolution. It sets an overall direction, but then adapts to new information and change to hone and refine the actual path taken.
“Agile Marketing is an instrument of strategy, not a replacement for strategy.”
One of the great misnomers of Agile Marketing is that it means no strategy or planning. In fact it’s quite the contrary – Agile Marketing requires a tremendous amount of both, just in new ways that are more conducive to achieving the desired goals.
With Agile, you need to have a clear destination or outcome; where are you going and what are you looking to achieve? The path to get there can change at any time though to optimize that direction and ensure that the route is still relevant. Strategy is therefore much more ongoing and adaptive, rather than set and on-rails. In this way, the strategy evolves and improves – it takes in new inputs to refine the thinking, and offer new options and opportunities.
At its heart, Agile Marketing is a set of business practices with specific methodologies, approaches and rituals for planning, organising, tracking and optimising the work of individuals and teams.
‘Agile’ is something of an umbrella term used to encompass an array of techniques including Lean, Scrum, Kanban, and Scrumban, amongst others. There are many specific aspects to each one, with different behaviours, cadences, measurements, and terms. Each has merits and flaws which will be more or less relevant to the different teams or organisations applying them. It’s up to each to review and understand the different nuances, and then decide the ones to adopt, often mixing elements to create a more refined system. In this respect, you can think of Agile Marketing as something of a smorgasbord of options.
The best way to start with Agile Marketing is to use an Agile approach. Test, experiment and iterate on an ongoing basis with different components, using data and feedback to learn and understand what works, and thereby optimise and improve.
To facilitate Agile Marketing ways-of-working, we need a new toolkit to visualize and manage workflows. We need tools that will help us capture our work inputs, prioritise, and then process these so we can effectively deliver the required outputs and outcomes.
[Note: here I’m talking about tools that will simplify and expedite our Agile planning and work management; not the tools that we need to schedule and deliver our marketing itself.]
These tools break down into three core groups:
According to PwC, only 36% of CEOs believe their marketing and brand organisations can respond to transformative changes. Further, a study by McKinsey determined that three in four marketers (75%) are concerned about the impact of threats from existing competitors who are more agile. Crucial, given that Forrester have stated that almost all marketers (96%) believe the pace of change in marketing and technology will continue to accelerate.
Adopting Agile Marketing represents a clear competitive advantage to address these challenges. Before embarking on an Agile Marketing program though, it’s important to understand and consider the ramifications and implications for your marketing team and wider organization. Making Agile Marketing work takes time, patience and practice, but the benefits are unequivocal and significant.