What Is Agile Marketing?
What do IBM, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Santander, Hilton, HubSpot, Travelocity, Salesforce, Kraft, Dell, Adobe, Oracle, Expedia, Pepsi, Fidelity Investments, Kissmetrics, Vistaprint, Xerox, Avaya, Symantec, and Sainsbury’s (to name a few) all have in common? Answer: they’re all moving, or at least trialling, using Agile Marketing practices to plan, execute and optimise their marketing activities. In fact, according to the 2018 State of Agile Marketing 37% of marketers report using some form of Agile to manage their work, with nearly two-thirds (61%) of traditional marketers planning to start an Agile implementation within the next twelve months. Agile Marketing has started to gain real traction and momentum as a new philosophy and approach to marketing. Yet many marketing teams still haven’t made the move to Agile ways-of-working. As such, they risk getting left behind, not only by their competitors but also by the rest of their organisations. So, what is Agile Marketing?
The Agile Marketing Framework
If we take the verb ‘agile’ it’s defined as being nimble, responsive, dynamic, adaptive and fast - all characteristics that we can certainly aspire to and see the clear benefits of for modern marketing teams. To achieve these though we have to adopt ‘Agile’ as a discipline, we have to change the way we work. It’s best to think of Agile in layers:
Firstly, Agile is a set of principles and values that collectively guide how we should think, behave and, importantly, respond to different situations and scenarios. At its core, an Agile approach to Marketing means flexible planning that’s responsive to change, validating learnings through testing and data, customer-focused collaboration, adaptive and iterative campaigns rather than big-bangs, and ongoing experimentation.
This approach is delivered through a set of methodologies. In all, there are around 100 different Agile methodologies that could be applied, the more familiar being Lean, Scrum and Kanban. Which ones to use, and specifically how, will depend on the context of the business in question, and will change over time as circumstances shift and the organisation becomes more accustomed to Agile ways-of-working. It’s crucial to work with people who understand and have experience of Agile to help decide which methodologies make sense for your business.
Within these methodologies are defined practices - specific roles, meetings, rituals, tools and tasks that make up the methodology. You may have come across concepts such as sprint cycles, stand-ups, backlogs, and Kanban Boards as examples of Agile practices.
A New Operating Model for Marketing
Taking these layers of Agile Marketing as a whole, it represents a completely new way for marketing teams and functions to work. This can be considered as the new ‘operating model’ for modern marketing.
An operating model consists of the processes, systems and structures that an organisation uses to deliver value to its customers and beneficiaries. It focuses on how the organisation actually runs to create the outcomes it desires; at an operational level how the strategic inputs materialise into tactical outputs:
Agile Marketing connects an upfront marketing strategy with the end tactical execution (i.e. content, search, advertising, social media, and so on). It provides a model for how to leverage people, processes and technology in unison to make strategies happen in a more customer-centred, responsive and effective way.
Bringing Reality to Strategy
Often, people see Agile as a ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ approach that lacks a larger vision or strategy.
It’s true...Agile isn’t a strategy. Rather, it’s a framework for implementing a strategy more effectively. It's a framework that’s especially suited to a world where external factors are constantly and rapidly changing, creating unexpected opportunities and threats. Marketing can’t afford to wait six months, a year, or even longer to know whether a strategy is working or not. By then it’s too late!
Agile Marketing is more focused; more disciplined; and delivers better strategy.
The advantage of Agile is that it provides rapid feedback loops between the intended strategy and how it actually performs in the real world. That doesn’t mean that we should swerve at the first sign of incongruity, but it gives us information early and often to make more informed, and therefore, better strategic decisions.
If a strategy isn’t performing as expected - perhaps an assumption was flawed or market conditions have shifted - Agile Marketing makes it easy for managers to adjust. For instance, implementing short time-banded work cycles (aka Sprints) provides an opportunity to repeatedly try something different, to see what works and then either double down or move on. We’re not changing the overarching strategy, but we are able to test and adjust how it’s implemented to make it more effective.
In this way, Agile Marketing supports emergent strategy.