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What Is Agile Marketing, and Why Is It Essential to Marketing Operations?

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Four reasons marketers should implement agile marketing
  • Seven expert agile marketing tips

On June 11 in San Francisco, a group of marketers will gather for the first time to discuss the discipline of agile marketing. Their aim is to learn, share, and define the physics of agile marketing.

I queried the agile marketing community about why agile is imperative to marketing today, and what best-practices those agile marketing professionals can share with other marketers who are thinking of starting their own sprints and scrums.

Four Reasons for Agile Marketing

Tablets, smartphones, e-readers, email, content marketing... the list of devices and channels available to customers goes on. Media is getting more fragmented by the minute, and the pace is only picking up.

Faced with all of the changes in marketing over the last few years, marketers need to get serious about marketing processes. Some companies and marketers are handling the pace of change via agile marketing.


Marketing with agility is derived from the agile software development movement: Product marketers and marketers who worked closely with developers who used agile started to apply the practice to their own work and campaigns.

So, why should all marketers implement agile marketing? Practicing agile marketers offer the following four reasons.

1. Speed

  • "Time is the scarcest commodity. By shortening the cycle times, we can effectively create more time. You also get faster results and have the option to adjust faster if something is working very well or not very well." —Dan Marks, chief marketing officer, First Tennessee Bank
  • "We are operating in an increasing social and real-time environment where things are happening faster and traditional approaches to marketing planning just can't keep up." —Frank Days, vice-president of marketing, Correlsense
  • "Agile methodologies in marketing are increasingly important as the Web-paced world creates challenges and opportunities that require an organization to respond in real time." —Kirsten Knipp, senior director, marketing, SolarWinds
  • "Agile marketing processes are important because marketing is operating in the most fluid, fast-changing environment in its history. Social marketing opportunities come and go quickly, competition in dynamic advertising markets can change overnight, marketing platforms such as Google and Facebook are constantly evolving, SaaS-based tools we use have frequent updates with new features, and our own organizations are often tweaking products/services at a greatly accelerated clock speed. More importantly, our prospects and customers have now come to expect our marketing to be quick to react across these channels and experiences. Agile marketing isn't just a nice to have; it's the only way an organization has a prayer of executing at the speed the market demands." —Scott Brinker, president and chief technology officer, ion interactive inc.

2. Priority

  • "Marketing teams are no strangers to being asked to do more with less, and this year will be no exception. Clear focus and a solid understanding of the scope of work remains important, yet confining it to a specific time frame and engaging in real-time reprioritization allows teams to ensure that the most important work gets done first." —Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, chief marketing officer, Mindjet

3. Engagement

  • "Engagement is an important aspect of agile marketing, and there are two critical audiences: executives within your company, where marketing must be aligned with the overall business goals, and customers/prospects, where marketing must be engaged in a vibrant, two-way conversation, listening and telling stories. Agile marketing encourages alignment with the business goals through the mechanism of the Sprint planning session, whose goal is to get that alignment and plan the activities to deliver on the organization's goals. Agile marketing also encourages engagement with customers/prospects by measuring the results of that engagement, and adjusting in every sprint to maximize the impact of that engagement." —Jim Ewel, principal, Agile Marketing

4. Relevancy

  • "The beauty of agile is the transparency and prioritization that enables teams to shift and modify in ways that don't negatively impact bigger programs. In a world where marketers may need to spin up a new campaign in days after a competitor is purchased or a major innovation comes to light, working on months-long programs is too limiting. Agile is one of the few methodologies that breaks things into manageable chunks that can be shifted to enable [meeting] a new need." —Kirsten Knipp, senior director, marketing, SolarWinds
  • "Back in 1993, Al Ries and Jack Trout could write in their classic, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, that 'marketing effects take place over an extended length of time' (Law 11). That's no longer true. If you're Greyhound bus lines, and Alec Baldwin disses your company in his explanation for his boorish behavior on an airplane, you have to respond within 24 hours. If you're United Airlines, you can't wait a week to respond to a viral video entitled 'United Breaks Guitars.' And it's not just reputation management. If you're a marketer at Pinterest, you're riding a rocket, and you can't plan out your marketing efforts six months in advance; you have to market with real-time speed." —Jim Ewel, principal, Agile Marketing
  • "Many aspects of detailed annual marketing plans and interlock meetings become outdated by the end of the first quarter. As the software development industry learned, agile project management provides the flexibility and transparency that are essential to keep a team aligned and effective." —Frank Days, vice-president of marketing, Correlsense
  • "Because relevancy has a shorter and shorter window, when you stick to creating one very large campaign, your ability to seize current opportunities diminishes. By the time your campaign rolls out the door, the problem you're trying to solve could be long gone. With AM, rather than being bogged down in the production of one campaign, you're able to produce, deploy, and analyze much faster and keep up with current trends/problems/headaches." —Travis Arnold, director of marketing, Sendouts

Advanced Agile Marketing Tips From Seven Experts

The practice of agile marketing is still new, and it has dependencies different from those of agile development. Though developers are dependent only on themselves to complete projects, marketers often have to depend on vendors, agencies, and developers to complete a project.

The SprintZero: The Physics of Agile Marketing meeting has several core goals, including defining agile marketing's principles and sharing and learning from one another. Seven agile marketing experts will share their insights on how the practice of agile marketing works. Join us in San Francisco to learn more. But, for now, here are tips from seven experts.

  1. Frank Days, VP of marketing, Correlsense: "Build a really basic annual marketing plan (no more than one page) containing your high-level themes and metrics for the year. Then build more detailed plans on a monthly basis (i.e., a sprint plan), and meet at least three times a week to review your planned actions for the month (i.e., scrum meetings). Finally, focus meetings on what you are doing now, not what you did last week or are going to do next week."
  2. Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, CMO, Mindjet: "My mantra is 'Don't be afraid to fail; just don't fail the same way twice,' which allows for flexibility, helps prevent analysis paralysis, and offers the ability to double-down on efforts that have proven effective without the fear of failing. I'm a big fan of using collaboration tools to enhance the process, which allows teams to capture the group's best thinking and turn it into action."
  3. Travis Arnold, director of marketing, Sendouts: "Don't be scared to cut the fat. When you start an agile marketing process, it can be difficult to cut programs that you've used in the past. Just because your AdWords campaign was relevant two months ago doesn't necessarily mean it is today. Instead, determine what success means ahead of time, and then analyze after a week or two. If it passes muster, keep it around, and possibly increase intensity if it doesn't kill it, and test something new. You want to stay flexible and base your decisions on actual tests so you can allocate resources to programs that lead to demand."
  4. Kirsten Knipp, senior director of marketing, SolarWinds: "This tip/technique is not new, but it is crucial. Don't manage agile via email... Implementing and living within more robust collaboration and content-sharing tools is key to success. Whether that's via a wiki or a formal collaboration tool, the only way that agile works is when there is true visibility into a program and an understanding of status, plus what can be shifted and moved. An agile response to a market shift that breaks other programs or stops them in their tracks isn't very useful. Sharing information freely enough so that smart, rapid decisions can be made is critical to any agile marketing team."
  5. Dan Marks, CMO, First Tennessee Bank: "Sometimes, mixing up the team or assignments can yield new insights about how to make progress against your goals. It also helps develop your team."
  6. Jim Ewel, principal, Agile Marketing: "It's hardly new, but it's new to me; I've recently started using a Kanban board to manage agile marketing in my clients. We either use a physical board (a whiteboard) or we use a tool like Trello. Either works. Kanban is perfect for agile, as it allows everyone in the daily scrum to see what's up, what's being worked on, and what's completed."
  7. Scott Brinker, president and CTO, ion interactive inc.: "Learn from the unit testing and performance metrics that developers have put in place in their agile practices. It's important for agile marketers to be able to not only experiment quickly but [also] have clarity about which experiments are succeeding and be attuned to any unexpected side effects. Think of it as 'refactoring marketing.'"

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John Cass is a digital marketer, blogger, author, and co-host of the agile marketing podcast. He is volunteer co-chair of SprintZero: The Physics of Agile Marketing, the first gathering of agile marketers to take place: June 11, in San Francisco, at the Mindjet offices.

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  • by David Kemper Mon May 21, 2012 via web

    I like the approach - rather like a "lean marketing" concept. Thanks for the post; I look forward to following!

    Regards,

    David

  • by Marty Smith Mon May 21, 2012 via web

    As I watched our IT department embark on user stories, sprints with a fast, visual and MVP (minimal viable product) focus I felt strangely left out of ideas that originated on my side of the fence (marketing). Glad to see someone is applying these ideas to their rightful home (lol).

    Actually distinctions between IT and Marketing are fading fast. As Director of Marketing for Atlantic BT, a web development and Internet marketing company in Raleigh, I have to know enough about HOW things work to understand what is possible. Our IT guys have to know HOW to do things and, increasingly, they want to know WHY I think the way I do. As complicated as explaining how I think is (lol), they want an understanding of all those years working for great brand marketers such as P&G and M&M/Mars. They are thirsty to understand the WHY behind their actions.

    The world is turning fast and synergy between left brain engineering and right brain creativity is required. Glad to see we marketers will be SCRUMing some concepts from our brothers and sisters on the IT side of the fence. I promise to share too :).

    Marty

    Martin Smith
    Director Marketing

  • by Karen Mon May 21, 2012 via web

    The article didn't really define Agile Marketing. I read Managing Agile Projects by Kevin J. Aguanno about 5 years ago and applied many of the principles to managing in-house marketing teams. Basically it is a methodology for developing complex projects quickly, in stages, with the ability to incorporate new requirements along the way, without starting over every time there is an addition or revision. I recommend it as great reading for project managers.

    From Wikipedia: Agile project management is an iterative method of determining requirements for engineering and information technology development projects in a highly flexible and interactive manner.
    Helpful links:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrum_%28development%29

    http://www.tutorialspoint.com/management_concepts/agile_project_management.htm

  • by Judy Murdoch Mon May 21, 2012 via web

    I agree that transparency requires a fast response to opportunities.

    However, I'm not convinced that human nature has evolved to the point that it takes less time to develop trust, likability, and familiarity. If anything it may take more time because consumers are more cynical and suspicious of company motives.

    Also people stil want genuine, meaningful connections. You may be able to gather data faster and get communications out there. But that doesn't mean it's going to connect with your audience in a meaningful way.

  • by John Cass Mon May 21, 2012 via web

    @David, while lean isn't just for marketers. I think all of these new processes in helping to manage businesses and marketing efforts are a sign of the times. New ways of dealing with the complexity of new media. thanks!

    @Martin Glad to have you along for the event. Check out Travis Arnold's work on the synopsis of agile marketing manifesto's we'd like your input there.

    @Karen To some extent we hope to help define some of agile marketing's operating principles at the event. Very much like the 2001 agile development meeting that helped kicked off the industry. Thanks for the tip for the book!

    @Judy you raise an important point, and one that needs to be addressed in the operating principles of agile marketing. Marketing isn't just a functional set of responses to requests, but an effort to determine what works and what doesn't. Agile also isn't all about speed, the quickness comes from focusing on what you you need to be doing, rather than doing things faster. I would not mistake the term to mean we expect relationships or even marketing to be formed or completed faster, but that as marketers we will focus on what needs to be done, and stop what we don't.

  • by Judy Murdoch Mon May 21, 2012 via web

    @John

    I didn't mean to imply you were saying otherwise.

    But the quote from Ries, Trout caught my eye. There's so much hype currently when a new tool (latest social media gadget) or methodology is introduced. I look at harnessing the advantages while keeping an eye on the practical reality: we are still Hunter-Gatherers and no matter how amazing our tools are-we still need to build trust-based relationships.

    There may be fewer immutable laws but ignore the remaining ones at your peril.

    And, yes, it's always great to get the moving pieces that make up marketing done better and faster. I'm all for that.

  • by Joshua Pines Mon May 21, 2012 via web

    Hey John,

    Thanks for this. We have been an agile organization for a couple years and have been working it into marketing over the last year or so. There are definitely situations where it's a natural. Building cadence towards an internal campaign, for example. In other areas, it's not as smooth. However, I think it's overall a great methodology to streamline marketing program and campaign management.

  • by John Cass Mon May 21, 2012 via web

    @Judy, I especially appreciated your comment, but it draws the distinctions between agile development and marketing. Not that development isn't immune from thinking about customers when customers are concerned. But in attempting to understand what does drive agile marketing, I think your comment helps us to remember that perhaps one of the values is to remember that it takes time to build relationships with speed, and agility doesn't mean we run roughshod over such relationship building.

    @Joshua, thanks so much, I appreciate your comments. And I hope you'll follow up with Travis Arnold as he collects the values and principles of agile marketing for the event. We need a good review from practicing agile marketers on our prep work for that session.

  • by MdN Mon May 21, 2012 via web

    You may find the attached link interesting, a different angle on the same subject.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctEXsa5O-Ns

  • by Celeste Tue May 22, 2012 via web

    @Karen: Thanks for providing a definition and those links.

  • by Amber King Tue May 22, 2012 via web

    Companies should adopt agile marketing, this way their campaign will be more organized.

  • by Naila Thu Jun 7, 2012 via web

    We decided to implement an agile marketing process about six months back and it has been working wonderfully. Not only does it allow us to better plan to the constantly changing landscape, but it also helps keep the markting team focused and on goal. It's so easy to get side tracked when so many stakeholders are involved. I like the concept of the monthly goals instead of just annually or quarterly. Definitely going to have to give that a shot.

    @John - I'm interested in finding out more information about this gathering that's occurring in San Fran on June 11. Will there be more information provided or is it a private event? Would love to hear more about it!

  • by John Cas Tue Jun 12, 2012 via web

    Hi Naila,

    My apologies, I missed your post before the SprintZero event. It sounds as if you are getting a lot of value out of agile marketing. It would be nice to connect and hear more about how you are using agile marketing.

    Well we held the event. You are welcome to connect with the agile marketing facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/groups/181335928638028/

    Regards

    John

  • by Pete Eggleston Wed Sep 11, 2013 via web

    I view Agile as more of a mindset rather than a process, and one that has always been with us. So, not a new or reoccurring fad but rather a concept that is gaining more mind share recently. Coming from the engineering side of things, agile processes have a key aspect of every good predictive system: feedback loops (think daily scrums and weekly or bi-weekly sprint reviews). In other words, you are increasing the sample frequency on projects to ensure they are on target, and can intervene early enough to effect a change of outcome if there are problems along the way. And, you are putting in more feedback loops lower down into the processes to make everything more manageable and predictable. Note however, that the same concepts hold for management processes as for control systems in this analogy. Stable systems do not need much in the way of feedback as they are by definition, inherently stable. So, there are long term, stable projects and processes that companies are better left to manage with traditional waterfall processes such as mature products, campaigns, etc.

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