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Agile: What Marketers Can Learn From Software Developers

by Tanya Candia  |  
July 25, 2013

We have long known that the traditional approach to marketing planning—logically integrating and sequentially attacking the many different sub-disciplines of marketing—does not necessarily work for marketers at startups. As a result, smart early-stage organizations have adopted the breakthrough concepts of agile marketing and have experienced outstanding results.

Agile marketing follows the lead set by agile software development, an iterative and incremental approach in which requirements and solutions evolve through self-organizing, cross-functional teams.

Like agile software development, agile marketing relies on speed, lots of communication, rapid iteration, and highly measurable results. Let's take a closer look at this emerging discipline.

Agile Product Marketing

The tight linkage between product development and product marketing makes it easy to see how agile marketing follows on the heels of agile development. According to Dan Darnell, Baynote VP of marketing and product, "Agile product marketing starts with the customer point of view, then works through rapid iterations of customer needs, prototyping them back to the customer. This means you must start engaging the customer early on."

By engaging customers early on, accelerated design and review cycles allow you to understand what works for the customer before time and effort are spent on fully developing and implementing product features. The result is early and ongoing customer feedback and an engaged, committed customer base, rather than waiting until very late in the process as is the case with the traditional approach. In addition, limited resources are not spent on development and implementation of product marketing that does not resonate with the intended audience.

Flexibility, cost-effectiveness, learning, and transparency are the four key aspects of agile marketing that must be integrated into an organization before it can produce benefits:

  1. Flexibility is a must, because a rigid culture cannot embrace agile marketing. But flexibility also means severing the ties to pet projects and favorite ideas: When you get a thumbs-down from customers, you need to drop that idea and move on.
  2. Cost-effectiveness comes in many forms, not the least of which is the ability to rapidly prototype a concept and test it before committing lots of resources.
  3. A learning environment is essential. "Agile product marketing requires a whole-company commitment," said Darnell. "You need to build an organization that values learning—failures as well as successes."
  4. Transparency both supports and is supported by a learning organization. The knowledge gained through agile marketing must be shared openly with the entire company; no hiding behind bad news; no hoarding of good news.

There are some costs and risks associated with agile product marketing. It can be time-consuming, and it definitely calls for a very structured relationship with the customer.

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Tanya Candia is president and CEO of international marketing and strategy consulting company Candia Communications LLC. She has more than 25 years of experience with startups (including two IPOs) and established companies.

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  • by Jay Pinkert Thu Jul 25, 2013 via web

    There is much for marketers to admire about and learn from Agile, but a methodology is only as effective as the mindset of its participants. The ability to thrive in rigorous, systematic workflows is native to technical professionals; not so much for marketers. Instead of adapting/adopting a technical process like Agile, perhaps the next million-dollar idea in marketing management will be a bespoke approach to process management.

    As of now, daily scrums seem to be the most copied component of Agile in marketing environments.

  • by Michael Watson Thu Jul 25, 2013 via web

    More than just a description of the relationship between agile product development and agile marketing, this article makes a case for the marketer to be central to the entire product development workflow. Engaged with major stakeholders and the work team from the outset, and key to establishing the metrics and yardsticks, this role can be pivotal to project success.

  • by Keith Finger Thu Jul 25, 2013 via web

    As a practitioner and instructor of agile marketing who learned from Jim Ewel, one of its creators, I disagree that agile marketing includes outsourcing everything you can't do yourself. On the contrary, it's about prioritizing what you'll accomplish using the resources you have. While some people may need to outsource selected actions, the majority of the time the things that don't get done are those with low priorities, otherwise they'd be getting done.
    Agile Marketing Boot Camp:

  • by Jay Pinkert Thu Jul 25, 2013 via web


    Merely prioritizing what you'll accomplish using the resources you have is a dead end. A key component of Agile, Six Sigma or any generative process is to identify and assess resource gaps, and acquiring greenlit resources becomes part of the process.

  • by Keith Finger Thu Jul 25, 2013 via web

    I don't know about six sigma, but If something is a marketing priority, it should be part of the sprint. If there are too many items and it's still urgent, by all means get it done somehow, but Agile Marketing is not about outsourcing on a regular basis what you can't do yourself.

  • by Jay Pinkert Thu Jul 25, 2013 via web

    I see your point. However, in the context of this article, each marketing function should considered a separate "product," and outsourcing is a, build-vs.-buy issue. For example, content marketing is one product, event marketing is another. If content marketing is your marketing department's core product, it makes sense to outsource the creation/management of other marketing "products" that are still necessary for an effective marketing mix.

  • by Gracious Store Sat Jul 27, 2013 via web

    Brands need to be flexible so as to meet the needs of customers of every background and works of life

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