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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image of Tanya Candia

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.