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The Elements of Agile Marketing | 5 Core Concepts

Derek Blaszak

Director of Digital Marketing

Agility is the ability to move with speed and ease, the capacity to think quickly, understanding what your next move needs to be.

Agile marketing? It may sound like another industry buzzword for executives hoping to appear on top of trends concerning how to run an internal marketing department. But, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that there is valuable substance around the pursuit of agile marketing.

As a marketing leader in your organization, you’ve got to keep things moving, keep a lot of balls in the air, and keep everyone happy. A little agility could be the answer to this balancing act.

What is Agile Marketing?

The “agile” approach was born out of the software development world. Agile software development emphasizes collaboration through cross functional teams with rapid responses to change and problem solving, all of which lead to continuous improvements.

That might sound like a bunch of corporate jargon, but we’ll break it down later. Agile comes with its own language, too. You’ll hear terms thrown around such as scrum and scrum master, swarm, sprints, sprint tasks, and sprint backlogs. All the lingo, however, is less important than the key concepts behind the agile approach.

Agile and lean share similarities, and there are some blurred lines, but they tend to have different focuses. Lean came out of manufacturing. Toyota pioneered the practice, and it emphasizes reducing waste with the goal of eliminating things that fail to add value.

Agile is more focused on speed and efficiency with an emphasis on people and interactions over processes and tools. In fact, that’s the first value listed in the Agile Manifesto, the founding developers put together. The manifesto also lists customer satisfaction as the top priority.

Since the inception of agile, its ideas have been applied to many other areas of business: agile management, agile supply chain, agile HR, agile recruitment, and the list goes on. So, how does agile apply to marketing?

In 2012, a group of marketers created an Agile Marketing Manifesto with the following beliefs outlining what the approach values:

  1. Validated learning over opinions and conventions
  2. Customer-focused collaborations over silos and hierarchies
  3. Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big Bang campaigns
  4. The process of customer discovery over static prediction
  5. Flexible vs. rigid planning
  6. Responding to change over following a plan
  7. Many small experiments over a few large bets

Let’s take a closer look at these values and how they apply to five different elements of your marketing department.

Agile Marketing Element 1: A Strategic Vision

agile marketing vision

While speed is part of agile marketing, Andrea Fyrear at Agile Sherpas points out that it’s not only about moving quickly. It’s about moving forward with purpose and a plan. As she says as part of her highly-detailed breakdown of agile marketing …

“It requires a strategic vision, as well as short-, medium-, and long-term marketing plan.”

For example, your organization’s long-term plan may specify major business goals to be achieved through marketing over five years. That can be broken down to yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly plans that connect to your broader strategy.

But the key is, you’re not married to that plan. Instead, you have an open relationship with your agile marketing strategy. You can pivot and adjust as necessary based on how to best serve the target audience. It might feel easier and safer to “stick with the original plan.” But, agile marketing must be flexible and adaptive.

Agile Marketing Element 2: Deliberate Experimentation

agile marketing experiment

If it feels like your marketing team is constantly throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks, you might be missing the deliberate part of experimentation.

Agile supports the idea of “failing fast,” but it also emphasizes never making the same mistake twice. In this approach, informed experimentation entails making small changes based on what you learn from the previous iteration of a particular marketing effort, testing ideas and examining the results. Then, rinse and repeat until you’ve refined your marketing strategy into a well-oiled machine.

But, keep in mind, just because a change worked better in one instance doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the exact same results in a separate marketing project. That’s where flexibility re-enters the picture. In agile marketing, you’re always testing, adjusting, and improving.

Agile Marketing Element 3: Data, Insights, and Action

agile marketing data insights

Data provides marketing teams with the information needed to come up with the next experiment, the next small aspect to test and evaluate. In digital marketing, there are many ways to gather data and sources that provide analytics. It’s easy to get overwhelmed or focus on the wrong type of data, such as vanity metrics.

Does it really matter that you’re increasing traffic to your site if you’re not converting new customers? Do social media shares make a difference if the content you’re sharing fails to support business outcomes? Do email open rates mean much if no one clicks through?

It’s tempting to cherry pick the stats that paint the rosiest picture of marketing efforts, but that’s obviously not supportive of continuous improvement. At Element, we choose the data on which we focus by starting with our clients’ top business goals and then identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) that help us measure progress toward reaching those goals, which are presented to the client through regular reporting.

Agile Marketing Element 4: Speedy Workflows and Approval Processes

agile marketing speedy workflow

While agile marketing is deliberate, it’s definitely not slow. This is a fast-paced approach to creating content, launching campaigns, generating leads, and converting customers.

True agile marketing uses various methods to create speedy and efficient workflows, including work in progress (WIP) limits, an emphasis on finishing one project before starting the next, and the willingness to purposefully allow slack/downtime among team members so they can look for ways to continuously improve the process and improve themselves professionally.

One of the biggest roadblocks to speedier agile marketing, however, can happen outside the marketing team. At Element, we’ve seen how a complicated approval process puts marketing efforts for our clients into extreme slow motion.

An article from McKinsey tells the story of an international bank that wanted to test a new email offer. The team did the list management, copywriting, and design work, then sent it out for executive and legal approval. Eight weeks later, the email finally went out.

As the article’s author David Edelman, now CMO at Aetna explains …

“In a world where people decide whether to abandon a web page after three seconds, and Quicken Loans gives an answer to online mortgage applicants in less than ten minutes, eight weeks for an email test pushes a company to the boundaries of irrelevance. For many large incumbents, however, such a glacial pace is the norm.”

We’d add that this struggle is fairly common in mid-sized and smaller organizations as well. But, if you can use your smaller size to move faster than major competitors … you should.

Set clear expectations for when you need approvals from those in and outside your team. Let them know your deadlines. You can also use digital tools that help streamline the approval process, ensuring gatekeepers have ease of access and regular reminders to keep things moving.

For more advice on improving the approval process, check out our article on 6 Ways to Accelerate Your Content Marketing Approval Workflow.

Agile Marketing Element 5: Leading and Building a Flexible Team

agile marketing flexible team

An agile marketing team is one that eliminates communication silos, has a shared vision for success, and collaborates well together. That helps the team respond quickly and move forward.

Elizabeth Shaw, research director at Gartner, wrote an article for CMO Magazine outlining seven tips for leading an agile marketing team. To summarize, she says agile marketing leaders should follow these best practices:

  1. Foster trust for better teamwork
  2. Craft a clear vision and clearly defined roles to support the vision
  3. Hone your soft skills
  4. Always be learning and learn to share leadership and authority
  5. Be engaged and aware at all times
  6. Build a culture of collaboration through open communication
  7. Reward individual and team outcomes, customizing the recognition provided to team members

So, who should you put on your team? In a Gartner webinar detailing Agile Marketing in 4 Steps, Shaw describes the concept of T-shaped marketing teams with adaptable skills. A T-shaped marketer would be an individual with a wide breadth of knowledge in various marketing practices, but with deep skills and knowledge in particular areas.

t shaped marketer

So, a T-shaped marketing team member could be someone who has deep knowledge in marketing automation, testing, and conversion. But, they are also a decent copywriter, understand basic concepts of good design, can contribute to your social media strategy, and know a little bit about web development.

It’s a little like finding someone who is a Jack of all trades and master of at least one. People such as this make good team members because they know enough about different aspects of modern marketing to communicate and collaborate across disciplines. They’ll contribute ideas, provide unique perspectives, and can jump in and help, which makes your team more flexible.

How Does an Agency Relationship Fit into Agile Marketing?

Finding a full team’s worth of T-shaped marketers won’t be easy. But, these people are the rock stars you should hang onto. Still, too many organizations try to hire just one or two people who they expect to do it all.

Depending on the size of your company, you may not be able to hire all the talent you need to bring your marketing strategy to life. Whether you can’t afford to hire them, or simply can’t find them, filling talent gaps with an agency partnership is an efficient way to achieve agile marketing.

Step 3 of Elizabeth Shaw’s four steps to agile marketing is to harness the power of marketing partners. She says when you shift to an agile approach, your agency partner becomes “an extension of your team’s capabilities.”

Gartner surveyed hundreds of organizations and found that only two percent did not work with marketing agencies or other third party partners. The vast majority value agency relationships, citing these top three reasons:

  1. Expectation that the agency will deliver superior quality or performance
  2. Breadth and depth of skills and experience exceed what is available in-house
  3. Ability to flex and respond to my business needs

You may not have the need or ability to have a full-time web developer on staff. Your company may not be able to produce videos with the level of quality you desire. You might benefit from an outsider’s perspective on your business, your target audience, and your marketing strategy.

That’s why Element has built a flexible team that can merge with your own, making your marketing department faster, stronger, and better.

Find out more about how we can make your marketing department more agile. Contact us today and let’s start talking about how we can work together to produce great work that improves your bottom line.