The world of digital marketing is changing so fast. From Google updates, to new social platforms, to bots, Artificial Intelligence and IoT. Traditional marketing is not set up for fast responsiveness to change. Nor structured around customers. What about your company? Can you respond real-time to your digital data analytics yet? Are you becoming a customer-centric marketing team? What is Agile Meaning for Marketing in your organisation?
But first up: what is agile meaning, really? Short and sweet: it’s managing your job in 2-week sprints with concrete deliverables. But there’s more to the story, particularly when we apply it to marketing, so please do read on.
Waterfall Tradition vs. Modern Agile Meaning for Marketing
The classic ways of doing Marketing is what IT people would call ‘waterfall’. We set goals and work out requirements in the beginning of a project or period. Then we work on that for half a year, till the project or semi-annual plan is completed. Then we move on to the next half-a-year plan.
The problem with this traditional marketing practice is rapid change. In fact, change is moving so rapidly that speed of response has become the new currency of marketing success, or competitive advantage.
Outside-technology changes, think Google updates, new platforms like Periscope and Snapchat, IoT and big data, AI, new Salesforce / Pardot marketing software releases; or internally-generated insights from your own increasingly sophisticated digital marketing data analytics, bring new opportunities for marketing.
While it all sounds wonderfully exciting, it can be a cause for stress and frustration. Here’s why: New opportunities mean new requirements for your existing marketing projects. And havoc to your plans with waterfall setup! More work to do!
The Agile Marketing Solution – a Necessity for the Modern Marketeer?
A possible solution is to replace traditional marketing practices with an Agile Marketing approach. Agile is a set of business practices that helps your company
- adapt to high rate of digital marketing industry change.
- pursue optimisation that current digital marketing platforms enables.
- become more customer-centric, serve customers better, leading to greater online sales conversion.
- make better decisions faster.
The term ‘Agile’ comes from software development. This model realises incremental achievements within a bigger project goal. Usually increments are realised in 2-4-week-sprints of work.
Agile’s focus is to create business value and to do so in the fastest way possible.
That means different things in IT compared to marketing. Agile IT Development’s evaluative question is ‘did we deliver the features’, while Agile Marketing’s evaluative question is ‘Did we change customer behaviour?’
While some aspects of IT Agile Development can be applied to Marketing, other parts do need tweaking. Let’s delve into the details of agile management to see what marketers can use and what they need to adjust.
The Principles of Agile Management
Underpinning Agile management are a set of fundamental principles:
- Customers-centric pursuits.
- Work in Cross-functional teams.
- Work with an Action-bias.
- Learn & Improve/Optimise, in an Iterative, Adaptive Process.
Let me discuss these principles in turn.
1. Customer-Centric Marketing Pursuits
The agile IT world calls customers ‘users’. In the case of marketing, it refers to the people who use your marketing work, i.e. your customers, prospects, readers – audiences.
Agile management works with a concepts like ‘epics’, ‘user stories’ which have ‘priorities’ and ‘story points’. Basically, an epic are is a summation of user stories that describe one feature/product/service. User stories keep us focused on incremental pieces of work we can do to help users reach their goals and succeed.
Let’s look at marketing user stories first. All user stories are written in ‘formulas’ that look like this: As a user-type (buyer or shopper), I want to be able to …. (do a task) so that I can … (succeed/reach a goal).
For example, as a buyer, I want to be able to compare business clothes on this fashion catalog website to pick the best trousers fashion style that suits my body shape and that’s within my budget, so that I can look smart for work each day.
Another point of view on Marketing User Stories
In Agile management, the User is the main beneficiary of the Sprint. In the context of marketing, the user could be considered the person who is the main commercial beneficiary of the developed marketing material: You could say the User is the customer of the marketing services. Internal stakeholders pay for marketing material. So, write from his/her perspective.
As a (Digital marketer) I want to (improve the landing page from the Back-To-School campaign), so I can (increase the Click Through Rate).
So, in sum, you might end up with some user stories for both your external customers, as well as internal users.
2. Work in Cross-functional Teams
Doing away with traditional silos, working agile means that project team members sit together to stimulate instant communication rather than documentation.
In a typical scrum team, a daily 10-15-minute meeting asks 3 questions from each team member:
- What I did yesterday?
- What I’ll do today?
- Which issues are blocking my progress?
Agile Marketers may add a 4th: “Is there a new market development that would influence this sprint’s results?”.
Team members typically call in for daily standup meetings, rather meet face-to-face, standing up. Given the nature of our work, Marketers may participate quite a few teams who may hold frequent, rather than daily, stand-ups.
The rest of the day is focused on creating the solutions.
Agile Marketing Teams
An agile marketing team may include a marketing strategy person, a content person and a data person. (Content relates to ‘marketing assets’, and data relates to ‘customer, prospect or reader’ – data.) You might have additional team members from IT, legal, product development, PR, sales, etc.
The cross-functional agile marketing team is typically led by a ‘Scrum master’ who defines the hypotheses, manages the ‘backlog’ of opportunities, identify necessary resources and manages sprints.
The focus of Agile is to create business value in the fastest way. The concepts of Prioritised Backlogs, Sprints, Sprint Goals and Sprint Retrospectives all have ‘value creation’ embedded in them.
Scope creep is a bit like poison ivy. Best to stay away from it completely, because it’s highly toxic to your being. The beauty from Agile Marketing is that is focused on planned action. No one can come to your cubical and overnight double your workload.
Every new requirement is assessed in the light of customer needs and if required, it gets added to the backlog, so that it can come up in a future sprint. Or, if the total scope points are set as in a client budget, then it becomes a re-prioritisation of tasks within the common overall goal. Either way, as a marketeer, your weekends should stay free to go to the beach – hopefully.
4. Learning Organisation
If you adopt the ‘Build, Measure, Learn’ – model, there are no ‘mistakes’ to recover, but just greater levels of success to be obtained. This creates a positive, can-do mentality in your company where success leads to more success. ‘Failure’ is not an option, as we can learn from what works and what did not work and improve our process or execution accordingly.
Typically, agile teams leverages the opportunities of optimisation that digital marketing platforms provide. (One of the reason why I write about Agile marketing).
Applying these 4 principles of agile management: customers-centric pursuits, work in cross-functional teams, an action-bias, and an attitude of ongoing improvements is a really good way to respond to the needs of the modern marketers’ environment.
This is probably enough for a good overview of Agile for marketing. However, if you want to get your teeth into the nitty gritty of it all, read on:
Definition of Done or … Definition of Success?
The Definition of Done is another core concept of Agile Management. For IT teams, if all new product features are delivered as described in the “definition-of-done” and the “acceptance criteria” are met, then the sprint was successful.
Now, using IT’s Agile Development method for producing marketing materials would work really well, but in marketing, the main question is “Did we change customer behaviour and engagement?” instead of IT’s key question of “Did we deliver the features?”.
Which change is considered a success needs to be defined to bring clarity to the agile marketing team. There are many potential measures of customer engagement and behavioural change:
- Downloading, liking, clicking and viewing your materials;
- Signups and responses to CTA’s that moved them forward on the buying journey;
- Measures of brand awareness and affinity; and
- Other marketing goals.
Keep delays in measuring success short by slicing big marketing objectives up into small chunks that can be checked separately as “Potentially Measurable Increments”.
A ‘Definition of Success’ has two major advantages over ‘Done’:
- By sharing the Definition-of-Success with your agile marketing team you increase customer-centricity.
- Sharing the Definition-of-Success with management visualises how sprint success contributes to company success.
New Approach to Budgeting
Agile budget planning should be about the goals you want to achieve and the value they generate.
Unlike Agile IT Development with predictable Sprint cost, Agile Marketing has Sprints that can fluctuate in cost. This is because agile marketing is dependents on media buying, outside agencies and so on.
Agile marketing is about testing hypotheses of consumer behaviour / engagement. A/B tests deliver insights and learnings. To build upon this learning and respond fast to market changes, you must have access to flexible budgets.
Testing results of smaller tasks, tactics and campaigns, allows you to re-allocate your marketing budget to ensure you get most results for your marketing spend.
This is very different to how marketing budgets are set in many companies today. See
Agile Project Management Tools
IT organisations use Jira by Atlassian for their agile project management. While highly functional, it isn’t an exciting-looking tool that marketers would naturally flog to.
Personally, I like using a project management tool like Asana for digital marketing teams. More than Trello, it has a pleasing interface. It allows you to invite outsiders to your team. Asana projects can be visualised Kanban-style (in stages like plan, design, create, test, execute, analyse). As such it’s suitable for agile marketing management.
What is Agile Meaning for your Marketing Team?
Particularly in the beginning, the adoption of agile processes can be ‘time consuming’. Agile processes (daily morning stand-ups, daily end-of day calls, sprint planning, sprint retrospectives’ these are definitely ‘an overhead’. Just remember it take a new habit takes 3 weeks for an individual. So, allow the adoption process some time before it becomes ‘second nature’.
If your company wants to become a customer-centric, data-driven lead-conversion ‘machine’, agile marketing must be more than glossed over; it must be pursued with a vengeance!
If you’d like to discuss how to help your organisation adopt Agile Marketing; or if you’d like to work with us on a (Salesforce) digital marketing consultancy in an agile manner, contact us.
Learn the Lingo
To learn this completely different way of working, you must come to terms with the terms. Print this glossary with key terms for agile meaning of marketing as all show know these. Also, if you want to read up more on this topic get yourself a book by Jim Ewel or Andrea Fryrear, both authors on agile marketing.
Glossary with Key Terms for Agile Marketing
- Impediment – Items that prevent forward progress.
- Product Backlog – A wish-list of features to be implemented for your service/product/campaign.
A Product Backlog is a prioritised list of work or items to be done. It is derived from the roadmap and its requirements. The value of the single items is estimated by the product owner, who continuously ranks the backlog to keep it up to date. The items with the highest value are usually picked from the product backlog and included in the next Sprint.
- Product Owner – Person who is responsible for gathering requirements, managing and prioritising backlog, generating campaign acceptance criteria, and planning the release.
- Product Team – Responsible for prioritising the Sprint backlog, estimating the effort to implement User Stories, testing campaigns, identifying obstacles, and participating in daily stand-ups.
- Scrum Master – A person who removes impediments, ensures the sprint is progressing smoothly, and ensures that every team member has the tools they need to get the job done.
- Sprint – A time period of typically two weeks, sometimes a week, or a month, in which to implement the feature/product/service or campaign. A Sprint is a set period of time during which specific work has to be completed. The result of a sprint should be a “potentially shippable increment”; a set of deliverables about which the teams feel confident they create value for the customer and which adhere to quality standards stated in the Acceptance Criteria.
- Sprint Backlog – This is the lists of tasks and activities from user stories to be completed in a particular sprint.
- Sprint Burn Down – The agile chart that records progress made and the remaining effort. The “burn-down velocity” should trend downward daily.
- Sprint Commitment – An agreement by the team to complete all the stories by the end of the sprint.
- Sprint Goal – The “Scrum Guide” tells us that every Sprint should have a Sprint goal. It provides guidance to the Development Team as to why it is building the Increment. The Sprint Goal gives the Development Team some flexibility regarding the functionality to be realized in the Sprint.
- Sprint Review – A meeting to review deliverables, estimates, velocity and next steps. Stakeholder Clients, customers, members of the sales team.
- Sprint Retrospective – Another Agile tool is the “Retrospective” which is kind of a “lessons learned”meeting. The team reflects on how everything went and then decides on what changes they want to make for the next iteration. The retrospective is team-driven, and team members should decide together how the meetings are run and how decisions about improvements are made.
- Story Point – A value that is placed on the user story that represents its simplicity or complexity.
- Success Criteria – The metrics that indicate that objectives have been met. (Improving estimates. Daily decreases on sprint burn-down.) Team A group that includes marketing, sales, developers, testers, other stakeholders.
- User Story – A sentence that describes the purpose and intent of what you want to accomplish, focused on the value or result. “As a (Digital marketer) I want to (improve the landing page from the Black Friday campaign) So I can (increase the Click Through Rate.. and sales).”
And that probably the most infinite guide to the Agile Meaning for Marketing. Interested in a chat to discuss what that could do for your company?