Companies that don’t move at the speed of their customers risk becoming obsolete

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Aoife Murphy takes a look at agile marketing and the role it can play in helping to build a flexible and responsive marketing organisation.

Agile marketing, a well-defined management methodology, grabbed the attention of marketing leaders around the world in 2014 following the publication of the Agile Marketing Manifesto.

Living in a world of always-on content and almost instantaneous feedback, agile marketing enables us to build a flexible and responsive marketing organisation. It facilitates the process of getting content to market faster, optimising campaigns based on real-time feedback, and harnessing the power of collaboration to make better decisions.

As marketing technology gets more sophisticated, and the number of channels we need to reach continues to grow, marketers have realised that their traditional ways of working are no longer effective, and they risk becoming irrelevant to their customer if they don’t change their current ways of working.

What is agile marketing?

Agile, in the marketing context, means using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities, or solve problems in real time. This is carried out by deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating. Agile marketing means:

  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Rapid iterations over Big-Bang campaigns
  • Testing and data over opinions and assumptions
  • Many small experimentsover a few large bets
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy

It’s about being responsive to change and developing quick methods that tell a brands story, incorporating data at all touchpoints.

For many large organisations today marketing efforts can move slowly, taking weeks for a simple campaign to go from design to launch. In a world where consumers have higher expectations, agile marketing can help organisations to move forward. This requires a strategic vision, as well as short, medium, and long-term marketing plans.

Key principles of agile marketing

To effectively adopt an agile approach to marketing it’s important to adopt agile principles; and focus less on inflexible processes. Key agile practices include:

  • Sprint runs: these discrete work cycles break tasks into a series of smaller, yet connected, activities with a specific duration.
  • Clearly define deliverables: ensure each sprint, and the collection of sprints, are designed to produce a set of defined deliverables.
  • Stand-up meetings: agile methodologies are well-known for short status updates and planning sessions. They are effective in getting everyone aligned around the work that needs to happen that day.
  • A diverse team: agile teams should consist of individuals from across an organisation with a variety of skills and experience levels. Tasks should be assigned based on the capability and skills of each individual.

What do marketing teams need to succeed?

  • A marketing organisation must have a clear sense of what it wants to accomplish with its agile approach e.g. which customer segments it wants to acquire, or which customer decision journeys it wants to improve. For this to succeed, they must have sufficient data, analytics, a proven framework, and the right kind of marketing-technology infrastructure in place.
  • Bringing together a team of trained and motivated people who can work together at speed is imperative, with a layer of governance aligned to the ‘agile way of working’.
  • Agile must be part of an organisation’s culture with buy-in across all departments and leaders. Transitioning from a linear, hierarchical, sequential approach to projects, to rapid delivery of work requires frequent adjustments and recalibrations. One-off training is simply not enough; agile teams need ongoing support and investment to be successful in their implementation of agile marketing methodologies.
  • The agile mind-set calls for continuous refinement and improvement, meaning that there’s always something that could be done better. Retrospective meetings are therefore very important — they systematise the practice of regular reviews and identifying opportunities for improvement.

What to watch out for

In many organisations marketing is traditionally a top-down process where the CMO — in some cases even the CEO — signs off on big campaigns. Agile marketing teams, particularly those in large organisations, will still need sign-off on certain things; however, the approvals process needs to be simplified or removed of any bottlenecks.

Marketing teams must have autonomy to decide how they complete tasks and propose what they should be working on next. Marketing leaders — like other managers — can find it difficult to devolve decision-making to their teams. And the managers of other departments might also struggle with the transition to a bottom-up approach. This is one of the most difficult things about the transition to agile marketing to get right — but the upside can be enormous in terms of the empowerment of marketers and their ability to work faster and more responsively.

They must also avoid falling foul to a host of myths, these can include a myth around ‘agile is not about planning’ when in fact agile marketing includes planning, requires planning and embraces planning. It requires a strategic vision, as well as short-, medium-, and long-term marketing plans. Or ‘agile marketing is just Scrum’ when in fact agile marketing takes many forms. The methodology you choose, be it Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, or Lean, should reflect your team’s unique situation. It’s likely that over time you’ll pull components from multiple methodologies to create your own personal hybrid methodology.

Responding to your customer, and improving productivity…

Companies that don’t move at the speed of the customer risk losing out to competitors in the short term, and risk becoming obsolete in the long term. One of the clear benefits of agile is that it imposes a discipline on teams. The discipline to clearly adopt the point of view of the customer through user stories and to regularly re-evaluate their priorities. Agile also builds in a feedback loop, so that the Marketing team is immediately aware if their solution or campaign is meeting the customer’s needs, and if not, they can iterate so that they can make changes responsively until they meet the need of the customer.

And the good news from an internal perspective? According to Gartner Top Insights for the C-Suite, A Marketing Perspective 2018-2019, 87% of CMOs report improved productivity among their teams following a transition to agile techniques. A win win for the customer and the marketer…



Aoife Murphy

Management Consultant

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