Agile marketing and ‘give it a go and see what happens’

Agile marketing and ‘give it a go and see what happens’

Once upon a time I used to sit next to and work with a bunch of ‘proper’ software developers. I was aware of the waterfall method as applied to software development.  A sequential process and one characterised by a fixed specification and longer development cycles. More recently I became interested in the Agile Manifesto and how we could apply that to our marketing planning and the implementation and ongoing optimisation of the campaigns we run.  Over the last couple of years and almost without realising it we have been changing the way we approach things and that change represents the application of a more agile marketing method.

Why change and change from what?

I remember a time – not that long ago – when we used to develop a plan for the year, stick to it, measure it and improve it.  But things changed.

  • Even in the corporate world increasing levels of uncertainty meant we were starting to deal with today much more than we ever had in the past. We are still dealing with that uncertainty and stability feels unobtainable – especially in the current economic climate. Survival mode seems to have become modus operandi.
  • At the same time we started working for smaller businesses – those turning over between £5 and £10 million. We became acutely aware that whilst they needed to understand how they achieved their longer term objectives they also needed to understand (right away) what they needed to do today, tomorrow and next week.
  • The rise of digital brought with it new opportunities and new ways of doing things. Measurement and ongoing optimisation can start the minute a campaign goes live. Test and learn is everything. “Give it a go and see what happens” became a viable approach to planning.

Which agile principles can be applied to marketing?

I agree with Scott Brinker and what he outlines in his post Ideas for an agile marketing manifesto.  A couple of the ideals of the original Agile Manifesto are directly applicable;

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Responding to change over following a plan

He suggests some additional ideals that might apply to an agile marketing manifesto;

Intimate customer tribes over impersonal mass markets
Testing and data
over opinions and conventions
Numerous small experiments
over a few large bets
Engagement and transparency
over official posturing

How does the agile marketer behave?

If you read our blog you’ll pick up on my “it’s all about the people” approach. In my mind Frank Days’ post Sex and the Agile Marketer is absolutely bang on. He compares a new breed of marketer to what he calls the ‘Waterfall Marketer’. It’s well worth a read. I bet you can spot the Waterfall Marketers in your organisation … but hopefully you can spot a few agile ones too!

Making the move towards a more agile approach

You probably already are. The pace of change is such that no one knows the answers anymore. As individuals we are all learning by doing. The trick is applying this approach more broadly and creating an environment which supports individual needs while at the same time ensures teams are constantly appraising what they are doing and adjusting things accordingly.

Practical advice that we certainly sign up to includes that provided in Marketbright’s post on the Agile Marketing Method.  Specifically if you are managing marketing programmes and teams that includes;

  • Move from longer plans to six week “sprints”.
  • Have daily 15 minute “sprint meetings”. Bit like a Hill Street Blues morning roll call. Ask each person what they are working on, how things are going, and what if anything is preventing them from getting their job done.
  • Track your team’s commitments and understand the capacity you have and the “velocity” you can achieve i.e. how much stuff you can get done over what timescales. Make team production more predictable, reliable and repeatable.
  • Embrace change based on testing and actual campaign metrics.
  • Let people add new items to the list. Leave the room in your project planning meetings to help accommodate last minute adjustments.

The end result should be that your organisation is learning by doing. Not only are you getting things done right now but the planning process you are running alongside that means that you are driving ongoing improvements more quickly and making incremental steps towards a better future in an increasingly uncertain and changing environment.

Sounds good to me.