Why you should care about Agile marketing

For marketers, an accelerated pace of change is as inevitable as death and taxes. Get ahead of modern marketing strategies by choosing an experimental approach.

As industries have morphed and sped up, so has marketing. As a result, the customer journey has evolved, putting customers in control of the path to purchasing. The growth of mobile, big data, predictive analytics and programmatic advertising is changing the ways in which marketers interact with buyers. Other functions, such as sales and finance, now demand greater accountability from marketing. Also, a dizzying array of marketing technologies (more than 4,500, at last count) provide new opportunities to interact with prospects, manage campaigns, measure results and much more.

Regardless of the markets you serve, change is coming -- and fast. If you don't adopt these new approaches, your competitors will. For marketers, an accelerated pace of change is as inevitable as death and taxes.

However, change creates opportunities to grab competitive advantage, as well. So while the other guys struggle to deal with the digital onslaught (and transformation), you can jump ahead. Although it is a one-size-fits-all solution, Agile marketing can provide a methodology to help your organization make the necessary changes in all of your marketing efforts.

Don't get soaked under the waterfall

Typically, waterfall development has driven marketing departments, where plans are developed and executed over months, or even years, to deliver the final product, content and/or campaign. In a complex environment with many moving parts, this make senses. But, by the time your marketing campaign or new content hits the market, it may be out of date or irrelevant. Waterfall development is inward-focused, and as such, prevents marketers from receiving the critical market feedback that tells them if they are heading in the right direction.

Jumping ahead of the pack with Agile marketing

By contrast, Agile marketing (with roots in Agile development) breaks projects into smaller chunks, or "sprints," that can be rapidly adjusted to address changing market conditions and the constant flow of new data from prospects and customers. Agile marketing sprints range from two to four weeks, with larger projects, or "epics," spanning multiple sprints.

Agile marketing enables marketing teams to rapidly adapt to a changing environment; to more quickly integrate new strategies, tactics and technologies; and to optimize tactics to focus on those that are most effective. It speeds time to market so marketers can take advantage of new trends, bring products to market more quickly and jump ahead of competitors.

Agile marketing is about reliably creating value for both the business (such as profitable revenue growth) and the prospective customer (such as branded content that can help them make better decisions about the products and services they need) in a rapidly changing environment.

Guiding principles

Agile marketing is a constant cycle of customer-focused learning, doing and improvement that borrows from Agile development. It's built around several principles that build on each other. These include a focus on the customer, continuous learning based on data, adaptive and iterative projects and campaigns (instead of "big bang" campaigns), and transparency and collaboration with other functions. Many of these are discussed in the Agile Marketing Manifesto, which was created five years ago by a group of Agile marketing experts.

A focus on the customer -- both external and internal

The most important element of Agile marketing is understanding customers, their needs and the buyer's journey. Built around buyer personas and buyer journeys, Agile marketing also incorporates frequent data about prospects' responses to offers, content, messages, tactics and more, enabling marketers to continually grow an understanding of the buyer.

"Agile marketing allows you to deliver personalized and relevant information to customers by having a deep understanding of their needs and preferences," said Ajay Khanna, marketing expert and VP of product marketing at data management firm Reltio Inc.

Data-driven, continuous learning

Unlike the big bang waterfall approach, which releases code after long increments of testing and development, Agile marketing relies on short sprints that provide continuous opportunities for learning based on market feedback and data. The idea is to "fail fast" or "succeed fast" to determine the best path forward, while burning through the fewest resources.

"We value learning as rapidly as possible, which means we don't need to spend a full quarter writing and producing a marketing white paper," said Pete Bernardo, EVP of product at digital product development agency 352 Inc. "Instead, we can validate the idea for that big piece of content via social or a lightweight blog post, test the hell out of them and then move forward based on what we've discovered."

"Agile marketing also lets you fail fast and keep a closed loop between marketing and sales, content, and campaigns," Khanna added.

One might think of this process as: Test, improve based on what you've learned and scale when the right combination has been identified.

Iterative, adaptive and scalable

Instead of big steps that take years to complete, Agile marketing focuses on an iterative process of continuous and small improvements designed to adapt to the latest trends, new marketing technologies, evolving needs and changing market conditions.

"Agile marketing means you and your team are ready to adjust tactics based on the results of past efforts," said Will Sullivan, VP of marketing at software as a service-based writing tool vendor TheRightMargin. "You're willing to try new things, abandon tactics that aren't bearing fruit and are always looking for new methods to keep you delivering true value to your customers."

Agile driven by goals

At the same time, Agile marketing is heavily goals-driven. The whole idea is to complete the burndown items in a given sprint.

"Agile marketing [is] about staying focused on specific goals and moving quickly and easily to accomplish marketing goals efficiently," said Alex Kehr, global growth manager at lead generation platform LeadBoxer. "

Software quality tools vendor SmartBear Software Inc. has used Agile marketing since 2012 and, today, its entire team of 25-plus marketing professionals uses it. Agile marketing's focus helped SmartBear go from completing just 55% to 65% of requested tasks to 95%, with a well-oiled, Agile marketing machine, according to senior manager of digital marketing and brand Gary DeAsi.

"Agile marketing has allowed us to focus on what's most important, plus achieve [our] content production goals," added John Cass, contributing author of the Agile Marketing Manifesto and director of marketing at remote photo inspection firm OnSource LLC.

Transparency and collaboration with other functions

Unlike other approaches that are more internally focused, Agile marketing provides opportunities for transparency and collaboration throughout your company. Everyone on the marketing team can provide input. DeAsi advised marketing leaders to get ideas and feedback from the people who will actually be following the Agile process day to day to help with adoption and enthusiasm.

Agile marketing is also transparent for other teams, such as sales. These teams can see the marketing backlog, may be invited to attend the daily standup/scrum meeting and are typically invited to see what's been completed during the periodic sprint review.

"Everyone in our marketing organization has complete transparency to see what everyone is working on at any given time, from our CMO to the co-ops," DeAsi said.

Email marketing automation firm Vision6 integrated Agile marketing into their existing Agile development framework to increase the voice of the customer in development, said Zoe Beath, head of marketing.

"To Vision6, Agile marketing means embracing change, collaborating across cross-functional groups and keeping customer needs at the heart of all our marketing efforts," he said. 

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