Agile marketing: what it is and how it can help your business
Agile marketing is a way of making your marketing team’s work more efficient by applying the agile method to the way it is organised. This approach is inspired by the principles set out in the Agile Manifesto for Software Development published in 2001 by the Agile Alliance group: 17 software designers and IT experts who all needed to find a new, more effective, fluid and flexible working methodology.
In 2012, Nicholas Muldoon and a group of marketing gurus met in San Francisco for SprintZero, an event that aimed to adapt the agile approach to the marketing sector. At the end of the meeting, they published the Agile Marketing Manifesto, a document stating the principles and values underpinning this approach. Let’s have a look at them.
The key values of agile marketing
According to the SprintZero group, adopting the agile method can help organisations tackle our increasingly uncertain and constantly changing world more successfully. It is based on the following values:
- Focusing on customer value and business outcomes over activity and outputs.
- Delivering value early and often over waiting for perfection.
- Learning through experiments and data over opinions and conventions.
- Cross-functional collaboration over silos and hierarchy.
- Responding to change over following a static plan.
In other words, when applied to marketing, the agile method involves identifying opportunities and solutions in real time through repeated rapid testing and analysing the data collected at every stage of planning and executing a campaign. Shorter and leaner work cycles encourage constant improvement and generate value for clients.
This approach – experimental, collaborative and open to change – allows firms to respond effectively to a constantly evolving market. In addition, the scalability of the method means that numerous ideas and campaigns can be tested simultaneously and in a short space of time, leading to increased profits from the marketing initiatives.
What you need to get started
There are a number of things you need to have in place before implementing the agile method within a marketing team. Firstly, it is vital to have a clear view of the specific goals you want to achieve (for example introducing the brand to a new market segment). It is also essential to have the right software for collecting and analysing data from various sources, automatically launching campaigns in various channels, monitoring user behaviour and unpicking the results you obtain.
Another prerequisite is that senior marketing managers are willing to support and manage the transition to an agile model, otherwise you will struggle to overcome any obstacles or people’s resistance to change. Team members should also have their workloads reduced so they can concentrate on the project and obtain satisfactory results.
The key features of the agile method
Implementing the agile method is based on four key elements:
- Sprints: working sessions of varying lengths, anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, by the end of which the team commits to finishing certain activities. Dividing complex projects into multiple sprints simplifies the workflow and avoids delays.
- Stand-up meetings: daily meetings that last a maximum of 15 minutes and allow for a quick review of the work carried out, the work remaining and any problems encountered along the way.
- Project board: the ‘work in progress’ is displayed on a simple whiteboard with post-it notes, or using special software like Jira or Confluence.
- Teamwork: every member of the team must be ready to work together and consider viewpoints other than their own.
The Kanban and Scrum methods
Kanban and Scrum are two of the best thing tools for implementing an agile strategy within a business. They can be used individually or combined, depending on the project’s organisational needs and characteristics.
The Scrum model uses an iterative and incremental approach to validate hypotheses along with newly acquired and potential clients, meaning the results become gradually more predictable. It adopts an empirical method, based on three key pillars:
- Transparency: a shared reference language is adopted, ensuring all members of the team attribute the same meaning to any one word.
- Inspection: frequent progress checks ensure the results are in line with the goals set.
- Adaptation: if whoever is carrying out the checks notices that one or more aspects of the process are deviating from the requirements, they must intervene rapidly to change its course.
This framework involves organising the work into timeboxed sprints: sessions of a pre-defined length (from one to a maximum of four weeks) that cannot be extended beyond the set deadline.
The Kanban method has its origins in the lean production system developed by Toyota in the 1940s. This framework made the various stages of procuring supplies more efficient by aligning production capacity and demand, thereby avoiding issues with overproduction or delays. The system made use of physical tags (kanban in Japanese) fixed to the containers of each material listing all their processing requirements. Whenever one of the components ran out, the tag was handed to the supplier to request a new delivery of the material.
When applied to the marketing sector, the Kanban model provides an effective way to define priorities and manage workloads within the team. A Kanban board, a physical or virtual noticeboard that summarises all the ongoing activities, provides all participants with a clear view of how the project is developing. It comprises three columns:
- To do
Each activity is assigned a card or post-it note, which is placed in the ‘To Do’, column, with more urgent things placed higher up and less urgent activities lower down. The Kanban method is based on four key principles:
- Start with what you’re doing now: the system’s flexibility means it can be applied to any current workflow or product.
- Accept incremental and evolutionary change: constant improvement and change over time are encouraged. Indeed, radically transforming work processes could cause fear and uncertainty within the team.
- Respect existing processes, roles and responsibilities: unlike other agile methodologies, Kanban can work within well-established structures and practices.
- Encourage leadership at all levels: members of the team are invited to offer suggestions and new ideas to improve how things work.
The benefits of agile marketing
Applying agile principles to marketing projects allows you to make best use of the data you have on your customers’ behaviour and preferences, and to offer content that is more in line with the target audience’s needs. Furthermore, an incremental, measurable and collaborative working method enables you to tackle the constant changes in the market and the digital universe by taking decisions based on data, rather than on potentially erroneous hunches and customs.
More specifically, agile marketing can help organisations to:
- Rapidly test various campaigns and optimise them before they launch;
- Use data from multiple sources and company departments to improve the customer journey;
- Foster creativity by encouraging team members to work together, adopting an open attitude to change and optimising the workflow.
More agile organisation should lead to a sustainable and scalable innovation process, allowing the business to make best use of the resources at its disposal and maximise its profits.