By: Andrea Fryrear
Founder and Chief Content Officer – Fox Content Ltd.
Keynote Speaker – PAICR Annual Conference 2017
What happens to a marketing department when it undergoes an Agile transformation? It turns out it doesn’t just get a fancy piece of software or a faster pace of work. A survey of CMOs and marketing leaders reveals that:
- 93% improved speed to market.
- 87% had more productive teams.
- 80% were better able to prioritize the work that matters.
But these kinds of Agile success stories don’t happen by accident. They require detailed planning, careful execution, and ongoing commitment. Marketers can’t just throw their annual plans in the shredder, start pivoting every other week, and expect to reap the benefits of agility.
We need to fully understand what it means to practice Agile in a marketing context if we want the chance to sprint ahead of our competition.
What is Agile Marketing?
Living from crisis to crisis, never being able to think strategically, and constantly missing deadlines have long been the reality for many marketing teams. But now our audiences expect personalized, relevant messaging and our bosses expect us to document our bottom line impact. Old school processes just can’t deliver those outcomes. Faced with this untenable situation, more and more teams are searching for a better way to manage their work.
As this Google Trends graph shows, many of them are turning to Agile marketing as a possible solution:
But what does it really mean to practice Agile marketing?
Agile vs. agile
I once had a boss who would swoop in, cancel all the work marketing had in progress, and declare a totally new priority for us to pursue. His justification: he was being agile. True, he was making frequent changes, but that’s not the same as practicing Agile marketing.
Don’t be fooled: changing your mind all the time does not make you Agile.
Agile marketing, with a capital “A”, involves the deliberate application of a specific Agile methodology to the way marketing executes its work. And, like all great marketing, it’s founded on a well-researched, audience-centered marketing strategy. Planning and strategy should — and must — be part of an Agile approach. Without them, Agile teams just end up doing the wrong work more efficiently.
Three Agile Methodologies
If you’ve heard much about Agile in the past, chances are it was closely associated with the Scrum methodology. While Scrum is the most popular approach in the world of software and IT (where Agile practices originated), it’s not the only way to put Agile ideals into practice.
Lightweight, flexible options like Kanban and Scrumban offer marketing teams more leeway, and typically align more closely with the way we already do our work.
So when the time comes for your team to take its first steps on an Agile marketing journey, investigate all three methodologies first.
Agile Principles and Values
Agile marketing isn’t just about speed, efficiency, or methodologies. It’s founded a set of principles and values known as the Agile Manifesto (there’s also a marketing-specific one) that influences every aspect of how we approach our work.
For instance, Agile teams value:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Responding to change over following a plan
- Many small experiments over a few large bets
- Testing and data over opinions and conventions
- Intimate customer tribes over impersonal mass markets
- Engagement and transparency over official posturing
Notice the emphasis on audience value and data-driven decisions. Remember, Agile isn’t just about getting faster, it’s about doing better work. Incorporating Agile values into your team’s DNA will not only increase its agility, it will help it start delivering marketing that actually matters.
What’s in it for Finserv Marketing
We’ve already covered some of the big picture benefits of taking a more Agile approach to marketing: faster speed to market, higher levels of productivity, and better prioritization. But Agile marketing offers a vast array of benefits for financial services marketing.
The list is long, but here’s a short sample.
The Power of Iteration
First, Agile marketing teams are empowered to respond quickly to emerging opportunities in their space. Typically a traditional team creates long term plans, sometimes quarterly or annually , designed to reach a goal or opportunity. They’ve invested time, resources, and budget into those plans, so once they’re in motion deviating from them is costly.
This is known as a waterfall approach, and it’s represented by the gray line on the chart below.
Image source: Forbes
Agile teams, on the other hand, follow the blue line. They release small pieces of marketing work often, evaluate their performance, and then iterate based on the data. Sometimes this means expanding on a successful experiment, other times it means abandoning a failed idea.
In both cases there’s little risk, because the release was small. Over time they might build up to a larger, more expensive campaign, but only once they’ve validated the concept through iterative releases.
Either way, they can nimbly pivot over time to hit their target.
More Marketing, Less Drama
One of my favorite outcomes, when marketers switch to an Agile approach, is the sense of calm that descends on the team. There’s less stress, more creativity, and a much stronger sense of unity.
A 2016 survey of hundreds of marketers offers a more quantitative look at the benefits of working on an Agile marketing team:
- Improved teamwork and morale (13.7%)
- Better division of work between team members (9.7%)
- Better team alignment on priorities (16.2%)
When we compare this is a 2015 study on marketers’ overall stress levels, the difference becomes even clearer:
Agile alleviates stress to create space for teams to do outstanding work, which, let’s face it, is the only way for brands to differentiate themselves anymore.
Better, Faster, Smarter Campaigns
It’s not just individual marketers who benefit from an Agile transformation. When we make marketing teams more effective, we produce more impactful marketing that helps our organizations grow.
- Better: 80% of Agile teams can deliver a better, more relevant end product
- Faster: 87% of Agile teams are more productive
- Smarter: 93% of Agile teams can switch gears more quickly and effectively
Agile practices were designed to deliver these kinds of results because they originated in software in the 1990s, when large projects would routinely run years late and millions of dollars over budget.
Most of us haven’t gotten anywhere near that level of disaster, but who doesn’t want quantifiably better market campaigns that actually get finished faster?
Agile is the Answer
Modern marketing exists in a state of constant disruption, and it shows no signs of getting simpler anytime soon. Agile marketing represents our best, and maybe our only, chance of dealing with this new reality.