Agile Marketing Mindset: Explained
In her 2012 bestseller ‘Mindset’ Dr Carol Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the fields of personality, social psychology and developmental psychology, explained how changing the way people think can help fulfil their potential. She highlighted the two common mind-sets as:
- the growth mind-set
- the fixed mind-set
The difference between the two lies in how a person organizes their work and how they deal with errors and setbacks. These differences can clearly be aligned with the two approaches to marketing I discussed in the first article of this series: the principles of agile marketing. You will probably have guessed it: the fixed mind-set focuses on command and control and complements the waterfall approach well, whilst the growth mind-set is more flexible and applicable to the agile marketing approach. I present both of these in greater detail in the following sections.
Growth mind-set (Agile Marketing)
Dweck (2012) argues that the core of the growth mind-set lies in the belief that every person can cultivate their basic qualities through focused effort. People with a growth mind-set zero in on identifying the key qualities they have (or ones that they would like to possess) and exert concerted effort to develop these to the maximum. As a result, they become more skilled, more effective and more efficient in completing their tasks, they produce results faster and these are often of better quality. Growth-oriented individuals usually thrive during the most challenging times at work (rather than feeling intimidated) and do not get involved in the blame game but focus on coming up with solutions to current problems. People with a growth mind-set are intellectually curious, possess high emotional intelligence and will identify with the following statements:
- Failure is an opportunity to grow.
- I can learn to do anything I want.
- Challenges help me to grow.
- My effort and attitude determine my abilities.
- Feedback is constructive.
- I am inspired by the success of others.
- I like to try new things.
Marketers who employ a growth mind-set are passionate about learning new skills and developing their individual abilities. Hence, they are much more likely to embrace the agile approach because they will not be discouraged by failure while completing marketing tasks, but would likely view them as an important learning process that leads to ongoing improvements.
Fixed Mindset (Traditional Marketing - Waterfall)
Marketers with a fixed mind-set are often heavily involved in dirty office politics because they feel comfortable in their role and do not usually perceive a need to improve themselves by acquiring new skills. According to Dweck (2012), people with a fixed mind-set are confident in their existing skills and often feel compelled to prove these over and over again.
It is fair to conclude that marketers that actively resist adopting the agile marketing methodology have a high likelihood of possessing a fixed mind-set. Think about it: is there a person within your team who hoards information and keeps them from other members of the team? Is there someone within the team who gossips and spreads rumors or blocks creative ideas from materializing? These types of individuals hinder agile marketing adoption within teams. Bad bosses and toxic people most of us encounter in the work environment are perfect examples of individuals with a fixed mind-set. These individuals will often identify with the following statements:
- Failure is the limit of my abilities.
- I am either good at it or I am not.
- My abilities are unchanging.
- I can either do it or I can’t.
- I don’t like to be challenged.
- My potential is predetermined.
- When I am frustrated, I give up.
- Feedback and criticism are personal.
- I stick to what I know.
In the 21st century, influenced by the shift from interruption to permission marketing, marketing teams must change from traditional demand and control (fixed mind-set) if they are to survive in today’s marketing arena. Embracing a growth mind-set will help marketing teams fulfil their potential of achieving increased business revenue whilst supporting the delivery of a healthy customer experience, thus justifying their existence to the rest of the organisation and (particularly) the C-suite executives.
Marketers (by default) have a fixed mind-set which aligns perfectly with the hierarchical company structure which favours the waterfall project management framework. This works well in marketing campaigns where we are able to predict outcomes (to some extent). However, it can be a huge hindrance if the organization wants to be flexible and able to respond to the needs of its consumers quickly and effectively, in other words – if it wants to be agile. Developing an agile mind-set which will support this transition from the waterfall to the agile marketing framework, however, requires a culture of openness that encourages mistakes to be made in order to allow teams to learn from these and improve for the future. Barre Hardy of CMG Partners, who authored a white paper titled ‘Agile Mindset’, said it well: ‘Agile leaders put an end to the status quo and promote agility by setting the tone and vision for what it means to be an Agile organization, reinforcing and encouraging a shared Agile Mindset along the way.’ However, this culture must permeate the entire organization – and not just the marketing function.
Customer Satisfaction – the Holy Grail of Agile Marketing
It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand customer needs. This is not necessarily due to a lack of trying on the part of the marketers, but mostly depends on how well customers actually communicate their needs to marketers. The old adage says ‘If Henry Ford had asked his customers, they would have told him they want a faster horse, not cars.’ (or something to that effect). Whilst it is true that customers are often inside their own ‘box’, today’s marketers cannot fully discount the input that customers are able to provide via the gazillion media channels on offer today. Unlike their counterparts from a hundred or so years ago, customers today are much more aware of their needs, much more informed about the various different ways to fulfill these, much less patient and even less forgiving. Marketers, therefore, do not have much room for error, or even experimentation.
Adopting the agile approach means recognizing the role of the consumer in the marketing process and getting to grips with some interesting practices for communicating and writing down customer requirements (Stellman & Greene, 2015). Getting a ‘nod’ from customers about what they like/dislike/want/do not want will greatly help marketing teams adapt their marketing strategies to be able to more effectively meet their customers’ expectations. However, this then begs the question: why do we need to collect insights and feedback from customers in an iterative manner? Could we not collect all customer feedback at once and then structure our marketing tactics around the feedback received?
The short answer is – yes, we could certainly collect all the data at the beginning of the marketing process and then structure and execute our strategies and tactics accordingly within the usual 1-year business cycle. However, with the ever faster pace of life and the speed and ease with which majority of consumers can get the information they need about how to best satisfy their needs (primarily via the internet and social media), it is important that marketers recognize that, in order to really impact business results, they must not be locked into a set of marketing strategies and tactics for long periods of time. Rather, they should be able to evaluate their performance within short periods of time, so that they are able to quickly divert funds from the failing strategies and tactics to ones that will be more effective with their particular target audiences. This is why agile marketing teams are typically iterative, planning marketing activities around customer feedback and requirements on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.
Welcome the Changing Customer Expectations
The growth mind-set is about welcoming and embracing change. A culture of blame (fixed mind-set) and fear has been one of the major reasons why marketing teams have been slow in adopting agile marketing. Can you think of the last time Google made a major update to their SEO algorithm? How did you feel? Until that moment you probably had a forecast for your customer acquisition from organic channels and expected conversions. How did you explain to senior management that your forecast was accurate?
Being agile and doing agile from a marketing perspective requires a mind-set that understands and accepts the fact that customers will change their purchase patterns and perceptions about your product and/or overall brand. Understanding this is key to agile marketing mind-set. This first part towards welcoming changing customer expectations focuses on trying to visualize things from your target customers’ perspectives. Does your team have relevant information about the personas of your customers grouped into different segments, such as ‘new customer’ or ‘most valuable customer’? Do you understand how your customer journeys through the flow of decisions before they make the final purchase?
Agile marketers can learn a lot from changing customer expectations. However, in order to learn, adapt and (ultimately) grow, they need to embrace this change as a learning process that requires an immediate response, before it’s too late. This will be made easier if the whole marketing team, as well as the rest of the organisation, embrace a culture that acknowledges that mistakes can be beneficial, as long as we learn from them and adapt our future course of action accordingly.
Face-To-Face Communication Within the Team
Have you ever been copied in endless streams of emails between team members when the topic of discussion could be resolved in a face to face chat in less than 5 minutes? Points made by individuals in electronic communication (such as emails between team members) can sometimes be interpreted out of context by others and this will often result in endless trails of emails which are only creating distractions and not helping to resolve the situation or offer any particularly valuable additional information. This can result in a huge waste of time for everyone involved. This is interesting, considering the original goal for introducing emails into business was to make sure an idea that exists in a team member’s head is clearly and effectively transmitted to other team members without being taken out of context. Unfortunately, we could argue this is often not the case in communication streams between teams.
Nonverbal cues in face-to-face conversations, such as body language or tone of voice, make it a preferred communication tool within teams because people are able to more easily understand each other, clarify any issues that may exist in the workload or between individual team members and encourage team members to openly offer possible solutions to these. In order for the face-to-face communication to really produce tangible results, standup meetings are usually scheduled on a daily basis, which fosters openness and enables teams to be quick in addressing any issues or obstacles to getting their work done.
I was recently part of an agile marketing team of 5 people. During our daily standup in front of a Kanban board, each member was allocated exactly 3 minutes to update the team on what they were working on the previous day, what they plan to work on the current day and the issues that could potentially affect their task completion rate. We had a squeeze ball hand exerciser which we used for our standup meetings and the purpose of the ball was to ensure that each member is actively listening to what is being discussed during the meeting. Person A would start the conversation, ball in hand, with the mind-set that he/she has exactly 3 minutes to talk and then passes the ball randomly to any other member of the team who then spends 3 minutes doing the same thing. We made sure each individual’s input did not exceed the 3 minutes allocated to them and any conversation that required more time to resolve was discussed in a separate meeting with the parties specifically involved in or impacted by that process.
Fostering Trust and Respect Across the Marketing Team
A mind-set of trust between agile marketing team members is extremely important. Trust ensures team members do not hoard vital information or hide them from one another. A culture of trust prevents clique-forming amongst team members and fosters open communication which is a vital element for information flow across the team.
Respect for each other is another important requirement for agile marketing teams. The military is a good example: respecting your comrades and (particularly) your superiors is important because it can mean the difference between life and death. Although much less dramatic, a lack of respect between members of a marketing team will destroy the trust within the team, make members less open with each other and this will ultimately impact negatively on the overall marketing strategy and business results.
There is no single recipe for creating the agile marketing mind-set but CMOs, other C-suite executives and human resource departments can certainly make agile marketing governance part of their job responsibilities.
Training, mentoring and coaching marketing teams in agile methodologies and setting up recruitment and on-boarding processes which will favour candidates with a growth mind-set would be a good starting point. Contact Femi Olajiga for more information about how to implement agile marketing within your marketing team. I’d love to hear what you think about this topic.
About The Author
Femi Olajiga is an independent consultant: Agile Digital Marketing Consultant (Web Analytics, Digital Customer Experience and User Experience). You can connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter or visit my website CXconversion.com
Share and find out more about Agile Marketing in my previous post - The Principles of Agile Marketing: Explained
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Dweck, C.S. 2012. Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. New York: Robinson.
Stellman, A. & Greene, J. 2015. Learning Agile: Understanding Scrum, XP, Lean and Kanban. Sebastopol: O’Reilly Media, Inc.