Principles of Agile Marketing Explained
Having been successful in IT software development over the past couple of decades, Agile (Scrum) principles are slowly entering the marketing domain. Because agile marketing is still in its infancy, it is important to understand the underlying principles that made agile (scrum) so successful in IT and how marketing teams can adapt some of these principles for their own purposes, although it is also worth mentioning that not all agile principles will be applicable to marketing due the difference in mind-set, goals and team size(s).
Marketing teams have traditionally been structured to mirror the waterfall project management approach because, for a long time, marketing represented a one-way communication from brands to customers. However, the fairly recent explosion of the internet changed the predictable nature of marketing, as it gave more power to the consumers to voice their opinions and, thus, influence the perceptions of the brand by other consumers. The key problem marketers face today is that customer behavior is anything but predictable because of the increased number of marketing channels and the influence exerted via social media on how customers make their buying decisions.
While the traditional process of creating marketing plans at the start of a fiscal year gives the impression of an orderly, accountable and measurable approach to strategic marketing, this approach creates a very rigid mind-set for marketing teams, as it does not allow them the flexibility to respond to changing and uncertain customer expectations and their subsequent buying decisions. Adopting agile marketing based on some of the principles that have been so successful for software development teams will allow marketing teams to adapt their marketing tactics to meet these changes in customer behaviours based on good quality insights from web analytics, CX and UX data.
For many marketing teams, creating rigid marketing plans makes sense in terms of allocating budget funds to online and offline marketing channels and then waiting for the next financial year before a new plan is created. The non-agile (waterfall) mind-set will believe that marketing plans must be followed without any change and if the marketing plan does not work, the assumption is that the marketing plan did not work as opposed to questioning the execution of a plan that does not allow for response to change in customer behaviour. Furthermore, budgets are usually signed off by senior management, even though the required insights needed to adapt the marketing plan to the changing market conditions are mostly generated by lower level marketing and customer-facing employees.
Agile marketing is based on a growth mind-set across the marketing team – one that allows for open communication across the team without fear of making mistakes. For a marketing team to truly become agile and growth-oriented, it needs to adopt the same agile ground rules from IT software development. The proposed agile marketing principles can be found online on www.agilemarketingmanifesto.org/principles and they align completely with the same principles adopted by software development teams. Although developed a few years ago, the principles listed in the agile marketing manifesto still remain at “proposed” stage at the time of this writing. Therefore, in this article we will discuss agile marketing through the prism of insights offered by some of the original software development literature: the original “Agile Manifesto”, “Lean Product Development”, “The Scrum Guide” and Kanban. Marketers can leverage marketing optimisation through employing three key principles of transparency, inspection and adaptation. We discuss each of these in greater detail below.
Agile marketing encourages transparency of all customer information that are important towards meeting the overall objectives set out in the integrated marketing plan. The social media, offline marketing and web analytics teams must make all information at their disposal available to all the people involved in marketing, whatever their role. Agile project management teams use collaboration tools like JIRA as a central repository for all project information which makes transparency easier because every member has unrestricted access to all the information available all of the time. Marketing teams can adopt the same approach by using tools like JIRA to store both strategic-level and tactical-level marketing plans.
Openly sharing the integrated marketing plan with all members of the team is crucial, although, arguably, some organisations do this better than others. Creating an environment of information transparency will promote an easy flow of information throughout the marketing team which will also help create an open and collaborative work culture among the existing marketing team silos. One could also argue that making information easily accessible will reduce meaningless meetings and interruptions between team members and generally improve team members’ individual productivity and efficiency.
Agile teams within the IT industry also conduct daily meetings called “stand ups” where teams members share information about what they were doing the previous day, what they plan to do on the day and whether there are any issues and problems that are affecting their work. These meetings allow team members to be aware of what the rest of the team is doing and to pitch in with suggestions and help each other troubleshoot any issues. This, again, helps in boosting team morale and individual team members’ positive attitude towards their work and one another. Having unrestricted access to the team’s strategic and tactical KPIs, as well as being aware of their team members’ individual KPIs encourages teams to have a collaborative mind-set. Marketing teams everywhere could benefit greatly from the adoption of the agile approach in their day to day activities. It is not about creating a finger pointing atmosphere, but about understanding that the team is only as strong as its weakest link: if any one person on the team fails in completing their tasks the whole team will be negatively affected. The collaborative and supportive atmosphere agile helps to promote ultimately supports increased productivity and effectiveness of each individual team member.
Supporting transparency (discussed above), inspection is very much about the daily meetings and sprint reviews, which are critical activities that help the team identify hindrances and problems that could be slowing down the team’s efforts towards completing the project output.
Agile marketing teams can adopt the same mind-set by scheduling daily meetings that should not last more than 15 minutes. In these meetings every member of the team is able to highlight issues they need help with, while the most senior member of the team or anyone else can help resolve the issue with their suggestion. For example, what issues is the SEO team having and how does that impact paid search advertising? Is there anyone in social media that can help offer a solution? This is the type of scene where a daily meeting and input from other members of the team can help individuals resolve issues and prevent minor niggles turning into insurmountable, complex problems.
Agile project management teams have four events that help these teams inspect and adapt their activities to ensure that team members do not deviate from the expected output of the project. These include events such as daily meetings, sprint planning, sprint reviews and retrospectives.
Developing a marketing strategy that guarantees customer acquisition, conversion and retention is very difficult with changing customer perceptions and the multitude of purchase touchpoints customers have at their disposal. An important aspect of a successful marketing strategy is reducing all forms of customer journey drop off points, however, identifying these becomes increasingly complicated with the over reliance on quantitative data. This begs the question, then: how do we as marketers develop a feedback loop which will inform digital strategy about customer experience and expectations?
Shop Direct UK is a perfect example of how to reduce customer pain-point uncertainty on the website, mobile apps and other marketing channels. Shop Direct UK has a department within its head office called the ‘UX lab’, the main purpose of which is to identify the key positive and negative aspects of its digital properties and how these can be exploited or minimized (respectively) in order to make their products more easily accessible. This user-centred design process enables Shop Direct’s team members to collaborate and innovate in order to improve their business results through meeting their customers’ needs in a better way (https://www.shopdirect.com/shop-direct-accelerates-testing-programme-in-house-ux-lab/). Like Shop Direct, agile marketing teams in all industries can address multiple types of customer pain point uncertainty in an iterative and incremental ‘test and learn’ environment. Ongoing customer experience research through frontline customer-facing touchpoints and improvements will also help reduce customer pain-point uncertainty.
Keep the Integrated Digital Marketing Plans Open
Digital marketing budgets are allocated per marketing channel and tactics which is further broken down into quarters, lines of business and regions (in multinational marketing teams). Important decisions and a review of the marketing channel performance must be made before the transition to the next quarter or financial year, even if current analytics, UX and CX insights demand an immediate review of the marketing strategy.
Agile marketing favours an option that keeps the marketing plan open to changes in response to insights gathered from CX, web analytics and UX feedback from customer segments on an ongoing basis.
Accept That You Can’t Get It Right Up Front with Regards to Marketing Plans
It is normal to assume that we can “get it right” up front with initial digital marketing budget and resource allocation across channels and tactics. The reality, however, is that we are oftentimes guilty of creating marketing plans based on assumptions about what our target customers want and ignoring important qualitative analytics data. Agile marketing acknowledges that’s we cannot get all the required customer insights or plan the perfect acquisition, retention and conversion strategies upfront. With Agile marketing, we create marketing plans with the assumption that we will update the tactics, budgets and channels as we learn more about the performance of each tactic from a revenue driven conversion optimization perspective.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
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Reference: Rubin, Kenneth S. (2013) Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to The Most Popular Agile Process, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley.