Regardless of the industry or business function you’re working with, pretty sure that the word “Agile” has crossed your way. The term “Agile for marketing” has been circulating around as the “modern” approach that transforms the marketing department.
For some companies, the Agile methodology has been revolutionary and fruitful. For many others, it was mere ink on paper.
What is Agile? How can you renovate your marketing department to match the tremendous change happening in the world of marketing? And most importantly, what is the role that Agile can play to empower marketers and help achieve their goals.
This article will tackle different ideas and answers your questions about Agile for marketing.
Agile for Marketing: Introduction to Agile
The Agile methodology is a particular approach to project management that was originally designed for software development teams. This process acts as a reverse to the traditional project management methodology known as Waterfall.
The Waterfall methodology follows the natural execution sequence of the stages of a project. In other words, one phase should be completely accomplished before moving on to the next one.
This has been a successful management methodology for decades. However, it had a major weakness; it’s resistant to change. Any risks or unexpected occurrences cause delay to the project’s delivery.
The software development environment is a highly dynamic one. That’s why it needed a different approach that is flexible and adapts to continuous changes in plan.
Agile’s main objective is to assist teams in responding to the unpredictability of constructing software. It uses incremental, iterative work sequences that are commonly known as sprints.
What Is a Sprint?
A sprint is a period of time allocated for a particular phase of a project. Sprints are considered to be complete when the time period expires.
Ideally, a sprint’s duration is two weeks long. It could be more or less according to the nature of the project.
At the beginning of each sprint, the team agrees to the scope of work that would be executed. They distribute the tasks among themselves and put estimates to when each task would be completed.
Tasks are assigned according to its scope and the experience of each member of the team.
Once the sprint is over, the team reviews the work done in the finished sprint.
Simultaneously, the client reviews the work completed. This gives room for efficient feedback and allows the client to make small changes at the end of every sprint.
This isn’t the case with Waterfall; where the entire project has to be completed first before the client reviews it. Sometimes, that meant that an entire project would have a re-run.
Therefore, Agile was revolutionary in the way it makes it easy to work on a limited number of tasks, review it, give feedback and make changes, then repeat the cycle again.
Towards Always On Marketing
The Shift from Campaign-Centric Marketing
So, after this brief overview of what Agile is about. The question is, why does marketing need to borrow Agile from the software field? What’s wrong with following the same traditional process in marketing?
The answer lies in the fact that the marketing environment has changed a lot ever since the Internet appeared.
The marketing context has shifted from campaign-centric marketing to always-on marketing. In other words, consumer touchpoints used to occur when the brand decides to have a direct contact between itself the audience.
For example, a purchase, a call to customer service, a visit to the store, or even through advertising campaigns. The brand had full control over when and how it will reach the consumer.
Brands chose the time and place, and they didn’t expect instant feedback. They could only hope for the best or wait and see the reflection of their marketing efforts on sales.
It used to be a one-way conversation. But more importantly, it was concentrated. One campaign after the other. One big project at a time.
Now VS Then: Brands Are One Click Away
This old setup is history now. Consumers are no longer passive and they are much more empowered. From the point of view of today’s consumers, brands don’t have “working hours” anymore. They’re expected to be “always on”.
Meanwhile, digital channels require brands to produce content on weekly or even daily basis. That’s the only way to engage their audience in a conversation.
In addition, brands are required to solve customer problems around the clock through digital and offline channels. That means that customer service and digital marketing, for example, can no longer work as two separate departments. There has to be some collaboration.
Customers do not care about the organisational structure. They just expect their problem to be solved. That created a need for breaking the old “division” between different business functions.
The Problems of Campaign-Centric Thinking
Although, marketers will still do campaigns, with Agile for marketing, the process itself will be different.
So, there are main four problems with the old way of doing things:
#1: Launch and Forget
Campaign-centric thinking is basically creating a big advertising campaign with a huge budget either before a new product launch, or for a big season; such as Christmas, Superbowl, or summer.
So, what happens with this setup is that you have a peak, then it starts to decay. And then another peak that fades with time, and so on and so forth.
That’s why one can refer to this kind of marketing activity as “launch and forget” where all the spending is concentrated around a peak event that dies away easily.
That’s very wasteful; as it wastes money and effort around one campaign just to watch it dwindle soon.
Although this setup is good at driving awareness and sales, however, it’s not successful at building loyalty and advocacy.
#2: Can’t Shut Off Your Online Community
You need ongoing social media presence. You can’t simply turn off your community whenever you want to. This is even more critical if your business is a multinational one. It literally is always-on.
In addition, digital media empowered individuals by giving them the ability to share reviews and opinions about every service or product. So, in a way, every single consumer can easily become your advocate or your enemy.
Through digital channels and forums, word of mouth marketing reached a whole different level. In the past, word of mouth marketing had an impact on a small circle of family and friends.
Today, the term “word of mouth” became the older version of “influencer marketing. Every customer now has hundreds of friends, so in a way, every customer is an influencer.
That created a need for marketers to be following up what is being said about their brand all the time. Not only watch, but also be responsive and even proactive by encouraging user generated content.
#3: Sustained Conversations
The old communication strategy was not “always-on”. So, the interaction between the consumer and the brand lasted for a minute or two, every once in a while.
Now that brands are connected twenty-four seven, the conversation must take a different turn.
In the past, when the interactions were rare, brands used to talk about themselves. They used to talk about their products, their unique selling points, their promotions, and how every brand’s product is the best in the market.
This can no longer be a successful strategy. If you want the conversation to last, you can’t always be talking about yourself.
Less about You, More about Them
Brands need to create relevant content to build a sustainable relationship with consumers. Therefore, a healthy conversation should be less about the product and more about topics that interest the audience.
So, when developing a content strategy, the right question is no longer about which products you should showcase. It’s about getting to know your customers well enough to identify which topics interest them and take things from there.
The baseline of your content strategy should be relevant topics with product news and campaigns embedded.
Agile for Marketing: Key Principals of Agile
The previous explanation of what Agile is and the idea of always-on marketing makes one realize the faults of the traditional marketing methodology.
It doesn’t fit the fast world we’re living in.
Secondly, understanding the shortcomings of the traditional marketing process makes you realise the true objectives of Agile for marketing. Many businesses adopt “Agile for marketing” for the sake of the buzzword.
The deeper you understand the problem, the better you would be able to apply the Agile solution.
So, let’s start with the key concepts of Agile for marketing and how to implement them.
Key Concepts of Agile
- Increased speed
- Improved predictability
- Increased adaptability of the development process
Agility helps you move fast as well as adapt quickly to changes.
How Does Agile Implement These Concepts?
#1: Incremental Delivery
By breaking down development into smaller chunks and iterating the small chunks of work done.
This stands in contrast with conventional marketing where the marketing strategy has six to twelve month executional calendars.
These long executional calendars increase risks because by the time a project is completed, the consumer insights on which they were built upon become outdated.
In some industries, the market moves so fast and cannot tolerate these long executional calendars.
#2: Stakeholder Involvement
Stakeholders can provide and prioritize requirements and also evaluate iterations.
The enemy of the Agile philosophy is stakeholder alignment that takes forever. Traditional marketing departments waste a lot of time in long meetings to do alignments and status updates.
These processes hinder the progress and increase risks.
#3: People over Process
By using small, collaborative, cross-functional teams. Teams are self-governing and autonomous.
They distribute the tasks among themselves, put estimates to their work, and review their own sprint.
The Agile methodology puts leadership, partnership, and collaboration over process and bureaucracy.
That opposes the conventional marketing process known for its inflexible execution needed to bring large, heavyweight campaigns to life.
Is Agile for Marketing Necessary?
After the previous comparison and understanding how the market looks like today, it’s crystal clear that Agile for marketing is a necessity to realise the full potential of a brand’s marketing efforts.
Agile for Marketing: What Is Scrum?
So, Agile is a philosophy or an approach that incorporates a set of methods. One of the most popular project management frameworks is Scrum. Scrum addresses complexity in work by making information transparent, so that people can inspect and adapt based on current conditions, rather than predicted conditions.
There are three core players in Scrum: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the team.
The product owner is self-explanatory, he/she simply is the person who owns the requirements of the product. He commands and designs the scope of work and accepts or rejects the final outcome.
While the product owner owns the product, the Scrum master owns the project and co-ordinates the execution process between members of the team.
Finally, there’s the team of marketers responsible for the implementation and carrying out all requirements. Agile teams are typically small. They are formed of eight to ten members, at most.
How Does the Scrum Process Go?
For example, you want to create a new loyalty program or an advertising campaign. User stories are created by imagining the user’s touchpoints. As a user, you want to do this and that.
You start with the final outcome that you want to achieve, and then break it down to user stories.
The next step is when the product owner picks the highest priority chunk from the backlog and that’s called the sprint backlog.
Then, the Scrum master conducts a sprint planning meeting with the product owner and the team.
After the planning meeting, it’s officially the beginning of the sprint where the team runs like hell for two to four weeks.
During the Sprint
Throughout the sprint, the team has a daily, 15 minute Scrum meeting. This quick, daily meeting covers three topics: what was completed the previous day, what will be completed the same day, and any hurdles that may block the team’s flow of work.
By the end of the sprint, the team is supposed to have a deliverable, that’s known as a release. The release is then reviewed by the customer and they provide feedback to the team.
The product owner then reprioritizes the remaining work according to the customer’s feedback and another cycle starts all over.
That’s, in brief, an explanation of Scrum as a framework. Of course, there are other Agile frameworks, however, Scrum is the most popular one.
If you’re curious to discover other Agile methodologies, check Agile Methodologies.
How to Apply Agile for Marketing?
So, now you understand what Agile stands for and the concepts and terminologies of Agile. You also know that Agile was born in a software development environment.
That brings one question up, is there a difference between Agile for marketing and Agile for software development?
The answer is yes. You can never just copy and paste from one industry to the other.
Although Agile principals remain the same, one must always mold it to fit the way marketing works. Let’s find out the way Agile for marketing is different.
Big Room Planning
Marketing teams tend to need more context, more vision to develop their marketing messages and campaigns. They need to have the big picture view.
Therefore, there’s an importance for “big room planning” in the marketing context.
Marketers need to be constantly aligned on the brand guidelines, the positioning strategy, and the overall corporate strategy.
For that reason, when implementing Agile for marketing, you still need to leave room for strategic planning.
You need more time than software development teams to set vision, align strategy, and plan initiatives. You need to build roadmaps that plan out the future.
A Hybrid Approach
Unlike software development, some marketing work is difficult to complete in a two week sprint. For example, if you’re planning a big event or preparing to launch a huge on-ground activation, you need to reserve your spot months in advance.
You can’t shrink that work in a two week sprint.
That means that in Agile for marketing, you need to use a hybrid approach.
So, one of the ways to build a hybrid approach is to build persistent teams that handle ongoing waterfall campaigns. Simultaneously, you need to build temporary, initiative-based teams that operate in the Agile mode.
By blending both methodologies in one department, you create a hybrid approach.
Moreover, software development terms and language does not comply with the marketing vocabulary.
For instance, marketing teams do not building product features. Instead of feature, there are marketing initiatives. The product owner becomes the business owner or a marketing owner.
So, you can always tweak the Agile terminology to fit your marketing context when you’re implementing Agile for marketing.
Adopt the Mindset
Agile is basically a philosophy. If you say you have an “Agile” team and still use the same old mentality, hierarchy, and silos, then you’ve ignored the heart of Agile.
Agile for marketing empowers people. It stands for open communication, transparency, and representation. It allows teams to be on auto-pilot; every member is his/her own boss.
Notably, the Scrum master is not really a manager, even though his job is to lead the team.
However, leadership here is ensuring that work goes smoothly and that the team members do not face challenges that might delay or risk the delivery of requirements.
The Agile for Marketing Manifesto
#1: The Death of Opinions
Agile for marketing supports insights, validated learning, and data-driven decisions. Instead of saying “I think”, use “I know” more often.
#2: Collaboration over Silos
The biggest corporates in the world are replacing separated functions and departments into customer-centric organisational structure.
Organisations will no longer be divided into different departments that do not interact with each other.
When a customer is complaining about a service, for example, they no longer accept to be transferred from one department to the other. Customer expectations are different now. They expect their issues to be solved immediately.
In the Agile for marketing context, instead of saying there’s a creative team, a media team, the agency, and then there’s the sales department, bring them all together.
#3: Iterative Campaigns over Big-Bang Campaigns
In Agile for marketing, you’re going from big launch, big ideas, and big budgets to iterative cycles of marketing initiatives. This aligns with the idea of always-on marketing.
You minimize risks by testing a bigger number of ideas. You’ll be able to learn faster by executing more ideas on a smaller scale. That also helps when there’s a big launch; it gives better insight into knowing what works and what doesn’t.
Small iterations help you scale up more confidently.
In addition, if, for any reason, your marketing initiative failed or had a low return on investment, you wouldn’t have wasted a huge budget.
#4: Discovery over Prediction of Customer Insights
Customer insights are an on-going discovery process. If you make static predictions, you can be very wrong. It’s better to be approximately correct than to be precisely wrong.
Therefore, market research initiatives should also have an Agile approach; where shifts in the consumer expectation can be easily identified and tracked.
#5: Flexible over Rigid Planning
Planning will be there. As earlier mentioned, you will have to do some long term planning in Agile for marketing. However, it’ll be flexible and adaptable.
#6: Responding to Change over Following a Fixed Plan
Your plans will change. You’ll have to incorporate adaptability and change into your process.
One major thing to articulate boldly here is that Agile is not an excuse to force your team to accept change constantly.
The ability to adapt to change is powerful, but when that change is arbitrary and/or daily, it becomes a serious source of stress for the team.
Yes, Agile embraces change as a part of the work environment we live in, however, forcing it isn’t the right way. There always have to be a conversation with the team and appreciation to the value they bring to the table.
Agile marketing requires leadership to set clear objectives; the team needs to know where they’re driving their car.
They can (and should) adjust their route along the way. But, if you change the goal all the time you’ll never get anywhere, even if you’re Agile.
Practical Steps of Implementing Agile for Marketing
So, now you understand the concepts of Agile for marketing. In this part, you’ll have deeper knowledge of how to practically carry out these concepts.
#1: Decide on the Big Room Planning
So, as highlighted before, one of the main challenges of applying Agile for marketing is that long term planning is essential for the success of marketing.
That goes against Agile’s focus on short-term, adaptable spirit.
So, how can you solve this paradox: you need to be on strategy in the long term, but you also need to be Agile in the short term?
In order to create that balance, you need to create a hierarchy.
The hierarchy is starting with a roadmap, then you have themes, initiatives, epics, and stories.
A roadmap is the big picture outline of key goals for the next six to twelve months. The roadmap is similar to the traditional yearly marketing strategy.
However, the roadmap is a rolling plan; not a static one.
Every quarter, the roadmap is reviewed and adjusted according to the brand performance. Then it becomes the new roadmap for the following six to twelve months.
The roadmap defines the key marketing goals and initiatives and the metrics for success.
At this stage, it’s important to involve all high level stakeholders in the planning and review process to ensure buy-in.
Adjustments made every quarter to the roadmap are determined based on new information, changing trends, unforeseen problems, opportunities, and competitive moves.
The big-picture roadmap is broken down into few key themes. Themes help you prioritise the tasks performed against the goals.
Let’s say that one of the objectives of the roadmap is launching a new brand or a product.
Within that, you may have one theme related to your new brand’s identity.
Another theme would be related to what you will do with your new brand’s marketing communications. One more theme would be the internal readiness of employees and partners; how you will prepare them for the new launch.
You can have from three to five themes to cover up the objectives of the roadmap.
Initiatives, Epics, Stories
While roadmap and themes focus on the long term vision. These three levels are the tactical ones.
Initiatives are specific or mini campaigns that will roll up to a theme. On the other hand, stories are the basic units of analysis and the actual work that gets done in a sprint.
In between them, you find epics. These are sets of user stories which are thematically related.
By creating this pyramid, you’d be able to marry long term thinking with short term, tactical execution.
#2: Organise the Team
Step number two is setting up the Agile team. As you recall, there’s a product owner, a Scrum master, and the team. In case of Agile for marketing, you’ll have a marketing owner.
The marketing owner could be the Chief Marketing Officer, a Director of Marketing, a Business Unit Head, or a Brand Manager.
It all depends on the scale of each project.
The owner of the initiative needs to be there at the beginning and at the end of each sprint to evaluate the strategy. However, he/she doesn’t get involved in the day to day.
Then you have the Agile lead; the one in charge of monitoring the smooth running of an initiative by leading the team and helping them overcome any challenges.
The third part of the team is the marketing implementers. These are the marketing specialists who fulfill the tasks; the ones who roll up their sleeves and get things done.
The marketing implementers must have different backgrounds of expertise; communication experts, UI/UX experts, the digital specialists, and consumer insight specialists.
A strong Agile team is the one that has variety of capabilities and its members have the know-how. Of course, members of the team are selected according to the initiative and their relevant expertise.
#3: Ramp up Readiness
You can’t just throw Agile upon your marketing department. To do that transformation, you have to prepare them. Luckily, there are many resources to learn about Agile.
You need to plan for your team’s training through online crash courses. There are many certifications that qualifies your team to be ready for Agile.
Both Agile and Scrum have their particular vocabulary and a set of rituals and ceremonies. So, before going Agile, your team must understand what a burndown chart or a “sprint retrospective” is.
Another thing that makes the Agile transformation easier is culture change. You must cultivate values of freedom, responsibility, trust, and self-governance.
In addition, your future Agile team needs to learn how to give honest feedback, estimates, and critique.
#4: Agile Software Tools
There are many applications and software tools that help Agile teams organise their tasks and collaborate smartly.
Since Agile teams need to always be aligned and responding quickly to each other, these apps puts everyone on the same page including the owner, the Agile lead, and all other team members.
Trello is a task management app that gives you a visual overview of what is being worked on and who is working on it.
Trello uses the Kanban system, another Agile approach like Scrum, which was developed in Toyota as a system to keep production levels high and maintain flexibility.
It is best represented as a whiteboard filled with post-it notes. Each post-it represents different tasks involved in the project.
Trello’s interface resembles the white board with post-it notes. It has boards, lists, and cards.
A board is typically a project or a marketing initiative that is being consistently worked on.
Lists are sub-categories on the board and cards are the smallest building units of the project.
You can invite specific members to a board. They can see it and control the creation and flow of cards between the lists. They can add themselves or others to cards, begin conversations on the cards, add attachments and create checklists.
What Makes Trello Unique?
It’s super easy to use. Trello is basically a virtual to do list. It doesn’t require any sort of training. Trello makes the flow of work a breeze for everyone in the team.
Trello’s basic features are free for up to 10 team boards. Additional features are available on Business Class package for 9.99$ per user per month. Finally, there’s the Enterprise package for 20.83$ per user per month for 100 users.
JIRA is a more complicated project management tool. The basic use of this tool is to track issues and bugs related to software and Mobile apps.
Yet, JIRA’s dashboard consists of many useful functions and features which make handling of tasks easy for any Agile team.
Instead of issues, you can call them tasks. Tasks are assigned to different members of the team. Every assignee can put a status on his/her task. They can also comment or start a conversation with other team members under one task.
You can divide JIRA’s dashboard to different columns; each column represents a stage in the work cycle.
For example, you can divide them as to do, in progress, or done. Or, if the work cycle is longer, they can be divided to to-do, pending assignment, in progress, review, pending feedback from chief director, back to in progress, done.
As you can see, you can make it extremely brief or extremely detailed. It all depends on the nature of work.
JIRA also has a backlog where you can add all the work that needs to be done randomly, unassigned, and without priority.
From there, you start every sprint by assigning work with the highest priority.
Some agencies love to use JIRA because it allows them to add the client or the one who defines the done criteria.
It gives the client a high level of transparency to overlook the work being done and know exactly where the project stands. It’s a great tool to keep everyone connected.
What Makes JIRA Unique?
The name “JIRA” is actually inherited from the Japanese word “Gojira” which means “Godzilla”.
If that tells you one thing, it’s a gigantic tool. The level of customization, depth, and detail it offers to its users is unmatched by any other tool. For that reason, your employees may need some training to be able to use it efficiently.
For small teams, Jira costs $10 per user per month up to 10 users. For up to 15 users you are looking at a huge leap to $75 per month per user and then there is a sliding scale up to 2000 users.
Rally is another tool or platform designed to serve Agile teams. Rally, more than Jira, presumes a thorough appreciation of the Agile Methodology, and without this, the platform is not that intuitive.
Jira tries to be more universal in its appeal and therefore comes out as being a little more user-friendly, especially for those outside the software development field.
Rally allows you to set up a project and portfolio hierarchy. This means you can set the overall roadmap and then delve in to see what teams are doing and how this aligns with your business strategy.
This is perfect for Agile marketing teams. It helps them keep their eyes on the big picture.
Moreover, there are release tracking and metrics, which give a comprehensive report on progress, dependencies, alignment and overall progress to the plan. This helps teams, Agile lead, and marketing owner to reflect effectively.
It’s worthy to mention that both Rally and JIRA have chat tools and both have reporting to help with reflections.
What Is Unique about Rally?
Rally is all about Agile. It’s especially designed for Agile teams, and particularly software development.
If you can get over its intimidating first impression, Rally is more cost efficient than JIRA.
It has a community edition, which is free for up to 10 users. The enterprise edition is $35 per month per user and the unlimited edition is $49 per user per month.
Factors to Consider When Starting Agile for Marketing
- Cash spent last year
- Highest return on spends
- Adequate coverage of customer segments
- Most effective channels and partners
- Re-allocation of marketing spends across channels
Case Studies of Successful Agile for Marketing
Cisco has a large global marketing team chartered with brand, digital, and media stewardship. They have thousands of property that they have to maintain.
So, they have set up and implemented Agile and they have created within their organisation 22 Agile experts. They have more than 100 user stories that they have prioritised and executed.
Their marketing team works in a two week development cycle.
The most remarkable aspect is that Cisco’s have customized Agile to their context; with their own language and their own culture.
This includes their overall Agile marketing framework, training, mentoring, and coaching, the way their workflows work within Agile, and finally a prescriptive guidance of how marketing initiatives should be conducted.
So, overall, what you can learn from this example is that every company has to create its own Agile marketing playbook. This playbook will cover your framework, workflows, dos and don’ts, best practices, as well as case studies of similar businesses who have implemented Agile for marketing.
Aussie Bank in Australia
This case study is from a mid-size company called Aussie which is a mortgage bank.
The setting here is that they were re-launching their brand. They had a 25 million dollar initiative to do so.
It’s a good way to kick off Agile when you have a forcing function; a specific goal that you want to accomplish. It gives you a reason for change.
So, this has become Aussie’s roadmap: to re-position their brand in 12 months. Within that, they came up with five themes:
- How to drive sales growth?
- How to inject customer passion in everything they do?
- How to increase ease of interaction with the bank?
- How to make their products more competitive?
- How to create a culture that rewards risk-taking and builds capabilities for Agile?
Next thing they did was making their workspace more collaborative; all their chairs were on wheels and they all sat in a big hall. No cubicles, no silos.
Employees could easily walk up and talk to someone instead of sending an email. And, it was much easier to simply move their chairs if one or two people would have to work together for a day or two.
Then, Aussie ramped up readiness by giving 90 of their staff members an Agile training program. In addition, they created a new role for backlog ownership. This role didn’t exist before in their marketing department. They had one for each Agile team.
Aussie also appointed executive sponsors for each focus area and they created scrum boards to help employees visualise the progress they were making.
Aussie’s Agile transformation wasn’t a bed of roses. They had some challenges, too.
It was difficult to manage hard deadlines in the media booking while working on a two week Agile cycle.
Another challenge was getting approvals in time for campaigns to launch. They weren’t entirely able to do away with this “approvals” idea.
Aussie also faced another common challenge, not only for Agile marketing teams but for all Agile teams, is not being able to accurately estimate the productivity and velocity of the teams.
One of the common issues with Agile is that it’s usually much easier to implement on relatively smaller teams. Once the scale is larger, it gets harder to control the teams without straying away from Agile.
Spotify came up with a brilliant model that solves this serious issue; scaling Agile to large-sized companies.
First of all, they came up with new terminology. Since Agile is big on rituals, ceremonies, and buzzwords, Spotify came up with their own terminology.
They called the basic scrum team a Squad. A squad is a small, cross functional team. Now, Squads also are organized together to form a Tribe. A Tribe is a collection of Squads in related areas.
So, for example, if you have a team that works on digital marketing, another one that works on customer acquisition, and another that works on customer loyalty and advocacy, those three would form one tribe of squads working in related areas.
That’s how you cluster squads to allow for scalability.
On the other hand, there’s another way to cluster individuals of similar capabilities.
Spotify called those Chapters.
Chapters are individuals who share the same skills in the same Tribe.
So, let’s say that within one tribe, there are people with skills in SEO, in analytics, or in content creation, these capabilities should be grouped together to form a chapter.
Spotify also applied the same idea of grouping capabilities across the whole organization from different tribes and called them a Guild. A Guild is an organic community of interest across the organisation.
Hence, Squads and Tribes are one dimensional; concerned with how the work gets done. Chapters and Guilds are horizontal dimension; focuses on what work gets done.
That’s how Spotify’s model implements Agile on a bigger scale.
Like Spotify, Dell is a huge company with a large marketing team. Their worldwide team has 200 employees.
As you expect, they have a lot of responsibilities in their basket: SEO, lead generation, channel, web, field marketing, channel marketing, etc.
The issue started when they realised that everybody in their team was doing things a little differently across product lines and portfolios. That led to disconnected points, gaps, and processes that weren’t repeatable.
They needed to take a stand. So, to solve these issues, they re-organized into an Agile marketing formation and combined it with an inbound marketing approach.
Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. It’s a method where the business attracts, engages, and delights people to grow.
Over about seven months, Dell created a worldwide team across all product lines that’s organized into an Agile formation that operates on one-month sprints.
SEMRush’s marketing department strives to be Agile at all levels. They’re trying to get rid of hierarchy inside their company and break its silos.
This has allowed them to fully empower their various teams.
Olga Adrinko, Head of Global Marketing, says that leadership clearly identifies what needs to be done, but the team gets total control over how to do it. To her, she’s like a soccer/football coach who sees the field and understands the opponent, but she’s not the one kicking the ball.
She also adds that daily scrum meetings keep teams involved and make them highly creative and deeply invested in their work.
Because of Agile’s experimentations, average revenue growth from top 10 new markets was greater than 90%, and SEMRush gained 500,000 users in just 8 months.
One interesting thing she mentions is that the team also handles the process of hiring and firing. A mistaken hire, for instance, can take a big toll on the team if they don’t pull their weight.
At the end of the day, teams who work together in harmony are the most productive. So, it’s up to the teams to fire members who aren’t contributing.
Agile for Marketing Application: Agile Content Strategy
One of the very popular applications of Agile in marketing teams is within content creation.
That’s mainly because content creation corresponds directly to the idea of always on marketing.
Here are the key characteristics of an Agile content strategy:
Persistent, Pervasive, and Personalised
Marketing is a dialogue with customers. It’s no longer a one way conversation. Therefore, a dialogue should be persistent, pervasive, and personalized.
Persistent means that it’s happening on an on-going basis instead of a hit-and-run campaign.
Pervasive means that it happens across many different channels; digital, outdoor, at the point of sale, through customer service. You should maintain the same tone and dialogue across all these channels.
And finally, personalised means that it takes into account the individual preferences and needs of every customer.
Long Legs, Short Pieces of Content
You can call this the Agile content paradox. In a way, every piece of content you create would be small and short. However, the overall design and theme of the content strategy should have long legs.
There should be a central concept or an idea that persists over time. One theme that can be portrayed in different forms and across different channels.
There’s a nice simile here; an Agile content strategy is like a series, not a movie. When you make a series, you have to think of central that can last through 30 episodes.
A Content Calendar Instead of a Launch Calendar
In an Agile content strategy, your reference for planning shouldn’t revolve around a product launch or a season.
Your goal should be tailoring a content strategy that caters to the needs of your audience. You build your Agile content strategy according to what makes sense to customers.
This also aligns with the idea that you should review your strategy every quarter.
Criticism of Agile for Marketing
Agile for marketing also has some criticisms. Some critics see that it’s only a part of today’s trend of obsessing over anything related to the tech industry.
““10x programmers” led to “10x marketers.” “DevOps” inspired “MarDev.” “T-shaped developers” resulted in “T-shaped marketers.” Many online marketers now want to be called “growth hackers”. When Internet marketers do not have an original thought, they seem to steal an idea from the high-tech world.”
Another point of criticism suggests that Agile for marketing is merely re-inventing the wheel, while giving the new wheel a different name.
The argument goes that half of Agile’s ideas are nothing new.
““Validated learning” is something that BBH Labs and the IPA in the UK as well as Byron Sharp in Australia, among others, have been doing. “Customer-focused collaboration” and “customer discovery” just echo the traditional principle of being customer-facing.”
These are quotes from what some Agile critics said when asked about their point of view on Agile.
Me Too, Me Too!
So, is Agile for marketing really just copycatting from the dominating tech industry? And, more importantly, is Agile recycling older concepts?
Quite honestly, both two allegations have some truth in them.
Without a doubt, in the last three decades, the tech industry has been achieving unimaginable results and achievements.
The tech industry has revolutionised life as we knew it; not only as marketers, but as humans.
So, other industries are following their footsteps and learning the methods and approaches which led to that industry’s booming. There’s nothing wrong about that.
In the next section, you’ll find out how that influence could be harmful and how to avoid it. However, learning from the tech industry isn’t a bad concept in itself.
Re-inventing the Wheel
“The biggest, long-lived companies in tech or otherwise use conventional, strategic marketing throughout their organisations that balances both the short term and long term. The rest of agile is nothing but myopic short-termism.”
The truth here is that one shouldn’t give Agile for marketing more credit than it deserves.
Agile for marketing is a philosophy of work; a way to perform tasks and organise their execution.
But it’s not a replacement of the basic marketing principals. Long term brand strategy, being customer-focused, short term promotions, and the marketing mix all remain unchanged.
What Agile for marketing does is prioritise some concepts, but it should never replace planning or the basic marketing theories.
Sometimes “buzzwords” have their shine, businesses start thinking that “Agile” is the solution to all their problems. That’s never the case.
Yes, there are hotshot marketing departments that still operate using Waterfall and they are getting great results.
Choose what works for your business; claiming that if you’re not on Agile, you’re doomed to fail is a misleading business advice.
So, this point of view on Agile for marketing mainly stems from the misconception of what Agile is and what it’s not.
When Does Agile for Marketing Fail?
There are some reasons why Agile for marketing may fail. Let’s discuss some common reasons and how to avoid the mistakes that lead to failure.
Failure on Strategy
Adopting Agile for marketing won’t save you if you don’t have a solid marketing strategy. Rather, it would be like a crutch.
Because there’s so much focus on speed, adaptation, and flexibility in Agile for marketing, it looks so tempting for those who don’t have a plan.
And in fact, there are many marketers who fall short on strategy.
Especially if it’s a small team or a new start-up business that lacks vision and long term forecasting. They mistake Agile for a strategy.
It starts to sound like “let’s be quick, use some buzzwords, and change our mind a lot and call it an Agile strategy”.
This is definitely not the way to pull things off.
In this article, there’s so much focus on putting strategy first and foremost.
Being all over the place and hopping from one plan to another with no harmony or goal in mind isn’t Agile. It’s just lack of vision.
Before choosing your project management methodology, whether it’s Agile or any other methodology, there are other priorities.
Defining your brand strategy, marketing channels and initiatives, and setting objectives for every touchpoint with the customer are far more important things than choosing work philosophy.
“Short Termism” and Focus on Speed
Another common mistake for marketers is not lacking strategy, but having a strategy that only works now.
You can call it short-sighted marketing.
Marketers are always under the pressure of having to justify their budgets on advertising, brand-building, market research, and all other activities in terms of return on investment.
Upper management never wants to acknowledge that what the marketing department is doing now will have positive returns five years later. They want results, and they want it now.
Therefore, in a perfect world, marketers should balance their initiatives between those which have an immediate effect on sales and numbers and those which influence the long term perception of the brand.
Unfortunately, the sky isn’t always blue.
The pressure of looking for instant results becomes too pressing most of the time.
Therefore, marketers put all their focus on promotions and advertising with a specific call to action that leads to conversion.
Moreover, digital channels have only made it worse. The ability to measure results through number of views, visitors, and engagement made marketers chase these results to validate their work.
Agile’s Impact on Short Termism and Speed
Again, Agile’s focus on speed and fast delivery become very tricky when a company is already focusing on fast results.
It will become a company that celebrates fast results and sales but have no vision or brand equity.
Promotions and ads will grab consumers to make a conversion, however, they will fail to maintain them once the promotion or ad is ceased.
Consequently, your whole marketing efforts will be a sequence of never-ending promotions and ads.
If you already notice that pattern within your marketing department, you need to take a step back.
Before taking on Agile, revise your whole strategy and highlight to your team that all what you’re doing right now is only one part of the deal. There’s a whole part of the game that you’re not playing.
A Nice Theory on Paper
Scrum looks great on paper. You may have the tools and know all the terminologies and do all the ceremonies. However, the bigger picture isn’t there.
What if the company you work for still believes in silos? Or, maybe the business has a pattern of bureaucracy that would make even a four week sprint impossible.
On the other hand, it may also be a case where a company operates on a micro-management approach. They’re still wasting time on long meetings and big budget campaigns.
Unfortunately, Agile is not an initiative that five or ten employees can apply alone. Yes, it works best with small teams but if the organisation and its leaders do not encourage going Agile. It’s highly unlikely to prosper.
That’s why many teams fail to apply Agile due to the lack of support from upper management.
Summary of Agile for Marketing
So, to wrap things up, let’s review the most important tips and tools of the trade to succeed at implementing Agile for marketing.
Creating a Culture of Agility
Culture and mindset are as important as process and methodology in Agile for marketing. By ensuring that your processes are backed up proper attitude and outlook.
Agile culture believes in delivering marketing initiatives early, continuously, and in very short time frames. Your marketing programs are delivered every couple of weeks. The shorter the time scale, the better.
Therefore, there’s no such thing as big projects, budgets, and long timelines.
Cope with Change
Your team’s attitude towards change shouldn’t be frustration and resistance. On the contrary, cultivate the attitude of “we welcome change”.
Remind your team that if nothing changes, nothing will change. Nobody would welcome staying in the same place forever.
Use the ability to respond quickly as a competitive advantage. The faster you adapt, the more you learn.
Moreover, adaptability makes you more willing to make ground-breaking decisions. This is a weapon that you need to have to survive in today’s market.
One last thing, remember that employees are humans, too. It’s in our nature to fight against change and most people struggle with leaving their comfort zone.
Agile fights something that humans possess as a part of who they are. Moreover, some people are naturally less agile than others. That’s also typical.
Make use of the unique characteristics of every member in your team to form your hybrid approach in Agile for marketing.
Be Inherently Cross-functional
Forget about the old silos. In a perfect world, organisations have no separate functions and departments. An organisation should be one unit with the focus of the attention being the customer.
At the end of the day, human resources, supply chain, sales, marketing, customer service, all have the same goal. They all aim to giving the consumer the best experience while making the biggest profit.
Therefore, different teams and departments shouldn’t treat each other as separated islands, but as one island.
In Agile for marketing, you need to closely align business units, sales, agencies, partners, and even regulatory and compliance teams.
By ensuring that they are all on the same page, you eliminate the risk of hindering your business strategy due to clashes or cannibalization.
Tips for Success of Agile for Marketing
Deal with Failure
Being on Agile, it’s all about experimentation and testing. Experiments can either fail or succeed. Therefore, one of the values that should be cultivated within your team is how to deal with failure.
Your Agile team needs to know that they will fail and it’s okay to fail. What the whole team needs to ensure is that they don’t fail big and they don’t fail the same way twice.
The basis of Agile for marketing is learning and discovering customer and market knowledge instead of predicting them. That means that learning will be through experimenting. And of course, with failure comes great discoveries.
Sometimes, teams which have recently become Agile have high expectations. That’s why it’s always good to prepare them for failure and manage their expectations.
Accept the Differences between Marketing and Development
It’s a common mistake to compare Agile marketing teams to development teams. As a business owner, or an Agile lead, you need to recognise that they are not the same for a number of reasons.
Firstly, marketers need more big room planning. That’s why the roadmap is crucial to the success of Agile for marketing.
Secondly, you should accept that some marketing work is hard to deliver in a two-week sprint. Therefore, the adoption of a hybrid approach is another factor that the success of Agile for marketing depends on.
Thirdly, you need to adapt Agile terminology to the marketing context.
Fourthly, prepare middle management for change. Middle managers will be the most resistant to change. At the beginning, the may feel that they now have nothing to do.
As their teams become more autonomous, they’d feel that their role is diminishing. This isn’t true. Their role isn’t diminished, but they will no longer act like “bosses”.
Each middle manager will be required to act as a guide-on-a-side to his/her team members.
The most prosperous teams will be those which have the experienced middle managers who are willing to transfer their knowledge and mentor every member.