For most organizations, agile is confined to technology development and delivery - but it should not be. As the agile industry matures, innovative companies are taking advantage of the same agile values, principles, and practices that have transformed software development. Now, they are successfully deploying this way-of-work in other business units, from marketing to human resources to finance. When companies implement agile across their entire organization, ways of working improves dramatically. Agile methods are more collaborative, creative, effective, and can be more efficient than other business models. These agile methods such as Scrum, Scrumban, and Kanban are embraced in the Agile Axiom Framework. But companies must first understand why their current business structures needs to change.

Marketing

At its core, Agile marketing is a tactical marketing approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high value products and services, complete those products and services cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time.


The Learn-Build-Measure-Learn Cycle

To re-state the objective of Lean development, it is a kind of race to produce a minimally viable product and show returns before we run out of resources. It's a cycle of building, measuring the response, learning from the measurements, and changing what we build based on the new knowledge in order to try again. Here are some basic principles for ensuring that your cycle churns along in an efficient way:


Be Scientific.

Experimentation and questioning our customer leads to building a product that people want to buy. Learning about our customers is important. Doing the right thing at the right time, asking the relevant questions, scaling on-time instead of ahead of time… are all necessary to make sure that the effort and resources you expend are used efficiently and wisely. Focused effort is important.

The goals of the Lean process and the scientific method are the same: to discover cause and effect relationships by formulating a falsifiable hypothesis (a question that can be proven or disproven), carefully gathering and examining the evidence, and seeing if all the available information verifies our hypothesis.

In order to use the scientific method in the development process, we generate our hypothesis ahead of time. Then in order to answer the question, we will identify what is useful to measure the response to our question (the metric), in order to create tests that will generate evidence for us to examine.

If you're building something new, your challenge is to build the simplest thing you possibly can to test your theories; when you understand what the biggest risks are, you may not even have to create a product to test your theories. For example, if the biggest risk in your plan is the customer channel, you can build something else to test market penetration. The rise of crowd funding should be proof that it is not necessary to have a product before making an impact.

For example, if we'd like to answer the question about which customer channels are most effective, we'd start with a hypothesis to test: "Publishing a guest editorial in Business Journal will generate 1000 unique visitors and 100 signups in two months." Then, we can identify that we want to measure how many click-through to the website come from Business Journal, and how many of those potential customers eventually sign up.

The best hypotheses follow the SMART goals outline: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Even if you don't reach your goal, the mere process of defining the goal helps you to test your expectations against reality and helps refine the approach to future goals.

To ensure that the scientific method gathers accurate data, we need to ensure that an experiment runs the same way every time. Limit the number of changes you test at one time; it's hard to link cause and effect when there are multiple potential causes. The scientific method is useful with qualitative data as well as quantitative data; in order to ensure uniform quality, use an interview script and ask questions in the same way.


Qualitative vs. Quantitative Evidence

Both qualitative and quantitative evidence have their place in Lean development. The secret is to use them at the appropriate time. In the initial stages of development, before product/market fit is achieved, there is a lot you don't know. The good news is that you don't have to gather a lot of information in order to do a significant amount of learning.

"If you have a lot of uncertainty now, you don't need much data to reduce uncertainty significantly. When you have a lot of certainty already, then you need a lot of data to reduce uncertainty significantly"

- Douglas Hubbard

Developing your qualitative knowledge through customer interviews, sometimes as few as five customers, is a way to confirm or deny whether your hypothesis is on the right track. A strongly negative indication from your customers will tell you that you are on the wrong track, whereas a positive indication will signal you to move forward with quantitative testing.


Definition of Agile Marketing

Every effective marketing department has a strategy underpinning their methods, but regardless of the strategy and the methods used to develop them, Agile techniques can bring your marketing strategy to life in a way that leads to continual improvement and increased impact over time. Agile marketing embraces failure as a way to teach valuable lessons which will result in future projects being ever more effective.

Agile teams collectively identify high value projects on which to focus their efforts, using Sprints (short, finite periods of intensive work) to complete those projects cooperatively. After each sprint, the team measures the impact of their projects to incrementally improve the results over time. Agile teams may also determine that a project was not valuable and should not be repeated, but this is still considered a success.

The way that Agile teams work becomes clear when you look at what are typically listed as the "values" of Agile marketing:

  • Responding to change over following a plan.
  • Rapid iterations over big bang campaigns.
  • Testing and data over opinion and conventions.
  • Numerous small experiments over a few big bets.
  • Individuals and interactions over large markets.
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy.

What an Agile Marketing Department Can Do

By following Agile methods established by developers (with our own twists, of course), marketers can discover new ways to reach an audience and meet their goals.

Agile marketing allows us to:

  • Quickly respond to changes in the market by producing campaigns that can be tested and optimized over time.
  • Try lots of things and identify what succeeds so we can justify choices in campaigns and projects with hard data.
  • Collaborate with team members in other departments to broaden our approach and augment our efforts.

And that's the high-level version of the list.


Key Pieces of an Agile Marketing Implementation

Each department will find the precise Agile format that works best for them, but an Agile marketing implementation will have these four features in some form or fashion:

  • Sprints - A sprint is how long you give your team to complete their current projects, typically two to six weeks. Some larger initiatives won't fit into a single sprint, so you'll need to break those up into bite-sized pieces that the team can tackle sprint by sprint.
  • Stand up meetings - Each day, the team must have a very brief check in of 15 minutes at the most, in which each team member reviews what they did the day before, what they're planning to do today, and any blocks they've encountered. Blocks should be addressed by the team right away.
  • Tool to track project progress - Whether it's a whiteboard with sticky notes, a simple Trello board, or specialized software, the team needs a centralized way to access the sprint.
  • Teamwork - While an individual may "own" a project, the success or failure of the sprint rests on all team members. Everyone must be prepared and willing to collaborate and assist in the Agile framework.

Real-World Examples of Agile Marketing in Practice:

Here are just three wins earned by using the Agile approach:

  1. Examples Pages

    Some existing and potential customers were often searching for "template examples," but that the company’s current offerings weren't doing a great job of meeting that need.

    Over the course of a one-week sprint, we wrote six new guides to common template usages and created templates that our customers could add to their accounts with a single click.

    The page views for that examples landing page increased 252% and conversions earned from that page skyrocketed 810%.

  2. Content Marketing Velocity Ramp Up

    Before our Agile processes we were creating content, but at a slow pace. Using Agile processes, we can more accurately measure our team's capacity, and we can devote time each sprint to creating and distributing content.

    Content production has increased fourfold, without any loss of quality.

  3. Group Accountability and the Ability to Swarm

    During daily stand up meetings to check in with the team, more than once a team member has encountered an obstacle, either internal (a customer needs my help!) or external (my dog ate a sock!), and they can immediately bring it to the team who can rally around the endangered project to make sure it doesn't suffer.

    The result is that the teams’ efforts don’t suffer when a single individual has a problem, all team members are up to date on projects and progress, and everyone is empowered to make sure things get done.

    Shifting your marketing organization to Agile isn’t a simple matter, but we have found a practical and effective way to get there.


Putting the agile marketing team together

There does need to be a solid foundation for Agile marketing to work: a marketing organization must have a clear sense of what it wants to accomplish with its Agile initiative (such as the customer segment(s) it wants to acquire or which customer decision journeys it wants to improve) and there must besufficient data, analytics, and the correct marketing-technology infrastructure in place.

The technology allows marketers to:

  • Capture, combine, and manage data from several systems;
  • Make decisions based on predicted likelihoods and next-best-action models;
  • Automate campaign and message delivery across channels
  • Feed customer tracking and message performance back into the system.

(It should be noted that the tech tools don’t have to be perfect. In fact, it can be a trap to focus on them too much. Most companies have an over abundance of tools.)

Another critical prerequisite is buy-in to the shift to Agile by senior marketing leaders: they provide key resources and crucial support when new ways of working encounter inevitable resistance from other stakeholders.

While these conditions are crucial for success, the most important element is the people—a small team of talented people who can work together at speed. Your team should possess skills across multiple functions (both internal and external), be released from their “BAU” (business as usual) day jobs to work together full-time, and be co-located in a “war room” (exhibit). The mission of the “War-room Team,” as these groups are sometimes called (though companies also refer to them by other names, such as “pod” or “tribe”) is to execute a series of quick-turnaround experiments designed to create real bottom-line impact.

The exact composition of the war-room team depends on what tasks it plans to undertake. Tests that involve a lot of complex personalization will need a team weighted more heavily toward analytics. By contrast, if the Agile initiative expects to run large numbers of smaller conversion-rate optimization tests, it would make more sense to load up on user-experience designers and project-management talent.

Whatever the composition of the team, the war room team needs to have clear lines of communication with other groups throughout the organization and easy access to them. For example, marketing supply orders often require procurement review and legal approval. So the marketing team must have access to key people in legal and procurement to negotiate any changes.

At one bank trying to establish a war room team, there was significant resistance to providing representatives from both the legal and controller’s offices due to competing priorities. But the marketing team leadership knew their Agile approach wouldn’t work without those key representatives, so it pushed with all relevant leaders to make it happen. Those key people need to be identified ahead of time, and “service-level agreements” need to be enacted that outline the expected response times. Similar models of interaction may be needed within other groups such as IT, compliance/risk and finance.

The team itself needs to be small enough for everyone to remain clearly accountable to one another—8 to 12 is the maximum size. Jeff Bezos famously referred to “two-pizza teams,” i.e., teams no bigger than can be fed by two pizzas.

A “Scrum Master,” ideally with experience in Agile and often working with an assistant, leads the team. The Scrum Master sets priorities, defines the hypotheses, manages the backlog, identifies necessary resources, and manages “Sprints” (one-to-two-week cycles of work).

Building out an Agile war room will require working in new ways with external agencies, adding depth in key resource areas such as media buying, creative, and UX design, or analytics as needed. Working at the pace of Agile may challenge an agency’s established workflows, but we have found that once they get into the rhythm, the performance boost justifies the change in procedures.

The marketing organization’s senior leaders will understandably need to oversee the activities of the team, interacting with them in a mostly hands-off manner— meeting in person only once every three or four weeks, for example. Automated dashboards with key metric reporting can help provide leadership with transparency.

Reading about what war-room teams do, one might think Agile practices apply only to direct-response marketing activities. However Agile methods can also improve the performance of product development, marketing mix, and brand marketing, by providing more frequent feedback, allowing for testing and changing ideas and communications in market, while speeding the process of delivering impact from brand efforts.


Aligns with leadership and sets team expectations

Once the war-room team is assembled, it works with the leaders of the marketing organization and other key stakeholders to align everyone on the initiative’s goals. Then, the war-room team has a kickoff meeting to establish new ground rules and norms for Agile culture and expectations: deep and continuous collaboration; speed; avoidance of “business as usual”; embracing conflict/failure/the unexpected; keeping it simple; data over feelings; accountability—and above all, putting the customer at the center of all decisions.


Analyzes the data to identify the opportunities

The team should be doing real work on Day Two, beginning with developing insights based on targeted analytics. The insights should aim to identify anomalies, pain-points, issues, or opportunities in the decision journeys of key customer or prospect segments.

Each morning begins with a daily stand-up meeting in which each team member gives a quick report on what they accomplished the day before and what they plan to do today. This is a powerful practice for imposing accountability, since everyone makes a daily promise to their peers and must report on it the very next day.


Designs and prioritizes tests

For each identified opportunity or issue, the team develops both ideas about how to improve the experience and ways to test those ideas. For each hypothesis, the team designs a testing method and defines key performance indicators (KPIs). Once a list of potential tests has been generated, it is prioritized based on two criteria: potential business impact, and ease of implementation. Ideas that are prioritized are bumped to the top of the queue for immediate testing.