Agile marketing is a hot topic. In the blogosphere, at industry conferences, in webinars, and around the water cooler, it seems everyone’s talking about it, but a lot of marketers still seem to have questions around the topic—and that is slowing adoption for some teams.
According to a new survey of more than 300 marketers conducted by Workfront and MarketingProfs.com, the biggest barrier to moving forward with an agile implementation is a simple lack of knowledge. A plurality of respondents (43%) said “my team doesn’t know what agile is or how it works.” The next most popular answer (29%) was “we don’t have an internal expert to train and implement agile.”
As it turns out, both of these obstacles are within the CMO’s control. But how can you give your team adequate exposure to the hottest thing in marketing if you are among the 43% mentioned above?
Granted, few CMOs have the time or the need to understand everything about agile. Rarely will your position require you to get very granular about how it works. But here are five high-level, big-picture points you really should know, so you can make sure you’re not being an obstacle yourself.
1. Agile Marketing Is All About Velocity
At Adobe’s Digital Summit earlier this year, Brad Rencher, the company’s EVP and GM of digital marketing, told thousands of marketers that, like software computing power, “their audiences’ expectations for their brand will be doubling every 18 months in the future.”
Luckily, marketers and CMOs are naturally driven by velocity. We’re always asking: How can I do six events instead of four with the same number of people? How can I produce 12 pieces of content instead of eight pieces of content? How can I produce something in three weeks that used to take me five weeks?
Agile marketing is the engine that can get you there. It’s not just about being fast, however. Nor is it just about being nimble and responsive, although these certainly are benefits. It’s a complete paradigm shift that trains marketers to think in short sprints instead of in long, comprehensive, sequential campaigns. It helps marketers learn to fail fast, pivot quickly, and react to market changes as they happen.
2. Agile Marketing Can Give You A Competitive Edge
According to our survey, 57% of marketers report that their work planning processes are lackluster at best. Yes, more than half of your competitors struggle with disorganized processes. And how are they dealing with the disarray? They push back other work (56%) or work overtime (20%).
If you can focus on improving the way your work gets managed, you can increase the velocity of your work and outshine your competitors—and maybe even scoop up their top talent when they get burned out and leave.
After just two months of using agile marketing techniques exclusively, Andrea Fryrear’s team managed to quadruple its content production without any loss of quality. It also managed to increase conversions on a landing page by 810%. Fryrear writes: “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.
“This means that emails don’t go out late when someone gets sick, we don’t miss a blog post deadline because our editor gets pulled into a meeting, and no amount of vet visits can derail our goals.”
3. Almost Half Of Marketers Still Don’t Understand Agile
Again, 43% of marketers don’t know what agile is or how it works, so if your company is in that camp, you’re not alone.
The reasons for this are many. For one, agile is a somewhat complex work methodology that’s distinctively different from the processes most of us are used to, which makes it impossible to describe in 140 characters or less. For another, not every marketer pays close attention to underlying processes. Nearly a third of those surveyed have no idea what work methodology they use.
Truth be told, people really don't “get” agile until they start experimenting with a Backlog, Story Points, Sprints, and Storyboards. So on some level, you have to trust the testimonials (above) and definitions (below) that strive to put words around what is both a philosophy and a methodology.
One of my favorite definitions comes from the Kissmetrics blog: “Small bursts of quickly developed content designed to catch the public mood at just the right time in order to capitalize on a brand new global trend.”
Now that’s an explanation marketers can get behind, even if the details have to gradually fill in over time and with increased exposure.
4. You Don’t Have To Be An Agile Purist
It’s overwhelming to imagine tossing aside your current processes and jumping into a radically different approach to work—all based on vaguely understood definitions and online endorsements.
The good news is, most teams don’t go all in, all at once. Our survey revealed that 40% of marketers use a combination of multiple methodologies. And it makes sense. The agile philosophy grew out of the software development world. Traditional project management processes (the “waterfall” approach) came from construction and manufacturing. Neither one was made for marketers. No matter what we use, we’ll have to adapt it for our specific needs.
So take the best of both worlds, and make them work for your team. Any kind of experimentation with work management is a good thing. Among the directors who report to me, only one runs a fully agile team, a few follow a mixed-methodology approach, and there’s one (the events team) that has remained in the waterfall world.
5. Your Team’s Agile Education Is Up To You
One of the biggest mistakes a CMO can make is to focus only on what gets done and to ignore how it gets done: “Agile? Waterfall? Who cares? My department produces great work, and that’s all that matters.”
Sure, your creative services team may produce consistently beautiful campaigns that resonate strongly. But if they’re fighting disorganization, inefficiency, and a lack of resources to get there, they’ll burn out.
Neither do you want to get too involved in the how. You’re there to foster and facilitate innovative thinking. You’re not there to select your favorite work methodology and then force each team lead to adopt it. Think in terms of offering exposure to your directors via conferences and workshops, training seminars, and third-party services.
Let one team try agile and become an internal evangelist in your company. The approach does have a tendency to catch on with other teams—either in part or in full. In our survey, the percentage of marketing teams that currently use agile closely mirrors the percentage of companies where other departments also use it. If there are other teams in your company who currently use agile, see if you can get them in a room with your department heads.
The Promise Of Agile
Increased velocity. Greater flexibility. Enhanced responsiveness. The ability to plan, predict, and pivot. Agile is more than just the shiny new object that’s capturing marketers’ attention; it’s making a real difference. But don’t just take my word for it. Pay attention to the 41% of marketing teams who are either using agile processes now or plan to use them in the next four years. I have a feeling that as marketing work gets more complex and customer expectations continue to rise, these will be the teams to watch.
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