While not a new concept, agile marketing seems made for the dynamic post-pandemic times we live in. It is a structured approach which enables marketers to react quickly to events and bring more effective campaigns to market faster. It is slowly growing in popularity with brands recognising the benefits it offers. We take a first look at the concept.
What is Agile Marketing?
Say you are looking to launch a new social media campaign. You might start by making a plan and communicating your ideas to all relevant stakeholders in your company to ensure their buy-in. You then work with copywriters to compose text, designers and editors for images and video content. You identify and contact influencers and organise discount codes. Finally you approach departments like Legal or Procurement, which sit outside the Marketing team, for necessary approvals. How many weeks has it been since your original idea? And after all of this effort, how do you know that your plan will even resonate with customers?
Agile marketing is a structured approach which seeks to address this. It originates from the software development industry where developers realised that launching software products and features as part of a traditional waterfall approach - where one phase of a project would be completely accomplished before moving on to the next one with first client feedback only after the whole project was finished - was just too slow and inflexible. The software they were developing was obsolete before it even made it to market. They needed to work in a more agile way, break work down into small increments, gather continuous feedback and allow for flexibility to adapt to changes. The approach was so successful that other disciplines incorporated agile practices into their processes, including marketing.
So what are the core features of agile marketing?
Small cross-functional teams structured for sprints
An agile team typically consists of eight or fewer cross-functional members from across the organisation (Jeff Bezos famously referred to “two-pizza teams,” i.e., teams no bigger than can be fed by two pizzas) who work together to achieve a particular set of objectives. These teams work on tests or “sprints” which are designed to bring the team closer to their objectives. A sprint should last between 1 and 3 weeks. A team is led by a scrum master who sets objectives and has accountability for deliverables. Brief, frequent meetings ensure the team stays on track, ensuring that decision making is fast and any bottlenecks are quickly addressed along the way.
Teamwork using a prioritised backlog
The team forms a list of to-dos known as a “backlog” which team members manage and constantly update. Agile marketing teams never try and tackle all of their to-dos at once - the backlog needs to be prioritised and teams usually develop their own ways of doing this. Teams typically use tools like Trello and Jira to do this. Teams pull top priority items from the backlog, estimate how long they will take and allocate them to a team member.
Plan changes and constant learning
The ability to shift gear is the hallmark of a successful agile marketing team. Agile teams gather data which help them to track progress and measure the success of their sprints. At the end of every sprint there is a review meeting which determines a list of takeaways and learnings which can be applied to the next sprint.
What are the benefits of Agile Marketing?
The numbers show that agile marketing methodology is becoming increasingly popular. The 2021 State of Agile Marketing Report from AgileSherpas reported that over half (51%) of marketers surveyed now considered themselves Agile, up from 37% in 2018. So what benefits does it offer to marketers?
Increased productivity and speed
Agile teams are small, self sufficient and notorious for their speed. Because teams are made up of members from different functions across the organisation this often means that all the people required to make a certain decision are already meeting regularly and working together, which increases the speed of decision making. They can get campaigns to market quicker than in non-agile environments.
Quicker iteration and response to market changes
Sprints have one major advantage - because they are time limited, the feedback loop is quicker. The team constantly gains results that it can learn from so that it can adjust priorities for the next sprint, meaning that it moves ever closer to achieving its objectives.
Greater proximity to the customer
Traditional marketers are sometimes guilty of operating one step removed from the customer, churning out campaigns to schedule which makes it easy to lose sight of who it is all for. In Agile, the speed of the sprints increases the turnover of creation and response to specific campaigns. This brings organisations closer to the customer which leads to greater customer satisfaction and ultimately competitiveness.
Agile coach and trainer from AgileSherpas Monica Georgieff says that one of the most under mentioned benefits of agile marketing is the impact it has on the staff: “Agile marketing helps to keep staff motivated, they can work independently within a clear structure and are always able to see the results of their efforts”. According to the recent State of Agile Marketing Report by AgileSherpas, agile marketers are more satisfied with their jobs (67%) than marketers who take a traditional approach (53%) or those who use an ad hoc strategy (21%).
What brands have implemented agile marketing effectively?
Bank Santander realised that their traditional marketing cycle of long booking deadlines and agency campaigns was not working. As part of their Santander Cycles sponsorship in London, they started to hold “huddles” every morning to work out the priorities for the day. They refused to commit creative and spend so far in advance that they could not be changed. They committed to a certain amount of activity, monitored it daily and changed it the following week if needed, based on feedback. Santander has since adopted the process of iterative experiments in search, social, and programmatic activity and reported the highest NPS (Net Promoter Score) in 17 years and a 12% increase in loyalty.
Banking and financial services company ING Group implemented agile marketing in 2015 because, in an age of big data and hyper connectivity, they feared that they were losing the marketing race against fast moving, high-growth fintechs. They established squads, chapters and tribes (having learned from Spotify’s agile methodology) which focus on the importance of culture and networks across agile teams. Squads are agile teams which have their own responsibility for a separate customer related purpose and consist of various disciplines from across the organisation. Members of a particular discipline (for example social media or content creation) share best practice across squads in groups known as “chapters”. To achieve cohesion among squads, tribes were established which are a selection of squads with a related purpose (such as “daily banking” or “mortgages”). ING reports that this approach has improved their time to market and productivity and has increased employee engagement and enhanced their customer experience.
In 2015 Dell computers felt that there were several inefficiencies and points of disconnect between their 200 marketing employees which were spread across different teams worldwide. The issue started when they realised that everybody in their team was doing things a little differently across product lines and portfolios. They therefore decided to reorganise their worldwide team into an agile marketing formation that was better aligned with their product families. Dell now has a worldwide marketing team, across all product lines that is organised into an agile formation and operating on 30-day sprint cycles.
How does the future of agile marketing look?
While proponents of Agile are quick to extol its many benefits, critics have accused agile marketing of being simply a “buzzword”. It is true that agile marketing does not replace a basic marketing strategy - it is more a philosophy of work; a way to perform tasks and organise their execution.
But the pandemic has created a marketing agility mindset that is likely to be permanent. Defining the steps involved in large creative campaigns or digital projects months in advance and following them to the letter feels redundant now. The pandemic proved that along the way listening to the consumer, sensing the Zeitgeist and changing tack is now a key part of the process. It proved that it is okay if plans have to be completely thrown out the window. The most important thing is to learn along the way.