Going Agile: Improve Your Marketing Performance and Productivity

Agile marketing has become an everyday term; it even has its own manifesto. What is agile marketing? Workfront asserts that it “is a tactical marketing approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high value projects, complete those projects cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time.”  Seems obvious and what Marketing should be at its core.  

Agile Marketing isn’t so much about a way of doing Marketing as it is about running Marketing. Organizations that want to improve speed, predictability, accountability, and adaptability integrate agile processes.  For many organizations, especially those who do not yet have a Marketing Operations (MarketingOps) function, this entails significant modifications to how Marketing operates. Why make the investment?  According to research by Accenture, high-performing companies are six times more likely to use agile practices than companies that don’t perform as well. Corporate Executive Board research found that agile employees outperform those who merely work hard on their own by nearly 20%.

How Agile Came to Marketing

Agile is not new. It is a nearly 50-year-old concept! It is based on work and a paper presented by Dr. Winston Royce in 1970, entitled “Managing the Development of Large Software Systems.” Dr. Royce advocated against sequential phases for software development suggesting instead a different approach designed to increase the communication between the specialized groups to produce a better outcome faster. The heart of agile is the “inspect-and-adapt” approach to development to significantly reduce both costs and time to market.

By 2004-2006, some marketing organizations (primarily in the software industry) began experimenting with agile methodologies. These marketers embraced agile core principles to deal with a market, customer, and competitive environment in continuous flux.  

Why Marketing Needs to Embrace Agile Now

Increased choice, channel and competitive proliferation has changed the way companies and customers engage. As a result, organizations are undergoing various transformations. PwC’s Global CEO Survey found 72% of organizations have, or are planning, significant change programs to capitalize on global trends and address customer growth and retention. Yet, ONLY 36% of US CEOs believe that their marketing and brand management organizations are prepared to respond to these transformative changes.

Evolving and escalating expectations require CMOs to transform their processes and the culture of their Marketing organization so that it more adaptive and connected. Jennifer Rooney, in her Forbes article, declared that “creating an agile organization really starts with the culture. CMOs need to define the vision for the type of organization they want to be — data-driven, collaborative, adaptable, and experimental — and how they want to operate. It is critical to create this shared vision and communicate, reinforce, and model the behavior expected of the team.”

Applying agile processes to Marketing to rapidly satisfy customer needs, enhance customer experience, solve business problems and continuously create value, enables CMOs and their teams to meet the challenge of an ever-changing marketplace.

Organize for Success

Marketing organizations with MarketingOps functions have already taken the first step to becoming agile. They are focused on six key areas:

  1. Customer, market, competitive intelligence, research, and insights
  2. Analytics and predictive modeling
  3. Data management
  4. Campaign analysis and reporting
  5. Budgeting and planning; financial governance and reporting
  6. Organization benchmarking & assessments

Agile raises the bar. It requires cross-functional work and collaboration. Teams work together to plan, execute and deliver on defined tasks. Tasks must lead the organization toward achieving its business outcomes. Customer insights, planning, budgeting, and execution are all owned by the associated cross functional teams, who may in fact have other “day jobs.” The key is to break down silos to facilitate speed and results.  

Transforming Marketing into an agile, more collaborative organization, requires balancing standardization and flexibility. The ‘inspect-and-adapt’ process is an iterative approach.  It encourages employing experimentation to gain frequent feedback that can be used to quickly react to changing market conditions. Agile relies on continual measurement. You will need the right measures, metrics, dashboards, and associated processes to support the continuous refinement aspect of agile. Marketing will need to have both the organization (MarketingOps) and resources required to measure the business impact of Marketing activities and programs and determine which ones are delivering the greatest value.  

CMOs employing agile need to create customer-centric teams with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. These teams then need to be fully accountable for their performance. The teams work from plans and processes with the ability to quickly test and refine.  This approach has significant implications to how Marketing is organized and the metrics used.

Each team still needs a measurable plan that connects the work with business outcomes. Frequent monitoring of performance is essential for being able to make course adjustments in real-time.  Each effort is expected to demonstrate tangible and measurable progress against specific performance targets. As plans are implemented and “experiments” completed, teams debrief and share what went well and what needs to be improved on both the program and process fronts. Because each effort informs the next, strong measurement and analytics are necessary to track the outcomes of your efforts and inform future initiatives. Capturing and sharing best practices is crucial.

As you can surmise, employing agile has implications beyond structure, talent, and processes. Agile requires listening and acting FAST. Therefore, you will need processes that enable:

  • Insights and intelligence
  • Market and customer responsiveness
  • Channel integration
  • Knowledge dissemination
  • Change management

You must be able to break your marketing workflow into smaller chunks and experiments.  Tools/technology and data play a vital role, so you will need to invest in these areas in order to facilitate collaboration, project and task management, and productivity.  To conform to agile principles you will need “feedback loops.” By definition this means you must be data-insight driven. You will need processes, skills and capabilities to capture, manage, and analyze data and share the insights across teams and disciplines.

How to Get Started

Agile isn’t easy. Yet, it may be one of the best approaches if you want to be able to improve customer responsiveness, market timing and customer-centric outcomes. If you’re in a highly competitive, rapidly evolving market, then agile may be vital for your survival.

If you have not yet established a MarketingOps function there is a wealth of practical how-to information and guides on doing so our site.  If you already have a MarketingOps function and want to take the next step to becoming more nimble, we also have articles and proven tools to speed you on your way.