Why you should become an Agile marketer – and how to start

Marketing departments in Australia are under pressure like never before.

Big brands are changing the way they talk with their customers, but it’s a brave marketing director who can say with certainty that their way is the right way.

It’s a sobering prediction that our current top 500 companies are now only expected to stay on that list for 18 years.

We are an always on society and consumer behaviour has changed accordingly. Increasingly, car buyers research their purchase and even visit dealerships out of hours, simply so they don’t have to speak with a sales person.

Competition for many other products is global. Think books, clothing, small electronic items. If there is a better range or they can be purchased more cheaply from another country, why should a customer care?

Our media consumption is also more global. Big retailers such as Apple have been forced to price branded product at global prices because people will buy from the cheapest source.

The digital revolution has necessitated a revolution in how marketers operate.

The good news is that a blueprint exists for marketers to deal with this new age of disruption. Many IT organisations have adopted Agile methodologies to give structure to previously chaotic software development processes.

But these methodologies also deliver in a marketing context. A recent survey of CMOs reported that marketing departments which adopted the Agile process were more likely to report significant growth in market share (33 per cent) over non-agile counterparts (12 per cent)

So what is Agile marketing? Well, in the immortal words of the lawyer from the classic Aussie film, the Castle, it’s the vibe.

But of course it’s more than that. According to the Agile Marketing Manifesto it’s:

  1. Responding to change over following a plan
  2. Rapid iterations over big-bang campaigns
  3. Testing and data over opinions and conventions
  4. Numerous small experiments over a few large bets
  5. Individuals and interactions over target markets
  6. Collaboration over silos and hierarchy

So what do these six attributes really mean from a practical perspective?

1. Responding to change over following a plan

This is about being prepared to change priorities if other elements in the project change. It’s about not hanging onto something that’s not going to work simply because everyone agreed on it at a meeting two weeks ago. Shorter planning cycles make it easier to recognise when something needs to change and how quickly it needs to happen. Most companies using Agile successfully work in two or three week sprints. Agile leaders focus on a clarity of priorities but build in flexibility to change direction based on the information available.2. Rapid iterations over big bang campaigns

This is a big shift for old-school marketers. It’s a challenge to make the commitment to potential volatility, but the Agile process demands you give iterations and experiments a chance. Gone are the days of 6-month campaign planning cycles. Short sprints start with an agreement on the experiments and the measurement. The iterations deliver incremental improvements based on real market feedback rather than speculation.

3. Testing and data over opinions and conventions

Analytics and feedback has to be part of the cycle and access to the right data needs to be built into the planning. Agile teams need to be able to respond to changes in the market, so they need to have regular data that allows them to read the market accurately and quickly. It’s also important that KPIs are decided on before the campaign starts.

4. Numerous small experiments over a few large bets

To achieve speed and agility, it’s critical that feedback can be acted upon quickly. The Agile team needs to be able to respond fast if an experiment hasn’t worked. After all, the next test will already be lined up. To do this, the team needs a degree of autonomy within the organisation. The first principal of Agile is about delivering satisfaction to the customer. Only the customer can decide if they are satisfied or not. Small experiments allow marketing teams to use the learning from real consumers to deliver better campaigns rather than blowing the budget on an unproven idea.

5. Individuals and interactions over target markets

The concept of target markets, based on where people lived, their age or their psychographics, was developed to give marketers a set of tools for dealing with mass media. But that was before it was possible to target customers based on how they actually behave, rather than how we think they might. Agile marketers maintain a more holistic view of customer behaviour and make sure they are in a position to deal with the real activity of individuals rather than attempt to predict the behaviour of a broad target market.

6. Collaboration over silos and hierarchies

Agile is about leveraging the skills of cross functional teams. Organisational silos need to be broken down. This can be a challenge for some organisations, there may need to be a cultural change process. For an Agile project to work, the compliance or legal department needs to be part of the process, not outside it. All departments need to be part of a collaborative team who work together to deliver real agility at scale. 

Finally, Agile marketing places the customer voice and response to customer needs at the heart of all operations. In this brave new world, marketers need to embrace outside-in decision making. It’s the way forward for marketers to thrive in this age of disruption.

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