The Hidden Challenges of Agile Marketing (and 7 Solutions)
January 3, 2019

The Hidden Challenges of Agile Marketing (and 7 Solutions)

by Brian de Haaff

How many times have you felt the pressure to go faster at work? If you work in marketing, it might feel like this happens all the time. You are continually pushed to make quick decisions, meet deadlines, and react to new priorities that no one talked with you about. You are working as fast as you can — but it is not always clear if your work is making a difference or appreciated.

Speed will only get you so far. Marketing teams also need to understand where they are going and why.

Some teams are trying to go faster and faster in the name of going agile and doing “agile marketing.” The term is yet another spinoff from the agile development methodology. But you do not have to be an agile devotee to understand the purported promise — be nimble so you can quickly adjust to new information and iterate fast. Go faster and achieve more.

There is just one problem. In order to iterate quickly, the so-called agile marketing approach values being flexible over “rigid planning.” And once marketing teams abandon structured, strategic planning, achievement and satisfaction often suffer (just like it does for agile development teams).

You and your teammates need to know exactly what you are working on and why. This is true no matter what kind of work you do. And this requires you to have a clear plan so everyone understands the purpose of their work. Strategic planning keeps teams motivated and on track.

The thing is that marketing teams do not need to choose between careful planning and working fast.

You can do both. You must do both and avoid blindly going “agile” and throwing out proven planning principles. Here is what you need to move with purpose and iterate fast:

Strategic goals Agility starts with having clear guidelines for what is most important. Think about what you and the team want to achieve in the long-term, and then set clear goals that support that vision. When a new idea or request comes in, you simply need to ask — does this support our goals? You can then immediately answer with a “yes” or “no” or defer an answer while you do additional research.

In-depth understanding Everyone on the team should have access to key information on who the customer is, what problems they are trying to solve, and what type of messaging resonates with them. This will help you make wise decisions that are rooted by your own deep customer knowledge.

Clear initiatives You know your goals and your customers — now you need initiatives. These are major efforts and areas of investment that will help you accomplish those goals. Each initiative should have a clear connection to a goal so that everyone knows what they are working on and why. This is another way the team can quickly make smart choices about what to work on.

Detailed schedules Okay, so “detailed schedules” might sound like waterfall planning. But dates still matter. Especially when it comes to key events like product launches and scheduled customer events. How else could you realistically manage all of the concurrent activities needed to deliver a cohesive program or campaign? This is the value of shared marketing calendars.

Integrated campaigns Typically, marketing teams are comprised of teammates with specific skills and discipline knowledge, such as digital or content marketing. You need cross-functional alignment of the planned and in-progress programs to ensure consistency in how you apply planned activities — in a way that feels seamless to customers and prospects. Internally, this approach allows for efficient use of people’s skills and capacity.

Transparent activities Clear and effective communication across teams is mandatory. You need to be able to see what is happening and collaborate in real time. The best way to do this is to have everybody working together in the same tool. Ideally, you use one tool to form plans, describe and prioritize activities, capture requests, and track the work.

Open reporting It is not enough to discuss data and share results with the marketing team — you need the ability to share reports with all stakeholders. For example, sales will want to know how many leads have been generated, while product will be looking for status updates related to the next launch, and executives will want to understand the impact of financial investments in marketing campaigns. Ongoing reporting gives everyone the information needed to take swift action.

The ultimate goal in marketing is to move faster and with purpose — quickly connecting customers to the solutions they need.

Moving fast is nothing new to marketing teams. Neither is tight collaboration and detailed planning. So when you feel that pressure to go faster and the answer is “go agile,” take a step back and think about what that really means and at what cost.

Is your marketing team attempting to become more agile?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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