What is agile marketing?
Agile marketing is the application of agile values and principles to manage the way a marketing team gets work done. At its core, an agile approach values flexibility, iteration, and speed. It enables you to quickly learn what does and does not work, so you can incrementally improve the results of your marketing efforts.
Agile marketing is a response to the way marketing practices have changed over the last 30 years. Traditionally, marketing teams used channels like radio, print advertising, and billboards to reach a broad audience. They invested large amounts of time and money to launch a big campaign once or twice a year. And they had limited tools available to measure return on investment.
But the internet has transformed how marketing teams function. Digital marketing mediums such as online display advertising, search engines, email, and social media are now the primary way to deliver targeted messages to customers. These mediums allow marketing teams to capture a large amount of data about customer behavior and gain valuable insights into their preferences.
Accordingly, marketing teams today need to work in a way that is more incremental, measurable, and compatible with our rapidly changing digital world. This is why many organizations are turning to agile marketing. It allows teams to be nimble, offer more personalized messages, stay competitive, and deliver better results for the business.
Where does agile marketing come from?
Agile refers to a collection of software development methodologies. It describes an approach to developing software in which teams work in short increments with frequent release cycles. The Agile Manifesto, published by a group of software developers in 2001, lays out four core values:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
If you are new to agile, you might find it helpful to read our agile development guide to learn more about the history and principles.
While this approach emerged as a way to help software development teams, other groups such as product management, project management, and marketing are increasingly applying agile concepts to their own work. For marketing teams specifically, this has meant a heightened focus on experimentation, teamwork, data, and continuously delivering value to customers. Instead of engaging in rigid and long-term planning, agile marketing teams are embracing flexibility and change. They frequently analyze data to learn more about customer desires and improve their campaigns.
The main methodologies that marketing teams use to follow agile values and principles are:
Scrum is the most popular agile methodology for software teams. Applied to marketing, it means that teams have a backlog of activities they are trying to accomplish during a set period of time. They prioritize these activities and break the marketing work into manageable chunks that can be completed in a time-boxed period (called a sprint) of two to four weeks. The goal is to use timeboxing to iterate on campaigns and incrementally deliver value to customers. Teams may also hold daily meetings or have regular reviews and retrospectives to assess progress and define what marketing work should be completed next.
Marketing teams that follow this pull-based workflow system are able to easily visualize their work and optimize the flow of tasks through the different stages — to do, work in progress, and completed. For example, a kanban board can be useful for a content marketing team to see what needs to be done and identify any bottlenecks along the way. As each piece of content moves from idea to draft to review, everyone can see the status. The goal is to limit the number of work-in-progress items to a manageable amount in order to increase output. This ensures that work is continuously flowing through each stage and quickly reaching completion.
Many marketing teams incorporate elements of both kanban and scrum into their workflows. Some refer to this hybrid approach as scrumban. Most commonly, teams may work in timeboxes but use a kanban board to visualize the upcoming marketing work. But there are no strict rules — teams can pick and choose the elements of scrum and kanban that work best for their particular needs.
What are the benefits of agile marketing?
Agile marketing teams that bring a clear strategy to their work are able to move fast and with purpose. According to a 2017 survey, 94 percent of companies say that agility and collaboration are essential to their success. And 32 percent report that they are already taking steps to be more agile.
So what does implementing an agile methodology look like in practice? Besides moving quickly, different marketing functions can use data or customer feedback to inform how they approach their work. For example, marketing managers can explore new channels and methods to increase traffic, digital teams can reallocate online ad spending, and content teams can adjust their editorial calendar or test and iterate on social media strategies.
Additional benefits to adopting an agile marketing approach include:
Integrated programs and campaigns
Teammates in digital, content, and product marketing are aligned on the marketing plans and can deliver a consistent and seamless experience to prospects and customers.
Iterating means that you do not waste time and resources on approaches that are not suited for your target audience. For example, if a channel is not delivering the results you want, then you can quickly stop investing in it.
Tracking real-time data gives you valuable insights into audience behavior. Traffic, clicks, and conversion rates shed light on how your programs and campaigns are performing — and what needs to be adjusted to better reach customers.
Transparency and trust
Constant communication and collaboration across marketing teams helps ensure that everyone's skills are properly utilized and that capacity is fairly balanced across teammates.
Agile vs. traditional marketing
A set of guiding values for agile marketing has emerged. Here is an overview of the differences between agile and traditional marketing:
Set customer-centric goals that focus on customer engagement and growth.
Set business-centric goals that focus on KPIs such as scope, schedule, and budget.
Set strategic themes
Themes guide the activities needed to accomplish the marketing goals and reach the target audience.
Instead of thinking in terms of broad themes, tie marketing initiatives to specific projects.
Understand customer needs
Continually explore to understand which channels and messages resonate with target customers.
Capture marketing requirements upfront.
Build the marketing roadmap
Plan programs, campaigns, and activities in quarterly, monthly, or bi-weekly cycles with the flexibility to adjust the roadmap.
Create an annual marketing plan with a long-term commitment to deliver specific programs and campaigns on a set timeline.
Regularly reprioritize to respond to changing customer and market needs.
Decide which projects to prioritize upfront and adhere to a fixed schedule.
Measure campaign progress as you go and adapt your plans to see if you can improve the results. If something is not working, stop and change course.
Plan a campaign with a set budget and estimate the revenue you expect from that campaign. Then let it run and use the results to inform your next big campaign.
Getting started with agile marketing
Marketing is the engine that drives awareness and lead generation. Today's marketing practices have evolved considerably from the days of billboards and print advertising. Technology has made it possible to quickly produce campaigns, modify them, and use metrics to make informed decisions about what to do next. This is why an agile approach is suited so well to our digital world.
Of course, you also need a clear strategy and plan. Structure and deadlines ensure that your marketing activities will have a greater impact. Everyone on the marketing team should understand the goals and how their work supports those objectives. An agile marketing roadmap can serve as your guide for this. It is a visual timeline for how to stay flexible while delivering meaningful work that supports the larger marketing and business objectives.
Agile workflows will look different for each company and marketing team, depending on what you are planning to deliver and how you want to reach your audience. Finding and using the right tool is essential to support your efforts — this is the only way to get the streamlined workflows and visibility you need to work fast. Some marketing teams opt for purpose-built roadmapping software like Aha! to do this.
Moving quickly, iterating often, and continually looking for ways to improve will help you deliver clear messages that resonate with your audience and drive the growth of the business.
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