Stories, Narratives and Brand Promises

Greg Satell writes one of my favorite blogs, DigitalTonto. Through his blog, Greg introduces me to new thinking and authors who are new to me. His latest post includes a prime example: John Hagel’s distinction between Stories and Narratives.

Stories versus Narratives

Stories can be very powerful in marketing. They convey an idea about a product or service in ways that are memorable, appeal to emotion and encourage retelling. Narratives, however, can be even more powerful, as they provide a context for multiple stories and for our own contributions. Here’s how John Hagel describes the differences between Stories and Narratives:

First, stories are self-contained – they have a beginning, a middle and an end. Narratives on the other hand are open-ended – the outcome is unresolved, yet to be determined. Second, stories are about me, the story-teller, or other people; they are not about you. In contrast, the resolution of narratives depends on the choice you make and the actions you take – you will determine the outcome.

Stories Narratives
Beginning, middle and an end Open-ended
About the story-teller or the institution Shaped by the participants (customers, employees)
Appeal to emotion Appeal to emotion and potential (aspiration)
Powerful way to illustrate narrative Versatile: many stories fit within one narrative


There are many examples of narratives and the stories that support them, both in life and in business.  Here are a few:

Christianity as narrative (man is sinful and achieves redemption through accepting a Savior). The stories or parables (The Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son) that support the narrative.

Politics as narrative (Roosevelt’s New Deal, Reagan’s American Exceptionalism) and the stories that support them (think of Roosevelt’s fireside chats or Reagan’s City upon a Hill speech)

Southwest Airlines culture as narrative (Most loved airline, celebrate individuality, hold down costs) and the many stories about their founder and about employees that support that narrative

Apple’s Think Different as narrative, supported by many stories about Steve Jobs and about the founding of Apple

Value Propositions versus Brand Promises

As marketers, we have our own name for narrative: brand promises.  Brand promises must be open-ended, shaped by participants, appeal to both emotion and potential, and encompass and be supported by stories. And while the comparison is not the same, I think it’s interesting and informative to compare brand promises to value propositions.

As a marketer, I have often asked myself and others, “What is your value proposition?”  The answer often consists of three points (why three? I have no idea), supported by data. Or the value proposition consists of a statement, following a template like that described by Geoff Moore in his book Crossing the Chasm:

For ____________ (target customer)
who ____________ (statement of the need or opportunity)
our (product/service name) is ____________ (product category)
that (statement of benefit) ____________ .

There is nothing wrong with having a value proposition for internal use. It can help you define your target customer, their need, your product category and how it benefits the target customer. But brand promises, or narratives in Hagel’s language, are so much more powerful.

Value Propositions Brand Promises
Formulaic There is no Formula
About Your or your product About the customer’s aspirations
Appeal to logic Appeal to emotion and potential (aspiration)
Can end up vague and without meaning Unique, in the true sense of the word


Let’s look at a two examples of marketers using value propositions versus brand promises.

Here’s IBM’s web page for their business analytics tools:


OK, I don’t know if this came off their positioning, but you can imagine that it might have.  Faster, easier, smarter.  Is there any product out there whose marketers don’t think is faster, easier and smarter? How boring is the phrase “transform your data into competitive advantage”.  Do you see anything that is unique here that draws you in?  I don’t, and I think it’s because it’s a page built off a bad (because it’s generic) value proposition.

Here’s the About page of one of the fastest growing business analytics tools in the industry, Trifacta:


If you read a little further down the page, they use language like “the key to winning with Big Data lies with people”, “Our technical vision focuses on connecting human intuition with computational power”, and “Data = Success”.

Which is more aspirational? Which is more open-ended? Which one would you be more likely to investigate? I think the answer is obvious, and it’s surely part of the reason that Tryfacta was the second fastest growing private company in the United States over the last 3 years, according to Inc. Magazine, with growth of 28,365% over that 3 year period.

This is the power of Brand Promises.  Our brand promises must be narratives – open-ended; about our customers and our employees, not our products or companies; aspirational; unique; and supported by stories.

Marketing Capability Layers

I love Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist blog. Not many people know this, but a blog post by Scott in 2010 was the inspiration for this blog. I constantly find that Scott produces thoughtful, well written content.  The latest post on his blog, by guest writer Sam Melnik, is a great example of this kind of inspiring and thoughtful content.

The post is titled “Don’t buy marketing technologies, build layers instead”, and the key paragraph for me was this statement:

Don’t buy point solutions or marketing technologies in a vacuum. Instead, build capability layers into your marketing organization and organize marketing technologies in the context of those layers and the actions they need to perform.

I think that’s exactly right. Build marketing capability layers. This is part of what I was trying to articulate in my article about organizing an Agile Marketing team.

Sam makes another important point:

The marketing organization and the sets of layers should revolve around four factors: people, process, technologies, and data.

Those four factors are incredibly important.  To be successful, you have to hire and develop the right people, you have to put in place the right processes, you have to select the right marketing technologies and you have to collect and maintain the right data to make decisions and to determine the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

At the end of the article, Sam asks the question “what sets of layers you are building in your marketing organization?”  I’d like to describe a few of the layers we built at InDemand Interpreting, my last company, and what we learned in building these marketing capability layers.

Improving Sales Effectiveness

This is one of the layers of capability that Sam describes, and it’s a critical component of any B2B marketing organization.  Here’s my diagram, broken up into the four factors of people, process, technologies and data:

Improving sales effectivenessIf you study Sam’s diagram of improving sales effectiveness, I’ve taken a slightly different approach. First, in data I’ve focused on the entities (accounts, reps, content and sales stages).  Although it’s not shown in the diagram, I’d also articulate the relationships between these entities (for anyone who has a database background, this could be represented in a classic Entity-Relationship diagram).

In terms of the technology layer, we used SalesForce and HubSpot as our systems of record.

Process turned out to be the most important aspect of improving our sales effectiveness.  Not only did we have to get a common definition of a sales qualified lead (SQL) between our marketing and sales teams, but we also had to define the expectations of how quickly sales was going to follow up on these SQLs. We also got agreement on the stages of the sales cycle.  This became a very important part of our forecasting methodology.  Rather than asking salespeople to give us their percent confidence that a deal would close in the quarter, we assigned percentages to stages, and defined the stages based on commitments or actions by the customer. Each stage was then assigned a percent confidence factor. This ensured consistency between sales people in forecasting.

We also developed a sales and deployment process we called Five to Thrive, which ended up being part of our competitive advantage.

Lastly, we worked to ensure that people had the right set of skills for sales effectiveness.  These skills included having our inside sales folks using certain scripts and talking points, as well s training our outside sales people in discovery, presentation and closing skills.

And as Sam correctly points out in his diagram, establishing this marketing capability is not a one-time thing, but something where you revise and adapt it over time, improving through iteration.


I think that agility is a marketing capability, and one that marketing organizations have to focus on developing. It doesn’t come for free.  Here’s a diagram illustrating our approach to developing agility as a marketing capability.

Improving marketing agility

One of the beauties of scrum is that it allows teams to track their throughput over time. It’s also one of the reasons I love Agile Marketing, because before Agile, most marketing teams couldn’t answer the question about how they’re doing in terms of throughput and getting work done. I also think it’s important to measure how quickly your team is responding to competitive actions, and how quickly they are taking advantage of newsjacking opportunities.

The technologies that you could use to improve your marketing agility are numerous.  I’ve listed a few, but most organizations will use many different tools.

Again, the process is probably the most important piece of improving marketing agility. Not only how are you adopting Scrum (and perhaps Kanban), but do you have a formal process for responding to competitors? Do you have a formal process for newsjacking?

Lastly, you need to hire for agility.  Let’s face it, some people are more agile than others, and more comfortable responding quickly and changing on the fly.  I also think you need to hire people who are metrics driven, and willing to be held accountable to the right kind of metrics.

Other Marketing Capability Layers

I brainstormed a list of other marketing capability layers, but quite frankly, they’re going to vary quite a bit depending on whether you’re a B2B, B2C, eCommerce, SAAS, early stage, growth stage, market leader, or some other kind of marketing organization.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Improving awareness/generating buzz
  • Improving lead generation
  • Improving lead nurturing
  • Generating effective content
  • Improving community engagement, community building
  • Improving lifecycle marketing

I’d love to hear what marketing capability layers you are developing in your organization, and how you’re going about it.

Agile Marketing for Small Teams

I received a number of great comments on my last post, Organizing an Agile Marketing team. Several people commented that the organization presumed a large organization, aimed at business to business (B2B) marketing, with long lead times. To that, I plead guilty.

What if you have only enough resources for a small team? And what if you’re not marketing to businesses, but to consumers? How does that change the organization?

My Taxonomy

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to divide marketers into four groups based on a 2×2 grid: whether you’re marketing to businesses or consumers, and whether the sale takes place offline or online.

taxonomy of marketing

I’m not going to dive down into all the ways that marketing to consumers  is different than marketing to businesses, or the differences that selling online versus offline make to marketing.  I think these are pretty well established.  The names for each quadrant seem fairly settled for me, with the possible exception of SAAS.  If someone has a better name for online selling to businesses, let me know in the comments.

I think these are the critical dimensions that impact how your organize the team and the choices you make when you have limited resources.

B2C Marketing

How do you organize a small B2C team for modern, agile marketing? I’m going to assume that you have a leader (a Director or VP of Marketing) and 3 or 4 individuals. Here’s my recommendation:

B2C marketing organization

I’m going to stand by my comment in my previous post that the first team should be the infrastructure & analytics team.  I realize this may be controversial for B2C marketing, that many B2C companies don’t use CRM or marketing automation systems, but in my opinion, they should. Engage directly with your consumers through email. Analyze your promotional campaigns with analytics. You can’t do these things unless you have the infrastructure and the analytics to experiment, measure and improve.

I go back and forth as to whether community building or content marketing is next in importance. It probably depends on the business. Are you selling something that is expensive and a one-time or infrequent purchase where the buyer needs to be educated (pools, RVs)? Start with content marketing to educate your buyer. Are you selling inexpensive, repeat purchase items (cupcakes, coffee)? Start with community building.  Both are important. The coffee house has an opportunity to educate the consumer about coffee through content marketing.

Someone is probably going to ask me where social media is in the organization and why it’s not a separate group? I think social media is a tool, and perhaps one of the most important tools of the community building group. But I’d rather not say to that group, your mission is social media.  The mission of that group is to build community – whether they do that through social media, events, email or whatever means, the focus is on the mission not the tool.

B2B Marketing

I’ve spent most of my career in B2B marketing. My emphasis here is on modern, agile marketing, not a traditional B2B marketing organization.  Here’s how I would organize a small B2B team:

Small B2B organization

Again, I’m going to begin with the infrastructure & analytics group. Next, I’m going to add a content marketing specialist, to feed the web site, the sales force and the demand generation activities. And lastly, I’m going to task someone with generating leads, whether that be through inside sales warm/cold calling, webinars, email campaigns or whatever.  If I have a 4th person, I’m probably going to devote them to Remarkable Customer Experiences or product management.

eCommerce Marketing

I’m not talking about Amazon here, but about small eCommerce companies. Someone large enough to have a separate marketing team, but small enough that the team is 4 or 5 people.  Here’s how I’d organize that team:

eCommerce marketing organization

Again, start with infrastructure & analytics, with a particular emphasis on measuring conversions. Second, you need a team that really understands how to do A/B testing, generate conversions and generate fast growth, better known as growth hacking. They need to make sure those shopping carts get full and they check out. The third group is responsible for repeat purchases, and for identifying community functions that contribute to sales.  Generating reviews is the most obvious example of this. But you also want to build a community of raving fans, who will buy more and attract more fans.

SAAS Marketing

If you’re a SAAS marketer, I’d highly recommend that you read The Nine Disciplines of Great SAAS Companies. After that, if you don’t have enough people to staff all those functions, here is my recommendation about where to start:

SAAS Marketing Organization

By now, you won’t be surprised that I think you should start with your infrastructure and analytics team. You need marketing automation, and you need to be able to measure your experiments. But the second part of the organization that I think you should staff for may be a surprise: the remarkable customer experience or product management team.  I think this is critical for SAAS companies to get right.  If the experience is remarkable, you’ll get your evangelists, you’ll get repeat business, and some level of demand generation will happen on its own.  If you don’t get this right, your demand generation group will just be spreading bad experiences with your product or service.

I went back and forth as to whether the demand generation team should be staffed next or the content marketing, but ultimately I chose demand generation. You can outsource your content marketing if necessary. You can’t outsource your demand generation. This is the next most important thing to get right, and will basically determine if you succeed or fail.  This is one of the most important hires in the company, equivalent to hiring the VP of Sales in a traditional B2B company.

So those are my thoughts about organizing smaller teams.  What do you think?  How is your agile marketing team organized?

Organizing an Agile Marketing Team

Agile Marketing orgHow do you organize an Agile marketing team? Is the organization different than that of traditional marketing organizations? I think the answer is yes, it is different, both because of the use of Agile and also because modern marketing is very different from traditional marketing and demands a different organization.  Here are my thoughts:

Infrastructure and Analytics

One of the inspirations for this post is an article about The 9 Marketing Disciplines of Great SAAS Companies. Bill Macaitis, the former CMO of Zendesk and current CMO of Slack, argues that the first  and largest marketing team in every SaaS company is the Ops and Analytics team.  I agree and not only for SAAS companies.  The mission of this team is to build the infrastructure to support marketing operations (a CRM like SalesForce and a marketing automation tool like HubSpot or Marketo) and the analytics tools to support constant experimentation.  You cannot act in an agile fashion or iterate your way to success without a great marketing ops and analytics foundation. If you’re going to build your Agile marketing function around actionable metrics rather than vanity metrics, this team is essential. Too often, this team is non-existent or an after-thought. Start here and hire great people for this team.

Content Marketing

The content marketing team is often the core of the Agile marketing team, and the production of content adapts very well to Scrum.  Make sure that your content is tied to the buyer’s journey, supporting the buyer at every stage of their buying decision.  The job of the content marketing team is not to sell, but to help people buy.  Remember the old adage that no one likes to be sold to, but everyone likes to buy. You will also need many different skill sets on this team: writers, editors, graphic designers and even technologists if you are generating interactive content (which you absolutely should be doing).

Demand Generation

Demand generation can take many different forms, and often this function is divided into several teams.  In the article referenced above, Bill Macaitis created at least two different teams, Paid and Website/Conversion. His International team also had some demand generation duties. Other companies might have an inside sales organization, a direct marketing team or a channel marketing team.  The actual structure of this function will vary from business to business. In my opinion, the key to success in demand generation is to set the right metrics and to create a culture of experimentation and accountability.  All of this lends itself to Agile Marketing.

One note about demand generation: I believe that organizations need to look at their demand generation activities closely in terms of both breadth and depth.  By breadth, I mean are you using as many different channels of demand generation as are appropriate for your business, and trying out new channels that aren’t as saturated and crowded as those used by your competitors.  If your competitors have saturated paid search, can you do more with unique videos or unique interactive content? Maybe no one in your industry uses direct mail (yes, I mean snail mail, not email). Have you tried it?

By depth, I mean ensuring that your demand generation takes people deeper down the sales funnel. Demand generation may even be the wrong term for some of you, as marketing encompasses both demand generation and demand satisfaction. Even if that’s not the case, marketing should be taking the buyer much further in the buying cycle, into stages that traditionally were handled by sales.  For an excellent article on this, see Why Marketing is Eating Sales.

Remarkable Customer Experiences

This team is also known as product marketing, but I prefer the emphasis on remarkable customer experiences. I mean Remarkable in the Seth Godin Purple Cow sense of being both incredible and worth remarking or talking about, and experiences rather than just products.  It is strategically important that the product marketing team think beyond the product that you produce to the full customer experience.

Community Building

Some organizations call this the evangelism team, and that’s fine.  The key is to build enthusiastic supporters of your product or service who will recommend it to others (Promotors in the Net Promotor Score terminology), help newcomers with the product, and provide great feedback to you about your product and your company.

Lifecycle Marketing

Marketing doesn’t stop with the sale.  For many products or services, your business model may pay you more for increased usage. This team is tasked with increasing that usage. You may also want to up-sell or cross-sell your installed base. This team is responsible for customer retention, customer happiness and increased sales to existing customers.

What I Left Out

I’m sure that several of you noticed that I left out several traditional marketing functions like brand strategy, marketing communications, PR and social media.  That wasn’t accidental.  I think brand strategy is like culture – everyone must be on the same page, and communicate your culture and your brand strategy through everything they do.  The basics of the brand promise can and should be determined at the highest levels of the marketing organization (and perhaps even above marketing), but it should be communicated by everyone.  I don’t see the need for separate brand specialists.

I also think marketing communications and PR have or should be replaced by content marketing.  I hate traditional press releases (spam aimed at journalists) and would prefer that any kind of communication to the press be handled by marketing executive management or perhaps by a corporate PR group.

Social media is a tool. A very useful tool, but a tool that should be used by everyone: content marketers, community builders, lifestyle marketers, etc.  If you’re large enough and you want to make sure someone “owns” the corporate social media accounts, put this function in infrastructure, and give it some metrics.  Otherwise, allow each team to use social media tools as they see fit.

So that’s my view.  What do you think?  How have you organized your marketing organization for Agile?

How to Define Actionable Metrics

actionable metricsAre you focused on actionable metrics or vanity metrics?  I’ve mentioned one of my favorite books, Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup, in previous posts and I’ve also referred to his distinction between vanity metrics and actionable metrics. For those who haven’t read the book or aren’t familiar with the term, vanity metrics are those that might make you feel good, but don’t result in action. Here are some common examples:

  • Pageviews
  • Attendees at an event
  • Twitter followers
  • Facebook likes

How to Identify Actionable Metrics – Begin With Your Business Model

If you are an eCommerce site, you might think that revenue is actionable. It isn’t, at least by itself, and here’s how to tell.  OK, revenue is up. What action do you take? Go out and celebrate? Yeah, sounds like a vanity metric to me.  Why is revenue up? If you haven’t got a clue, it’s a vanity metric.

On the other hand, if you have a baseline of revenue, and you introduce a new website design for a portion of your website with improved images and more information about those products, and revenues for those products are up 20% compared to the same period last year, then revenue is an actionable metric. There is an obvious action: apply that new website design to the rest of your site.

If you are a business-to-business company, and your transactions take place offline, what can you measure that leads up to revenue? Common metrics here might include Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) and Revenue Pipeline. Again, these need context.  What changes are you making to lead to higher numbers of SQLs or a larger pipeline?

If you are a non-profit organization and you work in the development office, then clearly you’ll want to measure donations and planned giving. But don’t stop there. Ham fisted development people always seem to be hitting you up for a donation, even when you’re brand new to the charity and trying to figure out if this organization is worth your time, or you are a long term donor, and have already given generously this year. More skilled development people look for the leading indicators of giving or increased giving, and establish metrics around those leading indicators. Have you attended more events recently, even if you haven’t given? Have you volunteered and given your time to the organization?

Don’t forget metrics that look at the cost side of your business model, as well as the revenue side. Measure gross margin by customer or by transaction.

Work Forward from and Dive Down into Your Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics in themselves don’t provide an opportunity for action. However, they sometimes can provide leading indicators that direct you to more actionable metrics. For example, while an increase in pageviews isn’t that actionable, you may find more information taking a look at what users do next. How many of them are returning to the site? A low return-rate may indicate a need for more usable content, and an increase in returning users may indicate that you’re getting more engagement, which in turn may lead to more conversions. Who are your visitors and why are they coming to the site? I once saw a company that was celebrating an increase in traffic, measured by users and pageviews, only to find out that most of those new users were coming to the site looking for a job. Someone in HR had put a new widget on the Careers page that was driving traffic.

Which of your twitter followers are re-tweeting your tweets? Which tweets are getting re-tweeted? Which attendees at an event end up buying something from you? How do they interact after the event? Can you increase the conversion rate of attendees?  These kind of questions take you beyond the feel-good aspect of vanity metrics and move you into actionable insights.

Vanity metrics are often metrics at the top of the sales funnel, but unless you drill down and work forward from their visits (or follows or likes), you won’t know whether an increase at the top of the funnel is going to produce sales, or whether you simply have a leaky funnel, with little or nothing coming out of the bottom.

Your Biggest Unanswered Questions

What are your biggest unanswered questions about your customers or prospects? Are there metrics or tests that could help you answer these questions? These metrics are good candidates for actionable metrics. For example, where do your customers with the highest gross margin come from? Which campaigns provide the most efficient sources of leads?

While vanity metrics may make us feel better as marketers, our real value comes from defining actionable metrics, and acting on them.

Is Agile Marketing only useful for managing Content?

Agile Marketing

One of the easiest ways to get started with Agile Marketing is to use Scrum to manage the production of Content. Agile was designed to help improve the production of software code; it makes sense that it could be useful to manage the production of Content. I see many organizations taking this approach, using Scrum to manage Content.

The question is: can Agile be used in other areas of marketing? I think the answer is YES. Here are a few other areas where the use of Agile techniques can be applied to marketing:

Planning and Executing Events, Including Product Launches

The application of Agile to planning and executing events seems like an obvious fit to me. That’s why I’m surprised that marketing event planners often resist Agile Marketing. Their reasoning is that many events require that they put down a deposit and pick a date for an event 6-12 months in advance, and they view Agile as something that is limited to 2-3 week Sprints, with each Sprint totally independent of the one before it. To me, this is like someone at Microsoft refusing to adopt Agile because they ship a new version of Windows or Office every couple of years.

Agile can easily adapt to tasks that require more than a single Sprint’s worth of work through the concept of an Epic.  To me, the value of using Agile, particularly Scrum, to manage events, including product launches, is the emphasis that it puts on communication. Particularly as you approach the date of an event, a daily standup is critical. In addition, Scrum ensures that responsibilities and ownership are clear, and that if someone is not making progress on their assigned tasks, that roadblocks or a failure to perform are discovered early, before they derail the event.

Exploring New Markets

At a company I’m working with, we’re looking at potentially entering a new market. This requires not only traditional market research, but also reaching out to a number of people who are potential customers for the new service. As this research requires close communication and cooperation among several people, all of whom have “day jobs”, I’m planning to use a modified version of Scrum, with bi-weekly stand ups and two week Sprints, to manage the process.

We can also use the concept of a Sprint Planning session to prioritize our tasks, ensuring that we only commit to as much work as we can realistically get done in two weeks time, and observing our progress over time.

Product Management

Product management often encompasses a very broad set of responsibilities. Here, I’m referring specifically to that aspect of Product Management where the product manager is the Product Owner. If the product manager is working with a development team who is also practicing Agile, it can be helpful if he also practices Agile, particularly if he has responsibility for writing User Stories.

It is very important that the product manager to stay ahead of the development team, making sure that he has a backlog of fully fleshed out User Stories, ready for each Sprint Planning Session.  If this is not the case, product management can become a bottle neck, slowing down the development team because they don’t have complete and detailed User Stories going into each Sprint.

If the Product Manager is a one-man band, this may not be necessary, but if, as often is the case, product management is a team of several individuals, Agile can provide an excellent way to keep the team on track and facilitate communication.

Launching Advertising Campaigns

Here’s another group that I find often resists Agile Marketing. They sometimes say that they have to plan out media buys months in advance and that it isn’t realistic to practice the quick iterations of Agile Marketing.  Really? I’m not an expert in advertising by any means, but in this world of Ad Exchanges and real-time bidding of online ads, not to mention tools like Google AdWords and Google AdSense, is it really necessary to plan out media buys months in advance? Unless you’re buying SuperBowl or other big event television ads, whose effectiveness I often question, I’m not convinced that this precludes you from practicing Agile Marketing.

In particular, I wish more ad campaigns had well-defined success metrics relevant to the business, and that the advertisers iterated on ads until they found the best formula for achieving those metrics. I still see way too many ad campaigns that measure what Eric Ries calls vanity metrics rather than actionable metrics. Things like impressions, brand recall, ad recall, etc I consider to be vanity metrics. As a CEO, those kinds of metrics drive me crazy.  I want to know how much more we sold, or how many sales qualified leads we added to the pipeline.

One more comment about the impact of Agile Marketing on Advertising: if you look at the original Agile Marketing Manifesto, you’ll see two Values that are very relevant to advertising:

Value 3 – Adaptive and Iterative campaigns over Big-Bang Campaigns

Value 7 – Many Small Experiments Over a Few Large Bets

I would love to see more advertising campaigns following these precepts.

Lead Generation

There are probably other areas of marketing where Agile can be applied, but I’ll make this the last one in this post. I like to see lead generation specialists following the Agile values of validated learning and iteration. I see way too many lead generation efforts celebrating the number of attendees at a webinar or the number of click throughs of an ad campaign, without any context or comparison.  If you get 60 people to attend a webinar, is that good or bad? Of course it depends, and the best way to quantify “it depends” is to show progress over time. The best way to make progress over time is to experiment and to try out new approaches.

What kind of experiments are you doing in your lead generation program? Do you train your inside sales people to experiment with multiple scripts, to determine what works and what doesn’t? How have you validated that your lead generation program is as efficient as possible?

Where are you using Agile Marketing? Do you think it applies to areas beyond Content Marketing? I’d love to hear about your experience.

G.I.V.E – The Agile Marketing Strategy for Leaders

GIVE Strategy

One of the little known but very positive side effects of the Agile / SCRUM methodology is the net upward impact it offers to organizations at the management level.

As a leader in today’s world tasked with creating and evolving your Marketing organization there are many tools at your disposal but none more powerful than using the agile strategy. However, simply applying the sprint and standup meetings to your current leadership approach isn’t enough to lead a sustainable and highly effective organization, you need to change your approach to managing your team as well.

How does this happen you ask? What do I need to do as a Marketing Leader in order to ensure that Agile Marketing is successful in my organization?

Well the answer is to G.I.V.E. a little.


Yes, Growth, Innovation, Visibility and Energy (GIVE)

By applying these four simple concepts to your Agile Marketing team you can transform an under-performing organization into an outstanding and highly efficient workforce. Here is how it works.


Marketing never stands still, constant movement and growth especially are critical to your team members. Growth comes in many forms, personal, team or project size, changes in goals and titles. The Agile environment constantly provides opportunity to grow and evolve into new roles as the organization constantly changes. Letting your team know that they have the opportunity to expand their current role through innovation, communication and participation is the best motivation possible and a way to keep everyone active and engaged on a daily basis. Let those leaders evolve, become sounding boards and drivers for daily standups, provide support, guidance and ideas for other team members as these plans evolve working freely among themselves.


At the core of any creative marketing is innovation. Stretching the boundaries of ideas, providing opportunity and freedom to evolve thoughts, show strengths and provide meaningful output is a potent combination on any team and a solid individual motivator. As a marketing leader you do not always have time to review and approve your teams innovative concepts on a daily or weekly basis and, as a result, they may feel they should not pursue them actively. In order to keep your team developing quality content without constant supervision you need to let them innovate. This is where agile sprints come in. Open up the playing field, give the Scrum team leaders direct management of their resources, allowing them time to carve off people to work on things they really believe in, without penalty. Of course you need to manage them in some way, that is were the Visibility portion comes into play.


Looking for a way to create transparency and visibility into what your teams are developing. Easy, give them the freedom of each two-week sprint to progress their ideas, create the concepts and deploy in a small test case. Then at the end of each sprint have a public demonstration to share these ideas with both leadership and other stakeholders. The risk? Missing on important priorities or getting off the rails and loosing two weeks of work. The reward however considerably outweighs the disadvantages; you get in return a dedicated and energized team producing some of the most creative output and positive results. How, you ask, because you have shown them the opportunity to grow and innovate, and also given them the responsibility to manage their own output, there is nothing more enabling.

Public Demo Meeting


Have you ever been in the depths of a six-month project that seems to be dragging on because there is always ‘next week’ to have another meeting, get the team together or make those difficult decisions? One of the most problematic things to do in leadership is to hold together a highly efficient and well working team for a long period of time. How do you keep that energy level up when the goals are so far away?

Answer: Move the goalpost. The two-week sprint cycle does just that, creates an energized and even a little competitive environment where each of the different teams are encouraged to have considerable output for each sprint demonstration or have the fear of another team coming up with something truly incredible and having the best public ‘Demo Day’ for stakeholders. This healthy competition combined with a short sprint cycle is both an effective leadership tool and has proven to be a sustainable model for all types of business but especially marketing. As a leader you need to feed the energy of the Demo Day making sure your have executive participation and support, distribution through video and recordings so all time zones can be represented. Bring the sizzle to what your teams are developing and everyone in marketing will attend.

Ready to G.I.V.E.?

True leaders find innovative ways to ‘give’ their teams the tools and environment they need to succeed. The combination of Agile Marketing, solid leadership and a GIVE-ing approach creates just that environment where teams can Grow, Innovate, have Visibility into their work and feel the Energy and enthusiasm to function at a highly sustainable level for months at a time.

If you are looking for a way to create a highly efficient and scalable approach to developing a new marketing organization, consider leading your team by G.I.V.E.-ing them the opportunity to succeed.


Steve Gilbert is a Digital and Agile Marketing addict who enjoys sailing and coaching hockey in his ‘spare time’. For more insight into these and other topics you can follow Steve @stevegilbert4 or on LinkedIn @


Amplify Your Agile by Walking on the Moon

Guest Post by Steve Gilbert

OK, you are thinking, what the heck does a Police song from the 1979 have to do with Agile Marketing? We all know the genius of Sting, the iconic songwriter, but was he really 35 years ahead of the curve for agile? Well let’s see.

Here are 20 words from the chorus describing the mixed feelings one might have while venturing into outer space….

Giant steps are what you take
Walkin’ on the moon
I hope my leg don’t break
Walkin’ on the moon

Now that the unforgettable and fabled tune is solidly stuck in your head, are you able to make the connection to effective Agile Marketing? Not quite yet? Well let us take a look at the following diagram, maybe that will help.

Agile progress curve

Picture the “Giant steps you take” as the wavy Agile Progress line in the chart. Each peak represents another bound while the 1/6th gravity environment of the Moon accelerates you toward your effortless increase in customer engagement and response. These large advances in marketing effectiveness, message to market or other target activity are easy to make when empowered by the iterative and adaptive approach of Agile Marketing. You take “one small step” and it is amplified into a “giant leap”.

But how do you know that your small steps will be amplified into “giant leaps”? Well that’s the secret isn’t it and ultimately where the genius of Sting really shows when he says ‘I hope my leg don’t break’ when ‘walking on the moon’.

Even Sting may not have realized it when he was writing this song, but he was profoundly describing the customer feedback loop of the Agile Process. This is undeniably the most significant yet most difficult part of any agile engagement, taking the time to listen to customers and act on their feedback.

Let’s put this concept into a real world example. Imagine that your company is experiencing an unexpected viral event (a positive one) where you are creating an explosion of traffic to your website. This event will be short lived (maybe 48 hours) but presents a positive opportunity to engage with a new audience.

Because this event is unexpected, many companies typically would not make a substantial change to their site but simply let the viral activity run through a standard experience. In some cases the reaction would be a 12-24 hour turn around fire drill with approved updated content released after missing the initial spike or fresh visitors. Either way it is a one shot approach to get it right and hit or miss on the content to create a longer tail for the event.

Now, if your organization is leveraging an Agile Marketing approach, where empowered team members constantly review page activity and make incremental real time alterations to your pages, giant steps are indeed possible.

Picture this scenario. Your team intercepts the spike in activity within minutes of the viral activity. Then, they quickly alter your homepage or microsite experience to align with the traffic drivers and capture the visitors attention. As the wave of traffic continues to increase you leverage this unique opportunity to aggressively test different messages, offers or images using your A/B testing model. The result is that your team has maximized this opportunity, leveraging the increased traffic to gather an incredible amount of customer feedback in a very short period of time. In the greater scheme of things this is a low risk situation given the alternative of doing nothing.

The message: Create an environment where teams are comfortable in altering the experience by listening to visitors and using the data to take educated risks on message and content. This way they find out quickly and in a data driven way what offers are engaging and what areas of the experience are compelling.

If this real time example does not seem like something immediately accomplishable within your organization, you can take the same scenario and make it more ‘real’ where you slow down the timeline to say a week or month when a press event increases site activity but then still apply the same ‘feedback loop’ principal. Either way, by using a “process of customer discovery over static prediction”, you can see how building an organization around listening to customers and providing the freedom to innovate sits at the core of Agile Marketing and will offer you a competitive advantage when developing content and messaging that effectively target your key persona.

To wrap this up and help you to implement this mindset into your marketing organization we will look back to Sting one more time for guidance and wisdom on Agile.

Giant steps are what you take
Walking on the moon
I hope my legs don’t break
Walking on the moon
We could walk forever
Walking on the moon
We could be together
Walking on, walking on the moon

This message is about enablement and empowerment of the agile teams. “We could walk forever” and “We could be together” both use the term we and expound on the endless possibilities of Agile. As a manager, team leader or executive, you have to empower your teams to try things (albeit small things) fearlessly, give them space to be creative, put those early ideas to work in controlled environments, while staying within bounds of the sprint cycles, budget or other fences that may be around them. Giving them this freedom to occasionally have that ‘broken leg’ while gathering meaningful information to improve results is the true secret of Agile Marketing. If you listen to your customers you can be sure “Giant steps” you too will take, “Walking on the moon”.

Steve Gilbert is a Digital and Agile Marketing addict who enjoys sailing and coaching hockey in his ‘spare time’. For more insight into these and other topics you can follow Steve @stevegilbert4 or on LinkedIn @

Pairs Agile Marketing

pairs agile marketing

Courtesy of Menlo Innovations, LLC

The developers who gathered in Snowbird, Utah in 2001 to write the original Agile Manifesto represented many different approaches to improving programming productivity: Scrum, Extreme Programming, Dynamic Systems Development Methodology (DSDM), Adaptive Software Development, Pragmatic Programming, etc. Other than rejecting the traditional waterfall methodology, they had little in common. It’s amazing, really, that they were able to agree on anything in 3 days, much less something as crisp and influential as the Agile Manifesto.

Since 2001, Scrum has emerged as the most commonly used Agile methodology, and many of us have applied Scrum to marketing. However, I’ve been asking myself if some of the alternative Agile methodologies can also be applied to marketing. The answer, I think, is yes. Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to look at several of these alternatives, beginning with Pair Programming.

Pairs programming requires that two programmers sit in front of one computer – one drives, or enters code, the other observes, looking at the big picture, looking for mistakes or for unwarranted assumptions, commenting as the first programmer types. Every so often, they switch roles. The emphasis is on communication and quality.

There is some evidence that although pairs programming may take somewhat longer initially, it reduces the number of defects, and leads to long term productivity. Pairs programming has other benefits as well:

  • It improves communication among the team
  • It spreads knowledge. If one developer leaves, his partner has knowledge of the code
  • It can be used to mentor less experienced programmers

How might this apply to marketing? Can we adopt something I’ll call Pairs Agile Marketing? Imagine a marketing team, divided up into pairs. Rather than having lots of group meetings (something us marketers seem to do a lot of), brainstorming  particular marketing programs or deliverables, pairs of marketers divide up, one outlining or even creating marketing programs or materials, while the other looks over his or her shoulder, suggesting improvements, correcting mistakes and generally contributing to the finished product. After 30-60 minutes, they switch off.

The emphasis is on deliverables, not meetings. Quality control is built in. The pairs take a list of stories from the Sprint backlog, and complete them in a timely fashion. They could also use more of a Kanban style methodology to pull the next work item into their pair. Let’s call this Pairs Agile Marketing.

Can this work? I honestly don’t know. We’re going to try it at my office, and we’ll let you know.  Has anyone else tried this? Is anyone else willing to try it and report the results?

Interview with John Mardlin

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to interview John Mardlin of PMRobot. John’s video isn’t very clear (some kind of problem with his camera), but he has some very interesting things to say about how to (and not to) bring Agile Marketing into an organization, and his own experiences using Agile Marketing from his background in formal project management.