Is Agile Marketing Incompatible with Strategy?

Is Agile Marketing incompatible with a longer-term, more strategic approach to marketing?

I get asked this question often. Most times, it’s a genuine question. Sometimes, it’s a critique of agile marketing dressed up as a question, the questioner’s tone implying that the short iterations of agile marketing must lead to a tactical, non-strategic approach to marketing.

The question also comes up for Agile Developers and Agile Product Managers. Karol McCloskey recently pointed me to two resources addressing this question for product managers: the first, by Liz Rice, advocates creating an Agile Roadmap by grouping sets of related user stories into projects, and plugging these projects into a quarterly plan. The second, a white paper by Allan Kelly, advocates creating three plans – an iteration plan, a release plan and a roadmap plan – each with a different time-horizon, and each subject to different levels of certainty and change. These approaches are very helpful for product managers, and suggest some directions for Agile Marketers, but they’re not the whole story.

Let’s come back to the original question: Is Agile Marketing incompatible with a longer-term, more strategic approach to marketing?

I think not, and the diagram below, which I call the Agile Marketing Strategy diagram, illustrates how I would approach reconciling Agile’s short-term iterations with a longer-term, more strategic approach to marketing.

Agile Marketing Strategy

Agile Marketing Strategy

Iteration Plan

At the center of the strategic marketing model is your iteration plan. It encompasses your marketing backlog, your current sprint iteration, and perhaps the next sprint iteration. It is the shortest term. Depending on the length of your iterations, the time horizon for the iteration plan could be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. It is tactical by nature, but arises from strategy. In some ways it is the most certain (hopefully you know what you’re doing for the next several weeks), but it is also the most subject to change from one iteration to the next.

Marketing Calendar

Working outward in our rings, next is the marketing calendar. The time horizon is typically 6-12 months. It should include all of your product releases, any major events (like quarterly sales meetings, user conferences, major tradeshows, etc) and any “themes” for your marketing efforts.

I use a WordPress plugin, Editorial Calendar, to manage my marketing calendar, but you can use almost anything. Just make sure everyone on the team has access.

Marketing Model

If you’ve read my Introduction to Agile Marketing, you know that I advocate that Agile Marketing teams begin by getting on the same page regarding the basics. The tool that I use is called the Marketing Model Canvas, and it takes its inspiration from Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas. You can download the Marketing Model Canvas here.

The Marketing Model Canvas includes customer segments, customer problems & aspirations, value proposition, touch points, partners & channels, the buyer’s journey and success metrics.

Most of these are self-explanatory, but customer touch points may need a little explanation. Where do you communicate with your customers? Where do they interact with you? On their buyer’s journey, where do they learn about your company and your products?

I divide customer touch points in to inbound and outbound, where inbound includes search engines, blogs, video, eBooks, influencer marketing and social media.  Outbound touch points include advertising, your sales force, direct mail and PR.

The marketing model canvas should stay fairly stable over time, but it should be reviewed at least once a quarter.

Positioning and Brand Plan

This is probably the most strategic document for your marketing team. It should document your product positioning, your brand attributes and, if you’re in the middle of a re-positioning effort, how you are going to change your positioning vis-a-vis your current positioning in the mind of the market, and vis-a-vis your competition.

This document generally experiences the least change and should be the most far-reaching in its vision and time horizon.

Agile Marketing Strategy

So that’s my approach to reconciling agile marketing with strategy. Have you faced this question? How have you answered it? I’d love to hear about other approaches to agile marketing strategy.

Comments

  1. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for opening up this critical discussion.

    As a B2B demand gen agency, we’ve often heard this question from our clients. While we haven’t “solved” the perceived double-think that an Agile+Strategic mindset conjures up, here are a couple key points — dovetailing with your Agile Marketing Strategy diagram — that we’ve found effective in advancing the discussion and gaining adoption/belief among our clientele:

    1. Agile Methodology is the most efficient vehicle for a successful Marketing Strategy – Why? It uses real human beings in your target market as the yardstick. It negates the “set it and forget it” (costly, wasteful) or opinion-based approach of Marketing 1.0 firms (big bang/splash mindsets). A marketing strategy is only as good as it’s ability to produce revenue results in the here and now. If it’s not (or at least showing positive data points to getting there in a timeframe you can accept), an Agile Methodology is the best framework to allow/force you to review your tactics and strategy regularly and make needed adjustments.

    2. Agile Marketing has proven to produce faster, more efficient revenue results. Slim and informed iterations of the MVMM (Minimum Viable Marketing Message) require a clear, established point on the strategic horizon to be effective and measurable through a revenue-focused lens. In our current age of content, social, and audience-of-one-targeted messaging, the MVMM is the test balloon of your marketing strategy — it collects data, provides weather feedback, and reports on what’s happening in your target market’s atmosphere.

    As an Agile Marketing agency, transitioning our clients’ marketing planning approach and overall philosophy hasn’t been easy. But the solid points and concentric architecture you’ve laid out in this post, and customized reposes for market/objection segments, I truly believe the marketing community is turning a corner. I’m looking forward to reading other perspectives and responses.

    Melanie
    ID

  2. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for opening up this critical discussion.

    As a B2B demand gen agency, we’ve often heard this question from our clients. While we haven’t “solved” the perceived double-think that an Agile+Strategic mindset conjures up, here are a couple key points — dovetailing with your Agile Marketing Strategy diagram — that we’ve found effective in advancing the discussion and gaining adoption/belief among our clientele:

    1. Agile Methodology is the most efficient vehicle for a successful Marketing Strategy – Why? It uses real human beings in your target market as the yardstick. It negates the “set it and forget it” (costly, wasteful) or opinion-based approach of Marketing 1.0 firms (big bang/splash mindsets). A marketing strategy is only as good as it’s ability to produce revenue results in the here and now. If it’s not (or at least showing positive data points to getting there in a timeframe you can accept), an Agile Methodology is the best framework to allow/force you to review your tactics and strategy regularly and make needed adjustments.

    2. Agile Marketing has proven to produce faster, more efficient revenue results. Slim and informed iterations of the MVMM (Minimum Viable Marketing Message) require a clear, established point on the strategic horizon to be effective and measurable through a revenue-focused lens. In our current age of content, social, and audience-of-one-targeted messaging, the MVMM is the test balloon of your marketing strategy — it collects data, provides weather feedback, and reports on what’s happening in your target market’s atmosphere.

    As an Agile Marketing agency, transitioning our clients’ marketing planning approach and overall philosophy hasn’t been easy. But the solid points and concentric architecture you’ve laid out in this post, and customized reposes for market/objection segments, I truly believe the marketing community is turning a corner. I’m looking forward to reading other perspectives and responses.

    Melanie
    ID

  3. Melanie,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think your point about Agile providing a yardstick or feedback loop from the target market is spot on. Thanks for the insight.

    Jim

  4. Melanie,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think your point about Agile providing a yardstick or feedback loop from the target market is spot on. Thanks for the insight.

    Jim

  5. I think this post is a good summary of how Agile Planning and long term Strategy fit together, both in development and marketing. In the development world, where Agile has been around longer, it is still a challenge communicating to skeptics that this is possible.

    One book that helped me to understand this is Agile Planning and Estimation by Mike Cohn. The thing that it adds to the above post is a fictionalized case study showing how roadmap creation itself takes place in an Agile fashion, and how creation of that roadmap feeds into implementation.

  6. I think this post is a good summary of how Agile Planning and long term Strategy fit together, both in development and marketing. In the development world, where Agile has been around longer, it is still a challenge communicating to skeptics that this is possible.

    One book that helped me to understand this is Agile Planning and Estimation by Mike Cohn. The thing that it adds to the above post is a fictionalized case study showing how roadmap creation itself takes place in an Agile fashion, and how creation of that roadmap feeds into implementation.

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