Agile Marketing is not a sprint. Agile Marketing is not a marathon. Agile Marketing is more like a life long commitment to exercise. You have to practice it every day, and over time, with commitment and consistency, the benefits begin to accrue.
If you make a commitment to exercise, there are different aspects of exercise to build a healthy body: cardiovascular training, strength training and flexibility. Neglect any one of these and you are not getting the full benefits.
There are also different aspects to Agile Marketing. I’ve listed six of them in the diagram above. Each of them is important, and if you neglect any one, you’re not getting the full benefits of Agile Marketing. That’s not to say that you need to address all of them at the start of your work with Agile. Just like exercise, you should start off gradually, building upon a base before attempting some of the more difficult aspects of Agile Marketing like creating remarkable customer experiences.
What is the process that you use to generate content? How does producing a white paper differ from producing a blog post? What is your process for scheduling, creating, hosting and following up on a webinar? If you think about it, you have many processes for getting things done in marketing. But if you’re like a lot of marketers, those processes are not documented or followed rigorously every time. They often exist in people’s heads, and when new people come in, they are either trained in “how we do things around here” or they learn it by osmosis.
It’s also true that we don’t often re-examine these processes to understand which steps aren’t adding value, which steps are constant bottlenecks and are we achieving a consistent, predictable, even flow of quality output.
When I teach Agile Marketing, I have everyone come to the class with a list of everything that they’re currently working on. Then I have them categorize those work items. Next, I ask them to write down on the board the processes that they use for each category of work items. What’s the process for blogs? For white papers? For webinars? For events?
Next, we document those processes not in an internal memo that is soon forgotten, but we document the process in a Kanban board. Once documented, we put all of their current work items up on the board, and we look for bottlenecks. Where are things getting delayed? We also look for waste: what steps don’t generate value for the customer? Often, these issues aren’t evident during the class, but become evident over time as they use the Kanban board to manage their work.
Over time, we want to get better at process management. We want to eliminate waste. We want to improve quality. We want to improve what Kanban and Lean advocates call cycle time, the time it takes to move a card through the process.
One of the frequent sources of issues in many marketing issues is a failure to collaborate. I find this tends to show up in two important ways.
The first failure of collaboration occurs during handoffs. One team that is responsible for a portion of the process hands off to the next team. The first team isn’t quite finished with everything that they need to do, but because of pressing deadlines, they push it forward, telling the second team that they’ll get the remaining items to them “shortly”.
Here’s a common example: team one is the marketing strategy team. They are supposed to create a campaign brief which defines the audience, the goal of the campaign and the messaging. Perhaps they also define the channels. They send a “nearly final” brief on to the creative team, saying that the messaging isn’t yet approved by some executive somewhere, but the creative team should get started. The creative team gets started, produces something that they’re quite excited about, when word comes back that the executive made some “minor” changes to the messaging. The creative team looks at these changes and realizes that they need to start over on their creative.
Practicing Agile Marketing requires improving collaboration. There are a variety of methods to do this, starting with the executive trusting the team to get the messaging right, rather than word smithing it herself. Process policies and cross-functional teams can also improve collaboration. The point is that improving collaboration is a discipline that requires focus and improvement over time.
The second failure of collaboration comes from optimizing one step in the process at the expense of optimizing for the whole. For example, let’s say we optimize the creative development process, taking it from an average of 10 working day turnaround down to 3 working day turnaround, but then we observe that our conversion rates for these more efficient creatives has dropped by half. That defeats the purpose.
Sometimes we over-optimize, thinking that everyone needs to be working at 100% of capacity 100% of the time. Perhaps a consultant comes in and advises cutting the size of the team to reduce “waste”. Problems arise when a spike in work causes that “lean” team to become a bottle neck, backing everything up and causing waste. Counter-intuitively, some portions of the process should have some built in idle capacity to handle these spikes.
If we improve our process management and collaboration to the point that we are greatly improving our throughput, we next need to look at alignment. It makes no sense to be very efficient in doing the wrong things, generating deliverables that don’t produce results.
I believe that these are the two critical tests of alignment: are we in alignment with the strategic themes and goals of the rest of the organization, and second, are we delivering real value to the end customer? Agile Marketing requires that both of these tests be satisfied.
One of my favorite books is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. In it, Eric describes the build-measure-learn feedback loop, something that all Agile Marketers should be intimately familiar with. This applies not only to startups, but to companies of all sizes. The faster and more productively that we can iterate through this build-measure-learn feedback loop, the more likely we are to succeed.
Agile Marketing succeeds through a process of continuous improvement. Rather than creating big bang campaigns, spending gobs of money on those campaigns and then declaring victory, Agile Marketing seeks to get marketing in front of customers quickly, measuring the impact of that marketing, learning what works and what doesn’t, and adjusting that marketing over time to improve its effectiveness.
It’s not only our marketing that improves through continuous improvement, but we also improve our marketing processes through an iterative process. As we love to say, adopt Agile in an Agile fashion! In other words, you won’t get it perfect the first time, so don’t seek perfection through planning. Get out there and do and learn by doing.
Adapting to Change
Although some amount of adaptive ability comes naturally through the continuous process of Kanban or the regular re-prioritization of Scrum, there is more to improving your ability to adapt to change than adopting Kanban or Scrum. Agile teams need to react quickly to brand damaging events and seize fleeting opportunities in the marketplace. To do this, you need to assign people to monitor these threats and opportunities. You need to decide on how people get “called up” to respond to the threats and opportunities. You need to decide on the decision making process in advance so that it can happen quickly. All of this requires discipline.
Adapting to change also requires the ability to adapt to gradual changes in the marketplace, changes in underlying economics and to competitors with disruptive technology or business models. This is not the same as responding to brand damaging events or fleeting opportunities and it requires a different process and a different skill set. Best practices include selecting people who have the skill of understanding long term changes in the marketplace and the competitive landscape and giving them time to do this work, as well as holding quarterly strategic planning sessions.
Creating Remarkable Customer Experiences
One of my favorite new books is Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing by Robert Rose and Carla Johnson. In it they argue that we are entering a new era of marketing, where buyers value experiences over things, and that the best marketing recognizes this and delivers memorable and valuable experiences. I believe that is true.
When I refer to these customer experiences as “remarkable”, I’m using the word, as Seth Godin has taught us, in two senses: remarkable in that they’re wonderful and inspiring; but also remarkable in the sense that people feel compelled to remark upon them or share them.
Developing the discipline of creating remarkable customer experiences can be difficult. It requires that we marketers are not only the stewards of the brand, but also the stewards of the customer experience. It requires close alignment with the product group. It requires a very deep understanding of how experiences will resonate with customers. It is, in my mind, the ultimate challenge of Agile Marketing and it builds on all of the other disciplines.
In addition to mastering the six disciplines, Agile Marketing requires some changes to the culture of most organizations. The most important cultural change is empowerment. Teams need to be empowered to make decisions at the lowest level practicable. Teams need to be empowered to be self-organizing. Teams need to be empowered to make decisions based on data, rather than waiting for approval from senior management for every decision. For a great video and a great book about empowering people in an organization, check out L. David Marquet’s work.
The six disciplines of Agile Marketing don’t need to be learned in a sequential manner, clockwise as shown in the diagram. But the disciplines do tend to build upon each other, so it’s somewhat helpful to learn them in order. Also, you don’t finish learning one skill and you’re done with that skill, moving on to the next one. Just as in exercise, you can always improve and if you neglect practicing a discipline for a period of time, you will need to practice in order to regain full fluency.
I hope this helps people think about how they approach an Agile Transformation. I’m always interested to hear about other people’s experiences. Do you think I’ve missed an important discipline? Have you taken a different approach? Please let me know in the comments.