Our Point of View

Getting Started with Agile Marketing

Which kind of activities are best suited for an initial implementation of Agile Marketing? Who do you involve, and when? What are the best practices that are most likely to ensure a successful initial implementation? I get asked these questions, or variants of them, frequently, and I’ll try to answer them in this blog post.

Marketing Activities Best Suited for Agile

Any marketing activity that is production-oriented, like content marketing, or project-based, like launching a new website or microsite, is a good candidate for an initial implementation of Agile Marketing. Also, marketers who work closely with product management, especially if those product managers work in an agile context with development, are good candidates for Agile Marketing.  The synergy between product management and marketing can be particularly effective if the product or service is in a phase where features are added or removed to determine what gets traction with customers and what doesn’t.

I also think that Agile Marketing is a great fit for agencies. In a sense, the client is the “Product owner”, setting the priorities, and the team can process these priorities either in a continuous flow (Kanban) or in a Sprint fashion, with time-boxed activities and regular reviews with the client.  Some of the earliest adopters of Agile Marketing were agencies, including Intelligent Demand out of Boulder, CO, Made by Many out of the UK, and many others.

Who To Involve and When

I’ve seen agile marketing brought in to organizations in two ways: top down and bottom up. While both have their challenges, bottom up is by far the more challenging. Here are some tips about how to approach each one:

Bottom up: involve management early. Go to them and say something like “I’d like your advice”, not “We’ve been doing marketing all wrong, let’s try something new”. That may seem like obvious advice, but I’ve seen lots of people go into a presentation, describe the problem and then propose the solution, without knowing beforehand whether management is even going to buy into the problem.

Do not try to over-educate management about the details of Agile Marketing. It’s OK to use the term, but emphasize the potential benefits, not the process. Do not get into the terminology of Agile! I know of at least one team where executive management got hung up on the terms “chickens versus pigs”, which the team used to describe who was allowed to speak during the daily scrum. Management didn’t like the imagery, and they spent a lot of time and good will coming up with alternative terms.

One more thing: It is very important to get sales and executive leadership’s commitment to meeting with the marketing team to discuss priorities on a regular basis, at least monthly, and to review results. If they can’t make this commitment, they aren’t committed to the success of marketing.

Tops down: a wise CEO once said to me “People support what they help create”. If you’re a marketing leader, and bringing Agile Marketing to your team, don’t mandate it. Instead, convert over the key influentials within your team, and let them influence how Agile gets rolled out, and which Agile practices and methods you implement. Methods are collections of practices. For example, Kanban, a method, includes practices like a visual board for conveying information to the team, work in process limits, defining “done”, etc. Scrum, another method, involves practices like Sprint planning, Scrum meetings, user stories, Sprint reviews and Sprint Retrospectives. You can pick and choose from different practices to create your own method; this is often referred to as Scrum-Ban.

Sell the benefits to the team – more constant flow of work rather than downtime and fire drills, less rework, clearer prioritization, more control over the work they accept in the Sprint, greater customer focus, etc.

Best Practices

I’ve already mentioned one best practice: involve management early and often. A second best practice is to take an iterative approach to implementing Agile Marketing. In other words, don’t try to do everything at once. For example, start with just using a Kanban board or tool, and a simple three column “Ready to be worked on”, “In progress” and “Done” structure. Try that for a few weeks before you add more complex tracking, or introduce some aspects of Scrum, like User Stories and Epics.

Involve people in the early Agile projects who are willing to try something new, who are open. It also helps if they’re comfortable with technology and with being data driven, rather than “I trust my gut”. Don Draper would not be comfortable with Agile Marketing. People who are willing to experiment, to fail a few times, and who don’t view failure as “bad” but as learning, are best suited for Agile Marketing.

When you get some early successes, shout out the results of the pilots to the rooftops. Marketers are like the cobbler’s children. They market externally, but they’re usually very bad about marketing their success internally. Don’t make that mistake.

Second, as you expand Agile Marketing from a single team to multiple teams within the organization, either include someone from the original team as a seed on all the new teams that are beginning to practice agile, or hire someone to be a dedicated agile coach. This is a common best practice for development teams beginning to practice Agile.

Third, get some training.  There are many organizations that offer Agile marketing training.

I’m sure there are a number of other best practices that I haven’t listed here.  I’d love to hear from you about what’s worked for you.