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Agile Marketing: 6 Steps to Succeed in 2021

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by Katie Oberthaler

12 March 2021

Agile marketing brings a fresh, lean approach to planning, executing, and measuring successful campaigns based on rapid iteration and data-driven insights. 

In fact, 41% of organizations now use agile marketing and a further 42% plan to adopt it in the next year. Unfortunately, the remainder is stuck in no man’s land and losing pace in the digital revolution.

In this guide, you’ll discover the characteristics of an agile marketing team and the benefits they reap. Plus, you’ll also learn how to implement agile marketing so that you can deliver your campaigns ahead of schedule.


What is Agile Marketing?

Agile marketing is a tactical approach to marketing based on the principles of agile software development. It applies the agile methodology to manage and improve the speed, predictability, and transparency of the marketing function. 

As a result, marketing teams work better and faster with fewer missed deadlines. Plus, they can also respond to changes in the market and adjust accordingly.

Agile marketing differs from traditional marketing by focusing‌ ‌on‌ ‌frequent‌ ‌releases,‌ ‌deliberate‌ ‌experimentation,‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌relentless‌ ‌commitment‌ ‌to‌ ‌ customer ‌satisfaction.

It achieves this by streamlining teams, collaboration, processes, and workflows to maximize efficiency without sacrificing quality.


Origins of Agile Marketing

As mentioned previously, marketers borrowed the concept of Agile from software developers and adapted it to their own needs. And to take things back one step further, software developers adopted the idea from the Toyota Production System (TPS) – a car manufacturing method that focused on eliminating waste. (Sometimes referred to as a “lean manufacturing system” or “Just-in-Time (JIT) system.”) 

Agile methodology retains many of the basic principles of the TPS, such as removing unnecessary steps in production processes and visualizing workflows from start to finish, for example, with a kanban board.

Software developers latched onto the concept in the mid-1990s, and soon, agile project management started to replace the traditional Waterfall model.

In 2001, seventeen software practitioners met and wrote the original Agile Manifesto for Software Development.

Since then, other business functions, including marketing, realized they could also benefit from the agile approach.  

In June 2012, a group of marketers gathered at SprintZero to document a common framework for agile marketers – and the Agile Marketing Manifesto was born.


The Agile Marketing Manifesto

The Agile Marketing Manifesto is a seven-point list of values that guides marketers:

  1. Validated learning over opinions and conventions.
  2. Customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy.
  3. Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns.
  4. The process of customer discovery over static prediction.
  5. Flexible vs. rigid planning.
  6. Responding to change over following a plan.
  7. Many small experiments over a few large bets.

The Sprint Zero marketers also produced a 10-point list of principles that elaborate on the values:

    1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of marketing that solves problems.
    2. We welcome and plan for change. We believe that our ability to quickly respond to change is a source of competitive advantage.
    3. Deliver marketing programs frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
    4. Great marketing requires close alignment with the business people, sales, and development.
    5. Build marketing programs around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
    6. Learning, through the build-measure-learn feedback loop, is the primary measure of progress.
    7. Sustainable marketing requires you to keep a constant pace and pipeline.
    8. Don’t be afraid to fail; just don’t fail the same way twice.
    9. Continuous attention to marketing fundamentals and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity is essential.

These values and principles guide companies on how to build and run their marketing teams.


Characteristics of an Agile Marketing Team

Every agile marketing team shares some key characteristics:

Mindset shift 

Agile marketers approach marketing differently. They exhibit “respect, collaboration, improvement and learning cycles, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change. This mindset is necessary to cultivate high-performing teams, who in turn deliver amazing value for their customers.”

Experimentation, iteration, and small releases 

An agile approach has many smaller experiments that are released frequently, as opposed to rigid, long-term plans (like the traditional Waterfall approach). The marketing team then applies the results of those experiments to their next round of work.

Commitment to the Agile Manifesto 

Ultimately, the values and principles of the Agile Marketing Manifesto should be the final deciding factor for most decisions on an agile marketing team. 

Servant leadership 

In an agile marketing department, the managers, directors, and other leaders are‌ ‌ focused‌ ‌on‌ ‌helping‌ ‌the‌ ‌team‌ ‌succeed,‌ ‌not‌ ‌on‌ ‌hitting‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌at‌ ‌any‌ ‌cost.

Teamwork and collaboration 

Agile team members also behave differently, as they’re always looking for ways to collaborate and accomplish better work more efficiently. There should be no in-fighting, jealousy, and backstabbing in an agile marketing team.

Data-driven marketing 

Modern marketing teams rely on data to guide their efforts, but agile marketing teams are 100% data-driven. All of their work is measurable to determine if their experiments are successful, and all of their‌ ‌decisions‌ ‌are‌ ‌based‌ ‌on‌ ‌real-world‌ ‌data‌.

An agile marketing team looks, works, and acts differently. At a high-level they: 

  • Respond rapidly‌ ‌to‌ ‌changes‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌market.
  • Develop effective campaigns that can be analyzed and adjusted‌ ‌over‌ ‌time.
  • Try various things and repeat the successful ones.
  • Collaborate with other departments to enhance marketing campaigns.
  • Justify decisions in campaigns and projects with hard facts.
  • Work with team members to prevent tunnel-vision marketing.

These agile marketing characteristics and behaviors bring several benefits to an organization. 


Benefits of an Agile Marketing Approach

Let’s start with a few general agile marketing benefits:

  • 98% of organizations say they’ve experienced success with an Agile project. (VersionOne)
  • 53% of agile marketing teams achieve faster release times. (AgileSherpas/Aprimo)
  • 51% of agile marketing teams can change gears quickly based on incoming feedback. (AgileSherpas/Aprimo

Agile marketing increases efficiency

Agile marketing helps team members do the right work at the right time.

By removing unnecessary steps and red tape, agile marketing teams work faster. They execute more projects, which means there’s an increased chance of attracting more customers. 

  • 53% of marketers can prioritize their work more effectively in an agile environment. (AgileSherpas/Aprimo)
  • 53% are simply more productive with agile marketing. (AgileSherpas/Aprimo)
  • 87% of CMOs found their teams to be more productive following the transition to agile marketing. (Forbes/CMG Partners)

Agile marketing increases transparency

One of the most commonly cited benefits of agile marketing is the increased transparency and better visibility into project status:

  • 46% of agile marketers say they benefit from better visibility into project status. (AgileSherpas/Aprimo) 
  • 20% of senior marketers saw increased accountability across the marketing function when they adopted agile practices. (Aprimo/Forbes) 
  • 11% of CMOs enjoyed more transparency about where they were spending their money once they had shifted to an agile approach. (Aprimo/Forbes) 

Agile marketing improves work quality

One of the best things about agile marketing is that there’s one shared vision – an end goal, a marketing campaign, or a project – that’s broken down into mini-projects. The daily team checkpoints keep the project on track, and the backlog item list keeps things organized.

Teams sometimes use Kanban boards to visualize and organize their workflow,  track progress, and highlight project issues so that teams are not overburdened.

Overall, these types‌ ‌of‌ ‌small‌ ‌efforts‌ ‌result‌ ‌in‌ ‌higher‌ ‌quality‌ ‌collaboration‌ ‌and‌ ‌ higher‌ ‌quality‌ ‌work.

Agile marketing promotes team collaboration

Agile marketing is based on the idea that‌ ‌“teamwork‌ ‌makes‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream‌ ‌work”‌ because‌ ‌everyone‌ ‌focuses‌ ‌on‌ ‌hitting‌ ‌realistic,‌ ‌short-term‌ ‌project‌ ‌goals‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌ unified‌ ‌team.

To support the collaboration process, teams can leverage pre-designed templates to plan workflows and execute marketing campaigns. Templated campaigns allow marketers to outline key resources, prioritize and emphasize the most important marketing messages, and understand what needs to happen next to meet‌ ‌deadlines. 

By reducing the burden of building streamlined workflows in this way, it enables efforts to remain consistent and agile.

Agile marketing increases innovation

By emphasizing rapid testing, agile marketing teams can discover all kinds of insights much more quickly. Actual data can drive your marketing efforts to provide customers with the messaging they’re looking for instead of guessing.

By working more quickly, acting on data, and adopting a fail-fast mindset, you can more easily generate and implement innovative ideas that deliver‌ ‌results.

Agile marketing supports customer-centricity

Agile marketing keeps teams focused on delivering what customers want without having to slog through‌ ‌unnecessary‌ ‌documentation‌ ‌and‌ ‌meetings.

Plus, agile teams are more responsive to customers: 

  • 80% of CMOs say making the switch to agile marketing helped them deliver better products that were more relevant to their consumers. (Forbes/CMG Partners) 
  • Likewise, 26% of senior agile marketers say they now have a more flexible approach to their customers’ changing needs. (Aprimo/Forbes) 

Agile marketing surfaces problems faster

A core aspect of agile marketing principles is that more frequent and consistent communication about each step among all team members surfaces problems faster. Furthermore, problem-solving becomes a collaborative effort to help speed up resolution and balance the workload.

  • 36% of agile marketing teams say they can now identify roadblocks and problems sooner. (AgileSherpas/Aprimo)

Agile marketing scales better

Agile marketing is designed to move you forward with processes that scale better. Furthermore, it can help teams maintain efficiency even as your team grows over time.

Agile marketing enables you to stay competitive

Many traditional marketing teams plan to move to agile methods, so current agile teams need to continue using agile tactics to remain‌ ‌competitive. 

According to the 2020 State of Agile Marketing, 43% of non-agile respondents said they plan to implement agile, and a massive 95% of those said they aim to implement it within a year. So the choice is rapidly becoming adopt or fall behind. 


How to Implement Agile Marketing

Although the agile methodology has its own language – Epics, User Stories, Sprints, Standups, Scrum, Kanban Boards, and Burndown Charts – it doesn’t mean you have to implement everything. Each business and marketing department is different, but every team usually has the following features in some shape or size.

Build a backlog

The Backlog is the prioritized to-do list – the single source‌ ‌of‌ ‌truth – of what the agile marketing team works on next. Ensure it’s kept up-to-date and decide who gets to update it and when.

Visualize your workflow

Successful teams visualize their workflow with a Kanban board: 

Define where your work comes from, what happens to it while your team is working on it, and where it goes after it’s completed. 

Set work-in-progress limits

Experiment with limits on how much work can be in each stage of the workflow at any given time, and then set and stick to your work-in-progress (WIP) limits.

Define sprints

A sprint is the amount of time you give your team to complete its current tasks, typically ranging from two to six weeks. Larger initiatives won't fit into one sprint, so you'll need to break them up into bite-sized tasks‌ ‌you‌ ‌can‌ ‌tackle‌ ‌sprint‌ ‌by‌ ‌sprint.

Foster collaboration

Although individuals‌ ‌may‌ ‌"own"‌ ‌a‌ ‌project,‌ ‌the‌ ‌success‌ ‌or‌ ‌failure‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌sprint‌ ‌depends on‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌team‌ ‌members collaborating. 

With threaded comments, attachments on comments, simple thumbs up notations, and “@” mentions, Ziflow enables real-time collaboration between team members, regardless of their location, to reduce errors and speed up the review and approval process.

Everyone should‌ ‌be‌ ‌prepared‌ ‌to‌ ‌collaborate‌ ‌and‌ ‌assist‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌agile‌ ‌marketing‌ ‌framework.

Hold daily standups and weekly retrospectives 

Start the continuous improvement process by gathering your team together every morning to talk about their progress, and supplement those conversations with weekly retrospectives to inspire‌ ‌process-related‌ ‌experiments.

Track work and progress

Whether it's a whiteboard with sticky notes, a Kanban board, or specialized software, you need a central location where everyone can track the progress of your sprint.


Creative Teams Also Benefit From an Agile Marketing Mindset

Let's take a look at the challenges and benefits that creative teams face with agile marketing.

Challenges

There are three core challenges that creative marketing teams face:

  1. Content

The volume and types of creative content that need to be conceptualized, created, reviewed and approved is pushing creative teams to their capacity limit.


Source: Agile Marketing for Creatives: 5 Must-Have Technology Integrations

  1. Collaborators

Creative projects have more collaborators across different roles and departments than ever before, creating feedback process challenges.

  1. Compliance

Demonstrating control over the review and approval process with legacy tools (email etc.) presents a major compliance risk, especially for companies in more regulated industries such as CPG, healthcare and finance.


Source: Agile Marketing for Creatives: 5 Must-Have Technology Integrations

Benefits

Here’s how creative teams can benefit from an agile marketing mindset.  

1. Respond quickly to change

The ability to accommodate change efficiently is a critical agile component. 

Agile is based on the fact that projects are dynamic, not static – i.e. you make plans, but things change. The best teams can respond quickly to these changes and capitalize on them.

2. Remove roadblocks

Agile isn’t just about getting things done quickly – it’s equally important to listen to feedback from various sources and adjust accordingly.

Ziflow allows team members to leave comments and annotations in real-time, regardless of their location, so that they can complete projects faster.

3. Streamlined approval process

An essential requirement of agile marketing for creative teams is getting the right people involved at the right time. For example, including other departments such as Copy, Design, Legal, and HR in the creation process can streamline workflow approvals in the long run.

Ziflow keeps creative teams connected and collaborating by providing a single source of truth during the review and approval process.

4. Ship early, ship often

Agile marketing enables teams to ship early and ship often instead of getting bogged down in long, drawn-out projects.

Over 80% of projects reviewed in Ziflow’s online proofing solution are completed in less than two versions. 


Why Are Some Companies Slow to Adopt Agile Marketing?

Here are three reasons why some companies have not yet adopted agile marketing:

Resistance to change

If the current traditional marketing is working okay, then companies will resist the urge to change. It’s comfortable and safe.

However, in the long run, resistance to change will cause a company to slide backward rather than staying ahead of the curve.

“Lack of training and a feeling that current processes are working “well enough” remain the two most commonly cited barriers to marketing agility.” (AgileSherpas/Aprimo)

Fear of failure

The fear of failure is another hurdle to companies adopting agile marketing. Implementing any project takes time and resources, and if it fails, it's viewed as a complete waste. 

Ironically, agile marketing encourages failure as long as you learn from your mistakes.

General skepticism

Some marketing teams are just skeptical about agile marketing. They may have examined it but don’t see it fitting their organization. Alternatively, there could be other stakeholders in the company who are skeptical and roadblocking the marketing team from adopting agile marketing.

According to the 2020 State of Agile Marketing Report, 16% of marketers said there was no support from management or executives to adopt an agile approach, while over 20% said they lacked both talent and tools.


Final Thoughts

There’s no reason marketing teams should have to blunder along with their old-fashioned traditional approach. 

Agile marketing is suitable for all organizations, including creative agencies, with the right mindset and tools.

As a result, marketing teams work better and quicker with fewer missed deadlines. Plus, they can also respond to market changes and adjust accordingly.

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