What is agile marketing?
Agile marketing is an approach to planning, managing and evaluating market activity, based on the principles of the agile work methodology.
The agile methodology was developed by software developers in the 1990s and early 2000s, and it remains strongly associated with development work. Teams at Google, Microsoft and Electronic Arts have been among its many advocates. Agile has since been adopted by teams working in other fields such as governance, civil engineering and marketing. According to Moz, teams that use agile marketing accomplish 30-40% more tasks than teams using traditional methods.
In recent decades, agile practices have become widespread in the marketing industry, mirroring the growth in digital methods of working, gathering data and communicating with customers.
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How agile marketing works
The agile approach to marketing emanates a set of core principles. Understand these principles, and the mechanics of agile marketing will follow easily.
Responding to change usually beats following a plan. Agile marketing teams often work in short bursts of activity. In the popular ‘scrum’ system of agile working these periods are called ‘sprints’, and they typically last either two or four weeks. The team’s goals and overall plan will evolve at the start of each new sprint, taking into account the situational changes and learnings of the previous period. In a marketing industry where change is the only constant, this agile approach seems better adapted than the epic-scale marketing plans of yesterday.
Rapid iteration. The sprint cycle often used in agile marketing has three phases: build, measure and learn. Rather than chipping away at long-term projects, the team will aim to deliver shorter ones within the sprint timeframe, such as marketing campaign iterations. Iterating rapidly can help marketing teams attune their work to the present moment.
Testing and data are crucial. Marketing tactics are tested at small scale through methods such as A/B tests. This is where two audience samples are delivered slightly different marketing communications, and the best-performing variant is then delivered to the wider target audience.
Make time for experimentation. Agile marketing teams typically set aside a share of their working capacity for experiments. This could mean anything from trying new marketing channels or methods, to creating a brand or inventing a solution to a marketing problem. In cases where the experiments are highly successful, the tactics used may evolve to become central to the team’s ongoing work.
Treat team members as individuals. The agile methodology gives team members the freedom to work pretty much as they please, which usually means they have options of flexible hours and remote working. This freedom comes with the expectation that work gets done to a high standard.
Replace siloes and hierarchies with free-flowing collaboration. In agile marketing, every person on the team could conceivably be involved with any project. Social media executives, SEOs, PRs, data analysts, content writers, you name it – everyone within the organization should be enabled to collaborate freely. Measures such as team-wide meetings and communication channels are used to encourage collaboration.
Work is structured around the customer. The top priorities in agile marketing are pleasing the customer and securing ROI. Planning and work activities reflect these priorities. For instance, tasks are often built around customer stories, short statements capturing a hypothetical customer’s identity and requirement, which can be translated into project deliverables.
What is agile project management in marketing?
Agile project management is the management process used to deliver agile marketing. The specific details of the process will vary from team to team, but common components include:
Regular meetings. Typically, an agile marketing team will hold a variety of team-wide meetings during each period of activity. In scrum, this includes daily progress updates called ‘scrums’, kickoff meetings at the start of the sprint, and evaluative meetings called ‘retrospectives’ at the end.
Ideas and prioritization. Capturing team members’ ideas is an ongoing process in agile marketing. At the start of a new period of work, ideas are prioritized according to factors such as feasibility and projected ROI. The most promising ideas are assigned to team members as projects for the next period of work.
Removing blockers. When a team member identifies an obstacle to their progress on a task, they flag it up as a ‘blocker’. The project manager, or another responsible team member, will then lead on the process of removing the blocker, so progress can continue.
For more detail on the nuts and bolts of agile project management, read our beginners’ guide to the methodology and some options of agile project management tools.
Most teams use a project management platform to facilitate the processes of agile marketing. Teamwork is a fine example of just such a platform, if we may so ourselves!
Team structure in agile marketing
If you were to ask us what is the biggest difference between agile marketing and traditional work methodologies, there would be no doubt about the answer. It’s the team structure.
Agile marketing teams have an essentially flat structure. There are no siloed departments or chains of command. Instead, team members are encouraged to collaborate freely on projects, working across departments to deliver the goods using whichever approach, and whichever people, they prefer.
With that said, there is an element of leadership in agile marketing. Senior team members continue to make the big decisions on the team’s direction, and a project manager usually oversees the agile project management process, providing advice to team members where necessary.
How to get started with agile marketing
We hope that by this point, you’ll have a good understanding of agile marketing and its benefits. For those of you who are convinced the approach is right for you, the next step is to work out how to get your team ready to start using agile marketing.
There are three key steps involved in preparing a team for agile marketing:
Creating an agile team structure
Setting up your agile processes and platform
Step #1: Creating an agile team structure
This first step, creating an agile team structure, is arguably the most challenging. Agile marketing requires a flat, integrated team. As such, any existing ‘siloes’ within the team may need to be broken down. For example, if you have departments such as SEO or social media which operate independently and with a strict chain of command, the people in those departments will need to adapt to working on a level playing field with each other and other departments.
Switching to agile marketing should be reflected in an update to each team member’s contract. This may involve uncomfortable conversations around reduced leadership responsibilities for some team members, but there should also be benefits, such as more flexible working and opportunities to gain new skills. Some team members might prove hard to win over, in which case you will have to decide what’s more important to the team: the dissenting team member, or your planned switch to agile marketing.
Step #2: Setting up your agile platform and processes
Once your team members have agreed to their new agile team structure, you can start implementing the platform and processes that will power your agile marketing.
Agile marketing is almost always supported with a project management platform. This provides the basis for assigning tasks to team members, documenting progress towards goals, and collaboration on tasks. The platform should enable all three stages of the agile marketing cycle: build, measure, learn.
Most agile marketing teams also use software that helps with the data-intensive measure and learn phases of the agile cycle. Widely used examples include media monitoring tools that help identify PR opportunities in real time, and SEO tools that monitor website search performance. Each marketing team should choose a mix of tools to suit its unique strategy, which may evolve quickly through the agile methodology.
The marketing team’s leadership will also have some decisions to make on the exact project management marketing represents they will use. Will the team use the popular scrum setup for agile working? How will progress be reported to senior stakeholders? How will team members be incentivized to fully adopt the agile way of working? The answers to questions like these may change over time, but it’s advisable to address these points as well as possible from Day 1.
Step #3: Onboarding
Onboarding team members and clients onto your new agile marketing setup represents a bright new start for the team. Conveying the excitement and opportunity of the moment is crucial to securing everyone’s buy-in at this vital early stage.
Agile marketing teams often engage a project manager to lead the onboarding process, and subsequently to oversee the team’s use of the agile methodology. Responsibilities taken on by this person typically include training team members in the use of the project management platform, leading agile meetings, and adapting agile processes according to the specific requirements of the team.
The project should also consider developing a tailored agile marketing manifesto for the team. This document should combine the principles of agile working with the identity and objectives of the organization, resulting in a message that tells team members how agile marketing will help the team achieve its aims.