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Agile marketing: Turning theory into practice

Anyone who’s been in marketing for any length of time knows the nature of the function has changed dramatically. Once chiefly guardians of the corporate brand, marketers are increasingly expected to drive revenue and represent the voice of the customer. In today’s digital age, this means more than conducting focus groups. It means listening to what customers are saying across all channels and to respond in near real-time.

Easier said than done, of course. To do more and work faster and more effectively, marketing teams need to see all the quantitative results from their campaigns and have members who are capable of responding nimbly, while always keeping the customer front and center.

Marketing goes agile
To achieve this goal, marketing teams are turning to the agile approach. Originating in the IT function, the primary aim of the agile approach is to accelerate output in order to keep pace with rapidly shifting expectations. Rather than rigidly adhering to predefined plans, agile teams break work down into bite-sized increments so they can iterate more quickly, fix bugs in real time, and dynamically shift course in response to changing customer needs.

Implemented effectively, agile techniques can help marketers quickly test and learn iteratively, solve business problems in a customer-centric way, and become more nimble, positioning their brands to disrupt rather than be disrupted.

Yet, if the benefits are so clear, why haven’t all marketers fully embraced the agile way? The truth is that many organizations are still struggling to adapt predominantly IT-focused agile practices to the marketing function. In some cases, the sheer size of the marketing team and the number of external partners they work with complicate efforts to scale across the entire function. In other cases, companies may lack leadership support or the right internal talent, or both. Too often, methods that seem to work in theory or at the testing stage break down when organizations try to put them into practice.

Four steps to success
Our experience in implementing agile marketing for both large and small teams has shown us that there are four key steps organizations need to take to overcome these common hurdles.

  1. Assemble the right team. Agile methods work best when people of different backgrounds come together to achieve common objectives. For marketing, this means bringing together a small group of individuals from different functions—such as IT, digital marketing, legal and HR— to work on a pilot project. Choose people who are change agents, those who are more open to learning and adapting to new processes and team dynamics, and ultimately, help scale it across the marketing function.
  2. Customize. With agile marketing comes rigor, clarity, and alignment, however, it is important to adapt agile marketing practices to your organization. Every organization is different, which is why the practices must be adapted to fit your business model, available resources, technology, and the rest of your business. For example, there are stand up meetings to check-in every morning, normally first thing in the day. If your team usually comes in early or later, these meetings should be scheduled to best fit the overall attendance. That said, once booked, it is important to commit to these meetings, the same time, every day, to ensure that the rigor instills and efficiencies from agile can be gained.
  3. Structure to succeed. Agile marketing is ultimately about realizing efficiencies, rallying around common objectives, bringing cross-functional members together as a team, and decentralizing hierarchy and decision-making. For many functions, this represents a new way to work. Rather than having instructions trickle down from the top, agile teams are expected to collaborate to devise their own solutions. This requires them to logically group their projects (e.g., online versus offline campaigns), determine how to break work down into increments, and assess how to accelerate timelines without sacrificing quality. The key here is to structure teams so they can act autonomously and collectively identify the best ways to scale agile across the entire marketing function.
  4. Infect the host. It’s important to keep in mind that the organization as a whole may not have the same ways of working and thinking. The marketing function, a function that is known for communication, owning the brand, and most recently revenue generation, is uniquely suited to help inject the agile approach into the rest of the organization because of their closeness to all areas of the organization. One effective approach is to immerse key stakeholders from other functions into the marketing department’s day-to-day activities so they can see how agile techniques work in practice, and then help disseminate it to the organization at large.

From pilot to practice
To understand how agile marketing can help accelerate growth, and foster a culture that’s willing to fail often and learn faster, here are two real-world examples:

  • A Canadian financial institution was trying to eliminate silos and improve efficiencies in its 300-person marketing team and so they turned to agile marketing. They started small with a team of 6 cross-functional members, testing agile ways of working for a few months, and adapting agile to fit with the organization. Having started small, they were able to learn and make improvements faster, and then scale this new way of working to the rest of their team. Now, teams of cross-functional individuals work together on common marketing objectives and this has resulted in a reduction of customer acquisition costs, enhanced customer engagement, and accelerated speed to market. Instead of taking several months to launch a campaign from scratch, it now takes them two to three weeks.
  • A Canadian public sector enterprise was trying to align their 60-person marketing team with the agile transformation that was taking place in the rest of the organization. They adopted agile marketing and created 5 cross-functional teams that were focused on different stages of the customer funnel. They also brought their external agency into the daily scrum sessions to ensure all members were aiming towards the same objectives. Leaders shifted from assigning work to empowering their teams to come up with new ideas, taking responsibility, and ensuring continuous improvement. With this newfound transparency and organization, team leads could meet to share war stories, failures and wins, allowing them to scale learnings across all agile teams.

To learn more about how organizations are applying agile marketing, here is a podcast that we did recently on deploying agile up and down the marketing function http://www.agilemarketingblog.com/2018/11/driving-agile-adoption-up-and-down-the-marketing-function-with-deloitte/

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