So you think you want to do agile marketing…

Be more agile

‘Agile’ is buzz word that has recently taken hold in the marketing community. I hear it all the time now, but it’s not a new concept. In fact, it has a well-established presence in the project management and IT development community. Note that when referring to marketing I say agile is a ‘buzz word‘ not a concept. Why? Because most marketers don’t know what it really means.

When someone says to me:
We need to do more agile marketing

What they really mean is:
I’m looking for a way to cut out processes I perceive as a barrier to doing what I want to do quickly.’

‘Agile’ is usually (mis)used when marketers are attempting to clear their path of obstacles to their favorite type of rapid-fire pasta method marketing – keep grabbing handfuls of hot stuff out of the pot and throwing it against the wall until something sticks.

Ok, that might be a cynical over-generalization. I know that’s not what you ALL mean. But most marketers typically do make a plea for ‘agile’ when they’re feeling oppressed by things like strategyplanning, quality assurance and measurement. These four things are most marketers least-favorite thing to do and they’re globbing on to the concept of ‘agile marketing’ because they think it means getting things done faster…and it does…but it it actually means more focus on processes…a LOT more.

But how can that be? The definition of the word ‘agile‘ is: Able to move quickly and easily

Agile marketing ≠ the word and definition for agile + the word and definition for marketing

So if this is what you mean when you say ‘we need to do more agile marketing‘ you sound stupid. Agile marketing is a formalized concept that refers to a method of project management characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans. It requires rigorous discipline and commitment to processes that repeat themselves over and over again every 2-4 weeks. It’s ‘agile’ because you’re only committed to what you planned for the length of that planning cycle (aka ‘sprint’), after which you can change and iterate if needed for the next sprint after you measured the result of the last and objectively determined what should and should not be repeated/continued.

Is this what you were thinking when you said you want to do more agile marketing? I bet not. I’ve been involved in agile projects. It’s tough, even for me, and I lean more in favor of process and discipline than the average marketer. I would personally never be able to commit myself to a life of sprints, scrums, pigs and chickens (am I totally speaking rubbish now? This blog is not intended to be a lesson in agile marketing, but if you’re interested you can learn more here.)

Let’s say this is what you mean when you say you want to do agile marketing. Great. But before you start, you’re going to need to make sure you’re set up to support this shift is process…and it is a significant shift. This isn’t just something you start doing, especially if you’e a large organization. Remember, the concept here is moving faster and more easily toward your goal, which means you need to first define what you want to accomplish and who needs to be involved to get it done. Sounds simple enough, but this can be hard in large organizations where there are lot of marketers trying to accomplish different things.

I’m am not an agile process expert, and I do suggest you consult one if you’re serious about making a shift to an agile marketing environment. I feel sufficiently qualified, however, to point out that you need the establish at least these 3 things to pull off agile marketing effectively:

  1. Discrete project groups (marketing teams)
  2. A clearly defined & unifying overarching goal & brand identity
  3. A trained scrum mater assigned to every group

Discrete project groups

I can assure you that you will NOT achieve agility if you try to involve every member of your marketing team, so you will need to break people out in some logical way. Your marketing department is probably already parsed out by some type of segment (product, industry, etc). If you are broken our by segments that result in overlapping audiences, an agile marketing method is probably not a good idea! Why? Because your audience – your customer – will be a victim to your ‘agility.’

Meaning this: If agile group 1 is running isolated iterative campaigns inclusive of customer personas A, B, C & D. And agile group 2 is running isolated iterative campaigns inclusive of customer personas C, D, E & F, customers C & D are very likely getting barraided and confused by unrelated disjointed marketing messages.

Thats a #marketingfail. Whomp Whomp.

A clearly defined & unifying overarching brand identitymeerkat

Due to the nature of agile marketing, groups will become engrossed in their own sprint cycles and it can  become challenging for people to pop their heads up our of their meerkat holes to ensure there’s still a unification across the groups. As you can image, it could become very easy for each group to develop their own sense of brand identity thats self serving to their goal but over time may diverge from the ‘big picture.’ It’s important, therefore, to establish and regularly reinforce what that big picture is. In marketing land this means ‘what are we trying to achieve as a whole in order to support company objectives?’ and ‘who are we (as a brand)?’ Some companies struggle with their brand identity and the result is that they do not present a clear or consistent picture of themselves to the market. This is a common struggle even in non-agile marketing environments. It’s even harder in agile ones. Don’t let that happen.

A trained scrum master

Again, this is not a lesson in how to do agile marketing so I wont get too deeply into this. Just think of your ‘scrum’ master as the head project manager responsible for running daily meetings and collecting feedback from each project participant to find out what they did yesterday, what they’re doing today, and what obstacles may be in their way. This job is repetitive and tedious and requires someone adept at keeping people focused and their inputs concise and limited only to the tasks at hand.

Most marketers who are throwing out the ‘agile’ buzz word are not going to make this process methodology shift. It’s not for everyone. Candidly, it’s not for me. I do understand the desire to be faster and more responsive to the market. This is important, but you cannot forsake strategy, planning, process, and measurement for speed. Find your balance.

And please stop saying ‘we need to be more agile‘ when you’re not achieving what you want to achieve. ‘Agile marketing’ is probably not the answer to your problems, and it’s probably not what you really mean anyway…

Is your marketing automation system just an expensive stand mixer?

Is your marketing automation system just an expensive stand mixer?

Imagine that you’re a successful five-star restaurant owner (congratulations!), but you do not currently serve dessert (gasp!). You realize that in order to compete and continue to be successful you need to serve dessert, so you do a little research and find that every one of your competitors with great desserts has a stand mixer, so you go out and get the best stand mixer money can buy. You give it to your cooks and say ‘make me five-star desserts!’

What do you think would happen? Do you think you would get a five-star dessert? Probably not. You’ve got a skilled team, so you’d probably get something passable as a dessert, but it will probably be 2 stars ☆☆…maybe 3. ☆☆☆

But why not five? That stand mixer is the BEST. You paid a small fortune for it, so why can’t it produce amazing desserts?

Because that stand mixer, as great as it may be, is just a stand mixer – a tool. It’s a powerful tool, and a worthwhile investment to be sure, but just buying a tool is not enough. The same goes for a marketing automation system. It is not magic, it is a tool that can help you make many masterful desserts, but it requires a skilled pastry chef (or team of chefs) with great recipes, and it requires investment in ingredients, attachments, cleaning and maintenance to really add value to your kitchen.

So let’s break it down:

A skilled pastry chef
You can’t just plop your line cooks, or even your head chef in front of a stand mixer and expect them to make a masterpiece. And you can’t throw your demand, field, or product marketers in front of a complex automation tool and expect them to produce great results. A marketing operations or automation expert, like a pastry chef, has a specialized skill set that takes knowledge and experience to master.

Great recipes
This is the foundation of any chef’s skill set, and the best practices your ops expert brings to the table are foundational to the successful use of your automation system. These best practices define the processes that determine how your automation system functions – how it processes data, scores leads, passes them to sales, sends emails, reports on result, etc. And just as food tastes, trends, and techniques change, so do automation trends, so invest in ongoing training for your pasty chef so that existing recipes can be fine-tuned and new recipes can be learned.

There are many ingredients that go into a great dessert, and without them the stand mixer is a useless vessel mixing air to no end. Your automation system is useless without inputs like data, assets and workflows. And the supply of these must be never-ending because they’re use is limited – one set of ingredients can only produce so many desserts before you must put more ingredients into the mixer and start again to create another great delicacy.

Stand mixers are one of the most robust and versatile tools in the kitchen, yet many people don’t use them to their full potential. Most people know how to use the mixer attachment, which comes standard, but did you know that with the right attachments you can roll and cut pasta, juice fruits and veggies, grind meat, knead bread dough, slice, dice, and more? Your automation system is a robust tool and with the right attachments you’d be amazed at what you can do, from lead scoring to third party integrations toclosed-loop reporting. Some of these great features come standard, and some cost extra, but you should explore your options to make the most of your investment.

Cleaning & Maintenance
I hope you will agree that cleanliness is absolutely necessary in a kitchen. You must keep your mixer clean to avoid contamination that could affect the quality and safety of the food, and if it gets too dirty it can even impact the functionality of the mixer itself (ew!). While not a safety issue, the cleanliness of your automation system certainly is critical for quality and functionality of your system. Cleaning needs to be performed regularly in order to ensure that the old ingredients, like bad data and expired workflows, are washed away.

And voila! You have the foundation for many five-star desserts…I mean, successful marketing programs to come. ☆☆☆☆☆


Originally posted on LinkedIn – November 11, 2014