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Taking Agile to Marketing: Process, Teams, and Success Stories

| Posted by Bhoomi Mehta Follow 0 Followers on May 07, 2016. Estimated reading time: 10 minutes |

Agile Marketing, as a concept, has been talked about quite a lot in the recent past and it is much more than just a hot new buzzword.

So, how effective is it and why do we need it?

Having been a part of the IT industry I have managed quite a few software development projects and I can personally vouch for Agile Methodology being increasingly popular amongst software developers. It has proven to be more efficient than the Waterfall project management methodology. The “Sprint” system allows you to pause, review and rectify at regular intervals.

Agile Process

These ideas are also applicable to marketing projects.

 In this article, I  take a brief look at what Agile Marketing is, how it works and also delve into other aspects that affect marketing processes and projects.

Agile and Marketing Plans

As marketers we have to acknowledge the fact that there are times when we panic because the next big change in the way things are done could be just around the corner. We don’t feel prepared or confident enough to be the torchbearers - to guide our company to becoming the leaders of a new paradigm shift with any bold marketing moves. Striking the right chords and delivering the right message at the right time to the right audience is the key!

So, how can being agile with your processes and teams help your organization get an edge over its competition?

One of the core values of the agile manifesto is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” and at the heart of every organization, driving any process or tool, are its people. We are well aware of how software projects with an agile approach requires a cross-functional team to be able to ensure the best output in our deliveries. Similarly, when we adopt the agile paradigm into marketing, it requires us to bring together a team that is strong on all elements right from strategizing to creating, designing, developing and executing the strategy. Where on one hand, all the conventional organizational silos are still in place, working as they always did, on the other hand, to successfully take up Agile Marketing, it is vital that you have a special team in place dedicated entirely to it. A team that spans institutional silos, breaking down the old school hierarchy model is able to create a cross-functional working model that is committed to agile marketing, empowered for efficient decision making and swift responses. A survey conducted by Forbes indicated that 87% of the surveyed companies said that adopting agile has helped them increase their team’s productivity. So taking my agile marketing team for example, currently, I have a team of 6 people each with roles such as Market Research and Analysis, Content Marketing, Demand Generation, Customer Experience Management, Community Building and Lifecycle Marketing. Their activities and responsibilities go beyond just communications and sales. The core responsibility of this team is to optimize the speed, predictability, transparency and adaptability to change of the marketing function at our organization. We constantly experiment with short-term marketing along with frequent feedbacks which allows us to strengthen our capability to the ever changing market. This principle practice has been derived from those projects where we have been receiving the best reactions to being agile. They are the ones with high customer involvement and a high perception value.  In my experience and learnings, it is often best to start with a small-scale experimental project, taking a trial and error approach to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your team and to use the feedback mechanisms built into the agile process to learn and adapt, find what works best for your team and your organization.

Agile Marketing: Strategy and Budget

The  next consideration is the strategy and the budget, which is where you need to find an optimal mix of all the disciplines of marketing and probably start with the established 70:20:10 rule. The marketing strategy focus as well as the allotted budget need to be divided into the said proportions. Of course, if this is your very first time doing so, you will need to revisit these combinations quite frequently and adjust it according to what works best for your organization and how can the marketing team perform better with every retrospection meeting that you have with them.

This chart basically tries to show the divide in the 70:20:10 ratio in your marketing strategy focus and budget into three parts with planned traditional marketing and messaging that appeals to the widest audience in the major part of the strategy. Followed by programmed marketing which takes into account the automated emails, social media posts, SEO and so on that appeals to new audiences. The rest bit of the strategy should focus on Agile Marketing which works on delivering the complicated messaging which requires the marketing team to be on their toes at all times and yet has its own charm. Stabilizing on this strategy helps you identify your priorities and allocate budgets for all the marketing activities that are on your strategy as and when required. We applied this theory  to service marketing- an industry that is ever changing and always  coming up with new divisions of service at such a fast pace that it is almost impossible to keep up. Being agile with your marketing and sales helped me facilitate my team to move from one service to the other or combine all your strengths and offer a completely new service which differentiates us from our competitors.

Real life Scenarios

In order to illustrate what I mean here is an example of an agile marketing project I worked on recently. Here is the story of three “sprints”(a sprint is a fixed time period in which the team works on a limited set of activities with the goal of completing them inside the allocated timebox)  from the project

Sprint 1:

The client was an IT organization and our collaboration commenced with them wanting to promote their “Software Product Development” services. The goal in this sprint was to set up a software product marketing strategy and implement it. We were a team of six, four focused on implementing the strategy (Planned marketing),two of whom were dedicated to agile marketing activities like creating blogs, updating social media channels with inputs from product design and development along with responding to changes in market trends.  In a very short time, the team started generating inbound inquiries and not only did we receive software product development inquiries (the goal of the campaign) but also for other services such as creating websites and requests for help with certain specific technologies.

Learnings:

The marketing team realized that as a result of our mass marketing effort, a lot of unfocused inquiries were generated. Although these were the ones that couldn’t be predicted, since we had 2 dedicated resources for agile marketing, these inquiries were converted at a later stage. Hence, the outcome of this exercise was that the marketing team was now actively sorting the enquiries into relevant categories and processing them separately by taking up ownerships based on different solutions and services falling under the matrix.

Another important lesson we learned was to focus on the bigger picture than the one on just Product Development. It also meant addressing a technology or a platform particular query which essentially translates into reforming the marketing messages to showcase the company’s domain as a solution provider. The Marketing and sales team along with the management team of the client company decided to build a strategy that addressed the bigger picture. In short order time, we had our marketing strategy in place and the sales force all geared up in full force.

Sprint 2:

From our learnings from Sprint 1 the team implemented the product marketing strategy as an integral part of our quarterly campaign and monitored it over that period of time. Where, on the other hand the agile team continued to respond to trending responds and inquiriesin the product marketing and content management solutions area. From the feedback we received we found out that most organizations prefer to work with companies that offer a complete solution rather than different pieces of a  solution.

Learnings:

The Agile team not only responded to the changing market trends, but also provided an insight into the organization in terms of the customer needs and how to respond to them. The campaign monitoring results gave us a better insight into the clients’ expectation and in turn, gave our team a head start with their communication strategy. The central learning after two sprints has been that the learning curve is mostly repeated with every project and every client and the training cycle is more complicated than you would expect.

Sprint 3:

Based on the learnings in Sprint 2, the client organization chose to move to solution marketing. The shift was made to combining services into solutions. The marketing team was then restructured such that  70% of the effortcontinue to focus on implementing the pre-planned marketing strategy, while 20%  of the efforts were pushing marketing automation and the remaining 10% continue to beallocated to the agile team. The agile team ensures that they respond to the changing trends and changing company focus quickly.

Right now, my team and I are in full swing on Sprint 3 and we have successfully managed to not only move laterally across offerings, but we have also managed to find an ideal  combination for marketing our services and are now in the stage of stabilizing this mix so as to be able to facilitate growth for the organization and also allow the people in the organization to get acquainted and into the groove of making this way of working  a part of their daily life. I strongly believe that the journey towards something new is extremely important for the organization as a whole, but what makes it possible is the people within who toe the line that takes us to our destination as a team.

Takeaways

Having practiced Agile Marketing, I had the opportunity of studying tangible positive effect it has on the results after each sprint, along with intangible advantages for the team and the wider organisation. In terms of the team strengthening and staying motivated, I can vouch for this approach   being a strong factor in making my marketing efforts a success. It is effective and awe-inspiring if applied with the right mix of traditional and new media marketing. It empowers your marketing team to do so much more for your company

But, along with having experienced all its glorious advantages, Agile Marketing posed some real limitations which, in my opinion, marketers need to consider before taking the plunge. One of the prime issues we as marketers face is that there are no fixed costs that can be estimated before-hand and the 10% of the total budget while preparing it generally reflects the ambiguity and that needs justification. The budget allocated to these projects should be in ball park amounts and we need to be more flexible with it since pertaining to each project and clients’ response, the budget might increase or decrease. Also, the fragmentation of media has been increasing at a very fast pace and the consumer touch-points have multiplied and marketers need to be constantly aware of that and map the consumer journey in real-time, responding to the changing landscape as it evolves.

Another real problem that I faced and not many people talk about it but is just as important as any other is the language! It took my team a lot of effort to understand and get used to the agile terminology and it also affected their understanding of the agile principles like sprint and scrum. The most effective solution to this issue was organizing workshops with tech leads and lead developers for the marketing team and they talked them through it with their day to day experiences and real time talking with the use of these terminologies just like it is while learning any new language. Over a period of time they generally eased into it and made it a part of their daily life at work. Now, the entire team finds it productive as a habit to have a stand-up meeting and exchange work/project updates with each other and have come out stronger than ever.

We are in a never-ending race to be the front-runners leaders of our industry and only those organizations whose teams feels empowered enough to take risks, make bold marketing moves and take chances!

About the Author

Bhoomi Mehta is an IT Professional with proven cross functional expertise at Cygnet Infotech - Consulting, Operations, Marketing & Sales, and Application Portfolio Management. She focuses her energies on motivating agile and lean teams to perform their best in their respective functions. With focused approach towards delivering success across entire Product engineering Services Lifecycle. Bhoomi's motivation is based on one clear idea: “Teams are not good or bad. The successful outcome of a project / assignment is directly proportional to the mentoring, tools and trust you are able to provide.”

 

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