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The case for agile marketing

Marketing goes agile

Nimble is more than just a buzzword: the case for agile marketing

Mark Tindall | April 21, 2015

In a marketplace driven by constant changes in customer behavior and technology, being “nimble” is more than just a buzzword—it’s a matter of survival.

For marketers, this accelerating pace of change, customer touch points, technologies, channels, devices, and data has rendered the traditional approach to marketing strategy and planning obsolete. To succeed, marketing organizations must constantly adapt. Those who lead with agility are best positioned for success.

Waterfall is dead

The marketing plan has long been a cornerstone of marketing management. Typically produced as part of an annual ritual of strategic planning, it lays out a comprehensive blueprint for marketing’s activities in the year ahead. Large campaigns and initiatives are typically managed through a traditional “waterfall” approach, navigating through complex organizational structures and complicated linear processes, with limited collaboration and often resulting in a reactive and inflexible approach.

Campaign development can stretch across many months and once begun can be very difficult or impossible to change or course-correct. Any new information or events cannot be integrated into the plan, leaving the risk that circumstances will be different at the time of delivery versus the plan’s inception.

Waterfall planning

The case for agile marketing

Marketing meets agile

In the world of software development, agile methodologies have been broadly adopted. They're valued for adaptive planning processes that embrace an evolutionary approach to product delivery by encouraging rapid and flexible response to customer needs and change.

Agile’s value isn’t confined to development. When applied to marketing, agile management improves speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability while providing marketers with the ability to respond to changing priorities and realities. The core values of agile marketing include:

  • Validated learning over opinions and rigid conventions
  • Customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
  • Adaptive and iterative mini-campaigns instead of “big bang” campaigns
  • Customer discovery over static prediction
  • Responding to feedback/data versus following a pre-determined plan

Agile planning

The case for agile marketing

Part with perfection and fail fast

Agile marketing does not mean abandoning your long-term marketing strategies. Embracing a shorter-term, customer-focused, and iterative approach will allow you to improve responsiveness and relevance. Though it can be difficult to admit to failure, not all marketing delivers equal results. Agile’s iterative test and learn environment allows you to “fail faster,” so you can focus on what is working.

Take Kraft Foods, for example. An agile approach has allowed it to leverage extensive data to gain insights into creating the most compelling content for its customers.

“The data strategy enables a one-on-one conversation with the consumer wherein Kraft leverages its proprietary first-party data to locate the right consumer, serve them the right message in the right medium at the right moment.”
Deanie Elsner, CMO, Kraft Foods

Nail it, then scale it

Agile marketing can dramatically reduce time-to-market and quickly address any misdirection. By increasing the frequency of deliverables, the time from concept to delivery can be reduced from months to weeks. The rigor of regular status meetings (“scrum” or “stand ups”) bring focus to what’s working (and what’s not), and allow for quick identification of key issues and blockers. If plans need to change, it is more often a quick correction than a complete overhaul.

Its benefits are clear:

  • Customer focus. Organization aligned to delivering more value to customers.
  • Faster speed-to-market. Smaller iterative projects reduce cycle time.
  • Continuous delivery. In line with today’s always-on customer, marketing delivery becomes constant (versus the “big bang” approach).
  • Better prioritization. Continuous insights from data creates focus on what is driving results.

Getting started

For most marketing organizations, fully embracing an agile approach will mean significant changes across people, process, and technology. It’s key to first understand where your organization stands today. A detailed assessment of your current state, along with the development of a comprehensive strategy and roadmap, will define the vision and identify the necessary business capabilities. For those who want to test the waters, an agile marketing campaign test may be a good starting point.

Regardless of where you begin, the first step is the recognition that a new age of marketing has arrived—and with it, a new approach to marketing management is needed.

Slalom Consulting's Mark Tindall

Mark Tindall is a consultant in Slalom Seattle’s customer engagement practice, specializing in customer-centric digital marketing strategies. Follow Mark onTwitter.


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