A Brief Introduction to Agile Marketing

It’s no secret how transformative Agile can be to a marketing department’s process.

According to AgileSherpas’ 4th Annual Agile Marketing Report, in 2021, the Agile adoption rate has reached 51% among marketers. This stat is likely to skyrocket in the coming years, as more and more marketing organizations begin to see Agile ways of working as an effective method for reacting to changing environments and volatile circumstances like we’ve seen in the email world and beyond.

But what makes Agile marketing special and better than traditional approaches, especially for dealing with change? This guide sheds light on what Agile frameworks really mean, how they manifest themselves inside marketing, and the benefits marketers stand to gain by applying this proven process management approach to their internal operations.

What is Agile marketing?

Agile marketing is the deliberate, long-term application of a specific Agile methodology to manage and improve the way a marketing team gets work done. There are a few key aspects to a successful implementation of Agile:

  • Commitment to the Agile manifesto
  • Mindset shift
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Data-driven marketing
  • Experimentation, iteration, and small releases
  • Servant leadership

What makes Agile marketing more effective than traditional approaches to marketing are the strong focus on experimentation, a better understanding of the customer, and frequent delivery of value.

Compared to a traditional marketing team, an Agile marketing team’s approach to how they work together is founded on a set of principles and values, referred to as the Agile manifesto.

Agile Marketing Manifesto and Agile Principles

In 2012, a group of marketers gathered to document the Agile Marketing Manifesto, a version of the original Agile Manifesto for Software Development, but translated to the marketing context. It presents a set of values and principles that act as the pillars of true marketing agility. The guiding values from the manifesto are:

  1. Validated learning over opinions and conventions
  2. Customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
  3. Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns
  4. The process of customer discovery over static prediction
  5. Flexible vs. rigid planning
  6. Responding to change over following a plan
  7. Many small experiments over a few large bets

A set of more specific principles complement the Agile marketing values to make up the complete manifesto:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of marketing that solves problems.
  • We welcome and plan for change. We believe that our ability to quickly respond to change is a source of competitive advantage.
  • Deliver marketing programs frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
  • Great marketing requires close alignment with business people, sales, and development.
  • Build marketing programs around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • Learning, through the build-measure-learn feedback loop, is the primary measure of progress.
  • Sustainable marketing requires you to keep a constant pace and pipeline.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail; just don’t fail the same way twice.
  • Continuous attention to marketing fundamentals and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity is essential.

Choosing the right Agile framework (e.g., Scrum, Kanban, or hybrid) to put the principles into practice is essential to the success of the marketing organization. It’s how teams seeking agility bring the values and principles to life in their day-to-day work.

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Agile frameworks

Agile frameworks are tools for weaving Agile values and principles into the execution process of the team. Many varieties of Agile frameworks exist to support the different types of activities that teams undertake within each of their functions.

Among the Agile frameworks available, three have become widely adopted in marketing: Scrum, Kanban, and Scrumban. Each of these three Agile frameworks represents a set of core practices that match the type of work the team is doing.

For example, if a team is more project-focused and working with a finite scope, they might choose the Scrum framework to apply agility. On the other hand, teams with a high amount of unplanned work, might apply Kanban practices for their Agile implementation.

Significant variation between these two frameworks produces flexible, hybrid approaches like Scrumban. Combining practices from Scrum and Kanban in a hybrid framework allows marketers to only apply Agile practices that suit their unique process challenges to produce a tailored approach.

Scrum

Scrum is probably the most known Agile framework. Like all Agile approaches, it has its pros and cons (especially for marketers).

The Scrum framework consists of two- to four-week iterations that kick off a period of active work by setting a prioritized team to-do list, also known as a backlog, that will be the focus in the next period of activity, called a sprint.

The team commits to the tasks in the sprint and doesn’t accept work outside of the backlog they defined in the planning phase. The members update their progress during daily 15-minute tactical meetings, called Daily Standups.

At the end of each sprint, the team gathers for a show and tell of completed work as well as reflect on the work process along with the core team. If needed, improvements are implemented as a result.

Scrum breaks big projects down into small chunks and supports the team in processing them quickly and efficiently by creating laser-focus on a smaller subset of the work at once. Scrum teams are empowered to self-organize in order to reach high results, but also rely on a Marketing Owner and Scrum Master to make sure priorities are clear and impediments are solved.

Kanban

The alternative to applying the Scrum framework is using Kanban. Marketers tend to prefer Kanban as a more accessible entry point into Agile practices for functions outside of IT. Being the “start where you are” framework, Kanban encourages marketers to begin layering in Agile practices gradually throughout their existing process over time.

The term Kanban originates from the first factories of Toyota in 1940s Japan. It means visual board or sign. Toyota used the method to promote visualization and continuous improvement as a means of optimizing production and managing resources inside its operations.

Since the 1940s, Kanban has been adapted to manage processes in digital knowledge work, like product development and marketing.

This framework is all about limiting the amount of work in progress, visualizing the workflow, and delivering value frequently.

However, unlike teams that apply Scrum, Kanban teams operate in a workflow that is continuous. They never start and stop to plan the upcoming sprint. The Kanban backlog is updated all the time as new requests come into the team, so the group can pull new work items from it as soon as they have an opportunity.

To apply Kanban, marketing teams implement its six core practices:

  1. Visualizing the team workflow through physical or digital Kanban boards
  2. Limiting work in progress to avoid context-switching and multitasking
  3. Maintaining a consistent, frequent flow of value delivered toward customers
  4. Documenting explicit process policies for greater consistency
  5. Building feedback loops into the process for better communication
  6. Improving collaboratively over time as a team

Since neither Scrum nor Kanban originated in the marketing context, teams in the marketing function stand to benefit from a combination of practices from each framework. So, if you want to get creative and mix and match Agile practices, you’re in luck! You’ll be joining the

61% of marketers in 2021 who are applying hybrid Agile frameworks, such as Scrumban.

Scrumban

Scrumban is a term used to describe a specific combination of Scrum and Kanban. Typically, a Kanban board, daily standup meetings, and retrospectives figure strongly in any Scrumban implementation. From there on, any practices from Scrum and Kanban are fair game.

One of the most significant benefits of Scrumban and other hybrid methods is the ability to customize the Agile process. It is especially useful to marketers who require flexibility.

Depending on the situation your team is in, your hybrid Agile framework might look more like Scrum or more like Kanban.

5 benefits of Agile marketing

Whether you’re applying Agile using Kanban, Scrum, or Scrumban, you’re likely to experience similar benefits to your process.

While many Agile newbies focus on speed and productivity as the main benefits of marketing agility, the improvements mature Agile teams actually experience are even more powerful and nuanced than the common call-outs.

This year’s State of Agile Marketing Report queried hundreds of Agile marketers to discover the true version of the five most notable benefits of Agile marketing and they are directly linked to some of the most common challenges in marketing.

Ability to change direction quickly based on feedback

Agile’s focus on tracking shifting customer demands and collecting feedback directly from the target audience allows marketers to react to changing circumstances and adapt. In a traditional process, every pivot represents a potential risk of derailing the whole operation and wasting resources. In an Agile context, marketers apply iterative plans to give themselves a chance to pivot if needed at no extra cost.

More effective prioritization of work

Short-term planning is also the key to prioritizing work effectively and ensuring that teams are focused on what matters most at the moment. Visual boards coupled with the marketing owner role make sure teams work on the right campaigns at the right time, making the most of their capacity.

Better alignment on business objectives & optimized use of resources

Agile ways of working also result in better alignment between leadership, the strategy core, and execution team members. In frequent cycles, leadership formulates quarterly strategic objectives and shares them with the organization through joint planning sessions, called Big Room Planning. Throughout the quarter, strategic marketers and execution marketers work together to make sure the work they do aligns back to these North Star goals.

Better visibility into project status

More feedback loops, more structured meetings, and visualized workflows foster greater visibility inside the team and across the organization at large. More specifically, Kanban boards serve as information radiators for team members and their stakeholders during the work process while frequent touchpoints, like the daily standup, result in better clarity about the status of work.

Is Agile marketing a good fit for you?

Considering the increasingly volatile business environment within which marketers operate, traditional processes just won’t cut it in the long-run.

In order to delight customers and increase our market share, marketers are beginning to view Agile as an essential method of effective marketing management. It is the right approach for any marketing organization that is seeking to improve its processes, increase efficiency, and boost the quality of the campaigns it delivers.

Are there Agile email marketers?

No one can deny that Agile is the way forward for modern marketers when it comes to process. Email marketing is no exception. Marketers who focus on delivering customer messages through the email medium stand to reap the same benefits of applying Agile as their counterparts in content, ads, creative, and other facets of the department.

Applying Agile values, principles, and practices for email marketing is likely to result in several significant shifts:

  • Increase the frequency of A/B testing and speed of delivery for email campaigns
  • Decrease the quantity of emails sent out in favor of increasing impact and quality
  • Transform the way email marketers collaborate with each other and share work
  • Result in a greater need to measure more data points from sent emails
  • Lead to a more efficient workflow with more instances of automation

As a result, email marketers will have more control over their campaigns and collaborate with a wider variety of other experts in their departments.

At a later stage, email marketers may begin to participate in Agile marketing cross-functional teams in order to gain even further exposure to other marketing disciplines. This will lead to a stronger connection between email and the other pieces of a marketing campaign as a whole.

If you’re an email marketer that is frustrated by an onslaught of requests that position email as the last (and least important) in a line of must-have marketing deliverables, you’re in luck. In the flat hierarchy associated with Agile ways of working, the synergy between content, email, web, and social is the key to launching a holistic, successful campaign.

Conclusion

The rate of Agile adoption is skyrocketing across all marketing disciplines. This new way of working and its accompanying frameworks provide actionable solutions to the process challenges traditional marketers thought they would never escape from.

Agile is the next generation of marketing processes. Its mindset and practices provide the tools for marketers to:

  • Adapt and change direction quickly when customer expectations shift.
  • Prioritize work in the short term to ensure they are delivering value.
  • Visualize all of their team’s work to maintain high levels of process transparency.
  • Optimize their workflows to facilitate greater efficiency and productivity.

Making a commitment to transform your traditional process to an Agile one means choosing a framework that fits your organization’s needs and applying it to all of your initiatives across the board. For most marketers, this results in implementing a hybrid approach that combines practices from the most popular Agile frameworks, like Scrum and Kanban.

Going Agile in the marketing function is tough, but worth it. It requires deliberate, persistent effort to achieve and relies on trust, transparency, and customer-centricity to withstand challenges sustainably.

Before going all in on Agile marketing, get more than just familiar with the fundamentals by investing time in Agile education. With the right base, you’ll be at the summit of marketing agility with your team in no time!

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This is a guest blog post by Rumyana Dancheva on behalf of AgileSherpas. Rumyana is a content creator and digital marketing specialist. She has experience in content writing, event management, and social media but her interests don’t end here. She is fascinated with design and software development as well.

Her passion for writing comes from her early childhood years and transforms into a career in content marketing.


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