Let’s face it. The customer is running circles around us marketers. While we’re still debating the implications of recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm for marketers, our audience has already moved on to Instagram. What’s that, you say your company now has an Instagram presence? That’s nice. Too bad your customers have switched to SnapChat. Or WhatsApp. Or Reddit. Or…. You get my drift. Consumers seem to change their digital habits more frequently than Bieber gets arrested. It sure feels like we are always one step behind, no matter what we do. So what’s a marketer to do in a dynamic world where the customer decides not just where the game is played but also the very rules of the game itself?
What’s needed is a new paradigm for marketing, one that is agile enough to keep pace with the speed of a social and digital world.
In this game, it’s imperative to stay current with the market’s digital and social media habits. But is that really possible using our traditional marketing model? You know, that largely static annual marketing document that we copy and paste year after year, then pitch to our executives as something groundbreaking for the new fiscal year: “In 2014, Madame CEO, we’re going to spend X dollars on Y campaigns which will generate Z leads. We will tweet once every day while simultaneously engaging three customers directly on Facebook. We will have unity of voice across all channels to blah blah blah.”
You can’t fault organizations for thinking like this. Marketing has traditionally closely resembled the waterfall model of product development, where products are engineered on an annual cycle (or longer) and then shipped to customers. However, this is the marketing model of yester-year. In fact, it’s actually the model of yester-century with a little a bit of internet marketing sprinkled on top. We may not realize it yet, but its demise might be upon us sooner than we think. We keep hearing about the digitally empowered consumers who have taken control away from us producers. Yet, we’re still pitching our products to them like we did in decades past. Clearly, the conventional marketing mold is too rigid and cumbersome today. What’s needed is a new paradigm for marketing, one that is agile enough to keep pace with the speed of a social and digital world.
Waterfall marketing will boldly proclaim that it knows the answer. Agile marketing will admit that it doesn’t know everything, but it is willing to test and refine until it finds the right answer.
Agile marketing is a fairly new concept. According to Google Trends, the very term was never even searched prior to 2009 (see graph.) It still pales in comparison to other hot marketing trends (Content Marketing is 28x more popular than Agile Marketing on Google.) But it is slowly gaining traction as we’ve increasingly come to grips with the limitations of the “old-school” marketing world. Agile provides you with the opportunity to run circles around those rigid and static marketing plans. It is dynamic, it is data-driven, and it has the ability to adapt to the current situation. Most importantly, it is driven by the customer, not by the marketer. Certainly, this will scare some CMOs. But to stay relevant with customers in the coming decade, companies must embrace change, not fear it.
What is agile marketing?
Agile marketing was born out of the need to improve speed, prioritize decisions, remain flexible and put the customer at the center. Not surprisingly, it is best suited for companies that have adopted an agile development environment. It eschews inflexible processes and embraces experimentation. Waterfall marketing will boldly proclaim that it knows the answer. Agile marketing will admit that it doesn’t know everything, but it is willing to test and refine until it finds the right answer. Thus, with an agile mindset, there is an element of risk reduction as teams test smaller aspects of a campaign instead of a Big-Bang approach. If things don’t pan out as planned, they can rapidly change direction. Driven by data, marketers no longer have to throw the entire plan out of the window or continue to execute an inadequate strategy just because the fiscal year is not yet complete. At its simplest, Google’s analytics guru Avinash Kaushik (@avinash) refers to this methodology as “failing fast and failing forward.” But to implement agile marketing, your organization must have the right attitude and culture.
The Agile Marketing Manifesto
The Agile Marketing Manifesto (www.agilemarketingmanifesto.org) sums up the philosophy behind the concept:
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
This means that you and your executives will need to make decisions based on data instead of cookie-cutter marketing documents. You must learn to welcome flexibility, be willing to experiment, to adapt and evolve, and to put the customer’s voice ahead of your own opinions and experience.
Is agile for us?
Let us also face the reality that agile marketing is not necessarily for everyone. In some cases, the culture and bureaucracy will never allow it. But that excuse should not be a default position, regardless of the size and legacy of your organization. Remember that the same arguments were also being used against agile development at one point. And yet, today, agile has improved software development even among the largest and most bureaucratic of companies. But to succeed, you must have the right culture. So is agile for you? It is if you want to be focused on the voice of your customer, if you want to react as fast as your market and if you want to to prioritize your resources according to your conditions.
I’ll be discussing this topic in much more detail in the future. But I’d like to hear from you. What experience have you had with agile marketing? Is it something that might work for you? Why or why not?