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I don’t do a lot of interviews here in Matthews on Marketing, but I recently caught up with an old marketing comrade, Joel York, to find out more about his new agile marketing project.
TM: To set some context, what is ‘agile marketing’?
JY: Agile marketing is a set of agile marketing management disciplines that maximize marketing’s ability to respond rapidly and effectively to change. The basic premise is that if you are marketing in an industry characterized by rapid change and shifting marketing opportunities, as most of us are today, then the marketer that can move the fastest wins. Another way of putting it is that the goal of agile marketing is to transform change from a challenge into a strategic weapon.
Agile marketing started in the Internet industry as an offshoot of agile software development, but its roots run much deeper into agile manufacturing and total quality management. As a career CMO, it’s the first serious attempt I’ve seen at improving how marketers get their jobs done. If you think about it, dissertations have been written on how to get the most out of sales, engineering, manufacturing, service, etc., but marketing remains sorely neglected.
TM: Is this just a SaaS concept, or can it be applied to any marketing team?
JY: Agile marketing is most definitely not limited to SaaS. It can improve the performance of any marketing team. In fact, it can improve the performance of any marketing function from product to public relations.
Today, agile marketing has seen the broadest adoption in social media and content marketing, because these areas are natural production lines. As such, they have been able to adopt off-the-shelf methodologies like SCRUM. The canned methodologies, however, were not designed specifically for marketing. My feeling is that we marketers need to focus on the core agile marketing disciplines and apply a little marketing creativity to evolve new methodologies that better fit the unique requirements of marketing.
TM: What will a CMO gain from trying agile marketing? And how would a CMO explain the benefits to their CEO?
First, agile marketing not makes your marketing more nimble, but it also imbues your marketing with a systematic and data-driven focus on the customer. Something we marketers all say we should do, but then we quickly forget it when we need to get some work done. Agile marketing builds customer focus into the work process, so it becomes a daily habit. The value of everything marketing does is measured through the eyes of the customer.
Second, let’s break down this idea of making change strategic weapon. If your average marketing project takes a month, then the quickest you can capitalize on any marketing opportunity is 30 days. If your marketing planning cycle is quarterly, then the quickest you can change your plan is 90 days. Agile marketing aims to shrink these timeframes dramatically. Planning cycles are weekly and average project size is daily, or in the case of social media perhaps even hourly.
Finally, most marketing departments have very poor memories. Agile marketing provides a method to the madness we call marketing. This rigor enables organizational learning and continuous improvement. Marketing performance becomes more consistent, more predictable and constantly moving up and to the right.
TM: You’ve obviously spent a lot of time thinking about agile marketing and interviewing practitioners. What can go wrong? What should people watch out for.
JY: I think the easiest way to go wrong is to see agile marketing as one of these canned methodologies like SCRUM, turn it into a big change management effort, and then apply it where it isn’t applicable. For example, you can’t put on a major product launch with SCRUM, it just won’t work. Product launches are big bangs. If you go into agile marketing looking for a recipe, you’ll probably find half your marketing team loving it and the other half hating it.
Marketing projects come in a staggering variety, from tweets to trade shows. The stronger approach is to adopt agile marketing the agile way: a little bit at a time. And, focus on mastering agile marketing disciples over implementing a specific methodology. Let’s take our product launch example. You can’t trickle out a product launch, but you can build up to the final show with small iterative projects. That way if things change along the way, such as the launch date moving in or out, then you can easily adapt your marketing plan without throwing away good work. You can also collaborate transparently with sales, engineering, etc. to create a better product launch.
TM: Tell us about your project and why you felt you needed to build it. There is certainly no shortage of marketing technology out there. Why another?
JY: You are absolutely right. There is no shortage of marketing technology. Unfortunately, 99% of the marketing technology out there is a) an individual contributor tool and b) automation focused on demand generation. There is virtually nothing focused on the people side of marketing. The best you will find is some generic project management tools. Here is the acid test: Name one marketing system everyone in marketing logs into in the morning. There is no system of record for marketing. No salesforce.com. No Zendesk.
Surprisingly, most marketing departments spend more on people than they do on programs. If you are a very large company with a big branding budget or you are selling simple consumer goods or services, you might spend more on programs. But, if your product has any level of complexity, you will be spending most of your money on product marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, public relations and so forth. And, that’s people. Unfortunately, we give very little attention to managing that investment. The Markodojo marketing management platform blends marketing management basics, agile marketing best practices, CRM and Internet collaboration to span the wide range of marketing work and help marketers reach out to customers, sales, and all their other relationships outside of marketing to increase marketing agility and performance.