If you’ve worked on some outpost of the digital landscape for any length of time, you likely know the term Agile. Maybe you’ve heard of “The Agile Manifesto” or terms like “Kanban” or “Scrum Master.” Putting terminology aside for the moment, in case you aren’t familiar, Agile is a time boxed, iterative approach to software delivery that builds software incrementally. And more than just an approach, Agile is a mindset, one that embraces a “fail fast” methodology, allowing a team to test and experiment quickly and often, learning and getting smarter all the time.
Sounds a lot like the type of environment that would make sense for Marketing, doesn’t it?
Think about it. As a Marketer you’re tasked with applying budget across a myriad of different programs, with different goals all along the marketing funnel. Some of that budget is locked and loaded based on existing priorities and spend that keeps you at steady state – anything from external partners to your existing CRM nurture stream to salaries and SEO. But some of the dollars you have at your disposal can and should be deployed against testing and experimenting – new programs, new campaigns, new products.
The retail industry is embracing this mindset. A recent survey by eTail and Optimizely of 136 leading retail executives revealed that a leading 6 percent of them attribute a whopping 20 percent or more of their commerce growth to experimentation programs. And they’re experimenting along critical phases of the customer journey – 71 percent of successful tests are being executed between the prospecting, acquisition, and purchase phases of the customer journey, with the top strategic initiative being an increase in customer acquisition.
Now let’s back up a moment and define some of those key Agile terms I threw out earlier, and how they might help you and your organization experience the success that these retailers are seeing. A Kanban system in its simplest terms is a big board on a wall with physical cards, placed in columns that represent phases in a process. For you, those phases could be the customer funnel from awareness to loyalty, and an individual card could be something like “find new customer acquisition sources.”
What’s powerful about Kanban is that it enables you and your team to see clearly all the different tests and experiments you have running at any given point in time, broken down into steps, and to see where the bottlenecks or issues are in that process. A few days of downtime on getting assets delivered, for example, can make or break your revenue goals for a given campaign. The notion of experimenting can become a little less stressful when you and your team have a constant, constantly updated visual representation of what’s happening, and how it’s working.
A Scrum Master is the person who facilitates the Agile process – if you’re a CMO or someone else senior in your Marketing organization, that person would likely be you. Every day in that role, you would communicate with your core team of experimenters around three key questions: What they did yesterday, what they have on deck for today, and what if anything is impeding their ability to make progress. As you are beginning to see, Agile is grounded in the notion that transparent communication and a high degree of collaboration lead to success. When launching an experiment program with your team, this philosophy gives everyone skin in the game, and lets your team know how committed you are to keeping everyone involved, accountable, and in the know.
Last let’s touch upon the Agile Manifesto, a set of 12 guiding principles for teams to follow as part of the process. In general, these principles are organized around a few central ideas, some of which we’ve already talked about: cross-discipline collaboration, revealing results frequently, and learning and quickly pivoting based on those results. While traditional Agile is focused heavily on bringing together business and technology teams, for you those teams could be Marketing and Sales, or some other permutation that makes sense in your organization. Imagine your team, plus the key players from your extended team feeling free to try new things, fail and succeed, and get smarter and faster at success with each new experiment. All; while continuously delivering results. That, in a nutshell, is the promise of Agile.
As you plan your spend for 2018, think about how much of it you should carve out for an “Agile Marketing Lab” that functions as I’ve described. It’s worth noting that eTail’s survey found that despite competition for a digital budget, 44 percent of respondents had put 5 percent of their resources towards testing, and out of that group 9 percent allocated more than 20 percent of their budgets towards it. That’s a huge signal of their confidence in the ability to experiment to contribute to bottom-line growth. And a great talking point for you to reference as you announce your budget plans to your boss, and to your team.