Scott Brinker, Chief Marketing Technologist and President and CTO at Ion Interactive spoke at the ITSMA conference in December on the topic of Agile Marketing and the Rise of the Marketing Technologist.

After the conference, I followed up with him to find out how marketers can incorporate agile marketing into their lives, and how to become more technical and keep up with the pace of change in the marketing environment these days. It was a very interesting conversation.

First things first. Talking with Scott about marketing and marketing technology is an amazing experience. He is passionate and knowledgeable and this was one of the best conversations I’ve had about marketing, or maybe any topic, in a long time.

To get to the heart of the matter…all this talk about marketing technology is not really about the technology. Technology is just the thing that is powering all this change we are experiencing. The real change for marketers these days is in the way we have to think about marketing. More than ever before, we deal with many different channels and fragmented and personalized interactions to reach our customers and prospects.

If you have a marketing plan for the next year, it isn’t really going to be useful for very long with this pace of change. You’ve probably already experienced that—a long-term plan is just not flexible enough to deal with the new challenges you face each month or week.

Just as I tried to get my head around the idea that I’d have to learn about all the technologies in Scott’s amazing infographic about the landscape of marketing technology, he explained that I don’t really need to do that. Whew.

The questions we marketers should be asking ourselves probably aren’t: How do I learn to be more technical? Or…how do I learn about all this new marketing technology out there?

The real questions we should be asking ourselves are more along the lines of:

  • How do I change my thinking about marketing to be able to prioritize and act more quickly?
  • How do I learn to incorporate marketing technology and marketing technologists into my job?

Scott knows how to explain this for those of us who aren’t as steeped in technology as he is. Marketers work closely with graphic designers. Not every marketer needs to have graphic design skills. But every marketer needs to be comfortable working with designers and understanding what they bring to the table.

It’s the same with marketing technology–marketers need to be comfortable working with marketing technology and technologists.

To keep up with all these changes, here is one key thing to remember: All the other skills we bring to the table remain just as important as technology—brand, value proposition, content, communications. Those of us without a technology background can breathe again. We don’t have to fake it.

But we do have to understand the mind shift that all these technological changes cause.

  • We need to be able to work in an agile and iterative basis.
  • We need to test, not guess about what will work for our audience.

Agile marketing

Agile marketing doesn’t just mean being able to move and adapt quickly to the changing landscape, thought it does incorporate that notion. Agile marketing, as Scott discusses it, means the ability to use agile management techniques to address marketing issues and activities.

To help your organization become more responsive to change, adopt the methodologies used by software designers for years.

The concept of agile marketing is to break down the scope of what you focus on. For marketing, that means plan for one month instead of one year. Then you engage in constant review and course correction. That means being able to change priorities for the next month if something doesn’t work the way you want it to. And if something new appears on the radar, you don’t have a wait a year or fight the system to address it.

Create a small team using the agile process and pick one small area to address. This is one of those processes that it is easy to feel like a novice and feel very awkward. But after just a few weeks you’ll get better at it. There are many to implement an agile process, so you may need to work to find the best one for your team and your company.

A culture of testing

Testing is possible because it is easier than ever to experiment with what works and what doesn’t.

There are organizations with cultures that encourage testing and experimentation. Google is a good example. In 2009, they ran something like 9,000 experiments in all levels of the organization. About 1,000 of those lead to permanent changes.

Do you think your management sees that statistic and thinks—that was 8,000 wasted tests? Or do you think they see 1,000 new ways to improve the business? Which side are you on?

If your company or your department doesn’t have that culture built in, you can still affect change. Test something small. Try an A/B test with a new technology or new approach. Not with your company’s Super Bowl ad. But maybe a small part of an SEO or email campaign. Something with a small amount of risk, but the ability to show results. Then track it and report to your manager what is working and what isn’t. You can start small and grow a culture of experimentation with technology.

“We are living in that big moment of transition,” Scott says. “That’s a real gift for marketers. But it’s scary. None of us knows half as much as we want to. But this time of transition is an opportunity for us to make a really big impact. It doesn’t come around every generation. It’s a gift. If somewhat disguised in a big heaping mess of tangled stuff we have to figure out.