Agile MarketingI got the chance to hear Nicholas Muldoon, an agile coach at Twitter, speak at a recent Integrated Marketing Summit event in San Diego. I find myself thinking about his presentation again and again, and how important agile thinking is to businesses of all sizes, and I’m finally getting around to writing about it here.

What is Agile Marketing, Anyway?

I’m glad you asked. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that “Agile Marketing” is one of those terms people hear, nod because they know they’re supposed to know what it means, but really, they have no stinking idea. And you know what – that’s exactly what I used to do when I heard the term. I kinda sorta knew what it was, but really, I had no idea.

Agile marketing is a radically different approach and it’s certainly very different than most marketing teams are used to thinking. Nick and his team at the Agile Marketing Organization Chapter in San Francisco have defined agile marketing really simply: it’s about discovering better ways of creating value for customers through new approaches to marketing. Ridiculously simple, isn’t it?

How Do You Adjust to an Agile Marketing Mindset?

Agile marketing requires people to change the way they do things and to quit doing them, or thinking them, because that’s the way they’ve always done it or thought it. That means tossing conventions and personal opinions out the window and relying on what your data shows you (i.e. we tested this x number of times and here’s what our users told us) to drive strategies. Nicholas talked about the Agile Marketing Manifesto and how the mindset of creating value for customers by approaching marketing in a different manner leads to the understanding and the appreciation of:

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How Does Agile Translate to Product Development

When it comes to product development, the Agile concept is crazy fast. According to Muldoon, you’re not talking a six or nine month period of development and testing, you’re talking about a one or two week period, and sometimes even a one-day period. I’m pretty sure I saw his eyes light up when he said this – the mark of a true Agile lover – and I loved that. When you’re using Agile Marketing tactics, what you’re striving for is to build something, get it into the hands of customers immediately, get their feedback, respond and react. This gives you 52 (or more) opportunities throughout the year to continue to innovate and adapt.

How to Build a Cross-Functional Agile Marketing Team

So let’s think about this in an ad agency model. In a traditional agency environment you generally have a sales team (new business development), creatives (designers/copywriters), digital teams, print and media specialists, SEOs and more. Yet when we have teams of people in the creative space, all focused on individually creating what is sure to be “their best work,” we often struggle to tell a consistent story or have a consistent message. We’re all to often not really thinking about the whole customer experience, we’re just thinking about our little part of it.

When you build cross-functional teams within your company, whether you’re an agency or a brand, and regardless of the size of your business, this lowers barriers to communication and enables your to deliver as quickly as possible. And the key to effective cross-functional teams is to empower the team to deliver as quickly as possible.

Sounds great. How do you make this happen within your company? The easiest way to do this is to take a pilot approach: develop a small team incorporate Agile thinking into everything you do and this will be your proof of concept. Once you’ve done it once, move on and do it with other groups and teams within the organization.

Focus on Developing T-shaped people

The way we marketers traditionally structure things, within any organization of almost any size, is that we have people who have deep experience in one area, then a little bit of experience in other things. They are email marketing specialists or social media specialists, new business ninjas or great web developers and terrific copywriters. And they know a little bit about other things, but just enough to be dangerous. Agile Marketing adoption means that you work within your marketing teams to deepen existing skills and move away from what we’re used to, which is skill sets that are really very siloed. These traditional teams leave you with an Achilles heel when one part of the team either isn’t available or leaves the team or organization. With T-Shaped team members, it’s like having a team who are all cross-fit nuts. They’re all focused on keeping the team strong, fit, focused and successful.

The Keys to Success With Agile Marketing

The basic premises of Agile Marketing make perfect sense. Here’s Muldoon’s advice on how to make it work for you:

  • Test and Validate. Never stop testing and validating your hypothesis. Expect it to change regularly, because it will.
  • Look at the Whole Product. Look at the whole product (or customer experience) not just your little part of it. Think about them (the end user/consumer) and not about you.
  • Exploit Opportunities. Everybody likes to hold up the example of the Oreo creative team and how they “stole” the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. The reality is, that didn’t happen by accident. They didn’t know what was going to happen that night, but they had a team ready to make the most of whatever did. That’s what smart marketers need to be thinking about today, in the world of real-time, 24/7 marketing. Be prepared, empower your teams to move quickly and get out of their way to make it happen.
  • Have a Plan. Being agile doesn’t mean you don’t have a plan. It just means that the plan isn’t the Holy Grail. It’s not set in stone. And learning to be comfortable changing that plan, most likely on the fly, is integral to your overall success with Agile Marketing.

Agile is truly about incorporating change on a constant basis. It’s adaptive and it’s addictive. More importantly, it’s highly effective. Once you start seeing the amazing things that can happen as you work to develop T-shaped people, build adaptive teams, learn from and with one another and embrace change I predict that you, too, will be hooked.

As a marketer who happens to be wired in such a way that I love and thrive on constant change, I totally get the concept of Agile Marketing and I loved hearing Nicholas talk about this. That said, I very much realize what a challenge change in general, much less regular and ongoing change, can be for others. And we often don’t pick how it is we’re wired — we just have to deal with the respective hands that we’re dealt. Those of us who happen to like change are in a great position to thrive in an Agile environment. For those of us who aren’t instinctively that way, we can learn to adapt. Right?

Agile isn’t for everyone, but it makes great sense as we marketers work to get our arms around how the Internet of Things is reshaping the way we do business. Our target audience is everywhere, on a dynamic and constantly changing journey, accessing information from a myriad of devices in a myriad of ways. Equally as important, what we do from an SEO standpoint impacts our content strategies and our social media strategies and our email marketing strategies and what we do offline and how it’s connected to what we do online—you get my drift. The marketing department of the future (as in tomorrow, not next year), would do well to begin the process of embracing Agile Marketing, learn to structure T-shaped teams and start practicing concept, design, develop, test, launch, test, tweak, test some more. I think it’s the way of things to come. You?

The basic premise of Agile Marketing is as applicable for small to medium-sized businesses as it is for larger, enterprise level businesses. And the advantage for the small business owner is that they are typical more adaptable to change, and able to change course quickly than larger organizations are. This give small businesses owners a decided competitive advantage–if only they use it.

Oh, and do yourself a favor and make it a point to learn more about Agile Marketing if you, like me, started out not knowing much. And if you ever get the chance to meet Nicholas and/or hear him speak, trust me, he’s terrific. You can find him on Twitter at @njm.