As we grapple daily with the mayhem of modern marketing it may be hard to believe, but once upon a time marketing was fairly simple.
If you covered the big three – print, radio, and television – you were in pretty good shape.
In those simpler times, we could carefully craft an annual marketing plan and then execute it with little to no adjustment. Campaigns were big, and they came out infrequently. Plans were equally big, and they changed very rarely.
While those simpler days of stable plans are certainly gone, I wonder if the marketing world has evolved to keep pace. Most marketers now work in quarter-long plans and think they’re doing pretty well, but in a volatile, digital, hyper-connected world a lot can change in 90 days.
And marketing teams should be able to respond accordingly.
So let’s imagine that Team A changes their process to run in two-week iterations instead of a quarterly plan. They can now re-calibrate every fourteen days instead of every 90 days.
Compared to Team B, who’s only adjusting their plan every quarter, this team is 543% faster.
They deliver something to their audience 6x more often.*
Sounds good, right?
Agile methods can deliver at this level, but you can’t get there just by speeding up your current process. You’ve got to make the switch to truly Agile marketing.
Why Agile iterations matter
Most of us are accustomed to working in what’s known as the waterfall method, in which each part of a project proceeds, one after the other, in an orderly, linear fashion like water going down a cliff.
You can’t skip steps in the process or do anything simultaneously; everything is dependent on the previous steps.
What this means for our marketing output is that for a very long time we release nothing, and then all of a sudden it comes out in one big campaign launch.
This is highly risky for two big reasons:
- Increasingly nimble competitors are probably going to get something very similar out before you do. Then your huge campaign is rendered irrelevant.
- A lack of psychic abilities means that your expensive, perfectly planned, beautifully choreographed campaign might be a total dud.
Recent research indicates that between 20 and 30 percent of marketing teams are practicing some level of agility, and those numbers are climbing all the time. If you’re still running at a quarterly pace, you’re going to be left behind very soon.
And even major brands that are historically on point can make big blunders (just ask Dove and Pepsi).
Small, frequent releases are clearly the way to go, but creating the right conditions for this approach requires us to change both our process and our mindset.
Getting to a more Agile marketing process
This article is all about process, but it’s important to remember that without a supportive culture you’ll be struggling against a strong current as you work to implement these kinds of changes.
Long-term success requires strong grounding in the Agile Manifesto and a willingness to adapt based on Agile values and principles. Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day practices that let you DO Agile that you forget to really BE Agile.
Pick the right Agile approach
The first, and possibly most critical, step in your Agile marketing journey is to decide what framework you’ll use to guide your team(s).
The three most common are:
- Scrum: The most well known and most structured approach, Scrum is based on timeboxed Sprints that last 1-4 weeks.
- Kanban: A model for continuous improvement more than a work management system, Kanban is designed to fit onto whatever process you have now and make it work better.
- Scrumban: As the name implies, Scrumban is a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban, allowing Agile teams to pick and choose from both approaches to create a customized system of their own.
We’re going to investigate the best use cases for each of these Agile methodologies, but we won’t cover them all in detail. Follow the links in each section to learn more about each one.
When to use Scrum
Scrum was designed to work best on small teams (5-8 approximately) that are highly cross-functional (they have all the needed skills to complete their work).
It helps teams release work more frequently and encourages iteration by allowing teams to regularly go back and improve on work they’ve already released.
Keep in mind that Scrum does make strong demands on teams to work in particular ways. It includes ceremonies (aka meetings) and roles that are all but required to make the methodology work. If change is hard in your organization, this may not be the right option.
If you work in software or another tech-centered industry, you may feel pressure to use Scrum. A word of caution: many marketers move away from Scrum after just a few months. Make sure it’s the right fit before you dive in.
Don’t default to Scrum automatically just because it’s the most well known!
When to use Kanban
As we saw earlier, Kanban is far more adaptive than Scrum. It’s a great choice for teams whose sizes fall outside the Scrum range, meaning teams of less than five or more than eight.
Kanban is also a good choice for teams that are reliant on external contributors, such as agencies, freelancers, or other departments. If you have to wait for someone else to contribute before you can complete a project, it can be difficult to stick with the strict S=sprint timeboxes Scrum calls for.
Finally, consider Kanban if your marketers are already stressed out and couldn’t handle a major upheaval. It can still dramatically increase your pace of completing work, but it won’t require you to overhaul your entire system all at once.
When to use Scrumban
If you were intrigued by the above description of Kanban but can’t imagine abandoning timeboxing altogether, then Scrumban is for you.
Think of it as using a Kanban system for continuous improvement in a Scrum environment.
Scrumban offers the predictable, frequent delivery of Scrum without some of the administrative overhead that can bog Scrum teams down.
This approach’s flexibility can also make it a great choice for those teams whose process already seems to work pretty well but who want a quick way to gain a competitive advantage.
From quarterly plans to MVC
Whatever Agile approach you ultimately choose, you’ll need to get in the habit of breaking your work down into smaller components. Remember, we want to release every couple of weeks, not once a quarter.
Getting into the habit of thinking about the minimum viable version of your campaigns can help here.
I’m adapting this idea from Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, where he advises entrepreneurs to release an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) as quickly as possible to test their ideas.
For us marketers, it’s more like an MVC – Minimum Viable Campaign.
Ask yourself, “What’s the smallest thing I could put in front of my audience that could survive on its own and teach me something?”
Take a couple of weeks to create that, and then get it out there. If your MVC requires more than a few weeks of work, you’re probably thinking too big.
After your MVC is live, watch what happens and adjust accordingly. Build on success. Abandon failure.
Iterate and improve with each new release until you have your masterpiece.
Empower your Agile marketing teams
You may hear Agile teams referred to as “self-organizing” or “self-managing,” and to a large extent, they should be.
But Agile teams are not all-powerful or all-knowing. They still require guidance in the form of strategic objectives that are communicated clearly and often.
Marketing leadership should determine WHAT the team will do based on priorities and strategy. The team then chooses HOW to accomplish those goals. If they’re busy struggling to identify the what, they’ll be less effective at execution, so don’t leave them guessing what they should be working on just because they’re Agile.
The path to 6x output
Agile is fast, but it doesn’t just mean increasing the pace of what you’re doing now. You won’t get six times the output with a faster version of the waterfall approach.
Instead, it’s time to embrace minimum viable campaigns, empower your teams to experiment, and make your marketing process really and truly Agile.
If you don’t, you may find yourself being left far behind by an Agile competitor who can communicate with customers 6x more often.
Hat tip to Scott Brinker, whose book Hacking Marketing first introduced me to this shocking bit of math.