Are you stuck in the loop of launching one big campaign every few months… only to be disheartened with the result?
Agile isn’t a new concept, but it’s growing in popularity. Until recently, it was mostly adopted by software development teams. And while only one in eight marketing teams are using agile, that number’s increasing—fast.
Marketing teams using agile practices rate themselves 56% more aligned than those who do not. They also report the top benefit of agile as making it easier to measure success.
Table of Contents:
What is Agile Marketing?
At its core, agile marketing is a set of marketing management rituals designed to improve the alignment, accountability, transparency and performance of marketing teams. It’s a framework whereby teams work in short, iterative cycles towards a common goal.
Agile Marketing vs Traditional Marketing: What’s the Difference?
Traditional marketing campaigns follow a rigid, linear timeline which results in long campaigns and delayed data. Teams typically plan their marketing activities every quarter.
This results in a waterfall approach to marketing, where each step exists as a single entity without overlap. Within the waterfall methodology, change and adjustment are problematic. They stifle the process and need you to rehash previously completed phases.
The traditional waterfall approach is valuable during certain projects—like planning a large event or building a skyscraper, for example. In that case, following a linear set of mini-projects until completion, and mapping everything out in a structured format, is necessary to complete the goal.
The only problem? Marketing does not always fit into structured boxes with predictable outcomes, so it needs to be simplified. Getting better results from completing similar projects requires iterative cycles and feedback so you can improve quickly.
Agile marketing works in short iterative cycles (also known as “sprints”). These are formed from micro strategies based on business goals.
So instead of formulating one big strategy which likely takes six to 12 months to execute and gather data, agile creates smaller versions of this longer cycle. That means you can gather insights quicker and improve, moving faster as you consistently grow.
EXPERTE’s Janis von Bleichert explains:
“I like to think of it like comparing the amount of control a driver has compared to the captain of a ship.
With agile marketing, you can make specific changes quickly and react to new developments as soon as they occur (like in a car), whereas conventional marketing is more like captaining a ship, since you can’t really react to changes which present themselves in a short amount of time.”
Let’s take a deeper look at the three key differences between agile and traditional marketing.
Fast > slow
Conventional marketers create a full strategy once during the process when they have the least amount of data. These comprehensive plans—often accompanied by elaborate spreadsheets and snooze-worthy notes—may make marketers feel safe and productive… but they aren’t aligned with ongoing real-time data.
Will your plans work? You won’t know until your campaign ends which could last for six to 12 months. Need to make a change? Doing so could crumble the delicate waterfall framework you set up, and have a domino effect on the rest of the plan.
On the flip side, an agile marketing plan never finishes. It’s a living plan that changes and improves with each new insight gathered from past data and future plans, as Olly Meakings, freelance startup marketer, explains:
“I spent many years working for startups that wanted long, involved marketing strategies. Documents that took months to plan and research and were then left on a Google Drive, forgotten about.
In the meantime, nothing was being explored or validated through practice.
A shorter marketing cycle is more gratifying, more timely, and underpins creative work with quantitative data.”
Instead of running a marathon marketing campaign where you measure the impact once it completes (6-12 months later), agile marketing runs campaigns in short cycles (typically 1-2 weeks).
The focus is on executing fast, sustainable tactics rather than big-bang campaigns.
Data > opinions
How many times have you started a marketing campaign based on gut instinct?
…How many times has that panned out?
Chances are, you’ve had some lucky predictions. But most times, your large bets on what’ll be the next big thing don’t follow through into concrete business results. (After all, that’s the goal of any marketing campaign.)
Agile marketing relies on data instead of guesses and hunches. There’s little place for guesswork where tactical and strategic decisions need to be made quickly, often, and transparently.
You have a constantly-prioritised backlog of ideas, so you’re using data to decide what to do next—rather than what some marketing influencer says is a good idea.
Transparency > opaqueness
Creating a customer journey that’s cohesive across several platforms is a huge challenge for marketers.
However, agile marketing focuses on collaboration and visibility, so teams can stay aligned and responsive. People from all departments are looped into agile marketing sprints. Everyone knows what’s going on from the get-go.
After all, the premise is to rapidly iterate and embrace failure, allowing marketers to quickly course-correct and improve. The willingness to fail faster opens the door to accelerated learning.
The result? A marketing team that moves faster, grows faster and stays aligned.
The 4 Principles of an Agile Marketing Manifesto
If you’ve come across agile before, you’ve probably heard of its rituals—including daily standups, sprints, user stories etc. You may also be familiar with some of its methodologies.
We’ll touch on a few of the key rituals here, but I’m not going to expend too much energy on this list being comprehensive as, frankly, many of them are ill-suited to marketing teams (more on that later).
The agile marketing methodology is made up of four key principles:
A sprint is a short cycle (usually two weeks) with a clear end goal.
For example, a marketing team may set a goal of testing a new product with a soft launch in a sprint. All of the design, creative, and execution work then has to fit inside that sprint before moving on to the next.
Sprints work extremely well for marketing departments because you’ll get things shipped quickly. A series of rapid iterations stop things from dragging on too long—and finding yourself stuck thinking things like, “we’ve been working on this content marketing campaign for months and the end isn’t anywhere in sight.”
Your entire team works on one thing at a time, finishing that quickly before moving to the next sprint.
2. Daily standups
To stay on top of progress, agile marketing teams engage in brief (usually 10 minutes) daily meetings to discuss:
- What they’re working on
- Challenges they’re facing
- Blockers that are stopping them from doing something
The point of these daily stand-ups is to get cross-functional teams on the same page. So, sent a team-wide calendar invite for a 10-minute catch-up every day.
You can host bi-monthly meetings alongside your daily stand-ups to dive deeper into the sprint you’ve worked on (or are about to start.) These sprint planning meetings prepare everyone on your team for the next project.
You’ll also codify ongoing learnings so the team can identify new information they did not know prior, ready for the next sprint.
4. User stories
User stories are a way of writing tasks from the perspective of the customer. The goal is to ensure that all work delivers value to the customer.
When you start to adopt an agile marketing framework, don’t get hung up on the rituals. It’s absolutely fine to start small—perhaps starting to work in short cycles and then picking and choosing the rituals that work for you over time.
Remember: the point of agile marketing is to work as a team to reach a collective goal. You’ll need feedback from your team to achieve that.
The Benefits of Agile Marketing Frameworks
Now we know what agile marketing typically looks like, let’s take a look at why your business would benefit from taking this sprint-based approach to your marketing campaigns.
Agile marketing relies on real data to inform marketing campaigns—not guesswork.
The result? Consistent growth that rewards you with ongoing data-rich insights that fuel positive ROI for future campaigns, even in a time of uncertainty, as Carter Seuthe, Director of Operations at Credit Summit, shares:
“The pandemic has shifted our customers’ needs and has created entirely new needs that we weren’t anticipating. We have so many people looking for debt counselling and consolidation as well as the tools they need to build sustainable income so they can pay down high-interest debts and break the cycle.
The recession we’re hurtling toward isn’t helping matters at all, so it’s become very clear that our method of marketing can’t keep up.
It’s not enough to have a static marketing plan. This may work for some companies, but right now it’s not a good fit for us. We’re switching to agile so we can be ultra-responsive and meet our customers’ shifting needs.”
Collaboration and Inclusion
Agile marketing teams engage in ongoing collaboration and work toward common business goals. Each team member is involved in ideation, planning and reviewing results which encourages buy-in and participation.
This teamwork means everyone has a stake in the results—and therefore, the success of the campaign. (Unlike traditional marketing team structures who work in silo from other departments.)
Fara Rosenzweig, Head of Content at ManyChat, explains:
“We’re a small, mighty team. Creating a process that allows each individual to move quickly while producing work they are proud of is key. Agile marketing allows us to work cross-functional, work quickly and work on various projects instead.
I don’t have the time to manage every aspect of my team’s work. And other team members don’t have that time either. Being part of an agile framework allows us to hold each other accountable and ourselves accountable.
For example, we have a sprint format working cross-functionally on priority projects, if my portion is delayed, it is clearly visible and sets us back during the sprint. So I hold myself accountable to help my teammates get their task done. It allows us to work with ease and flexibility which is crucial during today’s environment.
I do think it also allows people to take on their own responsibilities and manage themselves. So it eliminates the micro-manager environment and gives the freedom to work on projects that need to be done while in a macro environment.”
If everyone’s working from the same page, it makes sense that companies who’ve implemented an agile methodology increase revenue by 20-40%.
Will Agile Marketing Work for Me?
While we’re huge believers in the agile marketing methodology, the answer is not that simple.
Whether agile marketing will work for you depends on your specific industry and products. For example, if you run a healthcare organisation, your processes will require strict adherence to a set structure that may not align with agile marketing concepts.
The transition may require new software to ease the transition and alignment with your team members, too. Weigh-up whether you’ll be able to get buy-in from your finance department—and how easy it’ll be to get the rest of your team onboard with a new software.
Agile marketing is an “all-in” or “all-out” endeavour. You can dip your toe in, but you won’t realise the full benefit until you jump in fully.
The 7-Step Agile Marketing Plan to Make Decisions Faster
Ready to kick-off your own agile marketing framework?
We built the agile marketing platform, TrueNorth, on these principles and will use them as examples throughout this section.
The seven stages of the agile process are:
- Assemble your team
- Decide on your format
- Set goals
- Forecast different marketing strategies
- Team ideation and prioritisation
- Prepare a roadmap
- Gather data and report on results
1. Assemble Your Agile Marketing Team
The first step is to assemble your agile marketing team. This usually consists of three main groups of people:
- Project or Product Owner: Owns the prioritisation and delivery of tasks, and oversees the sprints. (Usually a CMO or marketing leader.)
- Scrum Master: Owns the process for the Product Owner and the team, and leads the Scrum. The Scrum Master filters all requests and facilitates meetings, ensuring the team adheres to Scrum throughout the process. In a Kanban team, this person might be called the Flow Master.
- Agile team: Make up a team of 4-10 people, including the Scrum Master, that promote a safe environment to share good (and potentially bad) ideas. Each team member should be fully competent in their skillset, so interdependency does not bottleneck progress.
Involving these groups of people helps to solve problems with alignment. Just 15% of marketing teams are very satisfied with their alignment. Knowing who needs to be looped-in on your sprints helps to solve that.
All agile marketers need a clear understanding of its customer-centric goals and how they will accomplish them, too. They are a talented group who know how to collaborate and unify to work speedily and deliberately.
Below are some characteristics of high-performing agile marketing teams:
- Resists tunnel-vision approach to marketing
- Customer-centric with a focus on real-time data
- Analyses targeted analytics to spot opportunities
- Daily standup meetings to bring accountability
- Continuously collaborative
- Devises ideas to improve customer experience
- Prioritises ideas to test
- Defines key performance indicators
- Launches test campaigns in 1-3 week sprints
- Adapts to feedback, makes improvements, and scales what’s working
When assembling agile marketing teams, it’s vital to evaluate team members who may or may not be a good fit.
Agile marketing teams all share a common goal: to improve customer experience and deliver incredible value. This is always at the forefront of every action, sprint, and conversation initiated by the agile marketing team.
They also ignore the urge to run more campaigns than their KPIs tempt them to do, and they work together speedily, staying clear on the objectives. They are flexible, but nimble, and realise that adaptation and learning from mistakes is part of the plan.
2. Decide on Your Format
Next, start to think about which agile framework you want to use.
The two most famous agile frameworks are kanban and scrum. We’ll explore their pros and cons in a moment, but let’s set the record straight: neither is optimal for marketing teams.
Most agile marketing teams adopt a hybrid, often called ‘scrumban’. Even this has its many flaws, which is why we created the first agile framework specifically for marketing teams. (More on that later.)
The Kanban framework focuses on a continuous flow of work.
If you’ve ever used Trello, you’ll be familiar with the Kanban-style of marketing campaign. Vertical columns represent different stages of a project or campaign so participants can easily visualise a campaign’s progress.
Daivat Dholakia, Director of Operations, uses this agile format at Force by Mojio:
“To configure agile workflows, we always use the same four-stage basis: work to do, work in progress, work waiting for review, and work that has been completed. Some workflows are more complex than others, but they all boil down to this.
As an example, our marketing team used an agile workflow to prepare and launch a new social media strategy. We completed graphic design and content writing in sprints, with all hands on deck, until we had it ready to launch.”
Scrum focuses on short sprints (typically two weeks long) that deliver an agreed and planned set of deliverables from a prioritised backlog of campaigns or experiments.
The team predicts expected results, and once the sprint finishes, they compare actual vs expected results with a final goal of improving and adjusting.
It uses short, iterative cycles that start and stop to prioritise and gather data.
Scrumban (Hybrid of Kanban and Scrum)
Scrumban (also called Modified Scrum) is a slightly awkward compilation of the Scrum and Kanban method. It focuses primarily on the Scrum framework, but can also utilise the Kanban-style board to track progress.
It’s the most popular form of agile marketing format, with almost half (47%) saying they implement their framework using a hybrid of different models.
Below is a visual of what a Scrumban framework might look like:
Goal Oriented Marketing
The problem with these traditional frameworks is that they overemphasise efficiency over effectiveness.
That’s okay if you’re an agile software development team trying to ship features. But marketing teams’ needs are generally measured on their effectiveness at driving growth—not the efficiency by which they deliver work.
Goal Oriented Marketing solves this problem. It’s the only agile framework designed specifically for marketing teams.
GOM is a hybrid that focuses on breaking your big goal down into monthly milestones. Your marketing team then chooses the campaigns/experiments most likely to achieve each milestone, so you can stay on track.
The best agile framework for your team will depend on a multitude of things—like your industry, product, company culture, team competencies and willingness to adopt agile concepts.
Most businesses practice a hybrid of Kanban and Scrum, each weighing heavily into one or the other. For example, you may use the Scrum framework for your marketing plans, but use a Kanban board to measure progress and limit the number of work items executed.
On the flip side, you might prefer the Kanban framework, but introduce Scrum-style daily standup meetings to review data, uncover challenges, and course-correct quicker.
3. Set Goals
Agile or not, you must create business goals. Otherwise, you have no way of knowing if your marketing is actually working.
You can map these over to your agile marketing campaign to make sure you’re making headway on those goals—and not getting caught up in fancy, trendy marketing tactics that fail to deliver any business results.
Muhammad Saad Khan explains how they do this at Cloudways:
“We have configured agile marketing goals using OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), the framework used by Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Dropbox and more. We are creating yearly objectives and key results for Cloudways.
The objectives show ambition, and key results define the initiatives around ambition. They are measurable and quantified.
The yearly OKRs are then broken down into different teams on a quarterly basis and then into every individual in the team.
Everyone in the marketing team knows what they will be doing, at what time they need to do it, what results are expected and how they will tie into the company’s yearly OKRs.
The key is to create actionable and measurable goals. They should be specific and not vague.”
So, what does a good agile marketing goal look like? As Muhammad explains, they should be specific. Here’s what that might look like:
- Vague: Get more website traffic by next year.
- Specific: Increase website traffic 25% in the next 30 days
The granular goals should also stem from overarching goals that point to profit and revenue. For example: if you have specific revenue goals, you would break that down into more granular marketing metrics (leads and sales numbers) and create agile marketing goals to reach those numbers.
4. Think of Ideas
You’ve got your strategy and your channels; it’s time to brainstorm ideas. We can break this down into three stages.
Step 1: Find your core channel
The most successful marketing teams focus on one core channel at a time and invest some budget into finding that one channel that feeds their true north metric (a top metric that unlocks growth).
During this stage, invest 100% of your marketing budget into testing each channel to find the one that performs the best. This step is all about experimentation.
What is your ideal core channel? Ideally, it will be a cross-section of these three variables:
Step 2: Focus on the core channel
You found your core channel. Now go ALL IN on that channel, dedicating 90-100% of your marketing budget.
We realise it may be difficult to resist the temptation to diversify your marketing spend among all channels that perform instead of focusing solely on your core channel. But, doing so will dilute your effectiveness.
Trying to maximise both channels is as foolish as targeting multiple audiences with one ad. In trying to target more people, you lose your ability to target the people who are most likely to buy because you had to broaden your message.
You will gain more value from focusing all of your efforts on one channel, even if you are getting small returns from other channels.
Focus on this channel until you notice diminishing returns.
Step 3: Focus on the second core channel
Once you saturate your core channel and see diminishing returns, go back and find your next channel and start experimenting again. This second channel should complement your core channel and meet the same criteria: satisfy strong economics, growth potential, and unfair advantage.
TrueNorth’s platform allows you to gather your team’s ideas directly through the platform and easily prioritise them with 100% visibility on the results. It’s incredibly easy to prioritise your campaign ideas using the ICE (impact, confidence, ease) framework.
5. Prioritize Your Highest ROI Ideas
The next stage in any agile marketing plan is to determine which ideas are most likely to deliver the highest ROI.
Instead of waiting six to 12 months on a traditional marketing campaign (and investing thousands of dollars you can’t recover before you realise that your method didn’t work), come up with as many options (ideas & experimetns) that could deliver your growth objective.
Schedule a marketing meeting to review the chosen ideas and whittle them down to about 10. Assess the viable choices, and discuss how to prioritise the ideas (this can also lead to new ideas).
Prioritise your top ideas using a framework like ICE (impact, confidence, ease) so you can determine the commitment level to execute each one.
Once you discover your path of least resistance, plan agile sprints that work backwards to achieve that overarching business goal.
With TrueNorth, you can simulate marketing campaign results before you even launch. Our Funnel Simulator makes it easy to play with campaign variables to get the expected results that fit your goal.
True to agile marketing principles, you’ll be able to spot warning signs early enough to course-correct and avoid wasting your marketing budget.
6. Develop a Roadmap and Implement Sprints
During the roadmap stage, meet with team members to refine your ideas into full-scale campaigns.
It’s essential to keep the team aligned at this point; they’re the people actually working on the upcoming sprint.
View all upcoming campaigns on a centralised workspace so each member can share feedback on the campaign, and stakeholders can understand the reasoning behind them as well. Nobody has to ask, “what are we working on next?”
Each campaign should include a summary, expected results, expected budget, timeframe, and prioritisation score:
7. Gather Data and Report on Results
Marketers view reporting as a time suck, mainly if campaigns don’t perform as expected.
Truth is: reporting is essential to securing budget and getting sign-off for future agile marketing campaigns. What you need is the right reporting set-up.
If you simulated your campaigns and recorded your expected results, compare these pre-launch simulations with the actual results.
Reporting the actual results alongside the expected results provides objective data for the entire company to view; no sugar coating or manipulating required. Stakeholders will trust the results, and team members will have 100% visibility into how their campaign ideas performed.
Inside TrueNorth, predicted results display alongside actual results for easy review.
The analytics interface displays expected and actual markers, ROI, campaign prioritisation, channel, team assignments and more. Compare them to the actual campaign results after launch to ensure you’re on track to reach your goals.
Ready to Go Agile?
As you can see, agile marketing is a format only growing in popularity. Not only will you turnaround campaigns faster, but everyone on your marketing team will be working together on the same sprint.
The good news? TrueNorth was created to help marketers move faster while staying 100% aligned. Remove complexity, and capture insights at the right time to course-correct sooner and maximise your marketing budget.
Our agile approach helps marketing teams move faster and stay aligned. The result? Know what’s working and what isn’t so you can prove your marketing and justify marketing spend.
Take TrueNorth for a test run and get a feel for simplified, organised, agile marketing that fuels business growth.
You’ll wonder how you ran your marketing team for so long before it.