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Valtteri Taube with Shipra Thakur

on Thought leadership

Go agile or go home

The potential clock-speed of marketing has increased significantly. To succeed in the new normal, marketing organizations must go agile – or go home.

Twenty years ago, the only relevant option for high-reach, low-cost advertising was print media, where ads could cost hundreds or even thousands of euros. It was difficult or impossible to change existing campaigns – which is why most activities were planned and tested thoroughly before the execution phase. Return-on-investment was measured after the fact and was, by definition, backward-looking.

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The contrast to today is stark: the starting cost of a simple three-line Google ad hovers near € 0.01, modifying existing activities only requires a three-click process and under- or over-performing marketing campaigns can be identified and optimized in real-time.

Decreasing fixed costs and increasing testing capabilities have shrunk the potential length of a single prioritize-design-execute iteration of marketing from months to days.

Decreasing fixed costs and increasing testing capabilities have shrunk the potential length of a single prioritize-design-execute iteration of marketing from months to days. As an ever-larger part of marketing spend is moving to digital channels, there is an ever-larger discrepancy between current ways of working in marketing organizations and what could be possible. Teams that rely on traditional annual or quarterly planning cycles are failing to realize their full potential. On the other hand, some organizations have slid into an endless fire-drill mode where priorities, objectives and even the role of marketing is in daily flux.

What’s the best possible response to the new normal?

Winning marketers have already embraced a new methodology widely used in software development: an agile approach. In agile development, marketing teams work in 1-4-week intervals and deliver solutions (e.g. modifications to existing marketing initiatives) incrementally. Agile is already the norm in born-digital companies like Zalando and Spotify, but it’s also a part of larger organizations with a longer legacy. For example Posti, Elisa and Outotec are already utilizing or testing this method.

Agile marketers focus on goals, identify the initiatives that can achieve those goals and have a mindset and a way of working that helps roll out new products and services faster. One of the prerequisites for being agile is a real-time analytics setup. This lets the results guide you in choosing a path that is more profitable and in learning from analyses of past initiatives. However, even a very basic sales data and web analytics setup allows marketing teams to go agile. The trick is being able to prioritize and select new ideas to work on during each sprint, by wisely identifying which ideas should make it to the backlog and which ones should be killed.

Agile marketers focus on goals, identify the initiatives that can achieve those goals and have a mindset and a way of working that helps roll out new products and services faster.

Our clients have reported multiple benefits of going agile: significantly shorter time-to-market, greater throughput thanks to less time wasted on detailed activity planning and better flexibility in allocating resources. These main factors allow CMOs to react to changing business priorities and reach their KPIs more effectively. In addition, according to research by CMG Partners, agile marketing organizations are three times more likely to achieve significant growth in market share. The three main factors behind these benefits are dynamic, systematic and continuous prioritization, just-in-time planning and pull-based resource allocation.

From months to days

Traditionally, a marketer’s prioritize-plan-execute cycle lasts between 3 months and a year. This limits the marketing teams’ ability to utilize digital channels fully and their ability to react to sudden changes in the market environment. In agile marketing, prioritization is more frequent and is usually conducted within intervals of just 1-4 weeks. This enables teams to stay nimble.

However, there is a danger of slipping into chaotic ad-hoc marketing without any sensible direction when switching to agile. To maintain a systematic way of working, it’s critical to get buy-ins for the prioritization logic from key internal stakeholders, as business units, sales and communications functions often have different views on the most important marketing initiatives. Most commonly, factors like required effort, cost and estimated commercial impact are used in prioritization. Notably, 46% of agile marketers report an enhanced ability to manage changing priorities as the main reason for going agile (AgileSherpas/CoSchedule 2019).

Just enough, just in time

A heavily backward-looking analysis of marketing effectiveness has forced marketing organizations to use a significant share of their time in planning to mitigate risks of big-bang failures. Extensive pre-planning creates substantial waste when inevitable market environment changes happen: activity plans become outdated or the plans are scrapped and replaced with ad-hoc activities.

Agile marketing teams achieve greater throughput and generate less waste by utilizing just-in-time (JIT) planning. Under a JIT approach, high-level task descriptions are needed for prioritization, but detailed plans are prepared at the time they’re needed, not weeks or months in advance. In practice, only the high priority items selected for the work queue are planned on a level that is needed for execution. Accordingly, 56% of agile marketers state the improved productivity as the main reason for trying out agile ways of working (AgileSherpas/CoSchedule 2019).

Pulling together

The third important improvement of an agile approach is pull-based resource management. Traditionally, marketing teams’ to-do lists have been filled with tasks created in the annual or quarterly planning phase. This ‘push’ type of resource management is inflexible: the marketing team is fully-booked for the quarter or year and unable to react when needed.

With pull-based resource management, tasks are released into work-queues one-by-one only when free capacity is available. Strict limits on the number of in-progress tasks are established to avoid tasks piling up in certain work phases. Combined with a 1-4-week prioritization cycle, pull-based systems make marketing teams incredibly flexible while ensuring a high level of throughput.

Combined with a 1-4-week prioritization cycle, pull-based systems make marketing teams incredibly flexible while ensuring a high level of throughput.

A winning combination

By combining these three core improvements, agile marketers achieve a significantly shorter time-to-market, waste less time in detailed activity planning and have better flexibility when allocating resources; together, these strategies provide the double benefit of better results and lower costs.

Why, then, aren’t all teams already utilizing agile approaches? Often this transformation is seen as a risky endeavor: marketing has several interdependencies with departments that do not move as fast (e.g. legal & compliance) and changing direction quickly is not possible because budgets are tied to specific projects. That is why an agile transformation should be approached like eating an elephant: just one bite-sized chunk at a time. Making your marketing organization agile isn’t a simple matter, but we have found a practical and effective way to get there. In our next post, we’ll present Marketing Clinic’s step-by-step guide on how to go agile.

References:
CMG Partners (2013): Sixth Annual CMO’s Agenda™AgileSherpas

CoSchedule (2019): State of Agile Marketing 2019