Since the late 1990s, marketers have been faced with, and survived, several big extinction moments.
The first marketing extinction moment happened with the widespread adoption of cloud software for product development, first in the software industry and then quickly spreading to all product verticals due to increased cycle time speed. Product development teams could no longer wait for yearly marketing budget waterfall strategy or processes. Collateral development failed to keep up and could not run on shorter sprints for delivery and support of the fastest companies.
A few years later, the evolutionary climate got even more disruptive as social networks added to the speed of change by removing the barriers between audience and company. This not only created raw (and sometimes overwhelming) seas of user data, it created an unmoderated bi-directional conversation, with user evangelists and non-centralized information sources all but dethroning a company’s ability to control the conversation through traditional PR and marketing tactics.
Agile marketing is how we marketers are adapting to this upheaval.
As a speaker at VentureBeat’s Agile Marketing Roadshow in San Francisco this past week, I had the opportunity to hear the latest thoughts from my peers in the marketing community on where agile is taking us. My belief, based on all that we discussed, is that ALL marketing will be agile before the year 2020. Agile practices will be so ubiquitous that agile marketing will just be called “marketing” again; “agile” will be obvious and redundant.
Agile Marketing Is Not Agile Software Development
Another key takeaway from last week’s event was the conviction that agile marketing is very much its own animal. It’s not simply a matter of applying agile software development practices to marketing.
By the nature of the work, software development converges on a set of best practices, which can be unambiguously determined and transferable across companies. A scrum manager can point to a build and say, “This isn’t working right here.”
Marketing is not software. Marketing comes from more divergent psychological realms like emotion, brand impression, artwork, persuasion, and the like, creating two main problems for marketing people:
Internal communication is more difficult (ironically), making time management, scheduling, and delivery estimates more inexact.
That means there is no “one best way.” The tactics that work for one firm’s marketing, almost never work the same for another firm. Or as Tammy Camp at 500 Startups told me last week: The one big secret for business growth is that there is no one big secret — only process.
Agile is the process, but for marketing, it’s a different process than product development, so my advice is to not share systems or terminology with your product development teams, because you will get mired in definitions and experience gaps. Product and development people know agile like gospel. Marketers usually do not.
The Big Challenge Ahead? Convincing Management
Many of us at last week’s Agile Marketing event also agreed that the biggest challenge to marketers isn’t the process of learning and applying agile tactics; it is the process of getting managers to buy into this whole new type of marketing.
For you to use agile practices most effectively, your executives must buy into it. That may not be too difficult in software companies, where there’s already an appreciation for agile methods. But marketers at other companies face a tougher challenge.
For all marketers have done to evolve and align with development teams, there are powerful departments that are still rigid and often slow to adapt: C-level leadership and finance.
A CEO usually has a sales or product background. They often moved up the ranks by getting work done with connections and hard-driving negotiation, neither of which translate to agile process. And most finance departments are still tied to an annual budgetary review cycle. They are extremely averse to change, especially if they are asked to allocate money to an opportunity that may come and go in less than six months.
My advice is to map your work to something leadership and finance can understand and care about — a conceptual, investment, or business positioning goal that they already want to achieve. And certainly don’t expect them to understand or learn about your job. Getting their buy-in is your job, not theirs.
One great suggestion I heard from Hiten Shah was to show them an opportunity where a competitor beat you because they were more agile.
The Roadshow event certainly produced some great discussion last week. And all of us currently in the process of inventing agile marketing will have much more to learn from our own successes and failures as the field evolves — as you probably know, successes and failures are intricately linked in the agile realm. Let me know about your own results in agile in the comments — or feel free to reach out directly.