Agile Marketing Is The Perfect Management Framework For Big Testing

I’ve written about agile marketing several times in this column over the years. First, Agile Marketing For Conversion Optimization in 2010, and then, Have You Adopted Agile Marketing Yet? in 2012. Now it’s 2013, and I’m back with this year’s edition of my agile marketing stump speech. Why do I keep returning so doggedly to this topic?

It’s More About Talent Than Technology

As far as I’m concerned, adopting agile marketing remains the single most valuable thing marketing teams can do to improve their conversion rates.

I can’t emphasize that enough. It beats “best practices” hands down. It’s more effective than any tool by any vendor. (And, I say that as a highly enthusiastic vendor in this space.)

Because, as Avinash Kaushik so famously said in his 10/90 rule for investing more in talent than technology, modern marketing success is more about your people than anything else. Agile marketing is designed to unleash their full potential.

An Introduction To Agile Marketing

I know, the label “agile” is attached to many things these days to make them sound sexy. You might be tempted to lump agile marketing into the same bucket of buzzwords such as real-time marketing and high-metabolism marketing, filtering it out as hyperbole.


Agile marketing isn’t just an aspiration. It’s a family of concrete management methodologies.

If you aren’t yet familiar with agile methodologies and how they can be applied in marketing, you might find the following slides, from a presentation I recently gave at the Marketing Operations Executive Summit, helpful. I’ve also written a 6,000-word accompanying essay that recreates my talk in full, Agile Marketing for a World of Constant Change:

If you’re reading — or clicking through slides — I’ll wait.

Okay, so you’ve got the basic idea of applying agile management in marketing: small, highly-collaborative teams, working in a series of rapid cycles of 1-4 weeks, adapting to feedback along the way, and emphasizing full transparency among all stakeholders to keep priorities up-to-date.

Agile Marketing Helps Organize Big Testing

In my last two columns, I described Big Testing — embracing marketing experimentation on a broad scale — and discussed how to structure such widespread testing with massively parallel marketing. That’s great at scale.

But, the real magic of testing happens where the rubber meets the road: the front-line marketers who are designing and implementing these marketing experiments.

In massively parallel marketing at larger enterprises, that real world implementation happens with teams on the leaves of that big branching org chart tree. However, many companies don’t need to parallelize marketing across dozens or hundreds of people. They may have eight or fewer people — a single agile team’s worth — in marketing in total.

But, in both scenarios, the quality of what is produced comes down to those people who are actually creating marketing experiences. In the context of paid search, that’s AdWords campaigns and their matching post-click experiences. But the principle certainly applies to marketing more broadly.

If they’re invested and passionate and inspired, then you’re going to reap far greater results than if they’re mechanically following dictates from above that are inevitably less connected to the opportunities on the ground.

You want everyone to adhere to the same vision — the same overarching strategy — but at the same time, you want to give them the creative freedom to bring their own ideas and imagination to bear in that mission. You want that — or you should want that — because that’s how you tap their talent to your advantage.

Agile marketing provides a way to balance these two forces — top-down strategy and bottom-up creativity.

“Customer stories” that represent concrete desires for specific customer personas along the buyer’s journey are brainstormed jointly by the team and their manager, who takes responsibility for keeping them aligned with the company’s top-down vision.

The manager exercises influence in the definition of those stories and the prioritization of which stories will be tackled for a particular sprint. But, the team is invested in the co-creation of those stories and makes the commitment for implementing the top-priority stories in that sprint.

Not All Marketing Experiments Are Created Equal

One of the advantages of agile is that it minimizes supervisory overhead while increasing managerial visibility. Because there’s full transparency about the customer stories and tasks that have been prioritized for the current sprint — and their updated progress on a daily basis — there are fewer opportunities for unexpected “surprises” resulting from miscommunication.

This is helpful in Big Testing, because not all marketing experiments are created equal, especially when it comes to deciding how formal your test management process should be:

Marketing Experimentation Risk Matrix

Some marketing experiments, such as testing different AdWords copy or variations of your landing pages that don’t fundamentally change your offer or the essence of your message, can be run with low formality. The scale of impact on the brand is low, and the likelihood of contention among multiple people testing in parallel is low.

That low formality quadrant in the above diagram is the sweet spot for massively parallel marketing.

However, other experiments — such as tests of significant new offers, especially around pricing — require more coordination, as they can have significant impact on your brand. These kinds of experiments may benefit from more formality, especially if they’re being run in high-contention environments such as your main website’s home page.

The agile marketing framework is flexible enough to handle this range of scenarios.

Customer stories that are going to involve tests that require greater formality can be flagged as such in the backlog or sprint planning process. An “awaiting approval” column may be added to the team’s task board, where such experiments can queue for more formal verification before being launched in-market.

Low formality experiments, on the other hand, can skip that stage of delivery.

Agile marketing teams may also consider an additional column on their task board: “awaiting validation.” When experiments are in-market, they can be queued here, pending their results. Particularly for experiments worthy of higher formality, this mechanism can be used to control the number of tests in progress at any one time to minimize interaction effects.

With its inherent malleability, agile marketing makes Big Testing practical for organizations of almost any size.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the president and CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of landing page management and conversion optimization software. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist. Follow him on twitter via @chiefmartec.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter


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  • Scott Brinker

    Hi, Steve.

    I mean that there are lots of “landing page best practices” that are tactical tips and recommendations for designing pages — e.g., keep the form short, stick to one call-to-action (CTA), include some kind of social proof, etc.

    Those are fine, but marketing is much more dynamic and context-dependent than a set of fixed recipes does justice.

    Agile marketing teams, by their focus on validated learning, are able to explore and discover what works best with their audience in a much more organic and authentic manner.

    So yes, I complete agree that agile marketing itself is a best practice. But that’s a higher level.


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