A couple of years ago, I wrote a column that introduced agile marketing — a management approach that adapts agile software development methodologies to marketing projects. I suggested that adopting agile marketing management practices might be the single most important factor in building a successful, ongoing conversion optimization program.
Two years later, I believe that’s more true than ever.
The Agile Marketing Movement Advances
Agile marketing applies to more than conversion optimization, of course. The value of speed and flexibility is manifest for nearly all forms of digital marketing.
For instance, Jonathan Colman has an excellent presentation on how he leveraged agile marketing in SEO in his work at REI. Ric Dragon also has a great new book out, Social Marketology, that includes a discussion of how to use agile management in social media marketing.
Across the industry, there’s increasing momentum around agile marketing.
Valtech, a professional firm specializing in agile software development and agile project management, just released a white paper on agile marketing — including a foreword by yours truly, claiming that the most valuable marketing capability today is agility. I also presented the closing keynote at their Agile Day event in Paris last month — everything is marketing and everyone must be agile (click through for slides and an essay version of my talk).
At the same time, another group of marketers held an agile marketing summit called SprintZero: The Physics of Agile Marketing in San Francisco. Travis Arnold has a comprehensive post of manifestos made in the name of agile marketing that were debated and celebrated at the event. You can read about many of the terrific discussions they had on blogs by Jim Ewel and John Cass, both leading agile marketing pioneers.
One of the outcomes of SprintZero was the formation of several agile marketing meet-ups in a number of major cities: Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. These informal get-togethers should provide a good venue for marketers to exchange ideas and experiences with agile marketing in their organizations.
The Values Embodied In Agile Management
Why has agile marketing suddenly gained such momentum?
The original Manifesto for Agile Software Development written over 10 years ago describes four values that underpin agile management at its inception:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
As the framers of that manifesto so eloquently stated, “while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”
Although that manifesto was written with software development in mind, the essence of those values have come to describe the nature of modern marketing to an uncanny degree.
“Responding to change” is a universal management objective these days. “Individuals and interactions” applies to marketing teams that are breaking out of silos, but it also describes the intimacy with customers in social media and personalized digital experiences. “Customer collaboration” can be interpreted as working with our advocates and influencers, as well as enabling more voice-of-the-customer mechanisms in our marketing infrastructure.
“Working software” doesn’t directly apply, but I’d argue that “working experiences” — digital and physical experiences that live up to customer expectations — should be marketing’s top priority. (As conversion optimization professionals who deal in continuity and relevance can certainly attest.)
Given the affinity of these values in marketing, it seems quite natural that many marketers would independently find themselves drawn to the principles and practices of agile management.
Two New Values For Agile Marketing
As I’ve been talking with more practitioners of agile marketing — admittedly a discipline that is emerging organically in different ways among different teams — I’ve come to believe that there are two other key values that buoy this movement:
- Testing and data over opinions and conventions.
- Numerous small experiments over a few large bets.
Avinash Kaushik has arguably been the leading advocate for using testing and data to drive decisions in marketing — in contrast to opinions and conventionally held beliefs that so often prove to be misplaced. Certainly conversion optimization is rooted in this philosophy. But increasingly, all the different facets of marketing provide opportunities for testing ideas and using data to weigh the outcomes.
The recent excitement around big data is yet another way in which marketing can gain and leverage insight from real customer behavior rather than relying on the gut instinct of a small number of executives.
Data and testing are facilitating a fundamental change in the implementation of marketing: instead of having to make a few big bets on major campaigns months in advance, marketing teams can be much more “iterative” with an ongoing series of small experiments.
Keep trying new ideas, rapidly, with low risk and low investment. Once an experiment proves successful, then you scale it up with greater resources.
It’s certainly a different culture than marketing from the days of Mad Men. But as you can see from the links above, more and more marketing organizations are adopting agile methodologies for competitive advantage.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.