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The 6 Core Values of Agile Marketing

Agile Marketing is a way of working that borrows its inspiration from Agile software development with a marketing lens. While the following values were originally formalized in 2012 as the Agile Marketing Manifesto, people have quickly been gaining interest in them over past several years.

Often when you think of Agile, it’s the processes and frameworks like Scrum, Kanban, Sprints, and Retrospectives that come to mind. While there will be occasional references to these processes, the focus here will be on establishing a foundation of defining Agile Marketing. Let’s start with an introduction to the core Agile Marketing values, then we’ll dive into how they depart from Agile software principles and explain the success factors (and barriers) to adoption.

1. Data-driven: Validated Learnings vs. Opinions and “Best Practices”

Many marketers believe that they’re being held back by lack of access to timely, accurate data for reports, or the availability of skilled resources to analyze and derive insights. However, once we start probing into the campaign planning process, we often see that there are significant gaps in how data-driven a marketing organization really is. In fact, for many companies’ emotions and instincts along with what’s been done in the past are the main guides to what gets done.

A traditional marketing team will typically start with a project or campaign idea that’s driven by a specific business need. As for which project gets the team’s attention, it’s either first come first serve or the loudest and/or most senior requestor goes to the head of the line. The execution teams will be briefed, and the program will be designed and put into market.

In Agile Marketing, data is used every step of the way. It begins by exploring the possible opportunities using available results and insights, quantifying the anticipated benefit, and then deciding what to do first. At this point the program is developed, launched, and measured. Finally, the learnings and opportunities for optimization are identified and fed back into the next cycle of projects.

Although these steps may seem like they would bog down the campaign process, we have found that teams who adopt this way of working become more efficient. With data on a marketing team’s side to guide strategy and direction, teams are no longer wasting time on endless, opinion-based debates over what to do and how to do it.

Comparison of Traditional vs. Agile Marketing Process

Traditional vs agile

2. Relevant: Individuals and interactions over one size fits all

Being more focused on the needs of the customer is a big shift in mindset for software developers, but it’s second nature to most marketers. Technology is the obstacle to delivering more personalized experiences. While data and technology will impact how fast and how far you can go, there are other enablers that are often overlooked.

The foundation must first be built upon a well-thought out vision of the future state experience, which informs the development of user stories and use cases. Successful execution will require not only data and technology but also the supporting people, processes, and measurement.

Enablers of Customer-Centricity

Customer centric messages

3. Nimble: Rapid iterations over Big Bang campaigns

The saying “Perfect is the enemy of good" captures the essence of why it’s so hard for marketers to be more nimble. In the old world of marketing with its big bang TV campaigns and long lead time direct mail programs, mistakes were costly, and it was nearly impossible to make changes once something launched. While these restrictions don’t apply to today’s digital world, marketers have carried over this risk-averse perspective. Another hurdle is that, unlike Agile software development where it’s easier to imagine incremental enhancements to a product, it’s much harder to envision delivering components of a campaign separately because each program is thought of in its entirety as a cohesive interdependent entity.

The solution is to deconstruct each element of the campaign and seek ways to have a simpler version (that still produces business impact) that can be delivered in less time.  Instead of an endless number of segments, just focus on one or two. And if the data or technology can’t support a fully automated, real-time approach, consider how a blended or even fully manual process using what you have in place today can be leveraged.

Whether it’s technology, resources, or other capabilities, there will always be barriers. In Agile, there is a bias towards action, which means accepting and making the most out of the imperfect.

Vision chart

4. Exploratory: Many small experiments over a few large bets

This principle is the embodiment of the core Agile belief of continuous improvement.  However, when budgets get tightened, timelines become compressed, or resources are overextended, the first thing to be eliminated from a program is testing. We get it, testing feels like a lot of work and some of us have memories of labor-intensive tests that yielded disappointing results. But conducting small experiments needs to become a non-negotiable part of the campaign process and embedded in every project brief.

Deciding what to test is extremely important. Part of the problem is that we frequently see tests that are dictated by an executive’s whim or a well-intended team member’s impromptu addition. Considerations should include:

  • Impact− Does this address an important business problem?
  • Scale − Does this affect a large portion of the audience?
  • Feasibility − Can we execute this test? How difficult is it to implement?
  • Measurable − Can we accurately measure and determine, with statistical significance if this worked?

5. Adaptive: Responding to change over following a plan

The reaction to this principle will be vastly different depending on the industry in which you operate. Those working in heavily regulated areas such as banking, insurance, or pharma will likely nod solemnly in recognition of the need to be more adaptive. On the other side of the spectrum, those working in a fast moving, lightly regulated industry like retail are probably thinking “Plan? What Plan?” Neither extreme is ideal, but through the Agile lens a lightweight plan with just enough information to guide the execution is much preferred to a detailed Gantt chart with every task and its associated dependencies spelled out, and no room for changes or deviation.

One way to structure a project for greater adaptivity is to consider the core tenets of Scrum – one of the more well-known frameworks within Agile:

  • Quantifiable objective and a light strategy to guide the team
  • Short timeboxed iteration cycles (or Sprints) for execution, typically two- four weeks
  • Insights review to identify new opportunities and adjust the strategy

The point is to integrate the learnings of past projects into future strategies as quickly as possible instead of locking yourself into a rigid plan that’s only revisited, at most, once or twice a year.

Agile learning curve

6. Integrated: Collaboration over silos and hierarchy         

To be truly agile, an organization must collaborate effectively to make the best decisions with the entire business in mind.

Many businesses are still organized with traditional department stuctures: Marketing, CRM, Digital, Analytics, Finance, Commercial. These teams were setup long ago to provide specialization within different subject matter expertise. As businesses and teams grow, however, KPIs focused on conversion metrics within each department don’t always end up aligning. For example, an acquisition team is targeted on volumes of net adds, regardless of the quality of the customer, or the discount given to acquire the customer. This can lead to frustration within the CRM team that is tasked with retention but has a high churn rate from the new customers with low value.

By bringing colleagues together to achieve a common goal, you can much more effectively bring together the different specialties required for end-to-end thinking.

Simply changing reporting lines or restructuring a team will not always drive the desired results. Many organizations simply shift their silos from horizontal departments to vertical “cross-functional” teams. When shifting to cross-functional working you must establish how different cross-functional teams fit together to still ladder up to your business goals.

In the last decade, the terms squads, tribes, and chapters have become more common. Pioneered by Spotify, this structure looks at how we can best organize people into autonomous teams (squads) with a shared purpose; working with other squads towards a common goal (within a tribe). Within each team there are different specializations (CRM, UX, Paid Media, Insight) that share best practices and learning and developments across different squads, helping with talent development and reducing the risk of squads becoming their own silos.

Agile organization example

Getting the right setup of roles within squads to meet a goal and have a level of autonomy within the headcount limitations of the business can be a huge step towards a highly productive, collaborative working environment.

For a team to be truly effective, the team must be autonomous which requires two things:

1) Empowerment for teams to make decisions towards their targets without approval from others

2) The end-to-end skills required to not be dependent upon an external team that works with different timeframes and priorities

Having autonomy in the team does not mean that every role or skill required MUST be in every squad. Sometimes it is best to have certain skills supported by a competence center or shared service, working across multiple squads.

The most effective businesses in this space have gone as far as to change how teams and people commit to working with each other. These businesses have embraced a “culture of collaboration”, forming new social contracts written by their own teams, and even changed recruitment processes to ensure new hires have a cultural fit within the collaborative teams.

While this can sound like quite a lot to consider, this level of change does not happen overnight. The key consideration with reorganization is that we must remember we are dealing with people. Changing situations can lead to some level of anxiety and disruption. We must recognize that we need to support people through change, but if we remember to stick to our core principles of agility, and take our people on the journey with us, they will often ultimately drive our success.

Want to learn more? Check out Merkle’s Q2 Customer Engagement Report here.