Agile Marketing: Calling all CMOs, your future online is agile!

As a regular reader of this blog, or even a first time visitor to us, you’ll no doubt be well versed in the practices of digital marketing. There is no need for me to wax lyrical on the challenges faced with an increasingly fragmented media landscape, continued growth and influence of social and the customer demands to be spoken to as a“segment of one”. I’m going to take it as a given that you’ve seen the proof, experienced it yourselves in your organisations and are “sold” on the challenges you face.

So what do we do about this?

The answer is beautiful in it’s simplicity. We need to become more agile in our marketing. 

Agile Marketing, a burgeoning concept that is highly lauded by the few who have adopted it, puts your customer at the very heart of everything you do. That may sound a little obvious, perhaps even a little simplistic at first glance, but think a little deeper on it. If the customer is at the core of every decision you make this means they influence:

  • The projects you’re working on.
  • How and when a project or product is deemed ready for the market.
  • Your promotional spend (where and how much).
  • When, how and from whom you gather feedback.
  • How and when a project is deemed a success.
As well as:
  • The type of job roles you hire - the team you build.
  • How your team structure their working day.
  • Product development cycles.
  • Cross departmental collaboration.
  • Office layout and structure (we’ll come onto this).
I could go on but the point has been made. This is a fundamental shift in what you do and how you do it. But it will better equip you with you knowing what to do next, where the big wins are to be had and it also emphasises action over and above discussion. This is a key point, no longer should you strive for complete perfection over getting an initial product out the door. Ship your minimum viable product (MVP) and then iterate - I’m not just talking the talk here,  it’s how Distilled do it too.
DistilledU is a great case study on this, it’s currently live in public beta with “real users” providing substantial feedback to us on what they like, dislike and what other features and content they’d like to see.
We’ve created a public trello board so everyone can keep track of what we’ve done and what’s coming up. We’ve steadily pushed more content out, with 2 new interactive modules recently going live, and 2 days ago we launched the new “share” feature via a competition. We didn’t wait the extra couple of months until we had all this ready before going live. We worked out our MVP and have iterated and prioritised the next steps off the back of feedback directly from our target market. In the meantime we’ve also managed to go some way to proving concept and even generating a little cash. The point I’m stressing here is, the agile mentality has made a real difference to this one project alone and ensured we know a lot more about the viability of DistilledU now than we would have if we’d waited to have it “perfect” before we launched. Ideas are the easy part, anyone can have ideas, it’s proving they work and are a valid business proposition that is the challenge. The agile mentality is the perfect solution for this.  
For those interested in agile marketing I highly recommend reading the excellent presentation from Jonathon Colman below given at Mozcon yesterday. It’s a fantastic breakdown of the underlying principles as well as insight into the practicalities on how to implement it internally.  

We’ve discussed above the importance of having the customer at the core of what you do, but below I’d like to highlight some of the other key takeaways that he bring’s up in his presentation:

Silos are structured for company benefit not users

Working in silos is sub-optimal so why do it? Some of the great innovative companies of today (3M, Pixar, Apple, Google) recognise this, it’s no coincidence that they’ve structured their companies to work together and ensure cross departmental interaction on problems. Pixar are a great case in point, following the extended difficulties they had with Toy Story 2 Steve Jobs immediately moved all of their employees under one roof and ensured that everyone interacted no matter what their job role. The result? A catalogue of incredibly successful animated films. For more on this you should read Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works

Most great things don’t happen in meetings

A great point! Meetings in their traditional format can be a massive time (and productivity) sink but they are also fundamentally necessary in collaborative projects. The agile framework of a daily standup, where you discuss only 3 things (what you did, what’s in process, any complications) will focus the meeting and ensure actionable takeaways come from it. Make your meetings better and build in accountability and visibility for all, everyone will know what their next tasks are and how that will impact eachother’s work. Trello and Scrum for Trello are great tools to help you with this.

What can we take on in a 2 week cycle?

The bigger picture is important, but what are those first steps you can take? Focus yourself and your team on achievable small goals. Avoid the paralysis so often encountered when trying to aim too big too fast and, as a result, never making inroads into a project. Additionally, during the 2 week cycle and feedback phase you may find yourself heading down the wrong track. But this is no problem, you’ll have the agility to adapt and shift focus for the next iteration.

It’s ok to fail

Possibly the hardest pill to swallow here, but remove the mentality that failure is bad. By employing the agile marketing ethos, failure becomes a very real and regular occurrence. You’re moving quickly, you’re going to break things! But those failures are small, they are short term, they do less damage to the company and they ensure you stay on the right track to reach your big goal. Embrace the chaos, designate a scrum master to remove any impediments to shipping and ship often. Then remember to gather feedback as part of the process, bring the customer into the fold and make them part of the product development process. This will ensure they build an emotive connection with your brand, feel invested in the project itself and you ensure what you’re delivering has genuine value and demand. Let nothing get in the way of being valuable to the customer! 

Today’s CMO has a hell of a task. They must juggle the overwhelming influx of “big data”, an ever changing digital landscape and increasing demands from their audience for personal relevance. They must finely balance the risk of innovation, whilst ensuring maximum ROI for their budgets and investments, and demonstrate bringing in real value to the business. It’s a challenging and versatile role, that requires a flexible mind set and a sound business brain. We believe that building an agile marketing framework into your team will provide a lot of the solutions to these challenges. Not all of them, this is no silver bullet, but you will build a flexible, nimble and adapative team that can both plan ahead whilst deal with the demands of the “here and now”. Below is our manifesto for you, embrace these principles and you shall be set for a successful future online:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Who has embraced agile marketing in their teams? Any case studies or conflicting opinions? Please do share them below in the comments.

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  1. Daniel Cutler

    What a great blog post! I've been phasing in agile since two months ago - it's such an effective way of getting things done and I like how it eliminates paralysis by analysis.

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  2. Ed, great post! I love the infographic/manifesto.

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  3. Shannon G.

    Thanks for your blog post, I see a lot of great things being possible with this method and in fact, we have implemented a number of them (daily scrums in particular).

    I'm interested to hear how you would explain this process to a client and get them on board with it.

    How do you define the scope of the project for resourcing purposes and from a client-communication standpoint?

    Further, I'd be interested to know how the agile method works in terms of billing milestones, etc.


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  4. Thanks for this great post and manifesto graphic, Ed! Very cool work!

    As you've described, there's a lot more to Agile than the ideas I spoke about at MozCon. And there are multiple reasons for organizations to get started now. I spoke to many folks at MozCon who are already using some form of Agile marketing and to me, those are the 1% - the early adopters whose learnings will make it easier for others to follow.

    And that's sort of the real beauty of Agile as I see it -- it's surprisingly flexible and adaptable to whatever environment it's in. Everyone I talk to apologizes for not doing "Pure Agile", but I don't think that's a bug at all; it's a feature! If you're doing "Pure Agile", you're doing it wrong -- it should be customized so as to work best in your organization and meet the needs of your work and customers.

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    • ed-tucker

      Thanks for the comments on this.

      @Jonathon - totally agree with you re: "Pure Agile". It's adaptive to fit your organisational needs and requirements. Also it's still early and there are many lessons to be learnt, again pretty much the point of this approach.

      @Shannon - some great questions. I spoke with our sales team on this and this is how they approach the issues you mention:

      1) Allow for flexibility in the project: When building a project out we tend to look for the main structure of what is needed to help them achieve their aims, but also allow for unseen risks, opportunities, and other factors that might not apear until we start work. We also make sure that we can adjust quickly should their priorities change. We adapt to make sure that our consulting time is spent on the most productive activity for them so we can provide the best value from our services.

      2) Communicate as much as possible and work in house when we can: If things move quickly and change often we have to have strong communication with our clients to make sure we are always on the same page with the plan. In our monthly reports to clients we don't just talk about what we have achieved (analytics, targets, ect) we focus on what we have done this month, what we are waiting on clients for, and whats planned for the next few months. This acts like a mini project plan within the larger plan and ensures that the client always knows what we are working on and why.

      3) Prioritise actions: One of the first things we do for clients is start working on a plan of action. They might want link building right away but we want to make sure that we look at all of the other factors that could impact a link building campaign before it starts (information arch, content strategy, blog strategy, content sign off). This often leads to some initial onsite or content projects (an initial two week cycle) that they can be working on while we start building out a link building and content strategy.

      4) We focus our outreach content on a specific target market: When we build creative content for outreach and ultimately link building we pay a lot of attention on who we are hoping to reach with our message. We are not creating an advertorial for our clients we are creating content that people want to digest. It has to be timely, interesting, and appealing - which means a lot of research as well as moving quickly to try to get something out if its time sensitive. We work with our clients to help them understand this focus and then after the launch on reporting on the results.

  5. Great post. I love the typography! See, graphics do work!

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  6. Chris Thompson

    Hi Ed,

    Brilliant work!

    To expand on your answer to Shannon, one method that works well when getting clients to adopt agile is to set a Sprint/Backlog list for them. Whatever the timeframe may be, say 1 week for example, set x number of things to focus for the week as the Sprint. Everything else goes on the Backlog so that it doesn't get forgotten, but it also doesn't get in the way of the prioritized tasks at hand. At the beginning of each week, evaluate the Sprint with the client and add/subtract items as necessary.

    Pro Tip: To populate your Sprint each week for maximum efficiency, figure out the client team's velocity - that is, how many hours can they dedicate to your project(s)? Armed with this information, you can work with the client to assign resources appropriately that will actually get things done.

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  7. I have learned so much by reading your blog. It always amazes me how much there is to learn. It is also mind boggling how fast things change. For a newbie like me having a resource like you is a God send.

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  8. Great post, I have been doing a lot of research lately on agile marketing and this definitely takes the cake with info and images.

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