Will Agile Marketing Go Mainstream?

This is a question that comes up a lot on The Marketing Agility Podcast. Is it worth delving into or is it a distraction?  I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. For those that have already started adopting Agile you know that it revolutionized software development and product management over the last 15 years. You’ve probably also seen the disconnect that formed between product management and marketing. For marketers adoption Agile is a way to get back in sync with these groups but it’s also a recognition that marketers are managing more software than ever before and Agile is the best practice for managing software.

Let’s put the term in perspective with some Google Trends data. As a reminder, Google Trends data reflects how often people search for a term—as such it’s a proxy for awareness:

The Rise of Agile Marketing

When you look at :Agile Marketing” in isolation it’s clear that the term is garnering an increasing amount of traffic. That makes sense because Agile Marketing seems to be buzzing amongst marketing influencers. For example:

That’s just a smattering but it demonstrates that some of the most influential people in the marketing world are thinking about Agile Marketing. Fair disclosure, I’ve had the good timing to write a book about “Marketing Agility” so I’ve got a stake in this fight. And, I should mention my friend Scott Brinker also has a forthcoming book (same publisher: Wiley) entitled Hacking Marketing that shares a lot of it’s DNA with my book (I’ll be on a panel with Scott at his upcoming MarTech Conference). It’s telling that Wiley has invested in two authors who are focused on Agile in the marketing context. 

Agile In Perspective

Is this all competition for my book? Sure. But publishers like Wiley know that few business books drive transformation in isolation. Industry transformation—and modernization—are driven by many books, stakeholders, articles, constituents, and companies. Think, for example, about the rise of inbound marketing and the role that Hubspot, Seth Godin, and KissMetrics played in giving that term currency. They had an almost singular focus on developing equity in those terms—this strategy effectively helped position them as market leaders. With that in mind, I’d argue that the concept of Inbound Marketing is not as transformative as Agile. How does the term Agile Marketing stack up? Let’s check Google Trends against the term “Content Marketing”:

As you can see, it’s dwarfed. The comparison with Inbound Marketing is more pronounced. So what’s going on here? Is Agile Marketing just a passing trend? I’d argue that it’s not. Is it just early days? Possibly. What’s keeping Agile Marketing from going mainstream? One possible barrier is that there are related terms emerging that are competing for attention. For example, the Agile approach is very closely related to the Lean approach (popularized by Eric Reis)—in my book I discuss a convergence that is taking place between Agile and Lean. And then there’s Growth Hacking which arguably is a practice based on Agile/Lean. Further, support for these terms is more distributed (as evidenced by the above list) such that you don’t see a small set of companies developing equity in a single term to establish market leadership.

Related to this, I’m not convinced that marketers care what it’s called so long as it transformed the way we work. In other words, marketers appear to focused on the benefits more than the brand of transformation. That’s increasingly how customers approach brands but it’s a bit ironic considering that marketers are responsible for branding. I factored this into the title that I chose for my book, rather than using the term “Agile Marketing” in the title  I chose “Agile Marketer” because it’s not about an approach as much as it is about the benefit of being agile (little “a”). In fact, part of what I discuss in the book is the fact that Agile is not a holistic approach to marketing. Instead it must be applied alongside—and integrated with—traditional methods.

Agility Is What Matters

Will Agile Marketing go mainstream? I’d argue that the values and principles that underlie Agile—as articulated in The Agile Marketing Manifesto—are well on their way to becoming mainstream whether or not we call it Agile Marketing. Between Agile Marketing, Lean Marketing, Growth Hacking, and Marketing Agility there is a transformation taking place. Marketers are increasingly taking an iterative approach to their work, adopting small cross-functional teams, and they are becoming more validation oriented (e.g. data driven).

I do hope that Agile Marketing continues to gain traction and mindshare in so far as it helps drive the above transformation.

Let’s Get Physical With A/B Testing

A/B testing is not a new topic, but this week I heard a great podcast from Planet Money on the topic that speaks to how broadly the practice is being used. In this show they discuss the A/B testing of everything from headlines to audio based podcasts but—more interesting than that— there is an example that speaks to how A/B testing is being implemented in the context of physical retail environments.

The podcast features Laura Shoe of Bucketfeet, who talks about how 6 video cameras in her store capture browsing and behavior. Though the technology being used is not mentioned, it’s probably something like Prism Skylabs. Solutions like this can help retailers test volume of traffic, how long users engage with elements of the store, and what paths they take through a retail environment.

If this is something that you have experience with or that you’ve done we’d be thrilled to have you share your story on the Marketing Agility Podcast! In the meantime, here’s the Planet Money episode:



Ok, and just cause:

Scrumban: Mike McKinnon’s preferred Agile method

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAJeAAAAJDhhZTg3ODZmLTA5MGEtNGU2Mi1hMmQzLWZjMDBiYWU1NDRiNQFrank Days and I recorded another Marketing Agility Podcast this week, this time with Mike McKinnon. I met Mike while he was running marketing operations at ReadyTalk (fair disclosure: they are an Oracle Marketing Cloud partner) and we connected over what it takes to implement Agile in the marketing context. As it turns out, his story was so compelling and representative that I had to include it in The Agile Marketer as a case study.  I’ll share an excerpt of that case study below.

The podcast follows Mike to Avaya where he continues to use the Oracle Marketing Cloud and is once again working on establishing an Agile practice. In our conversation we touch on a recent article from CMO.com entitled: Mohanbir Sawhney: Why marketers are still struggling to adopt Agile. In this piece Sawhney, the McCormick Tribune Professor of Technology at the Kellogg School of Management, talks about the unique challenges of making Agile work within the enterprise. It’s a good backdrop for this conversation because of Mike’s move from a startup to a 12,000+ person company.

Here’s our most recent podcast with Mike:

And, an excerpt from the case study in my book:

ReadyTalk started implementing Agile to address common challenges, such as poor coordination (owing to organizational silos), a lack of strategic focus (due to insufficient transparency), and a reactive posture (the result of constantly shifting priorities). Like most marketers who adopt Agile, they discover that it cannot only be interpreted for the marketing context; it must also be tailored to the organization.

As ReadyTalk has grown from 20 employees to more than 200, the company has used Agile not only to manage its marketing programs, but also to iterate on the process itself. This continuous improvement has brought ReadyTalk through more than 10 iterations of Agile methods including both Scrum and Kanban.

Like many pioneers of Agile marketing, ReadyTalk started with Scrum. Five years ago, few marketers were using Kanban, and most of the guidance from development organizations was based on Scrum. ReadyTalk discovered, however, that Scrum was too process-intensive and complex; two-week sprints were not always a good fit for their programs. So Mike led his team towards the less prescriptive end of the spectrum and tried Kanban before eventually iterating to a hybrid method known as Scrumban. This hybrid incorporates elements of Kanban, such as limits to the number of items being worked on (work-in-process), alongside elements of Scrum, such as cross-functional teams. Interestingly, after gaining experience with Kanban, Mike’s team was more able to embrace some of the more prescriptive elements of Scrum.

A big part of Mike’s success with Agile has to do with keeping the marketing Scrum aligned with the product group’s Scrum. They’ve achieved this through the physical proximity of their Scrum meetings and their Kanban boards. They’ve also embedded Scrum participants throughout the organization.