Despite being five years from the creation of the Agile Marketing Manifesto, Agile marketing still has a bit of an image problem.
Misconceptions run rampant, creating misunderstandings and misinformation about the application of Agile principles to marketing.
Practitioners who already get it may not believe the problem is this pervasive, so I present some excerpts from the tidal wave of evidence:
“Can you plan to be agile? Isn’t that cheating?”
“some of the most impressive examples of agile marketing happened because of an event that couldn’t be planned for.”
“This is where agile marketing comes in: small bursts of quickly developed content designed to catch the public mood at just the right time in order to capitalize on a brand new global trend.”
“Responding to social trends means flexibility, and agile marketing doesn’t work with controlled and deliberately timed plans.”
“It’s important to capture and engage with your audience at the right moment, which can’t always be planned for in advance, which is why an effective agile marketing strategy is key.”*
There’s a lot more roaming unchecked in the wilds of the internet, but my blood pressure is climbing to dangerous levels from re-reading these things.
So I’m going to stop here, because the theme of these excerpts is clear: agile is the opposite of planning.
I don’t usually like to shut down debate, but…
That is wrong.
Agile marketing includes planning. Requires planning. Embraces planning.
Quite a lot of planning, actually.
Heck, there’s a meeting in Scrum actually called “Sprint PLANNING.”
As a counter to all of this agile vs. planning talk, I respectfully submit an alternative definition of Agile marketing:
What is agile marketing?
Agile marketing is the deliberate, long-term application of a specific Agile methodology to manage and improve the way a marketing team gets work done.
To be perfectly clear, Agile marketing requires a strategic vision, as well as short-, medium-, and long-term marketing plans.
Yes, Agile Marketers Plan
Let’s start by clearing up the planning fallacy first.
Agile marketing isn’t free form, on-the-fly marketing.
What those well-meaning authors that I quoted a few paragraphs ago are talking about is newsjacking, not Agile marketing.
Staying on top of emerging trends and inserting your brand into those conversations is great, and a nifty marketing tactic if you can pull it off, but it has nothing to do with managing your work from day-to-day in a truly Agile fashion.
Sure, we want our teams to be agile (note lowercase “a”), as in nimble, responsive, and adaptive, and running your marketing team using Agile principles sets you up to be all of those things.
But Agile marketing teams still execute against marketing strategies and quarterly plans. They just do so with an eye to making adjustments to those plans and strategies as needed, kind of like this:
Whew. That’s better. I can feel my blood pressure going down.
Agile Marketing is Not Just Scrum
Now, onto my next pet peeve in Agile marketing content: assuming that all Agile marketing teams will use Scrum.
My friends, Scrum IS NOT the only way to be Agile.
If you encounter an article that explains what Agile marketing is by referencing Sprint Planning, Sprints, or Scrum Masters as if they are non-negotiable components, that writer has made the all too common mistake of equating Agile with Scrum.
To be clear: I’m not a Scrum hater.
I’ve used it.
I like it.
It protects many marketing teams from capricious external interruptions. But check out these results from a 2016 survey of over 800 marketers:
Scrum is the least popular methodology.
Not the winner.
Fewest number of people using it.
So please, don’t think that if you want to adopt Agile marketing that you have to do so using Scrum.
The Agile Methodology Buffet
Agile marketing takes many, many, many forms.
The methodology you choose, be it Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, or Lean, should reflect your team’s unique situation.
It’s likely that over time you’ll pull components from multiple methodologies to create your own personal hybrid methodology, but in order to do so you’ve got to understand what components are available in the first place.
And, not to be a downer or anything, but this process demands serious research and education.
You can’t go out, read a couple of articles with the phrase “agile marketing” in the title, and figure you’re good to go.
As my few disheartening quotes in the intro made clear, not everybody writing about Agile marketing knows their stuff.
So instead of trying to eat the topic of Agile in one enormous bite, take a few smaller bites and digest them one by one. Investigate each methodology in turn, and choose the one that meets your current needs. Then be prepared to evolve it over time.
Disclaimer: you may have to work a little harder to find detailed case studies about Kanban and Scrumban being used in marketing, but my hope is to begin collecting more of these here on The Agile Marketer in the near future.
Agile Marketing is a Marathon
Last, but certainly not least, you’ll notice that I included the mention of a long-term application of your chosen Agile methodology in my definition.
“Going Agile” isn’t something you put on your to-do list this week, check off, and then move on from. It’s likely to take 2-3 months for you to start seeing real benefits from the transformation.
Even after those first few months, your team will continuously find new ways to improve their process. (If they don’t, it may be time to retain a third-party coach or trainer to help kick things back into gear.)
Having someone on the team dedicated to championing this ongoing improvement will help you avoid stagnation; it might be a certified Scrum Master, or it might be a servant-leader who also acts as a marketing manager or director.
There are development teams everywhere who have become complacent about their process, losing many of Agile’s benefits by just going through the motions week after week.
Don’t become those teams.
Beware Agile Marketing Fake News
We’re all learning to be more critical about the news we see in our social media feeds, so let’s apply that fact-checking instinct to marketing content too.
Agile marketing offers benefits for the individual marketer who’s stressed out and overworked.
It can help marketing departments struggling to keep pace with their audience.
Simply put, it’s practically the only way to effectively deal with the growing complexity of modern marketing.
Don’t miss out on Agile marketing’s potential because of a little misinformation.
* (Links have been omitted to protect the “innocent”)