Agile marketing: Break your business hierarchy and traditional culture

Marketing is becoming increasingly complicated as digital transformation gains pace in many organisations today. On top of traditional marketing activities and channels, marketers are now expected to be responsible for digital marketing technologies, media buying platforms and other implementations such as marketing automation and CRM.

To further complicate matters, constantly changing and evolving customer preferences, fuelled by rapid advances in technologies such as mobile, artificial intelligence and on-demand services, are also making it harder for marketers to be on top of their game. During a recent training session, I privately polled a team of 30 corporate marketers with a single question: "What are the challenges you faced today in your role as a marketer?"

Unsurprisingly, the top challenges cited included overworking, chaotic team environment, inefficient processes and workflows, politicking, impossible deadlines, lack of effective communication within the team and with other stakeholders, unsatisfactory marketing results, lack of purpose, among others.

Sounds familiar? While marketers have certainly made leaps in terms of keeping up with digital-enabled multi-channeled customers, it is evident that classic hierarchical business management styles and traditional project management methodologies are fast becoming ineffective and outdated for technology-enabled marketing teams and digitally-transformed organisations.

Enter agile marketing

For 3M's CMO, Paul Acito, “Agile allows us to match the clock-speed of our customers." In my own words, agile marketing is the work management methodology and operating system for the digital age. The formal history of agile as a leadership and management approach dates back to 2001, when a group of 17 enlightened software development leaders gathered in a Utah ski lodge to "talk, ski, relax, and try to find common ground". The legacy of that gathering is enshrined in the Agile Manifesto, a set of values and principles that guide software developers to develop better ways of doing work.

Software developers have long struggled with delivering projects, on time and on budget. Consider this: in 1995, only 16% of all software development projects could be regarded as successful. The other 84% were either late in delivery, over budget or cancelled.

Another staggering historical fact, according an article on The Guardian, UK's National Health Service abandoned an IT system project that had cost 10 years and £10b in taxpayers' money. In most of these cases, fast-changing Customer preferences and rapid advances in newer technologies were the main causes of project failures and waste of resources.

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While agile began in the IT domain and have flourished over the years, progressive organisations, concerned about the sustainability and competitiveness of their business operations, have started to engage and employ agile coaches and trainers to deliver agile transformation and change management programs for non-IT functions such as leadership, HR, Finance and, unsurprisingly, marketing.

In recent times, a group of pioneering marketers, having felt similar difficulties in managing modern marketing work, also came together and formalised the Agile Marketing Manifesto, a derivative of the earlier Agile Manifesto. It reads: “We are discovering better ways of creating value for our customers and for our organisations through new approaches to marketing.”

Through this work, we have come to value:

  • Validated learning over opinions and conventions
  • Customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
  • Adaptive and iterative campaigns over big-bang campaigns
  • The process of customer discovery over static prediction
  • Flexible versus rigid planning
  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Many small experiments over a few large bets

Agile marketing in practice

Firstly, to develop agility, organisations and marketing teams must accept that status quo of processes, policies and structure is not ideal, that it is possible to make significant improvements to the way the organisation operates and delivers value to its customers and that its people must be readied for long-term change.

For this, it is not sufficient for teams to only practice agile ways of working. They must cultivate the required agile mindset, primarily believing that external change is frequent and inevitable, that there are always better ways to do work and that, ultimately, the customer guides every business decision.

From a practical approach, the agile movement have created and adopted numerous frameworks to help teams become agile. Most significant among these are Kanban, Scrum, Lean, Design Thinking, XP and Scrumban.

Each of these brings its own improvements to the team. Key benefits include a deepened sense of customer-centricity and empathy, development of skills necessary to work in an iterative manner that results in continuous improvement, enhanced project management capabilities that deliver projects on time and on budget, identification and removal of process bottlenecks to improve workflows and having full visibility into your marketing operations and performance, not forgetting leadership and management skills for a modern 21st century workforce.

Agile frameworks are gaining plenty of flavour and adoption by marketers. If you are keen to increase marketing productivity, develop better internal capabilities, improve morale and motivation and, finally, deliver amazing customer value, Agile Marketing is the operational foundation that you need.

The writer is Isman Tanuri, who is an ICAgile-accredited Agile trainer and coach for Marketing Masterclass Series' '2-day Certified Icagile Professional In Agile Marketing' course.

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