To keep up with the complexity and speed of today's marketing, to be successful and even more satisfied with their own work, marketers need to adopt new ways of working. Adapted from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, the Agile Marketing Manifesto offers a practical approach to how this can be achieved using agile principles and methods, such as Kanban, Scrum, or Design Thinking.
In this article, we will explain what is meant by agile marketing, which goals it pursues, and what the process looks like. We will discuss not only its advantages but also its challenges. In the end, we will focus on practical tips.
Agile practices were first used in software development. This leaner, more transparent, and more flexible approach enables quicker delivery of small functional software segments that get continuously improved with each new cycle. Thus, the needs of the customer can be addressed flexibly, with the goal of improving customer satisfaction. Agile software development is characterized by self-organizing teams and an iterative and incremental approach. This basic principle has proven itself successful. Other disciplines have also recognized its benefits.
Due to the growing volume of marketing activities that are carried out in parallel and the accompanying complexity, marketing has also adopted it. In marketing, agility means being able to adapt quickly and flexibly to new conditions, such as changing target group behavior, new market trends, or global/local events.
To ensure this, self-organizing cross-functional teams conduct quick experiments in so-called sprints and use data to continuously search for promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real-time by analyzing, evaluating, and rapidly iterating on the results. A well-functioning agile marketing organization can run hundreds of campaigns simultaneously and come up with multiple new ideas every week.
However, being fast and flexible is not enough. The goal is always to create the greatest possible added value for the customer at the right time in the right place - and thus also for the company. This is not possible with rigid planning, hierarchies, and silos. The prerequisites are flexible internal processes and working methods as well as a close connection to the customer.
According to the 5th Annual State of Agile Marketing Report by AgileSherpas, 43% of marketing teams use at least some agile working methods such as daily stand-ups, backlogs, or sprints, in 2022.
The Agile Marketing Manifesto offers the following definition of the values pertinent to agile practices to guide marketers:
Agile marketing puts the needs of the customer and the business first, which is supposed to enable targeted and relevant marketing campaigns. Concepts are no longer developed from a theoretical perspective but rather from a user perspective (Design Thinking). The goal is to do the "right actions" instead of doing "more actions".
It is often the case that marketing activities are performed without a clear purpose. Focusing on activities with the greatest customer value and understanding how they impact the business ensures that marketing makes a tangible contribution to the company's success.
In agile marketing, people think in cycles. Every marketing action, regardless of its success or failure, provides valuable input to optimize the next cycle. Instead of waiting until actions are "perfect," attention is paid to providing initial value to customers early in the cycle.
Striving for perfection leads to long production times and a big-bang approach. This deprives marketers of the opportunity to learn from customers’ feedback.
An important core component of agile marketing is running experiments. These provide valuable data for marketing teams, enabling better and more effective marketing decisions. It is a process of validating insights: Implement, Measure, Learn.
When data is ignored and decisions rely on the tried-and-true gut instinct, the opinions of others, or outdated conventions, customer value may not be realized and valuable time may be wasted, leading to wrong actions.
Collaboration between different teams focused on the needs of the customer leads to better marketing than silos, turf wars between departments, and strict adherence to hierarchical decision-making processes.
If marketers are unable to deviate from a rigid plan when conditions change, they become exposed to the risk of inadequately addressing customer needs and achieving poor results.
The key goal of agile marketing is to achieve greater speed in value creation. This is possible by changing the organizational structure. Silos are bridged and small cross-functional teams are formed. These can implement projects autonomously, without hierarchies, in short sprints without getting bogged down due to dependencies. Instead of following a rigid marketing plan, quick experiments are conducted whose ongoing iteration in shorter production cycles leads to positive results faster.
The return on marketing investments can be continuously improved, as lessons learned from data are applied to the next experiment. Continuous feedback, flexible adaptation, and strong exposure to customer needs enable revenue increases ranging between 20 and 40%.
Adherence to agile methods and principles helps increase motivation. Teams are self-sufficient because they are self-organizing and have the freedom to find creative solutions and try new things. Employees take on more responsibility, and failure is welcomed because mistakes are regarded as a source of valuable insights. Open dialog and quick results also increase motivation.
In agile marketing, teams work in cycles called sprints. The process design is based on frequent feedback and continuous improvement, as opposed to the cascading waterfall process that is otherwise common in marketing.
The "war room" team has a kickoff meeting to establish that agile values will replace the old standards. The team articulates the expectations: intense and continuous collaboration, speed, positive error culture, opinions based on data, and most importantly, putting the customer at the center of all decisions.
The data available to date - for example, on implemented campaigns - is analyzed. Media mix modeling can be applied to assign values to the channels in accordance with the campaign objective.
Based on the insights of the analysis, the team develops hypotheses for improvement, which are recorded in a so-called backlog. The idea that the team believes will have the greatest impact on business success and is easiest to implement at the same time is tested first.
For each hypothesis, the team designs a test method and defines the key KPIs to measure the implementation success.
The test is executed and new insights are collected to perform optimization in the next cycle. The team must have effective and flawless tracking mechanisms in place to quickly report on the performance of each test.
If the test has been successful, or if cycles have been run until a campaign became successful, the budget can be increased. This procedure is also used in Growth Marketing, which is enabled by agile methods as well.
Agile marketing teams need to have sufficient and suitable data to perform analytics on their constantly evolving experiment, and thus drive higher performance. This requires expertise to be able to extract insights from the data as well. Only then can opportunities be identified along with anomalies, pain points, and problems.
Agile marketing cannot succeed on a large scale without the right technological infrastructure. Technology components help marketers collect, merge, and manage data from disparate systems, which is critical for analytics. Tools also help automate the planning and booking of cross-channel campaigns, as well as feeding performance data back into the system for further analysis.
While data and technological infrastructure are critical to success, the most important thing is people - assembling a small team of talented professionals who can work together quickly and well. Each team member brings their expertise to the process and is actively responsible for the success of the project. Optimally, they can work together full-time in a "war room" to run their quick-turnaround experiments. To do this, they also need the necessary room for maneuver, which requires clear prior coordination with leadership and a definition of expectations for the team. Work silos and hierarchies should be replaced by free collaboration within the team. Kanban boards and frequent coordination meetings such as daily stand-ups promote process transparency and optimize collaboration. The team can work together more effectively and act as a single entity.
The team must have effective and flawless tracking mechanisms in place to quickly report on the performance of individual tests. Here, meaningful dashboards help get a quick overview of the current tests and their results.
Many marketing departments think they are agile because they have implemented some principles and processes, such as using cross-functional teams, Kanban boards, and daily stand-ups, or adopting a test-and-learn mentality. But when teams are only partially agile, they don't reap all the benefits either. For example, marketing often doesn't have the necessary data and technological infrastructure or finance support, so approvals are slow, or their agency and technology partners can't act fast enough.
Our MMT suite helps agile teams quickly plan, build, and execute marketing campaigns. Results are visualized in real-time in campaign dashboards. Reporting is available at the touch of a button, providing valuable insights for the next cycle. All this happens in one tool, with an integrated communication module, which makes the collaboration between the agile team and external partners like agencies or publishers easy, fast, and transparent.
At least approaching agile marketing is a must nowadays. However, the technical foundation should be laid beforehand. Without clean data flows and an opportunity to track campaigns, it’s impossible to perform the analyses necessary to generate improvement ideas and to check whether these ideas have been successful.