Required Reading: Modern Marketing Needs Agility
EVEN BEFORE COVID-19 ravaged businesses, marketers faced huge challenges: the fast pace of technology innovation; customers who call the shots and are turned off by nonstop messaging; and increasing competition for limited consumer dollars. Traditional marketers can’t keep up. But agile marketers can.
In his new book, The Six Disciplines of Agile Marketing: Proven Practices for More Effective Marketing and Better Business Results, Jim Ewel, one of the leading voices on agile marketing, urges more companies to adopt the agile marketing approach. CRM editor Leonard Klie caught up with Ewel to discuss it further.
CRM: What is agile marketing and how is it different from traditional marketing?
Ewel: Agile marketing takes inspiration from agile software development. It adopts process management techniques, such as daily standups, to coordinate teamwork and uses visual tools, called Kanban boards, to track work in progress.
Agile marketing also values different things. It values responding to change over following a marketing plan. Agile marketers recognize that they can’t predict how customers will react to every marketing promotion. Rather than projecting a false sense of accuracy through a set-in-stone plan, agile marketers respond quickly to changes in the business environment, the competition, and customer needs and wants.
You’ve stated that it’s not a question of whether businesses will adopt this approach but when. What kind of timeline would you put on that adoption?
About 40 percent of marketers have already adopted agile marketing, and about 25 percent more plan to adopt agile in the next 12 months. It took almost 20 years for agile software developers to get to a 90 percent adoption rate. It’s been about eight years since marketers adopted the Agile Marketing Manifesto, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it took five to 10 more years for agile marketing to hit that same 90 percent adoption rate.
You say there are six disciplines to agile marketing. What are they, and why are they important?
The six disciplines are alignment, structure, process, validated learning, adapting to change, and creating remarkable customer experiences. It’s critical that teams get aligned on why they’re adopting agile, what success looks like, and how they’re going to measure success. It’s also crucial that they put the right structures in place before they begin practicing these methodologies.
What are the four organizational shifts that you say must also take place?
I recommend marketing leaders make the following shifts:
- From a focus on outputs to a focus on outcomes. Many marketing groups focus on how many campaigns they can run, how many emails they can send, or how much content they can generate. The non-marketing parts of the business (sales, finance, and the CEO) don’t care about more marketing “stuff”; they want more leads, more sales, and more profits. They want business outcomes. Marketers need to shift their mind-sets and assume accountability for business outcomes.
- From a campaign mentality to continuous improvement. Most marketers think in terms of campaigns. They write a campaign brief. They produce content for a campaign. They run the campaign once and then declare it a success based on vanity metrics. Agile marketers take a more incremental and iterative approach. They test an idea on a small scale. If it works, they improve it and run it at a slightly larger scale. If it doesn’t work, they try something else at a small scale. This leads to more effective marketing and more efficient use of their marketing spend.
- From an internal focus to a customer focus. Everyone says they’re customer-focused, but this needs to be more than just happy talk. Marketers need to spend more time with customers and dive more deeply into the customer behaviors that lead to business success.
- From top-down to decentralized decision making. Many marketing executives approve every visual and every line of copy in every campaign. This slows everything down. Marketing executives need to focus on a few key decisions and push everything else down in the organization.
What is the one theme you want readers to take away from this book?
Adopting agile in your marketing is not an overnight transformation but a journey, with lots of progress on some days and setbacks on others. Enjoy the entire journey.