For agilists, the fact that Agile has gone beyond just IT to infiltrate all parts of the organization is something to celebrate. Business agility enables organizations to increase productivity while empowering employees. However, as the business community has embraced agility, everything is now becoming Agile this and Agile that. Marketers are infamous for their propensity to take a buzzword and run with it. That’s how “Agile Marketing” was born.
While more marketers are championing agility, many of them simply focus on doing Agile rather than being Agile. Many of the articles, podcasts, videos and the like promise to teach you Agile Marketing only to launch into a tutorial on how a Scrum team functions, how to run a standup meeting, or explaining what a Kanban board is. In reality, what makes Agile marketing teams so productive aren’t the prescriptive processes they follow. Rather, each member of the team and ideally everyone in the organization has adopted the Agile values and principles which drive their behaviors and thus the business accomplishments.
Instead of focusing on “how” to do the same things you’re already doing, only faster and with Post-It notes, marketers should focus on the “why” and the values of Agile, and how to help your team deliver amazing value through:
- Fostering trust among the team
- Focusing on value and servant leadership
- Putting the customer first
- Adapting your plan to changing conditions
Teams Over Tools
It’s said that the Belgian Draft Horse, one of the strongest horses in the world, can pull a load of 8,000 pounds. However, when two of them are paired together, they can pull up to 24,000 pounds – three times as much as one alone. And when the horses are trained together and learn to work and think as one, they can pull almost four times the amount as one horse alone. When a cross-functional Agile team, comprised of motivated and empowered individuals, works together in synergy, they produce continuous value faster than working in silos as individuals. This is one of the ways Agile puts the focus on team output as opposed to individual contributions.
Although Agile marketing teams certainly work in Sprints, use Kanban boards, and attend retrospectives to reflect and improve their processes and outcomes, the magic of high team performance lies in psychological safety among the team members, and trust placed in the team by the leadership.
The now famous Google study on their own most productive teams revealed that rather than experience or skills, psychological safety was the number one factor in a team being high-performing. In our own marketing team here at SolutionsIQ, high level of trust between our team members means that we dedicate an entire stand-up on Mondays to catching up what each of us did during the weekend, or delve into a deep conversation on, let’s say, how to break up with friends, or whatever you might talk about with those closest to you. Yet, people have thought our team of six is really a team of 30 based on the amount of content we produce. Trust enables us to pull for one another, pitch in wherever needed to help each other succeed, bring our full selves to work every day and as a result collaborate as a happier, more productive team.
Lead by Sharing the Vision
In an Agile organization, a leader’s job is to communicate the vision, prioritize work, and help remove impediments keeping teams from getting their highest-value work done. Agile aims to eradicate traditional management ways of thinking and acting that give managers the false sense that they are “in control” of their reports. Most importantly, leadership should give teams problems to solve and stop giving them solutions to implement. Servant leadership is leading in such a way as to serve the needs of those around you, unlocking their potential and enabling individual, interpersonal, and organizational development. You can’t get that if you’re constantly telling people what to do and how to do it. Enabling your team to be autonomous allows them to build muscle memory in how to deliver value to customers even in times of constant change or high stress.
Leadership needs to pivot to sharing a vision, so that teams can focus on building something – whether a campaign or a product – that supports the higher level organizational strategy and goals. Marketing doesn’t exist to build brand in a vacuum, the whole point is to communicate the value of the brand and the products that the business wants to deliver. So pair your marketing efforts directly with the activities of the product or solution team, and enable the rest of the organization to see what kind of value you can bring to the table.
When SolutionsIQ was acquired by Accenture, the first thing our leadership team did was to re-iterate our mission, vision and values to the entire company. And although we knew our core mission hadn’t changed, the marketplace responded with skepticism and concern for us “losing our way”. In order to respond to the Agile community and to communicate our brand values, our next marketing campaign for the year became “Agile at Heart”. The intended message was that we continue to uphold the Agile values and principles deep in our hearts both in the way we run our own organization and how we guide our clients.
Meet Your Customer
The customer is the highest priority in Agile, and marketing typically has the advantage of having direct communication channels with the customer. However, many marketers treat their customers as the “audience” to broadcast their message to rather than truly engaging with and getting to know their customer. Social media, email, and online UX tools offer unlimited opportunities to respond to questions or complaints, survey opinions, observe behaviors and engage in conversations to learn about your customers. This feedback can then be used to improve the company’s products or services as well as its brand presence and promise.
Let’s use our podcast as an example. Agile Amped started out 3 years ago as short 10-15 minute video interviews that were also released as a podcast. When we talked with our audience, they told us that they typically listen to podcasts during their commute to work, which average about 30 minutes. We shifted to recording audio-only interviews that go more in depth into the topics during a 30-minute podcast. We started to implement this change in early 2017, and our podcast downloads increased by more than 200% in one year.
Ask yourself what channels do you use to engage with your customers? What questions might you ask them to get specific feedback on one of your products? And then weave your answers back into the things you’re building.
Adapting vs. Planning
Organizational priorities change, new competitors enter the market, new products are released, or a myriad of other factors can come into play in a real business setting. Big design up front thinking and work processes can force the marketing team to either redo their meticulously planned work or proceed with the original plan, which is now out of touch with the current environment.
Last year, SolutionsIQ ran a social media campaign promoting our Agile Glossary, a section of the website that gives definitions to common Agile terms. Shortly after launching the campaign, we went through a branding redesign.Our old logo didn’t reflect the innovative work we do and the people that we have – we needed to updated our brand and logo to build that connection.
Had we designed the entire campaign of 40 different social images upfront, we would have had to redesign all of those images when we changed the logo. Instead, we worked iteratively and created the card for each week with no wasted effort.
These examples above, I hope, demonstrate how these four values of Agile, not just the processes and tools, make for a stronger marketing team. It requires:
- A team pulling together toward a shared vision
- Empowerment from leaders who trust the team to act based on the experience and knowledge that they have
- An understanding of our customers’ pain points and possible solutions, even if it’s providing just a little more clarity
- And, finally, the ability to respond without first updating a plan
Whether or not you use Scrum and Kanban, if you can get alignment from leadership and your marketing team(s) around Agile values and principles, you’re on your way to the true desired outcome of Agile marketing: delighted customers.