Many believe it to be a tumultuous ride and exciting path, others are definitely scared by its explosive properties. It sounds like a real challenge for some. Boosh! Bam! Boom! You need not be afraid though. The explosion is the start of a new way of marketing, which can operate well in this absolutely disruptive digital world. As the ever-shifting points of contact with target audiences across various channels overwhelm our reality, it seems no use keeping wrestling with the uneven and fluid social media landscape. Instead, the fragmentation of the digital milieu calls for new normal for marketing.
Change is Our New Reality
Let’s look closer at what is happening in the digital world. First, we see how across the multifaceted set of channels, content explodes. Here, content means whatever gets produced by marketers. So, this word – content – has ceased to be just a buzz word, but it turned into a true challenge as the demand for more and quicker content keeps growing. Well, this challenge is also complemented by another one: the content you produce should not be total nonsense and should be of great quality. Now, both objectives seem pretty reasonable, right?
Shockingly enough, we must deliver this content — and more than this, we must bring effective client experiences — amid the boom of various devices. Now, you have the tablet, the laptop, and the smartphone, and who knows what we will be using when the Internet of Things becomes an established norm. People will definitely thrive on the combinations of these devices which they will use in unison!
Impacts of New Technology
Just as we witness the boom of technologies helping us bring all these opportunities of content and customer experience to life, we face another challenge. The devices meet and interact across, and we have to find our way towards really good solutions in this whirly digital landscape. And while many foretell grandiose consolidations of various marketing techs, the in-flow of start-ups promoting innovative technologies in marketing impressively outpaces the out-flow, which occurs either through acquisitions or departures from the scene.
Consequences of Technology
As a result, all these innovative techs are causing a true data boom which is mind-boggling and even startling at times. For example, a recent report by Google says humanity has produced over a period of mere 2 years 90% of overall data ever produced in the history of mankind. Well, how is that possible? I’ll tell you: we generate around 2.5 quintillion data bytes every day. Too much? Be ready to know another truth: the pace is only accelerating. Indeed, they say the marketers are still to find their “elixir of immortality” and they, needless to say, never stop their quest.
New Era, New Ideas
As you can guess, all of this is bringing about a boom of new ideas. Or, maybe, you like to think of this as an explosion inside your own head? At least, for me, it looks like this. It’s like you have your ideas, the agency you work for has their own ideas, and the buyers of your software have theirs. Even a summer intern of yours offers his own ideas. And, who knows, maybe, his ideas are the best. For heaven’s sake, whenever your CEO takes one of his four different gadgets a new idea pops up in your mind.
Imagination is out of control, which is truly a wonder. The only exception is the lack of hours in a single day with this multiplicity of ideas. So, it takes a lot to simply keep up with everything that we need to keep up with.
Well, even if you can sometimes be a bit panicky, please do not let it overbear you. As you know, the history of our species has always moved forward thanks to constant changes. Yet, today’s marketing changes scale literally dwarfs virtually every other change witnessed in the last 40 years in the field. Surely, the speed with which the changes are coming into our lives is unprecedented. They can only be described with the word “faster.”
Maybe, you feel a sort of nausea at this speed, yet, I’m afraid, this will hardly ever slow down. Just as change has become a new norm for our world as a whole, it has become a new norm for today’s marketers. Sadly, who knows? Change is our new reality, and its main feature is acceleration. Recently hired by Google, Ray Kurzweil, in his futuristic prediction said that the ongoing acceleration of today’s technology would disrupt the existing fabric of our history. Just as the Matrix or, probably, Skynet.
Technology Challenges Us
Another point here is the number of challenges posed by technology these days. First off, technology has to be responsive to an array of opportunities present in this very moment. When technology-related challenges grow important enough we start giving them our own names. Take, for instance, this one: real-time marketing. Oreo marketers, who used their famous Superbowl tweet, won everyone’s attention due to their unique ability to make their brand respond to those opportunities that arose at the moment.
Yet, real-time marketing goes far beyond just looking for how to create viral tweets. As we can see from the current reality, the real task for a team of marketers is to instantly adapt to whatever is going on around. It has turned into the practice of living in the real world rather than merely broadcasting to audiences. This authentic approach can help marketers connect with their audiences in more meaningful ways.
High Metabolism Marketing
Now, there is one more name around. It is high-metabolism marketing. In its essence, high-metabolism marketing is the same as real-time marketing, but this name reflects the need for our companies to increase their levels of making use of raw carbohydrates they see in the market to quickly generate effective brand energy out of them. Another relevant metaphor here can be a speedy gym workout using exercise equipment.
Amid all this rivalry of marketers trying to be faster and ahead of everyone, there is a ghost of never keeping up with the changes. It’s the point where we, as marketers, should either think of changing our careers for something more peaceful or learn to adapt.
Indeed, it’s no use chasing the ghosts of daily breakthroughs in the disruptive digital world. And, it’s also true that many of us love our marketing careers. Hence, we should find ways to turn our companies into entities that easily adapt to changes. The first step here is to alter our way of thinking about the change for being able to capitalize on changes that will take place, say, the next week. A good idea, you’ll say, but can it be put to practice? And if yes, how?
Agile Marketing Is the Answer
Looks, like another buzz word, doesn’t it? At least, that’s what your first reaction might be. Yet, agile marketing is not a mere new word for doing your job faster and with better metabolism even if “agile” can project an impression of something related to sport and competition. True, agile is often about physical grace and quick movement. Many will use it to refer to certain things as sexy. Think of agile dancers, for example. Surprisingly enough, the word applies well to the new form of marketing, too.
Differences between Traditional and Agile Marketing
Let’s see how traditional marketing differs from agile. When the measurement is done in traditional marketing, we collect data and analyze it following the advertising campaign, and, logically, the findings cannot in any way impact our campaign’s outcome. By contrast, agile marketing approaches this process differently. It is a far cry from traditional marketing, actually. See, why.
Agile marketing thrives on the understanding of the need to collect data on how the marketing campaign is performing during the campaign itself and promptly alter its course if it fails to work. It is its essence. It may be hard to believe it, but agile marketing helps better the performance of a campaign by a factor of five or even more. Plus, agile marketing is about the use of an event-driven approach.
When a campaign is designed, it should reflect the purpose of agile execution and focus on the collection of near-time marketing data. In other words, we have to gather data on marketing campaigns within the time that is less than the supposed time of its running. We also have to be prepared to amend this campaign depending on the collected data.
Data-Driven Marketing by Mark Jeffery
Now, you may think that agile marketing is actually about, as Mark Jeffery notes in his book Data-Driven Marketing,“ the following things: “flying by the seat of your pants, making snap decisions, and changing the campaign plan on an instant’s notice.” However, let’s agree with the expert, it is not true. The truth is that agile marketing is itself an activity that requires great planning and is well-structured. Yet, it does it in its own way. You have to plan in advance to collect the data, and you have to think through in advance what you will do with these data once you have it.
In addition, other highlights of agile marketing, as Mark Jeffery points out are, “failing fast and in a small way by killing campaigns early that do not produce results,” winning big by making funding bigger if a campaign demonstrates early results, working out criteria of success and failure before starting a campaign, working out decision points in the plan of a campaign’s execution, and changing a campaign based on the data that becomes available.
How Can We Manage Agile Marketing? Learning from the IT Sector
Now, as you see, agile marketing is absolutely gorgeous. It seems like all of us should want to go agile. Here another challenge arises. How can we? Even though we have outlined the key features of agile marketing above, this type of marketing is not merely a sweet cliché but a whole management methodology. Here we talk about another interesting concept – agile management. So what do we understand under agile management?
What is Agile Management?
Agile management is a repetitive adaptive management process, which emphasizes the need for fast and easy moves in response to ever-changing circumstances, be it competitive forces or economic shifts. It can be recognized by arranging people to work in small teams with a high level of collaboration across a series of brief cycles. It suggests rapid feedbacks, the delivery of emergent solutions, and placing emphasis on transparent cooperation amongst the stakeholders.
A good way to understand what agile is to trace how it emerged. Whereas agile management had a number of forerunners. It is like lean manufacturing in Japan, the concept of agile that everyone uses today took hold with IT-specialists. Software engineers got together one day and crafted the manifesto for agile software development. It was back in 2001. By that time, software developers had grown really tired of traditional, i.e. predictive, approach to management. This had made them work in a sequence and failed to take into account the simple truth: things change. They had really got fed up with working in a waterfall fashion. Because every time it looked like a game of telephone and there was a danger that the client would actually say it was not what they needed. Therefore, the new manifesto focused on the four main values:
- The priority of persons and interactions over tools and working processes: they agreed that developing software was a highly creative human effort.
- It is the Priority of working software over thorough documentation
- The priority of collaboration with clients over negotiating contracts
- Priority of responses to changes overworking by a plan, i.e. focus on embracing the changing requirements
Another Buzz Word: Scrum
Now, based on these core values, several agile development approaches became popular in software engineering milieu. Today, the most popular framework is Scrum. Let’s look into Scrum as the best example and quintessence of how agile management works.
Scrum has nothing to do with either waterfalls or traditional prediction-based management. Instead of a waterfall, we have a changing pile-up of things that we want. Once several items are off the list, we start working on them incrementally. The increments we promptly build instantly get feedback. And the whole backlog of wanted things is perfect to them. And so it happens one by one.
Source: Agile Methodology
Perhaps, the most recognizable tool of Scrum use is the task board. It allows us to visualize the backlog of things waiting to be done, placed in order based on their priorities. Team members take a necessary item off the backlog and move them into a column of working in progress. When we finish our task pertaining to each item, we move it with a triumph to the column of “done” items.
Interestingly, if you take an item on the column with our backlog, it is typically written in the form of a user story rather than merely a description. For example, it can say that as a user this team member wants to attain a certain goal so that this or that benefit comes as a result of it. This formulation is helpful for focusing on results over details of the process of implementation. If you prefer software options, one such digital task board is Trello.
Rhythm of Scrum
What is the rhythm of Scrum? This agile management system gets driven by brief cycles, each lasting from 1 to 4 weeks and known as a sprint. Each sprint is about the team’s delivery of the next increment of the desired software. Such a sprint team commonly unites 4-8 people with different functions. Once a company has a really large-scale project, it has many such teams working simultaneously. Yet, it is important to remember that agile management thrives on small teams. Along with this, the cross-functionality of teams is vital.
In agile, “T-shaped” individuals are especially useful, i.e. those who typically have in-depth specialization or flair in one area. But also want to tackle various other assignments. If we run an agile team, all tackle all things. People do not refuse from completing tasks because their main specialization does not directly relate to them. The overall team either end up successful or fail together.
In every sprint, the key to successful collaboration and work is a fifteen-minute stand-up that takes place on a daily basis. All team members meet each day — preferably, in person. Even though Skype or other modes of video conferencing can be used if people are located remotely. During the activity, all team members take turns to provide answers to the questions that they did yesterday, what they intend to do today, and if there are any impediments on the way. The focus of joint work is to maintain complete transparency within the team. Each member knows who’s working on what. It’s not difficult to keep the coordination, and once an obstacle pops up that can prevent further progress.
It is easily identifiable very quickly. If other stakeholders want to listen in during stand-ups, they can, yet they can’t take part. The stand-up is for the team to get in, synchronize, and get on with the task — all questions from stakeholders should be completely outside daily meetings. They can expect that every sprint leads to the delivery of an increment that is potentially shippable. At least the initial iteration of the backlog’s items need to finish. Early shipping is a priority. Now, teams also review their sprints to find out what they have already completed. To share the results with all other stakeholders, and get feedback. This time is for collecting suggestions on how the software can be advanced.
The ideas that emerge will then get attached to the backlog and become the foundation for further sprints. This is how an ideal product gets honed in an adaptive fashion. Oh, it needs to be said that before ever sprint gets closed, the team holds one more meeting as a sprint retrospective. This time the team explores the process of creating software.
Everyone votes for the things they would want to be different in a subsequent sprint. Team members vote for what they’d like to see done differently in the future. This way the team all the time adapts to identify good dynamics for peer collaboration. The process then repeats. It turns out that agile operates as an ongoing loop of planning, building, inspecting, adapting, and repeating.
Scrum and similar agile frameworks have grown immensely popular with developers. Particularly in teams that focus on developing new products and in various start-ups. It’s not surprising. These methodologies really work. Agile, as we see, has empowered people to change their priorities. It has improved the visibility of projects and has boosted productivity. Agile has increased team morale, as well as has led to quicker time-to-market.
Agile Marketing in Practice: Key Characteristics
Okay, but how does marketing embrace agile in practice? First of all, through a non-existent traditional marketing plan. No more serious tomes spelling out demands and designs to be executed by marketing teams within the next twelve months. While some planning does take place, the traditional marketing plan ceased to exist once the connected buyer has taken his own consumer journey under control. Questioning what we offer, judging us, and comparing us with competitors, as well as praising or advising us across the media continuum is non-stoppable and is a real frenzy. That is why we can no longer follow our previous linear approach and start taking complex steps. One of the great approaches in marketing to responding to all this mess is through recognizing and responding to its complexity.
Essence of Marketing
Complexity is the essence of marketing. The roots of this complexity are the fragmentation of the ever-changing social media landscape, dynamic nature of marketing technology, and highly complex interrelationships among connected customers. And, of course, the processes have causes and effects, but we just see them as mysteriously entangled and we focus on experiencing this complexity on a daily basis.
Agile marketing, hence, is about marketing in a highly complex environment through repeatedly probing, sensing, and responding. It is about experimenting to identify and make use of patterns, about staying alert all the time to detect changes in patterns, and it is about adapting.
Complexity in Agile Marketing
Just as agile marketing capitalizes on complexity, it also happens in its own way. Indeed, we begin with a small strategy, and then we collaborate in repeated cycles of planning-designing-launching-measuring which takes place in a very close connection with each other. Iterations are followed by our reflections on acquired insights and identified patterns. This experience smoothly flows into the next small strategy while the learning level gets higher.
Now, if we get back, we see that what has worked well for software developers works well for marketers, too. And the old serious marketing plan, which has kicked off the bucket already, can be replaced by Scrum-like frameworks to manage contemporary marketing – so complex and so unpredictable. At the same time, what do we need to change to make agile management methodologies produce good results for marketing?
Experts believe we should divide marketing missions into little components that can deliver incrementally and will allow adaptation over a line of sprints. Sounds too fluid for your global highly-synchronized campaign? Maybe, it does. Yet, there are areas where it can definitely work excellently. I am talking about content marketing, social media marketing, web development, search engine optimization (SEO), mobile app development, marketing automation, PPC advertising, landing page optimization, and, of course, mobile landing page optimization. Take time to read leading blogs, say, by Greg Meyer or Jim Ewel, on how you can adapt these areas to the contemporary challenges of agility, that’s the best start.
Wrapping Up: Harnessing Explosion
In a nutshell, agile marketing is a perfect fit for today’s rapidly changing environment. New technology is undeniably something that leads to significant changes. It also operates, in Neil Perkin’s words, as an “enabler of change.” Just as we start viewing new technology as a key to solving our business needs, we start valuing adaptation. Indeed, as we have shown above, adaptation is the key to success whereas those who resist it will sooner or later perish. Indeed, marketing does not stop exploding. And whether we like it not, change is the only thing that endures however costly it may be to adapt to it. At the same time, change and control seem the opposites because control restricts creativity and flexibility.
Agile marketing offers us an effective alternative to outdates management practices. It enables us to thrive on changes and go ahead no matter what explosion takes place today or tomorrow. It opens our businesses up to creativity, constant evolution, and, most importantly, success amid uncertainty and disruption. That’s why, it is only through harnessing new methodologies of managing marketing that these explosive changes we can get good results. And the phenomenon that lets us tap all these dramatic explosions for our advantage is agile marketing. Hopefully, this article becomes the start of your journey towards its beauty.