Agile Marketing Must Haves

It’s difficult to find a development team that hasn’t embraced the agile method—an iterative approach to software design focused on smaller projects, shorter cycle times and lots of testing and learning. The fundamental assumption of the agile method is that project requirements change on a daily basis so being nimble matters. The old waterfall method of gathering requirements, designing, writing code, testing and releasing looks cumbersome, slow, and outdated by comparison. Not to mention more expensive and less effective.

Yet time and again, when technology-driven companies go to market, they often fail to translate their highly effective agile mindset to their marketing practice. Oddly enough, when it comes to marketing, they tend to over-think. As if they have one chance and one chance only to get it right. Their marketing practice becomes slow and cumbersome, more expensive than they’d like, and the results disappoint.

It pays to know that running a cutting edge marketing practice has an enormous amount in common with running a cutting edge development shop. Marketing, too, works better on the agile method—small projects, short cycles and lots of iteration.

Especially if you are ready to start optimizing conversion (ie: you have traffic and customers) porting your stellar agile development culture over to your marketing operation is a must.

Just like your agile development practice, your new agile marketing practice needs but a few key elements to keep it humming on all cylinders:

1. An Agile Delivery System. Today’s marketers need to make changes on a dime. Without total control over marketing web pages through a content management system that they own, they will forever spend their time requirements gathering, designing and producing ideas rather than introducing ideas to the marketplace so they can listen and adapt. Just like your agile development team needs to make frequent, pointed updates to code, your marketers need to add blog posts, change links, add and edit web copy and even full pages with pointed frequency.

2. Integrated Input. No doubt, our marketing requirements have gotten ten fold more complex in the last ten years. With multiple modalities, an explosion of technologies, fragmented communication channels and more touch points to manage everyday, it’s more important than ever to ensure that our marketing efforts are integrated—not only in the eyes of the customer, but with the fundamental workings of the organization. Integration of the sales and marketing functions has been a no-brainer for decades. Now it’s time to integrate our marketing efforts with customer service, product development and public relations, informing and coordinating our efforts, building and taking advantage of interdependencies.

3. An Iterative, Hypothesis-driven Project Schedule. Like agile software developers, agile marketers need to iterate—toss an idea into the mix, see what happens, learn, change, nip, tuck, adapt. Like developers turn stories into tasks, marketers turn hypotheses into campaigns. Like developers write and release code, marketers write and release messaging and promotions. Smaller projects, shorter cycles, iterative learning. It works very well for both.

4. Measurement. Business has long demanded accountability for the value of their software investments and your marketing efforts should be no different. As long as online marketing technology keeps innovating, marketing ROI will always be a moving target. It depends on a large number of complex inputs that will only continue to grow. That said, the same measurement principles you use in your agile development process (another complex, constantly emerging task) are also good for measuring your marketing efforts:

• Measure outcome, not output.
• Follow trends, not numbers.
• Make data easy to collect.
• Pay attention to what reveals, not what conceals.
• Collect feedback on a frequent and regular basis.
• Encourage a “good-enough” mentality and move on.

Lastly, like a development house works best when one key metric drives the business, a marketing practice works best under a single shared goal. That metric will most certainly change as your business grows. While you start out needing to drive web traffic, you’ll certainly move into the need to drive conversion and hopefully (if you’re very, very lucky) wind up faced with the need to maximize customer life time value.

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