Sometimes when I tell new acquaintances that I work on an agile marketing team they look at me like I’ve suddenly morphed into someone much cooler and smarter.
There’s an assumption that agile marketers are a unique breed of marketer, one that has a special set of expertise or unique skill set that others lack.
I’d like to claim magical marketing powers, but the truth is that most marketers probably already have most of the requisite agile skills. Aside from a broad understanding of most aspects of inbound marketing, you really just need a strong data set and a willingness to work on a team.
Armed with these three agile tools (and avoiding the temptation of quick fix software), you’ve got the agile marketing chops you need to succeed.
Agile Skill #1: A Complete Set of Inbound Expertise
There’s a lot of emphasis these days on t-shaped marketers, and agile marketing teams can benefit from their presence just as much as (if not more than) traditional marketing departments.
This graphic from Moz does a good job of illustrating this concept:
Take note that the breadth of skills includes essential development skills (HTML) as well as design/graphic creation chops (Content/Display). You need all these various abilities somewhere on your team because you shouldn’t have to wait on other departments to complete key components of your marketing efforts, otherwise your agility will count for very little.
Rand Fishkin also points out four ways that having t-shaped marketers engenders well-functioning teams, and three of those are well worth reiterating for how vital they are in an agile environment:
- Breadth Breeds Respect: As marketers develop knowledge of the skills and abilities of different disciplines, they grow to value those traits in others, and to recognize the challenges that accompany achievement in those fields. When problems overlap or when team cohesion is critical, that respect is essential to the camaraderie and goodwill that makes it possible to get through trying times without relationship-straining conflict. (From Moz.com)
- Why It’s An Agile Skill: Agile marketing teams require a good deal of internal management, whether it’s choosing how to achieve objectives or adapting to hiccups in their process. If they understand and respect the skill sets of their teammates, marketers will be less likely to dismiss their insights into prioritization (“SEO is way more important than social media!”). They’ll also be much quicker to defend their fellow agile marketers from external interruptions because they understand the difficulty of what they’re working on.
- Overlapping Knowledge Yields Creativity: Creative solutions are tough to come by and even tougher to evaluate and build off when there’s only a single person in your organization knowledgeable about a topic. By having multiple overlapping T-shapes, a marketing team can invent and evolve remarkably unique and powerful solutions to problems. (From Moz.com)
- Why It’s an Agile Skill: Coming up with new hypotheses and then creatively testing them is at the core of an effective agile marketing strategy. If you’ve only got one person who can brainstorm ideas for testing social media, content, PPC, etc., you’re decreasing the likelihood of coming up with things that will have significant impact on business goals.
- Essential Redundancies Exist with a Team of T-Shaped Folks: It’s launch day and you need to see how the email metrics are performing, but only one person in the company knows the platform well enough to track down all the right data and explain it. That sucks, but it can be helped through T-shaped overlaps. Redundancy doesn’t mean that anyone can do everyone else’s job, but it does mean that in time-sensitive or emergency situations, you’re not held hostage by a single person’s absence.
- Why It’s an Agile Skill: When things go sideways and your sprint is in danger, you need to be able to call all hands on deck to fix the problem. If only one team member understands your WordPress installation, there’s no way to leverage your whole team to find and fix sitewide errors in case of emergency.
I’ll admit that the width of the T is pretty broad, and you may have trouble staffing an entire agile team with people who hit all 11 of the categories above. But if you can get as much overlap as possible across the horizontal part of the T, you’ll get an agile team that has most of the skills that it needs to success.
Agile Skill #2: Access To (and Trust in) Lots and Lots of Data
Ok, “access to data” might not technically be a “skill,” but teaching yourself to trust it certainly is.
Data needs to tell you what to experiment with next, and it needs to tell you if your last experiment was a success or a failure.
If you can’t track the outcome of an agile marketing initiative, or if there’s uncertainty about the reliability of your tracking, it’s probably best to table that initiative for now.
Objective, uncensored information is at the heart of agile experimentation, so teach your team to love it. For those inclined to cite feelings or instinct when proposing ideas or arguing results, this skill may be hard won.
But the fact remains: no data, no agility.
Agile Skill #3: Collaborative, Team-Oriented Approach
Agile methodologies were designed to help groups of people, i.e. teams, function at a higher level than they might otherwise be able to. If you have a “team” that’s really just several people working on distinct projects, it’s time to address people skills.
When you can leverage the time, expertise, and input of a large group of people in an efficient way, you can achieve much more than you could from siloed individuals.
For many marketers, there’s a strong drive to be the hero of the day.
We want to be the one to write the next great white paper, to revolutionize the PPC campaigns, or to make the social campaign that goes viral. If we’re being honest, many of us don’t like to share our marketing toys.
But to create an agile marketing team that can disrupt your market, drive consistently outstanding results, and make your marketing department a much happier place to be, your team members need to get this skill right.
A Note of Caution: Expensive Software Is Not an Agile Marketing Skill
There are a lot of groups out there who have software or armies of consultants who claim that they hold the power of agility.
This is simply not true.
Agile marketing (and agile methodologies in general) fail or succeed on the back of teams, not software or consultants. If you’re trying to decide whether you should spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new suite of “agile” tools, I suggest spending it on training your team instead.
Smart, savvy, driven marketers who are invested in the success of their team will become your agile marketing pioneers. A well-timed visit from a consultant might help get you over a hurdle, but software alone is never the solution.
Ok, agile rant over.
Get Agile Skills While Developing Agility
Keep in mind that most of these skills represent an ideal.
Just because nobody on your team has UX experience doesn’t mean you can’t adopt an agile approach.
Use these skill sets as your goal, and continue moving your team toward them incrementally while transitioning to the agile methodology of your choice.
After all, that’s the agile thing to do.