How to Start An Agile Culture in Your Marketing Department

Andrea Fryrear on Content Marketing

To effectively begin laying the groundwork for adopting an agile methodology in your marketing department, you need to work on two fronts:

  1. Eliminate organizational/institutional thought processes that are incompatible with the agile model
  2. Create concrete examples of the benefits of agile marketing for your particular company/client/brand

The increase in efficiency that results from these changes may not be enough to convince your CMO to adopt an agile model as a whole, but if nothing else they will improve communication and responsiveness for your team.

Basically, there’s no downside to adopting a few agile marketing experiments.

Agile Marketing Will Fail Without a Compatible Culture

You can have daily stand-ups, the coolest scrum board ever, and a beautifully managed backlog, but even then your overall company mindset can keep agile methodologies from taking hold.

While you’re investigating the sprint process and looking for the right whiteboard, you should also make sure your marketing team (and hopefully your company as a whole), is embracing these four important agile tenets:

  1. Embrace Collaboration
  2. Stop Fearing Failure
  3. Always Better, Never Perfect
  4. Let Data Do the Driving

Collaboration is King

Agile marketing doesn’t work without a strong, interconnected team.

A successful sprint isn’t just about whether each team member accomplished their task; it’s about how effective the team was in helping one another eliminate blocks and tackle unforeseen problems.

If team members are fearful of not getting credit for their work or being blamed for a delay, they will be hesitant to reach out to others for help and they will continue to struggle silently while the sprint goes down in flames.

Managers and product owners need to make sure that challenges, as well as successes, are laid at the feet of the team and not the individual.

At the same time, weak links will start to become apparent very quickly in the high-collaboration world of agile methodologies. Be prepared to have difficult conversations with team members whose shortcomings are hindering your agile marketing success.

Some people work very well in the flexible, adaptive agile environment, while it stresses others out. You need to be upfront with your marketing team about expectations and start creating the right atmosphere in which to continue performing agile experiments.

Don’t Fear the Failure

Most people don’t like to fail, and they especially don’t like to fail publicly. But in an agile environment failure is part of the process and shouldn’t be seen as an overly negative outcome.

Instead, consider each failure a valuable source of information about what might work better next time.

The great thing about agile marketing methodologies is that there’s another sprint just around the corner during which you can immediately apply what you learned through your “failure.”

Marketing sprints are a lot like science experiments.

You go in with a hypothesis, which may or may not turn out to be accurate. But answering the question, “Will this new landing page layout convert visitors at a higher rate?” with a “Nope” is still answering the question. It puts you closer to finding the design that produces a “Yes!”

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) That Constantly Improves

For marketers who are used to obsessing over every comma, logo, and tweet, this one can be hard. But agile marketers need to get accustomed to putting out something very quickly, and then improving on it.

In agile software development, this is often referred to as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Developers put out a piece of code that works at its most basic level. It’s not perfect, it’s not pristine, but it’s out there. Then they set about making it better, and better, and better.

This is something we as marketers have a hard time with. But with the ever-growing sophistication of tracking software, marketing MVPs should be our friends.

We can get our message out there in its minimal form, then set about honing it through constant and consistent testing.

Data Take the Wheel

Before you dive into the agile methodologies, make sure your data collection and review procedures are solid, and that everyone on your team agrees on their value.

Don’t have any KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)? Get them ironed out.

No goals set up in your analytics? Take an afternoon and put them in.

A breakdown in tracking your customer lifecycle? Nail down the issue ASAP.

Agile sprints are driven by data, so you need to be able to measure, track, and report on your successes and failures. These numbers are what your team should be looking at when they are choosing initiatives to tackle in a sprint.

If somebody “feels” like your email campaigns aren’t performing their best, they need to be able to point to open rates, clicks, and/or unsubscribes to back this up; then they need to propose testable hypotheses to improve each metric.

None of that is possible if you’re just throwing emails out into the void without tracking them.

Create Micro-Campaigns to Prove the Agile Model’s Value

Once you’ve begun to address the institutional roadblocks, you can then dive into the sprints themselves. If you have reluctant executives, go with some low-risk tasks that won’t take too many resources but will still show solid ROI.

Here are some suggestions that are typically low risk but can still demonstrate the value of testable, repeatable marketing that would go on in a typical sprint:

  • Email campaign: change 1-2 parts of a campaign that has the potential to also improve many other parts of your marketing strategy.

For example, tweak the text and color of your call to action buttons and track the changes in clicks on both changes.

Let’s say one change gives you a 7% improvement in clicks and a 2% increase in sales. You make that change on 4 other campaigns, giving you an 8% total bump in sales.

Point out that if you were able to run more of these kinds of tests in a sprint-based calendar you could consistently deliver these kinds of incremental improvements all year long and across all marketing channels.

  • Social Media Marketing: Be deliberate about what kinds of content you are posting (your own articles, shared/reposted/retweeted, just comments, etc.) and the times it’s going out.

Track everything.

Report your findings, along with suggestions for how this can improve social engagement and the bottom line.

  • Customer Engagement: Send out a survey to a small percentage of your customer base asking for feedback about your product, brand message, competitor or any marketing channel you think needs work.

If the information is radically different from what you’re assuming in your marketing materials, suggest how you can make adjustments, and be sure to point out the benefits of getting a regular input of this kind.

  • Test a Big Assumption: This one’s a bit more involved but can give you a bigger payout if it works.

Is there a big piece of your marketing strategy that’s always bothered you?

Part of agile marketing is using small tasks within a sprint to test basic assumptions, and then making adjustments as dictated by the results. If you can find a way to test an assumption and then suggest new and improved tactics based on the results (all backed by data of course), that’s a big win.

Some Hard Data on Agile Marketing Successes

The bottom line is that agile methodologies improve marketing departments’ productivity and effectiveness:

agile marketing benefits

The above chart from Forbes is pretty clear about what marketers are leaving on the table by not adopting this model.

Show it to your decision makers, and you can follow up with these 3 case studies from Mashable about innovative marketing departments and how they’re using agile methodologies to drive their strategies.