- Marketing is the driving force of all business operations. It's the vehicle that helps you achieve your business goals of selling your product, gaining income, expanding, etc.
- But does the marketing your company practices actually work for your business? If you're among the traditional marketing practitioners, then I don't think so.
- Agile marketing framework is here to revolutionise the way we think and practice marketing. And YOU should be the one to start practicing it in your business while saving money yet getting the best results.
The days of chaotic, slow, expensive, and unfruitful marketing are numbered - meet Agile Marketing. Following the explosive growth in adoption of Agile and Lean philosophies in manufacturing, software development, and customer support, now marketers are catching up.
Okay, I know that by now you are tired of all of the chatter about productivity and efficiency hacks, GTDs, and so on. So instead, I’ll share some personal experience with two different kinds of marketing teams and show you how to apply Lean principles to operate faster and cheaper.
What's wrong with traditional marketing
Let me illustrate. A few years ago, I could witness a large organisation building a whole new in-house marketing team. It was an exciting new initiative, fueled by a lot of enthusiasm. However, after many months of assembling the dream team, building creative campaigns, growing brand equity, etc… the whole marketing department was let go. Why?
Turns out, the projects, campaigns and ideas that the team was coming up with didn’t work. These extraordinary ideas did not deliver any of the expected business growth. Instead, they ate up a whole lot of time, money, and efforts. All without much benefit for the company.
The problem wasn’t that the ideas weren’t good or that the competition was too strong. No, the core problem was the complete disconnect between the business goals and means of achieving them that marketing chose.
Worst of all, the team realised that their campaigns did not work only AFTER spending months planning, preparing, launching and AFTER using up the budgets. Ouch.
As I discovered much later, this was not a unique case, but rather a sad pattern in the marketing industry. Excited about the different opportunities, companies invest in merch, events, TV and online ads, start large campaigns and try to build web projects. All without any proof that it would be useful.
However, if we look closer, the root cause is quite simple.
The 3 pitfalls of marketing
#1 Lack of focus
Effective marketing is not about starting new campaigns, it’s about completing them successfully. Contrary to a popular belief, starting more things won’t bring you more results. Starting too many campaigns or developing too many marketing channels at the same time won’t multiply the effect, but quite the opposite.
Following the Law of Diminishing Returns, after you reach a certain number, every new additional channel, campaign or project will bring less value and only dilute your efforts.
#2 Too much unpredictable motion, too little data-backed strategy
The purpose has to drive marketing campaigns, not only ideas. Why should an idea turn into a campaign? How do you know if it will work? Progress is what matters, not just the illusion of work and motion. Starting projects without having any data to back up the hypothesis behind that project is way too big of a risk.
#3 The big project thinking
Thinking that a solution would work from the first shot is wishful thinking at best. What if the market changes by the time you deploy your solution? Maybe, even your company won’t be there by the time your wonderful huge project is done.
Ideas need to be validated before you invest any efforts into them. Experiments always win over big bang campaigns.
Together, these three result in a lot of time, money, and efforts going into ideas that have no proven business value. That’s how companies end up with lengthy, expensive campaigns that become irrelevant by the time they are delivered, projects that seem to be completely disconnected from the business goals.
The solution? Meet Agile marketing
In short, Agile marketing is a work management philosophy. It won’t try to force any specific type of campaign onto you, but it will help you achieve more with less by offering a different way of work.
Generally, Agile marketing can be divided into the cultural and operational levels. The cultural level is all about the values, the mentality behind the work. The operational level, however, is all about the way you manage your work.
The Cultural level:
The Agile marketing manifesto, a document that a group of thought leaders formulated to better define the concept, focuses on these 7 core values:
- Validated learning over opinions and conventions,
- Customer focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy,
- Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns,
- The process of customer discovery over static prediction,
- Flexible vs. rigid planning,
- Responding to change over following a plan,
- Many small experiments over a few large bets.
The core ideas behind them are taken from the Lean Management philosophy and Kanban method. Together, these two put the focus on generating maximum value with minimum waste. In other words, all of the work that goes into a campaign has to be adding more value to the company. At the same time, the ultimate purpose of all work in the company is to deliver value to its clients.
The operational level:
#1 Start with visualising your work
If you want your marketing efforts to be focused, you need to first tame your workflow. Do you know how many things your team is working on at the moment? How many projects have been started but never got finished?
Teams that practice Agile and Lean marketing, visualise their work on either physical Kanban boards or using Kanban workflow software. The idea is to have a board that has just three general sections at the beginning -
- To do,
- In progress,
Each task becomes a card on the board and the sections get columns inside to represent current stage of work.
Even this simple act immediately helps everyone on the team see how much work is planned for the future, which things are currently in progress. That alone reveals work that gets stuck for too long.
However, the next step is to map your workflow and set a column for each work stage. This way you will also be able to see which stages in your process act as bottlenecks.
#2 Limit work in progress
Once you know what your workflow looks like and where most of your work is, it’s time to set a focus. Turns out, the human brain is simply not designed to multitask and works best when fully focused on solving just one problem at a time. When your team works on multiple projects, all you really get is a lot of motion and very little result.
That is why you need to deliberately set a limit to the number of campaigns/projects/tasks your team can be working on at any given moment. The safest way to do that is to set a team-wide limit at around 2 tasks per person. The idea is to stop the team from multitasking and burning out.
Of course, at some point, this will become inconvenient, as new tasks won’t be able to enter the workflow but that is the idea - once the limit is reached, look at what could be finished before you start a new thing.
#3 Manage flow and get rid of interruptions
The flow of value is one of the key concepts in Lean Management. The idea is that once you’ve started work that brings value to the client, it should flow through your delivery process with minimum interruptions.
More than that, managing flow is all about thinking about the end-to-end system and not about the personal performance of individual team members. In other words, you should care more about getting the whole campaign out on time, even if it means someone will have to stay idle for a little while.
If your client ordered a new website, it won’t matter that much if the copy for the website was finished in 2 hours or 20 days. Your client will only care about the finished website, not the efficiency of individual processes behind it.
Managing the flow is all about having the right work done at the right time, focusing on progress instead of motion.
#4 Continuous, iterative improvement
Just like the previous points, this one builds on top of its predecessors. The core of continuous improvement mentality in marketing can be summarised to this one phrase:
Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.
Releasing a website, campaign, or even an article should not become the existential purpose of the marketing team. Thinking that a task is done once and for all when it is published online is simply unhelpful.
Continuous improvement in marketing means you will publish a website before all of its sections are complete and add them in several batches. Iterative improvement is at the core of a Lean startup idea and is the single biggest thing that separates Big Bang campaigns from Lean-Agile marketing campaigns. Collecting feedback from your client or the final user is the key to making timely changes.
Experiment and try out your campaigns on a smaller scale before you commit to a large big-bang-like project. You’ve probably heard of Minimum Viable Product by now. Well, this is exactly the same kind of mentality but applied to all marketing processes. You need to constantly think of ways to test out your larger idea with a smaller experiment that can be delivered fast, inexpensive yet valuable enough to your audience to give you a proof of concept.
Example of an Agile marketing campaign
Okay, that’s a lot of information, but what does all that really mean in practical terms?
Let’s say you own an online education business. You develop new learning courses and market them online to get more people to purchase individual courses or subscribe to your service. One day, you discover a topic that is bound to become a huge trend. What do you do?
On one hand, this is a great opportunity to commercialise on an emerging trend. On the other hand, what if the trend never gets up to the speed that would be beneficial to you?
Let’s see how traditional marketer would react vs an Agile Marketing reaction.
Immediately decides to develop a course on this topic. Spends weeks planning the contents of the course, finding suitable references. Works on building up a list of places for the promotion of the course, writes down the marketing plan, where every milestone is pinned to a date. Writes articles to send out press release, schedules social media campaigns and paid search advertising.
How does that sound to you? To an Agile marketer, this sounds like a potential disaster. Why? Well, because by the time this grand campaign launches, the trend might exhaust itself, or it will turn out the intended audience has no real interest in purchasing the course, etc.
None of those actions guarantee even a spark of success. Yes, all of these are valid marketing tools but how can we know if people even care about this topic enough to purchase a course? Let’s see the alternative.
Once notices the trend, this marketer thinks about the first small experiment they could run fast and inexpensive to test the idea and probe the market. To validate the idea of engaging with this trend, they could create a landing page that tells visitors about the idea of the course. This page would ask visitors to pre-order/subscribe to an email list if they are interested and would like to be notified when the course is live. Then, using a targeted paid ad campaign, they drive traffic to the page to see how many people convert.
Next, they would talk to those who left their emails to see if this audience is willing to pay, what their specific needs and motivations are, etc. Having this information, they would make a weighted decision on the feasibility of such an investment. If the data says it’s promising, they would break the large course into smaller batches of work and start processing them one by one, promoting each and going through the feedback cycle again to make the next batch better every time. They could start from launching the expanded eBooks, then release a chapter of their course every time there is enough content.
The difference between these two approaches in that in the second case, we have a lot more data to back up our gut feeling. An Agile marketer has a sharp focus on one thing at a time, small batches of work that go through the process as fast as they can without sacrificing the quality. Also, instead of making the Grand Launch, the second campaign would focus more on feedback loops and iterative improvement to maximise the value of the product.
How can agile marketing save you money?
By now, I hope you can see the striking difference between what Agile marketing offers teams and the example of the team that the articles opened with.
Agile marketers put validated, data-backed decisions over guesses and gut feeling. Marketing teams that adopt Lean values and Kanban workflow management ideas focus on delivering value, spending less time moving work around and more on getting tasks, projects, and campaigns finished. Agile marketers don’t do unnecessary work and never invest efforts into huge Big-Bang campaigns but experiment and validate ideas first.
A team that has a reliable workflow and a predictable delivery process will always be able to respond to any changes much faster than a team that has a heavy annual plan but no visibility of their work.
Faster delivery or smaller batches means you pay less for the development time and get to see the effectiveness of different approaches much faster than a team that first builds a project for 6 months and then evaluates the results.
In the grander scheme of things, this means you will spend less time and money on tools that don’t work, on ads that don’t convert, on websites that should not be built, and on features that have no value to the customer.
Marketing doesn’t have to be a black hole for your hard-earned money. Instead, it could become the leanest part of your business, moving ahead of the trends and mainstream marketing practices.
Your team can become your Research and Development department with minimal cost and maximum returns.
The best part? You can start with what you have, identify the value and just move on from there. Then visualise your work, remove wasteful activities and set on the path of continuous improvement. Next? The sky won’t be the limit.
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