All marketers want to increase marketing agility, but if you ask ten different marketers what it means to be agile, you will probably get ten different answers. Meanwhile, everyone seems to be jumping on the agile marketing bandwagon without a clear definition of what marketing agility means in the first place. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that today’s agile marketing methodologies are close copies of agile software engineering methodologies, and therefore do not take into account the unique characteristics of marketing management. The pioneers of agile marketing have given all marketers a great gift, but it is only the beginning. To realize the full potential of agile marketing to increase marketing agility, we marketers must extend current agile marketing methodologies to encompass the complete, end-to-end marketing management process. But first, we need a clear definition of marketing agility.
If you look up the word agility in the dictionary, it says things like “nimbleness”, “the ability to move quickly”, and “the quality of being resourceful and adaptable.” All of which are good, but all of which beg the question: What are you moving quickly to do and what are you adapting to?
Since agile marketing has its roots in agile manufacturing, it’s illuminating to take a look at how agility is defined in manufacturing. The definition of agility in manufacturing is crystal clear. It is the ability to adjust supply to meet changing demand. The more agile your manufacturing process, the faster you can do this. If you can produce a product in a month, then it will take you one month to adapt to changes in market demand. If you can produce it in a week, then you are four times more agile, because you can adapt to changing demand four times faster. Now consider the competitive difference this makes if you are producing fashionwear or holiday gifts. The more agile competitor always wins in a fast moving market.
Marketing departments, unfortunately, don’t manufacture products. Marketing supply and demand are much fuzzier concepts. Marketing is often described as the process of identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer needs to deliver value and make money. Marketing management is the process of adjusting the marketing mix to this purpose. Therefore, marketing agility is the speed at which you can adjust the marketing mix to deliver greater customer value and make more money. It is not the speed at which you execute your marketing programs; it is the speed at which you can take new marketing mix ideas and turn them into results. How fast can you change your product, adjust your price, deliver a new promotion or shift your channels to anticipate and satisfy ever changing customer needs? This is your marketing agility.
Agile marketing increases marketing agility by accelerating the marketing management process. By applying the five agile marketing disciplines, agile marketing speeds the process of turning marketing mix ideas into the concrete business results that increase customer value and drive company growth.
The goal of agile marketing is to increase marketing agility. If marketing agility is the speed at which you can adjust the marketing mix to deliver more customer value and make more money, then by definition the goal of agile marketing is to increase that speed. In a previous post, I made the case that all marketers follow a fundamental marketing management process characterized by sourcing ideas for optimizing the marketing mix, then working inside and outside the marketing department to implement those ideas and deliver increased customer value. And finally, measuring the business results of that work and doing it all over again.
Agile marketing increases marketing agility by accelerating the marketing management cycle: ideas, work, results, ideas, work, results, etc. through the practice of the five agile marketing disciplines:
When viewed in the context of the marketing management process, the buttons pushed by the five agile marketing disciplines to increase marketing agility become obvious. Customer value is the fundamental axis of alignment for marketing; producing anything that is not valuable to the customer is waste. The process of transforming ideas into results is rife with uncertainty, so it must be managed rigorously, or again there is waste. Delay is the enemy of agility; small, incremental adjustments to the marketing mix take less time to complete than large, monolithic adjustments. Marketing is not a black box. Marketing managers must reach well outside the marketing department to align customers with the company by facilitating marketing activities in sales, engineering, manufacturing, finance, etc. The more transparent the marketing management process, the more effective the facilitation. Finally, making more money implies that marketing results should always be up and to the right. This will only happen if marketing builds upon past successes and learns from past mistakes.
When change is the norm, marketing agility becomes a strategic business weapon. However, current agile marketing methodologies only scratch the surface of agile marketing’s potential to increase marketing agility. While they are incredibly useful for improving marketing team flexibility and productivity, agile methodologies like SCRUM that were designed for software engineering focus almost exclusively on the work within the marketing department. Marketing, unlike engineering, is an extremely outward-facing business function. Agile software methodologies do not adequately address the sourcing and evaluation of new ideas, the impact for constant customer interaction, the importance of collaboration outside the marketing department, or the accountability for concrete and often real-time business results. Software engineering teams are intentionally shielded from these highly uncertain, external marketing realities by product owners and backlogs, so they can focus on the process of producing quality software.
While early agile marketing methodologies have focused on internal marketing teams, future agile marketing methodologies should address the complete, end-to-end marketing management process to increase true marketing agility. They must encompass the complete, end-to-end marketing management process from ideas to results and take into consideration frequent, external marketing interactions with customers and the company.
Marketing managers must constantly source new marketing mix ideas, groom marketing mix backlogs and set marketing mix priorities. Then, they must oversee the implementation of those ideas, both inside and outside the marketing department, for example through a software engineering team. And finally, marketing managers are accountable for marketing mix results; results that may take months or minutes. To realize the full potential of agile marketing for increasing marketing agility, we must evolve current agile marketing methodologies to incorporate these characteristics.
Agile marketing should help marketing cast a wider net to capture better ideas and increase the speed at which those ideas are evaluated and implemented. It should streamline the work processes by which marketing managers facilitate marketing activities both inside and outside the marketing department. It should incorporate pervasive marketing metrics and direct customer feedback to not only adapt to customer needs, but to anticipate them. And, it should close the marketing management loop by focusing on business results that drive marketing performance and enable continuous improvement. In short, agile marketing methodologies should encompass the full end-to-end marketing management process. The goal of agile marketing should extend beyond marketing team agility to true marketing agility.