• More organizations are interested in applying agile approaches to marketing
  • Applying agile to marketing differs in three key areas from product development
  • Organizations need to understand and plan for these differences

Agile development is now the predominant way that organizations create technology products (especially software-as-a-service offerings). The widespread use of agile in product development also has spurred experimentation elsewhere in the organization, particularly in marketing. This has given rise to “agile marketing,” which takes the principles laid out in the Agile Manifesto and builds on them, tailoring some of the concepts and adding some new ones specific to marketing.

I have talked to many B2B organizations interested in applying agile to marketing, and I frequently see confusion, misconceptions and a lack of understanding about how agile can be applied outside of product development. At the upcoming SiriusDecisions Technology Exchange (November 16-17 in Austin) I’ll be presenting on Applying Agile: How It Can Help and When It Doesn’t, where I’ll cover how organizations are applying agile outside of product development and the benefits they are realizing.

In some cases, we see B2B organizations taking the process for using agile on technology projects and trying to apply it in the exact same way to marketing. While there are obviously a lot of similarities, there are three important differences:

  • Agile marketing focuses much more on iteration, based on in-market testing and feedback. In an ideal agile product development process, once a specific set of capabilities or product changes is completed and launched to customers, there should be a concerted effort to monitor the impact of the newly released software. However, organizations often focus their agile development processes more on using agile to more efficiently and effectively execute projects from a development perspective. This approach includes making adjustments based on customer/user feedback, but that loop is usually focused primarily on getting feedback on items that have not yet been released to the market yet and are still in development. To be fair, the cost of making changes is much lower before software is released than after – and the impact of customer feedback is much higher. With large enterprise products, there may be a lag between when a product update is released and when significant quantitative usage data is available. The difference with applying agile to marketing is that a lot of the value is not just in using agile to execute marketing activities, but in tracking whether marketing tactics are performing well in the market and then using the agile process as a way to make rapid changes and adjustments quickly, based on in-market testing and feedback. Success in agile marketing isn’t just from using agile as a way of getting marketing activities done more quickly, but from using agile to make marketing more effective by adjusting more responsively based on how the marketing output is performing.
  • Agile marketing requires a different set of technology infrastructure. Given the first point above, it should be obvious that agile marketing requires the right technology infrastructure to fully realize its benefits. An agile development process requires technology infrastructure, of course, but it is different in that its purpose is mainly to support the development process. For agile marketing, the technology infrastructure instead needs to include in-market monitoring and an ability to make rapid adjustments based on how marketing assets and activities are performing. At the most basic level, this monitoring means having simple Web analytics to track usage and conversions. At a more advanced level, it could include having tools that provide access to near real-time analytics and allow for ad hoc querying, platforms that provide the ability to do A/B testing and multivariate analysis, and technologies that let marketers rapidly execute, deploy and monitor changes (e.g. content marketing software and a marketing automation platform).
  • “Cross-functional” takes on a different meaning in agile marketing. Agile development helped popularize the concept of a dedicated and self-directed, self-contained, cross-functional team that is not dependent on external resources. However, to fulfill that vision for many product development initiatives, “cross-functional” may require not much more than some developers and a product owner/manager. In agile marketing, the agile team must be able to conceive an idea, execute on it fully and monitor it in the marketplace. That means that a more diverse skill set is required for agile marketing, often including a range of roles from different marketing disciplines (e.g. product marketing, demand creation, marketing operations, marketing communications).

If you’re interested in learning more about applying agile to marketing, join me at the SiriusDecisions Technology Exchange on November 16-17 in Austin.