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Agile Marketing: 101 Things to Know Before You Go Agile

Heard of agile marketing? Wondering if you should try it with your marketing team? We’ve done the leg work and gathered together more than 100 need-to-know insights, statistics, observations and comments from many of the giants in the agile marketing community, to help you achieve greater agility in your marketing team.

Read on for first-hand experiences of CMOs who have adopted agile marketing, definitions of all those strange-sounding agile terms and rituals, and insider tips on how to make agile marketing work in your organisation.


The need for agile marketing

  1. Only 36 per cent of CEOs believe their marketing and brand organisations can respond to transformative changes. (PwC)
  2. On average, it takes a little more than eight months for a marketing idea to see the light of day. (McKinsey)
  3. Almost 60% of marketing initiatives take at least six months to make it to market. (McKinsey)
  4. Three in four marketers (75%) are concerned about the impact of threats from existing competitors who are more agile. (McKinsey)
  5. Almost two in three marketing leaders (63%) rate agility as a high priority. (Forbes)
  6. But only 40% rate themselves as ‘agile’ and only 26% consider their organisation ‘very agile’. (Forbes)
  7. Almost one in two marketers (46%) say they make marketing decisions based on data but only 10% think they are good at feeding customer insights back into the organisation to improve performance. (McKinsey)
  8. Almost all marketers (96%) believe the pace of change in marketing and technology will continue to accelerate. (Forrester)
  9. A similar proportion (89%) believes marketing is asked to take on new responsibilities without a change in budget or resources. (Forrester)
  10. Two in three marketers (69%) find annual planning more challenging because the pace of change is so much faster. (Forrester)
  11. Marketing organisations need to change the way they work to achieve the effectiveness and efficiency they need to keep up with the digital customer.  (Barre Hardy, CMG Partners via Chiefmartec)
  12. Agile marketing is one of seven emerging capabilities marketing teams must master to avoid falling behind their competitors. (BCG)
  13. Marketing teams who consider themselves agile are three times more likely to significantly grow market share. (Forbes)



    What is agile marketing?
  14. Agile marketing is a way of managing marketing in which teams work in short cycles to complete highly defined projects and measure their impact, with the aim of continuously improving results over time. The Agile approach values focusing on the customer, and responding to change based on tests and data, over executing a predetermined plan. (Secrets of Agile Marketing Success)
  15. Agile marketing was inspired by the Agile software movement, founded in 2001 when a group of thought leaders, dubbed the Agile Alliance, met to discuss alternatives to traditional, waterfall software development processes (which called for requirements, design, coding and testing to be completed in a linear sequence before a product could be launched). (Agile manifesto)AdobeStock_131843355
  16. A manifesto for agile marketers, written in 2012, enshrines:

    • 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 planning over rigid planning
    • Responding to change over following a plan
    • Many small experiments over a few large bets.
      (Agile marketing manifesto)

    Common advantages of agile marketing

  17. Customer-centricity: Agile marketing places the customer voice at the heart of all activity, creating a customer-centricity that many organisations are struggling to achieve. (PwC)
  18. Efficiency: Agile marketing relies on constant measurement, allowing marketing leaders to track business impact and devote resources to the campaigns that deliver the greatest return, a process of continuous improvement that generates ongoing efficiencies. (PwC)
  19. Collaboration: It can transform culture, not just process. Agile marketing values the individual in the context of the team, and encourages empowerment, collaboration and thoughtful risk-taking. (PwC)
  20. Productivity: Agile marketing requires people to work in small, cross-functional teams that are empowered to make decisions based on an agreed strategy. “People are happier, more efficient, and more productive, which is great for the business leader.” (Barre Hardy, CMG Partners via Chiefmartec)
  21. Speed & Flexibility: Speed is a key benefit of agile marketing. Working on prioritised activity in short, rapid cycles with fewer distractions enables companies to get work to market faster and respond more quickly to changes in the market. (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)"People are happier, more efficient, and more productive, which is great for the business leader" - Barre Hardy, CMG Partners
  22. Alignment: Agile marketing requires regular contact with other departments, such as sales or product, through sprint planning and prioritisation, which means marketing will be more aligned with their needs. (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)
  23. Progression: When agile teams can show transparency, better prioritisation, measurable results, adaptability to change, customer satisfaction, and increased competitiveness, that means only good things for the marketer’s career.(Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)

    Benefits of agile marketing: By the numbers
    In its influential CMOs Agenda study of agile marketers, CMG Partners quantified the benefits:
  24. Nine in 10 agile marketing users (93%) say it helps them improve speed to market… (CMG Partners)
  25. while the same proportion of agile marketing users (93%) say it helps them switch gears more quickly and effectively. (CMG Partners)
  26. Almost as many (87%) say adopting agile makes their marketing team more productive. (CMG Partners)
  27. Four in five marketers (80%) say adopting agile leads to enhanced prioritisation of the things that matter… (CMG Partners)
  28. and an equal number (80%) say adopting agile marketing helps them deliver a better, more relevant end product. (CMG Partners)Agile marketing is one of seven emerging capabilities marketing teams must master to avoid falling behind their competitors - BCG
  29. Research suggests that agile firms grow revenue 37% faster and generate 30% higher profits than non-agile companies. (MIT via CMG Partners)
  30. Two in three of chief marketing officers (67%) say agile results in a more motivated team. (CMG Partners)

    Results of agile marketing: What CMOs say

  31. After John Deere’s Enterprise Advanced Marketing unit adopted agile marketing, the amount of work accomplished in each sprint increased by an average of more than 200%; some teams achieved an increase of more than 400%, and one team soared 800%. (Harvard Business Review)
  32. Health insurer HCF instituted weekly cross-departmental meetings in which all teams that interact with customers review the data and make decisions on how to improve HCF’s marketing output. That, along with weekly optimisation cycles and a test-and-learn approach to digital and traditional media during peak spending periods, has reduced wastage, increased efficiency and improved staff morale, according to then-CMO Jenny Williams. “Our digital conversion rates have absolutely improved. Our media mix has definitely improved. Our share of voice for the same marketing dollar has definitely improved.” (Simple)
  33. Satya Patel of Twitter doubled his compound quarterly growth rate through high-tempo testing enabled by agility. The social media network increased the number of tests they ran from one a fortnight to 10 tests per week. (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)
  34. US bank Wells Fargo learned to innovate around the customer using agile methodologies. “Today, Wells Fargo is a well-oiled innovation machine. Every six months, [the team] uses ethnography studies, customer councils, and insights gleaned from internal metrics to identify 10 priorities. Then they get to work, developing, testing, and deploying new services every 90 days.” (Forbes)

  35. After adopting agile marketing, the marketing group for the satellite campuses of Northern Arizona University achieved a 400% increase in productivity. In addition, they were able to trim their budget by 20% and saw their team’s client satisfaction rating jump 30%. (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)
  36. Suncorp Bank adopted agile for its bigger marketing campaigns in 2015. According to digital marketing advisor Libby Patch, lead time dropped from 12 weeks to 3 weeks in the first year. Suncorp has evolved from running large campaigns at set times to more of an always-on approach. And where they previously had to wait 3 months before ‘fixing’ existing campaigns, they now adjust or pull under-performing work much faster.
  37. While at Mindjet, CMO Jascha Kaykas-Wolff reported a massive uplift due to agile marketing: “On one project, we have almost a 3000x lift in performance and drove a 30% increase in trials quarter-to-quarter, just purely because of this process. And we’ve done nothing else that was different other than use these processes on this one particular campaign.” (CMG Partners)
  38. Design start-up Canva developed an agile, test-and-learn approach to marketing involving high-tempo testing and experimentation. “The power of agile marketing is testing every assumption and tactic every step of the way and only pursuing a direction when we have evidence it will work,” growth hacker Anna Guerrero says. The company grew its user base from 4 million in August 2015 to more than 10 million six months later without using paid advertising, and with a team of just 5 marketers. (TrinityP3)
  39. For Xerox, which switched to agile marketing in 2009, the clearest improvement has been in their ability to prioritise and deliver marketing activity.  According to Xerox vice-president of Interactive Marketing Judith Frey: “Because of the volume of projects that come up in the Web environment, you’re changing things on an ongoing basis. A way to manage those and prioritise them so you’re always working on the highest value projects is very much congruent with how agile operates.” (CMG Partners)
  40. “Time is the scarcest commodity,” according to First Tennessee Bank CMO Dan Marks. “By shortening the cycle times, we can effectively create more time. You also get faster results and have the option to adjust faster if something is working very well or not very well.” (MarketingProfs)
  41. Mortgage broker Aussie implemented agile in marketing so it could collaborate more closely with the technology department following a restructure that saw both teams report to the general manager, customer experience and technology Richard Burns. The close collaboration has removed any issues around where the budget for marketing technology sits and is driving innovation by helping the teams focus on continual improvement. (Changing Structure of Marketing)
  42. Ecommerce platform BigCommerce saw a 100% increase in velocity according to Kirsten Knipp, vice-president of brand and product marketing. “Because of the infrastructure that we had to work with, I would say we were about double the pace that they had been when I first started with that team. We were executing and iterating much more rapidly and actually getting the results from AB tests and things like that that were starting to make an impact.” (CMG Partners)
  43. Hershey’s brand Oreo became the poster-child for agility with its “Power Out? No Problem” tweet. Issued within minutes of a power outage during the Super Bowl, it featured an image of the cookie and the line “You can still dunk in the dark”. The post was retweeted 15,000 times within 14 hours. Oreo followed that up with a series of topical ads linked to events of the day, involving rapid creation, approval and execution cycles. (Econsultancy)
  44. During one campaign, health recruitment firm CHG Healthcare was able to cut its budget by 50% but capture the same quality of leads due to efficiency gains from the regular data analysis and continuous improvement that is part of its agile process. “That’s agility at its finest,” vice-president of marketing Lesley Snavely says. (CMG Partners)
  45. . According to Ben Edwards, formerly vice-president global communications and digital marketing and IBM, agile marketing can be applied broadly to strategy and planning, which he sees as a “just-in-time” function. “Collapsed upfront planning, iterative cycles of planning and execution based on continuous improvement” is how IBM approaches agile marketing. “That releases a lot of momentum, productivity and value,” he says. (Econsultancy)
  46. Agile changes the organisation’s structure, according to Steve Walker, former CMO and corporate vice president of Sony Mobile Communications. “We found we could significantly reduce headcount but actually improve flexibility in deployment simply by minimising the number of steps to get to market. I think that’s very key.” (CMG Partners)


    Myths and misconceptions about agile marketing

    Chiefmartec blogger and author of Hacking Marketing Scott Brinker has dedicated some space to busting some of the myths about agile marketing.

  47. Myth: Agile is a euphemism for “work faster”. No: it’s faster because it delivers stuff incrementally and iteratively. It’s about better allocating your time and effort into activity that produces results. (Chiefmartec)
  48. Myth: Agile is a euphemism for “quick and dirty”. No: you can build larger projects over more than one sprint, either by creating it in parts or by building one version and improving upon it. (Chiefmartec)
  49. Myth: Agile does not allow for long-term planning. Actually, agile is about making long-term plans more adaptive. (Chiefmartec)
  50. Myth: Marketing budgets are not allocated in an adaptive or responsive way. Budgets can be allocated in buckets with flexibility within that bucket. (Chiefmartec)
  51. Myth: Agile only works with very rigid processes and you can’t deviate from these. Actually, you can adapt all or many parts of whatever agile processes work for you. Start off small or with one team, and see what works best for your business. (Chiefmartec)

    Adoption of agile marketing

  52. Almost one in three marketers (30%) now use agile to manage their work… (Agile Marketing Report via Mar Tech Adviser)
  53. while the remaining 40% say they use a mix of methods including some agile work practices. (Agile Marketing Report via Mar Tech Adviser)
  54. Only 15.5% of marketing teams have been using agile for more than a year, while just 4.4% have used it for two years or more. (State of Agile Marketing via MarketerGizmo)
  55. Lean is the most popular agile methodology, used by 29.% of agile marketers, followed by Kanban (where teams pull work from a prioritised backlog) with 24.%. The next most popular was Scrumban (14.5%), followed by Scrum, used by 13.8%.

    (State of Agile Marketing via MarketerGizmo)

    Agile marketing: glossary of terms

  56. Lean: An agile methodology that eliminates waste by focusing only on projects that deliver value to the customer. Popularised by The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries (which promotes the concept of iterative product design, development and launch), lean marketing focuses on launching small, trial campaigns and learning from the results to evolve campaigns. (The Lean Marketer)

  57. Kanban: An agile methodology focused on continuous release. Work is pulled from a prioritised backlog, the amount of work the team can undertake at any one time is limited, and the progress of tasks is tracked on a Kanban board through columns such as ‘In Progress’, ‘Peer review’ and ‘Done’. (Chiefmartec)
  58. Scrum: An agile methodology comprising a series of short, fixed-length work cycles, or sprints, at the end of which a piece of work is delivered. (Deloitte)
  59. Scrumban: A pull-based system where the team no longer plans out the work committed to during the planning meeting, but continually grooms the backlog. Scrum meetings such as planning, review and retrospective can be more context-driven but the work in progress is still limited. (Deloitte)
  60. Backlog: An evolving list of work prioritised so that the highest-value work is addressed first. (PwC)
  61. Grooming: When new projects are added to the backlog, it is then groomed, or prioritised. Or, if a project comes up mid-sprint and it is deemed to be more important than the work that is already underway, it is added to the existing work and something else will be relegated to the backlog.
  62. Product owner: Represents the customer voice at the team level, and is also the owner of the backlog, and makes the call about whether to accept new work during a sprint. (PwC)
  63. Persona: A fictional character created to represent the user, to help agile marketing teams tailor their work to meet the user’s needs. (PwC)
  64. User Story: A sentence or two of plain English, written from the user’s point of view, that describes what the customer may need from your product. Used to keep agile teams focused during a sprint, a user story typically takes the form: “As a (user role) I want to (complete task x) so I can (achieve goal y).” (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)
  65. Scrum master: Tracks the overall budget, removes barriers and keeps all parties informed about the agile marketing team’s progress. (PwC)
  66. Sprint: Also called an iteration, a sprint is a short, uninterrupted work cycle during which an agile marketing team completes finished work, usually 1-4 weeks in length. (PwC)
  67. WIP limits: In Kanban methodology, the number of jobs in each lane of a Kanban board is limited. A job or project must progress into the next column to allow the team to accept a new one. (ChiefmartecT
  68. Sprint planning: Meeting at the beginning of a scrum work cycle in which the agile marketing team’s goals are agreed with the business owners, capacity is estimated and work is prioritised. (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)
  69. Epic: A large project that is too big to be undertaken in one work cycle, or sprint. Epics may be broken down into smaller ‘stories’ that can be completed within set work cycles. (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)
  70. Story Points:  The estimated level of effort a piece of work will take an agile marketing team to complete. Used to estimate capacity and measure velocity. (Hubspot)
  71. Stand-Up: A short, daily all-hands meeting in which members of an agile marketing team answer 3 key questions: What did you get done yesterday? What are you working on today? Is anything stopping you from getting this work done? (PwC)
  72. Velocity: The rate at which agile teams complete their work. Used to estimate capacity. Can be used to calculate productivity. (Agile Alliance)
  73. Sprint review: Meeting at the end of a scrum work cycle in which the agile marketing teams’ goals are reviewed, completed work is demonstrated and results are presented to the business. (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)
  74. Sprint retrospective: A meeting at the end of a scrum work cycle attended by the scrum master and marketing team at which the agile marketing process is reviewed to see what can be improved in future sprints. (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)
  75. Squad: The basic team unit in agile marketing: a stable, self-sufficient, multi-skilled marketing team that decides how and what the brand will deliver in an agile work cycle. (Simple)
  76. Tribe: A combination of related Squads under one manager or business sponsor. Provides environment for Squads to excel. (Simple)
  77. Chapter: A cross-functional team that sets guiding principles for the Tribe, such as brand guidelines. (Simple)
  78. Guild: A community of knowledge or interest group that shares learnings and best practice across the marketing organisation eg. scrum masters from different squads. (Simple


    How to start implementing agile marketing

    There are six stages to implementing agile marketing, according to agile consultant Paul McNamara:

  79. Start at the top. Decide with your executive team how agile you need to be to maximise the return on effort. (Simple)
  80. Map your agile vision. Develop an agile roadmap that replaces your long-term marketing plan with top-level goals rather than set tasks. (Simple)
  81. Find the agile that suits you. Choose an agile process and customize work cycle lengths to suit your business and marketing team requirements. (Simple)
  82. Pilot first. Select a lighthouse project or team. Choose the capabilities and skill sets you need in your team, assemble the team and train the team in your agile process. Start working in agile. (Simple)
  83. Unstick the organisation. Develop plans to tackle institutional hurdles such as budgets, corporate governance and human resources requirements. (Simple)
  84. Scale when ready. Expect teething issues but your process and results will start to emerge after a few cycles and you’ll be able to roll your agile marketing process out more widely. (Simple)

    How to measure agile marketing

  85. Soft metrics: Measure everything you can from the very beginning as you formulate hypotheses, test and learn. Engagement, reach, leads, conversion, brand health: those measures should continue to improve in an agile marketing process. (Kissmetrics)
  86. Hard metrics: Revenue, customer numbers, churn, return on marketing investment. Greater propensity of teams to focus on improving fundamental metrics in an agile marketing team should mean improved predictability over funnel and revenue. (CMG Partners)
  87. Speed: Counting the number of story points related to the complexity of the tasks and projects a team gets through in a work cycle or period can enable you to measure speed, productivity and improvement. (Jim Ewel, Agile Marketing)
  88. Employee morale: It’s worth measuring the attitudes of your marketing team to work before and after adopting agile marketing. While at HCF, CMO Jenny Williams has adopted agile process in her marketing team. “The brand launch that took place earlier in the year – that was a lot of work. My team worked really hard and none of them seemed to have an issue with that. In fact, our internal survey seemed to indicate they were all really motivated by that process.” (Simple)

    Common hurdles to going ‘agile’ in marketing
  89. It Requires Adaptability: A rigid approach to agile marketing does not work. There is no single right way to approach it. Organisations must “find the right agile” for them and continue to adapt and improve it as they go. (Simple)
  90. It Takes Effort: Agile marketing has to be actively managed; you can’t just adopt the methodology. Companies should treat it as an operating system. (Barre Hardy, CMG Partners via Chiefmartec)
  91. Employee Adoption: Among the biggest hurdles to marketing agility are managing through the change, getting your team to think differently, bringing along the employees who resist the change, and creating that shared vision for what you want the organization to be and how you want it to operate. (Forbes)
  92. Fear of Failure: Agility is also frequently blocked by organisational processes and company cultures that prohibit quick decision-making. It’s hard to create a culture of agility in your organisation if employees are afraid to fail or take risks or if you have cumbersome approval processes. (Forbes)
  93. Management Failure: Agile is often undermined by executives who don’t really understand it and don’t realise they will also need to change the way they work. These executives launch initiatives with urgent deadlines rather than assign the highest priority to two or three. They spread themselves and their best people across too many projects. They routinely overturn team decisions and add review layers and controls to ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated. With the best of intentions, they erode the benefits that agile innovation can deliver. (HBR
  94. Executive Support: While agile marketing is often introduced by mid-level marketing managers seeking an advantage in their careers, it needs buy-in from an organisation’s executive leadership team to flourish. “The agile network cannot be viewed as a ‘rogue operation’ or the hierarchy will inevitably crush it,” say Jascha Kaykas-Wolff and Kevin Fann.

    (Growing Up Fast: How New Agile Practices Can Move Marketing and Innovation Past the Old Business Stalemates)

    Obstacles to agility: What CMOs say

  95. Corporate governance processes can hinder truly agile processes – including the freedom to evolve campaigns in-flight. “The requirement where you have to have a business case (signed off in advance) is completely and utterly responsible and to be expected but that does sometimes get in the way of true agile, particularly when lots of dollars are involved,” says former HCF CMO Jenny Williams. (Simple)
  96. According to Ben Edwards, formerly vice-president global communications and digital marketing for IBM, budgeting when you don’t know up-front what form the work will take is difficult: “Figuring this out is a challenging notion for the traditional model because I don’t know what I’m getting. What I’m actually getting is a fixed capacity to do work.” (Econsultancy)
  97.  Many marketers believe their more creative team members won’t adjust well to agile workflows, according to Chiefmartec’s Scott Brinker, who nominates “Our creative team would hate working in that structure” as one of the objections raised by marketers to adopting agile methodologies. “I tried to suggest that they might actually find it helpful, as a way to better regulate the flood of requests they were constantly hit with and to carve out more time to focus on the joy of creation.” (Chiefmartec)
  98. Marketers often think agile means starting from scratch with a new team, according to agile consultant Gavin Heaton: “Marketers get very worried about ‘Do I have to get rid of my whole team?’ It requires not necessarily different personnel but a different skill set.” (TrinityP3)
  99. The set time-frames associated with media buying and event marketing are hard to incorporate into agile work processes, according to agile marketing pioneer Frank Days: “We discuss them in our sprint planning meetings and try to work them into the scrum process, but at the end of the day they often have separate work-back schedules.” (Chiefmartec)
  100. According to Gogo director of marketing and product operations Mark Verone, the biggest challenge was trying to fit the advertising, sponsorships, and marketing calendar into 2-week sprint cycles “We tried, but it was very difficult since our time boxes were not aligned to sprints but to contractual commitments and campaign start and end dates.” (Chiefmartec)
  101. Training from an experienced agile marketer or coach is essential, according to Scottrade CMO Kim Wells. “In hindsight, I would try to have more training in place for the associates, so the minute they go into their new roles they go into some sort of formal training to equip them with those foundational skills they’re going to need to run it.” (CMG Partners)
  102. Bonus tip #1: Collaboration tools are crucial to scaling agile marketing successfully. “Don’t manage agile via email,” says former Solarwinds senior director of marketing Kirsten Knipp. “Implementing and living within more robust collaboration and content-sharing tools is key to success.” (MarketingProfs)

    Insider tips for achieving agile marketing success

  103. Bonus tip #2: The single most important thing to a successful agile marketing transition is an good understanding at the executive level of how agile generates benefits, according to consultant Paul McNamara, who recommends training them in agile before training the marketing team. (Simple)
  104. Bonus tip #3: “Talking to people directly about how they work often gets the reaction that you’re actually insulting them at a very deep level,” says Ben Edwards, former IBM vice-president of global communications and digital marketing.

    “That’s obviously massively counter-productive, so I’ve learnt not to talk about it. What I’m looking for is risk-takers and innovators who were born with the desire to do things differently. Invite them to work with us in different ways. Everyone who has given it a go in some serious way becomes passionately in favour of it.” (Econsultancy)
  105. Bonus tip #4: When you set up your initial project or agile marketing team, establish a “golden thread”, or a set of measures to enable it to work with non-agile corporate structures such as finance and legal to give it the best chance of being successful from the outset. (Simple)
  106. Bonus tip #5: Silos often perpetuate even when cross-functional agile teams are set up so it pays to establish a cross-functional management process. At its weekly meeting to discuss marketing results, health insurer HCF established a weekly meeting at which marketing results were discussed, and decisions about next steps made, with input from all the departments marketing touches, including sales, analytics and customer experience. (Simple)
  107. Bonus tip #6: Most agile marketing teams set aside time to handle ad-hoc requests for marketing work that can’t be predicted in advance. Leaving 20% of your working time free for these tasks is a good rule of thumb when you’re starting out. (MarketerGizmo)

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