Published 15 Feb 2021

Agile Marketing Could Be the Way Forward in Challenging Times

Agile marketing offers teams the opportunity to have the same level of experimentation and find better ways to keep abreast of what customers want, on the same dime. Armed with data and analytics, agile teams are enabled to plan and respond to what the customer wants and how they experience the product or service.

Agile Marketing Could Be the Way Forward in Challenging Times
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Hire Digital Editorial

15 Feb 2021

Over the previous few months, there has been a lot of pressure on marketing leaders. To adjust budgets. To scale down with sales. To keep the team afloat.

Those were the companies in the better positions. Others had these decisions foisted on them. Budgets shrunk. And many marketing plans derailed indefinitely.

Companies have had their time to respond to current events. We have seen some brands lead the way with proactive campaigns like Unilever’s Essential Supplies.

The next act in uncertain times, the “riskless”, and more alluring approach, would be to sit out the next few months and resume marketing when the outlook is more certain.

For those who want to be well placed when everything gets back to normal, or what could be a new normal, the “riskless” approach has its downside – a delay in investing in what your team needs to emerge stronger.

What your team takes on next doesn’t have to be splashy or grandiose, it could be to tackle something behind the scenes. Instead of going on with your regular campaigns, work on starting the pilot your team has placed on the backburner, or some initiative that your team hasn’t looked at because it required the time and focus that you didn’t have.

Agile marketing is one of those structural changes that teams can afford to push aside again and again in better times, when there are so many low hanging opportunities within grasp. For the teams that haven’t embraced agile or have done so partially, it also has that “cost saving” sheen that is even more appealing in challenging times.

What does agile marketing mean to teams today?

Agile marketing offers teams the opportunity to have the same level of experimentation and find better ways to keep abreast of what customers want, on the same dime. Armed with data and analytics, agile teams are enabled to plan and respond to what the customer wants and how they experience the product or service.

Marketers can often overestimate how much it costs to make these structural changes. Many are actually equipped to become agile practitioners as the transition can be done cost efficiently. With the uncertainty that teams face in today’s market, there are plenty of tailwinds to get your team to make the necessary changes.

Why agile marketing could be the way forward now

Spend less and get more done

Possibly the most enticing attribute of agile marketing right now is how it could effectively half your costs and reduce lead times to campaign launches. Coupled with improved time to revenue, and the added gains from experimentation and better insights, it’s akin to making several bets on the same dime.

An example of this in today’s environment is how a large beauty brand picked up on buoyant sales for its skincare divisions in the month of April, even as the pandemic had intensified and the rest of their cosmetics divisions were declining in sales during the same period.

While other brands’ online advertising came to a halt in April, the right media buying set up for them meant they were well placed to capitalize on discounted CPCs for skincare which had declined by over 45% month on month. This realized an increase in their return on digital advertising by twofold.

Scoop up new opportunities because you react faster

In fact, sprints in today’s context may need to be taken to the next level and conducted daily, to work with the unanticipated changes we face today.

One example was HubSpot’s marketing. Their team was able to launch their Adapt 2020 campaign within weeks with just a few bumps and scratches by shipping content and iterating on their processes. David Fallarme, who leads their marketing team in Asia, cites that “choosing speed and learning over perfection” allowed them to launch a global campaign of its size on short notice, and ensure that customers were getting the content they needed.

With our federated structure, teams are given a fair degree of autonomy – which helps us iterate quickly, and most importantly, put the customer’s needs first

David Fallarme, Head of Marketing, Asia at HubSpot

Swing for the fences

While cost cuts could be the big factor that pulls marketers toward agile, the bigger, or rather the outsized gains comes from swinging for the fences, without having to spend outsized amounts. Because you test so many more hypotheses compared to traditional approaches, you can bet more heavily on the winning ones.

Here’s what teams need to take action

Start at the top

Management came up with this important request. I know you have your priorities for your sprint, but I’ll need this today.

This is what we often see when managers tap their employees on the shoulder and request that they work on something urgent, losing the team’s productivity, focus and morale needed for agile marketing to work.

When leadership experiences the same hurdles the rest of the marketing team has to navigate to deliver on the commitments of their agile projects, it gives them the firsthand experience to understand what it takes to transition to agile.

Get your agencies on board

Your team will have to shorten the response times from research to planning to creative to media, in order to achieve speed. At the piloting phase, it’s easier to get things done in house.

If the work is being done by your agency, be sure that the individual contributor at the agency is directly involved in the sprint. Agency contributors should also be in direct communication with the scrum master and the project owner if these are other members in your team.

For example, a large consumer startup which has worked with a multi-national media agency has its agency-side members join in their scrum meetings, so that its media resources can be deployed asynchronously and keep pace with the rest of the team.

When contributors are budgeted for more than one project, we have them budget each of these projects multiple timeslots during the week so that delays to project sprints will be less likely.

Allot a chunk of time to plan how you break up the work

Teams will benefit from breaking down projects into individual tasks, developing user stories for each task describing the end goal from the audience’s perspective, and sharing them with both internal and external team members.

For example, if the team is developing a website for a new product launch, each incremental task of completing the website design, creating the website copy and developing the analytics events and tags needs to be represented by a user story.

This provides more accountability for each team member to complete their task on time, and sets the expectations for each task as well as the overall expectations for the epic, or the series of user stories.

For distributed teams, breaking up the work and cuts down meeting times and project backlog changes. It also encourages transparency and eases the way for the team to perform asynchronous work.

This is advantageous for marketing teams working with many agencies, or team members in multiple timezones.

Set up your team with the skills to grow

There are high switching costs in changing the team roster after it has been formed, or shuffling team members across different projects. Project owners or managers need to pre-empt the necessary skills that a team needs to execute on projects for the next 6 months.

Furthermore, the team needs time to self-organize and figure out workflows and goals that work for each individual team member.

It will help project owners to reassess the skillsets of the staff the agency has assigned to you. You’ll need to anticipate the campaigns or tech investment your team will be working over at least a 6-month timeframe, and check that the agency will staff those projects accordingly.

Get technology to work for you

Companies which require multi-level approvals that are piloting agile marketing should start with the right foundations. The average mid-sized firms uses 81 SaaS apps on average. Investing in the use of single platform applications that can scale into multiple integrations will go a long way to ensuring flexibility and control (of data cleanliness), and sustain stakeholder buy-in.

Other considerations

There are a few things to take note of when your team transitions to agile.

Focus on insights, not data

Companies that over-react in their rush towards ‘cheaper-faster’ will find themselves drowning in data.

Adam Nelson, founder of Resident Human

While teams invest in online tools for data collection, a measured approach for marketers would be to set metrics early on with their team to determine the benefit of the data.

Adam Nelson, who founded insight consultancy Resident Human, had used self-serve tools such as Qualtrics when he worked at Uber Eats where he oversaw their insights and research. “Ultimately the real insight came from finding the time to sit with teams and work out the implications of what this consumer data meant alongside our own company intelligence,” he says.

Budget for continuous improvements

Before the transition, it helps to be conservative about cost estimates when it comes to agile projects. While it might be simpler to plan for content creation as the projects are smaller and easier to budget for compared to digital projects, both will require time for continuous improvements in order to generate results.

To apply a sufficient margin of error, project owners may want to plan their budgeting for the full project scope, inclusive of high priority as well as other continuous improvements. This leaves enough project buffer for the team to complete the high priority improvements, but also allow for further improvements to be added.


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