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To survive and to prevail in the digital age marketing organizations must go agile.

In our last post we discussed how customers have moved to online channels and how Nordic companies’ marketing and sales efforts have changed accordingly. The new normal is characterized by flexibility of digital channels and rise of marketing technologies like self-service analytics, automation software and attribution solutions. Minor re-shuffling of media budget or building one-off online store is not enough.

To survive and to prevail in the digital age marketing organizations must go agile. This means throwing away predefined annual marketing plans, organizational silos, and big-bang one-off campaigns. Agile is about doubling-down on transparency and collaboration with internal stakeholders, continuous and systematic prioritization, and testing and validating ideas before scaling. But be aware, agile does not mean ad-hoc: marketeers gone agile are at least as process-driven as more traditional ones. Based on our experiences with our clients we have devised a list of key principles to follow when taking the first steps towards agile marketing machine to become more dynamic, flexible and faster.

To survive and to prevail in the digital age marketing organizations must go agile. This means throwing away predefined annual marketing plans, organizational silos, and big-bang one-off campaigns.

 

As with other development initiatives in companies, marketing team is not the only one to have good ideas – it is beneficial to gather ideas from a wide range of sources. After getting ideas flowing, it is crucial to establish transparent and clear prioritization methods to select the most potential ones to be further developed. Moreover, to move forward with an initiative, marketing team needs to explicitly state the hypothesis behind the idea and test it. Only after getting encouraging results should the initiative be scaled to full force – otherwise kill it.

1. Accept ideas from anyone

In order to find the most lucrative initiatives, you will need an effective way of gathering ideas of next-best-action for marketing. Instead of relying only on ideas generated by marketeers one should regularly seek them from diverse set of sources. This means gathering input from internal sources such as existing customer data and insights, stakeholders from example sales and customer care but also from outside the company: from competitors, customers and other industries.

Often agile methods are considered as something where one goes with the flow and doesn’t plan much in advance. In reality, it actually requires plenty of agreed routines and, above else, the discipline to follow them. Exactly the same goes for collecting and aligning ideas from around the organization; there needs to be clear operating models and processes to gather them as well as transparency in dealing with them.

Trust us: the ideas gathered will vary a lot in detail and quality. Some are incoherent one-liners while some are detailed descriptions of customer needs or possible solutions. To align and enable prioritization it is useful to have some simple tools to evaluate the ideas at each “checkpoint”. Nevertheless, this does not mean diving into details or building business cases for each idea, but marketing teams should utilize ‘Just-in-time’ planning’. No idea should be refined or planned in detail in advance. Only when idea is prioritized higher and taken to marketing work queue the activity should be planned in ‘Just-enough’ detail. This practice allows marketing to decrease time used in planning and increase the time spend on testing and iterating the most promising ideas.

Agile marketers gather ideas from anyone: sales, customer care, competitors & customers and utilize ‘just-in-time’ planning to focus only to the most promising ones.

 

2. Ruthless and continuous prioritization

Marketing should focus only on activities that have the largest business impact. Achieving this with annual marketing plans defined in previous year rarely do the trick: business environment is in constant change and offers variety of opportunities and challenges to grasp and tackle. Instead of annual plan one should go with a marketing backlog – a list of ideas that are continuously and ruthlessly prioritized. Only the ideas with highest estimated impact/effort ratio should be released to work queue. Obviously, this necessitates that the business goals and metrics to follow are explicitly defined. In addition, enabling effective prioritization requires analytical capabilities to support marketing in the needed scenario modelling.

Throw away predefined annual marketing plans and go with a marketing backlog: a list of ideas that are continuously and ruthlessly prioritized. Marketing should only work on ideas with highest estimated impact/effort ratio.

 

It should be noted that there might be some marketing activities where measurement direct business impact is challenging – for example brand building activities. In these cases, different work queues with different set of KPI’s should be established while maintaining the same prioritization logic. Team and resource allocation to long-term brand building should be based on comparison to directly measurable activities. One can then make trade-offs between short-term certain gains from tactical activities and estimated long-term impacts of brand investments.

The prioritizations as well as all ideas should be made transparent to all internal stakeholders. The gathering of ideas and continuous prioritization gives marketing a great chance to concretize what marketing actually does and what is seen important. This can lead to some heated discussions with business stakeholders especially in the first phases of agile transformation. But these prioritization discussions should lead to continuous dialogue between marketing and key stakeholders to help alignment of marketing and business priorities.

3. Test and validate

No matter what, the ultimate authority who can tell whether your solution really works is your customers. Traditionally marketing has relied on one-off big-bang campaigns. This approach has proved to be risky as the first market responses are gathered after the marketing investment decision has been made. Agile marketeers believe in being small and nimble when taking first steps with new initiative. Before putting the effort in to build and scale the entire solution you should test it meticulously. In general, you should have a practice to kill ideas that do not produce results, at any stage.

Instead of one-off big-bang campaigns agile marketeers believe in being small and nimble when taking first steps with new initiative. Test, validate & scale instead of plan-do-check.

 

When starting any new marketing initiative, you make numerous hypotheses on what will make it a success. Often, however, hypotheses are not treated as hypotheses but as assumptions, or even worse, facts that are not questioned. The best way to tackle this issue is to make your hypotheses as explicit as possible. By testing these hypotheses, the organization will learn continuously: what works, what doesn’t.

Without hypothesis-driven focus it is challenging to identify correct metrics to measure and exact test setups that will do the trick. Means to an end can vary significantly but there is always way to experiment before scaling:

HYPOTHESIS: Updated online store with focus on ease-of-use would attract new customers
- Build the updated store front with PowerPoint and test & discuss with the target group

HYPOTHESIS: Customer prefer face-to-face events over webinars
- Build a landing pages for initial invites and track the event and webinar sign-ups

HYPOTHESIS: Recent parents would be the most responsive segment for a new product line
- Use Facebook ads targeted for the parent segment and a control group and compare the results

When hypotheses are validated, and the solution proves to be worth of a shot they should be scaled. These tested solutions and practices should become part of your marketing toolbox. But what kind of team would be able pull off all that testing and scaling? What needs to be defined to manage the agile marketing team in the first place? In our next blog post we continue discussing the principles of agile marketing. We’ll focus on defining marketing’s role in companies, KPIs and budgeting as well as the composition of lean mean agile team. Stay tuned!

Note: This blog post is part of a series on agile marketing. Read the first part of the series here.

Author

Valtteri Taube, Consultant, BearingPoint Digital & Strategy
Aki Alanne, Manager, BearingPoint Digital & Strategy
Juha Mertanen, Senior Manager, BearingPoint Digital & Strategy

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