Mediocrity means failure, says James Charlesworth, and today’s best marketing teams must know what it means to be agile.
The pressure is on for marketers: you have to deliver, and fast. In a fast-moving world, the old days of tweaking last year’s marketing plan are well behind us.
The growth of digital has become not simply a channel to engage clients, but also a tool for the management of sophisticated marketing programs. We’ve seen an expanding stack of marketing technologies, enabling scaled deployment of interactive one-to-one style campaigns – but it’s a hungry beast. Not only does it rely on content, you also need to react to changes in the marketplace and respond to observed customer behaviour.
What’s more, you have to achieve this while offering the best possible customer experience.
This calls for a different approach to marketing – one that sees intensity and accountability at it’s heart. If you don’t have this, and don’t have a systematic approach to achieving it, there’s all likelihood that you will quickly fall behind your competitors.
Marketing teams need to be driven by data, and have the flexibility to innovate and react, faster and with more effectiveness than ever before. Hence the growing adoption of agile marketing.
CMG Partners found, from a survey of 40 senior marketers, that those who ran an agile approach to marketing were three times more likely to significantly grow market share than those who didn’t embrace the approach. So, what’s it all about?
A definition of agile marketing
In effect, agile involves applying short term, customer focused projects within the remit of a long-term marketing strategy. It’s very similar to the agile approach adopted by project managers, where goals are achieved through a more incremental and iterative approach.
In effect, you know the direction you are heading, but you can’t plan the entire journey because lots can change along the way. You also test as you go, avoiding the pitfalls of major projects that can spend vast amounts of money based on assumptions that turn out to be incorrect.
Agile marketing relies on seven basic principles:
- Being flexible and focused,
- using data to make decisions,
- being iterative and experimental,
- being clear and transparent,
- being collaborative (breaking down silos),
- bringing staff as close as possible to decision-making, and
- being customer-centric.
How to apply it
This is the tricky part. Agile marketing is a major transformation of how your business operates. You need to break through silos, change processes and implement new tools, that can work across functions within your organisation. For you, it could mean letting go a little, and saying, ‘let’s not just leave marketing to the marketers, let’s get everyone involved’.
A survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit last year showed that four-out-of-five CMOs recognise the need to change the structure of their marketing team – and their approach – but many aren’t sure how do it. And a third of these senior marketers recognise that this need for change is urgent.
They recognise the need for new blood, with skills in strategy and planning as well as a thorough understanding of digital technology.
In a whitepaper from Simple, ‘The Changing Structure of Marketing in the Age of Disruption’, Lara Sinclair describes how to manage the transformation:
- here needs to be a shift in thinking – you are an ‘intelligence agent’ rather than simply a production house,
- your team needs to be structured around the process of moving customers through the purchase funnel, and
- there needs to be a strategic partnership between marketing and IT.
The recommendation for larger businesses is to develop a hub-and-spoke approach, with product marketing managers working between business units and a centralised marketing services area, so expertise is drawn from across the organisation.
The tools you need
Lots of marketing departments have deployed technology to make life easier, only to find it slows them down. They somehow don’t do exactly what you need, so manual workarounds are employed that not everybody is aware of. And various systems don’t talk to each other, creating data silos and a disjointed customer experience. It can quickly become very messy and the prospect of trying to diagnose and solve these problems can be daunting.
Just as you are, in effect, pulling apart your marketing approach and rebuilding it, you need to do the same with the technology you use. Take stock of what you have, the capabilities provided, and identify the gaps. Where are the inefficiencies in the process? Why is there double entry of data in different systems? Are you using multiple systems to achieve the same objective in different teams?
There’s little doubt that the process will involve a new technology vendor, or a changed brief from one of your existing providers. Your way of working is changing and the tools will need to adapt. You need a technology that will fit your new approach, and what’s coming down the pipeline.
Your focus should consider:
- flexibility, and
Rinse and repeat
Adaptability is key to agile marketing. You will change your approach based on circumstances. Similarly, you will need to continually appraise the technology you use. Beware of vendors who install and leave – it’s not a model that fits the dynamic future of Agile.
If your technology is restricting your approach, you need to change. Building new workarounds is not the solution. Soon you’ll be developing workarounds processes that already have manual elements, and any hope of true automation goes out the window.
Fortunately, there are emerging vendors who have developed marketing operations platforms specifically for this new way of working, and who understand the need for technology to adapt and respond.
The need for a partnership between marketers and technology cannot be overstated; agile marketing will never work with spreadsheets, antiquated CRMs and single function DM programs. Just as importantly, agile marketing relies on a high performing team. Perhaps in decades gone by marketers could muddle through, focused on colour and movement rather than metrics and outcomes.
In this day and age mediocrity is a word that spells failure. Good luck.
This article was authored by James Charlesworth, CEO at Simple, and has been re-published with permission from Marketing Magazine.
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