Now is not the time to idle, especially for marketing departments. Though it is tempting to cut back on marketing during a recession or global crisis like COVID-19, history shows us that the most valuable companies and brands do the opposite in an economic downturn. Increasing marketing spend will produce better long-term results than a more conservative approach, especially right now.
With that in mind, marketers and marketing departments are probably finding that the old way of doing things isn’t working anymore. I’m talking about bottlenecks, long lead times for key decisions or actions, multiple approvals, and the wait-and-see approach. A real-time marketing framework needs to be agile to effectively respond to the current marketplace.
What Does Agile Marketing Mean?
In a nutshell, agile marketing uses real-time data to enable teams to make quick decisions in response to market demands. It’s a process, a framework, for streamlined decision-making that allows marketers to go from the idea stage to launch in a matter of days, not weeks or months. Can you imagine a world where it doesn’t take six months to launch a new website? What about starting a new email campaign in two weeks versus two months? With an agile framework, it can be done. And in a post-COVID world, making quick decisions is a necessity.
Take a minute though and reflect on the wording there – quick. Quick does not mean uninformed. Quick does not mean fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, knee-jerk reactions to current events. Quick simply means that barriers to decision-making are removed or at least limited, allowing the process and project to move ahead without unnecessary delays.
What you’ll need for an agile marketing team:
- A clear direction/objective
- Cross-functional team
- Sufficient data, analytics, and technology
- Leadership buy-in
McKinsey’s graphic of a typical agile team is a good example of the type of roles needed in an effective cross-functional team.
A team this size isn’t practical for a small or even mid-size business, so you’ll have overlap in the roles. The Marketing Director of a mid-size professional services firm, for example, may serve as the Project Manager, Analytics Lead, and Marketing/Acquisition Lead. He or she then may rely on IT for the HTML and Tagging Developer roles, and an outsourced consultant may serve as both Copywriter and SEO Lead and a secondary project manager for the Art Director and Media Lead.
In that scenario, there are really only three or four core team members across Marketing, IT, and the outsourced consultant. Even in larger companies, keep the core team to no more than 8 or so people.
For this to work, the Project Manager or internal Marketing lead must have full discretion to work with consultants, place media buys, make key decisions, and know they’ll have the support of senior leadership. In any project, but especially agile marketing, without leadership buy-in, it just won’t work.
It’s also crucial that the core agile team only tackles one primary objective at a time. That could be launching a new website, email or direct mail campaign, or a new product or service line, or investing in new software. The core team will change with each project because each project has different needs. Sometimes the team needs to beef up its data analytics and tech expertise, and other times SEO and copywriting are more essential.
One client I work with has a mandatory two-person review process for every publication that hits their website. This is great in the sense that everything will be carefully vetted before it’s live, but when the second person reviewer doesn’t respond, the entire process stops dead in its tracks. There is one article related to COVID-19 that I researched and wrote back in May, and it’s still held up in this internal process. At this point, the information is most likely irrelevant.
- Shared workload
- Link marketing to business growth
The nice thing about agile marketing in a post-COVID world is that it relies upon disruption to get things done. It’s all about speed, leaning into the chaos, and letting the data dictate where the opportunities are. It’s not bogged down in details and team members are accountable to each other. The needs of the customer or client are the full focus.
In other words, shit actually gets done.
The other benefit is that marketing teams are well-informed about the decision they’re making. Uncertainty related to COVID-19 has stopped all of us in our tracks at some point. In the worst scenarios, that uncertainty has paralyzed decision-making and led marketers and business leaders to simply guess what they’re doing.
Agile doesn’t let you get hung up on the details and the what-ifs. MarTech Today had a great quote:
“Agile marketing runs on the “80 Percent” rule. Get it out there, get it done, and then go back and optimize it. It’s fast – and that’s what we have to be.”
Another great thing about agile marketing teams is that you don’t need to have all the answers. Small companies have survived with a ‘jack of all trades’ marketing director in the past, but with agile, you’re not operating in a silo or all by yourself. On the flip side, if you as the marketer have one or two primary skillsets, you now have a cross-functional team to complement your expertise. You share the workload and each team member contributes according to his or her skills. More gets done.
The agile approach also gives you the ability to tie growth objectives to marketing objectives. Marketing in conservative companies is seen as a cost center, and this has always bothered me. When done right, it adds to top-line revenue. The hard part when working by yourself is proving that or being denied access to parts of the company that would allow you to make more of an impact. Since agile relies on cross-functional teams, you’re now working with segment leaders who may not have been directly involved before.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the ways that an agile framework can benefit your marketing team. And the nice thing is, you can see some of these benefits even with a partial agile approach, too.
How Your Agile Marketing Program Can Fail
As you’re setting up your own agile marketing program, take care to avoid these mistakes, which can hamper progress and end up costing time and money.
Your leadership doesn’t actually support it – or you
Many a marketing project has failed because the leadership doesn’t provide the necessary support. This plays out differently and can look like:
- Your decisions are questioned and/or overturned
- You are required to get “one more approval” before moving forward
- Key decision-makers aren’t held accountable
You or a core member of the team are indecisive
Agile simply will not work if you or a core member of the team are afraid to make a decision, and stick to it. Yes, there are so many moving parts right now and it’s hard to know which way is the best way forward. If you’re confident in your data and you trust your team members, go for it.
There isn’t enough funding to support it
The agile framework can’t work at its top potential if it is underfunded. If you have to cut corners and serve as Copywriter and SEO Lead in addition to Project Manager, the outcome will not be the same and the timeline will suffer. If your budget doesn’t allow for the right kind of software and/or analytics, you won’t be well-informed, and the outcome will suffer.
There isn’t trust among your core team
If you don’t trust who you’re working with, or your team doesn’t trust you, it’s a recipe for failure in any scenario. In an agile environment when decisions need to be made quickly and efficiently, trust is at the core of an effective team.
The future of marketing is agile. Companies that thrive and grow cannot rely on an outdated marketing process that takes weeks or months to make progress. It’s said that COVID-19 spurred two years of digital transformation in a few months, and while companies are still figuring out the way forward, it’s important that their marketing approach also changes.
Seventh Gear Communications LLC can assess your company’s marketing processes and help you set up your own agile team. In addition to in-house copywriting and strategy, we can also tap a depth of expertise in graphic design, SEO, media buy and PR, and website development.