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How to put agile marketing into practice

How to put agile marketing into practice Simon Ward

The movement toward agile marketing is accelerating as companies are attracted by the benefits of speed, efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation with less risk.

How do you put it into practice?

Start with social media and content marketing. They provide some of the most practical and actionable entry points and data sources for successfully embedding an agile marketing approach into your organization.

More than 40 years ago, the infamous psychologist Timothy Leary coined the famous phrase, "Tune in, turn on, drop out." Turning that phrase on its head, let's take a look at five foundations for how social and content marketing can lead to true agile marketing.

"Turn off" the old way, and adopt agile marketing

To turn off the old way, first believe in the new. Agile marketing applies many of the same principles as agile product development. Its philosophy is that conventional "big organization" approaches to projects are too slow, expensive, and have a lower chance of success. They rely on "leaps of faith" and breakthroughs that are rare and overlook how the pace of change has made it increasingly difficult to predict the future.

Agile replaces "big leaps" with continuous mini steps -- ongoing "test-learn-commit" loops. It replaces traditional sequential design and development processes -- what's known as "waterfall" in software development -- with multiple "sprints" that produce vertical slices of a project. These allow for continual adjustments, evaluation, and, where necessary, complete new iterations of the product slice.

For recommended reading on the subject of agile, Anthony Freeling's "Agile Marketing: How to Innovate Faster, Cheaper and with Lower Risk" provides in-depth understanding supported by compelling cases and results.

As for why an agile approach better positions an endeavor for success, the best parallel is Darwinian philosophy, where the most successful species are those quickest to adapt.

"Tune out" of the noise, and raise the bar

Most people now rely on the immense power of connectivity, both personally and professionally. At the same time, with some fatigue setting in, they've learned how to tune out the "noise." 

With this in mind, the real skill now is all about quality, not quantity. At the same time, marketers need to sort the wheat from the chaff. Meanwhile, the replacement of fewer, deeper relationships with more, shallower "contacts" makes this harder for consumers and marketers alike.

What to do?

The answer is a little less conversation, a lot more listening and action. As the volume of chat increases and the quality of content decreases, smart brands have a great opportunity to raise their bar to a higher standard. Agile is the catalyst to put this approach into action. Successful agile marketing depends on having the right tools in place for ongoing monitoring and awareness of the environment.

This requires a listening platform where you can see the digital wood for the virtual trees. Social media provides marketers with the ideal tool for this. It allows conversation capture, analysis, judgment, and editing, across many of your channels and touch points. All in real time, real fast.  Then, the key is to make selective responses in original, relevant, and compelling ways that are on-brand. 

It may look more anti-social as you appear to participate less, but it's a more savvy approach. Your brand "speaks" less, but when it does, people are more inclined to listen.

"Drop in" on real customers in action

Marketers use social media to measure sentiment, yet they are increasingly recognizing that actions speak louder than words. In agile marketing, there is greater emphasis on behavioral research, such as ethnographic techniques that measure people's actions rather than answers to questions.

Behavioral research, whether virtual or physical, allows you as a marketer to "drop in" and observe real behavior very closely. This gives greater insight and allows for conviction to progress, modify, or drop initiatives based on the real world rather than predictions.

Measuring sentiment and attitudes in your social communities certainly has a role to play. It is valuable for understanding the environment, such as perception about a brand or product or campaign. Agile marketing turns social into a much more valuable asset as a way to elicit action and measure response to marketing efforts.

Content is king

If social media is the engine to drive agile marketing initiatives, then branded content is its fuel, powering communications. For years, the marketing world has divided content between tactics and techniques -- advertising, promotions, direct marketing, PR, or social. Agile marketing approaches content creation as an overall strategy that can be repurposed across different channels.

This "one content, multiple applications" approach is a powerful way to manage content. If done properly, it has built-in efficiency, effectiveness, and brand consistency.

Where it starts is with a strong content creation and marketing strategy designed to build the brand and generate response at the same time. Once deployed, it needs continual management and evaluation. The pace with which it proliferates, how it's perceived, and its momentum -- these need to be evaluated, and there will need to be contingencies. With agile, if the first iteration isn't functional, the team needs to be ready to iterate again.

A new way of working

The fifth foundation forms when all of the above align. Agile marketing is about a different mindset and process that needs people and systems to make it work. There is still debate about the contribution marketing makes to an organization, one centered on financial accountability or strategic role. There is a third aspect that agile marketing, fueled by social media, will help resolve -- the degree to which marketers really are the voice of the customer. To perform this role effectively, marketers need to get back in sync.

Customers and marketers work at different speeds and are arguably often out of sync. Agile addresses this by putting more value within a marketing organization, including agencies, on speed and a sense of entrepreneurialism. It gives marketers the ability to act, experiment, adapt, and, most importantly, to learn through doing.

If you have the appetite to make a real impact with an agile marketing mindset, the steps outlined here are the bricks to lay the foundation for it.

Simon Ward is director of marketing at Ayzenberg.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"White clock with words" image via Shutterstock.

Simon is a leading professional in brand management consultancy and agile marketing. As Director of Strategic Development at Ayzenberg Group in LA, he helps new clients develop integrated digital and social marketing strategies. As a founding member...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Simon Ward

2012, June 09

Thanks, appreciated! Yes, I'm coming to the Monday event in SF so look forward to meeting you there. Cheers for now, Simon.

Commenter: Jim Ewel

2012, June 07

Great article, Simon. Any chance we're going to see you at SprintZero, the Agile Marketing gathering, on Monday?