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4 reasons you're not as agile as you think

4 reasons you're not as agile as you think Simon Ward

You're using agile marketing techniques already, right? You use optimization techniques in your digital media activities. You create multiple ad executions and test with multivariate analysis. You even have social media people who regularly update and interact with consumers. Yes, that's all part of being agile, but you're not necessarily being as agile as you think. There's a lot more you could do to generate better results through more fundamental change. Let's look in detail at four common problems that need to be addressed first. You might recognize some from your organization.

4 reasons you're not as agile as you think

Why agile marketing?

My previous articles published here covered the basics and benefits of adopting agile marketing, first with "How to put agile marketing into practice," then "Why agile marketing is the future of digital advertising." In a nutshell, the agile approach to any endeavor replaces big leaps with mini-steps and involves a continual "test, learn, commit" (TLC) loop, giving stakeholders the ability to constantly evaluate results and modify efforts as necessary. For even more depth on the subject, check out Anthony Freeling's book, "Agile Marketing: How to Innovate Faster, Cheaper and with Lower Risk."

Understanding agile is easy. Implementing it asks that, first and foremost, stakeholders in your organization embrace it fully. That's why it's useful to ask these four questions that get to the bottom of common shortcomings, and then look at how to address them.

Is your digital and social truly integrated?

The world of marketing is moving toward a "converged media" model, otherwise known as the coming together of earned, owned, and paid media strategy into a comprehensive approach. For years, many have discussed this integrated marketing approach, and this is now finally accelerating with the digital and social consumer, particularly for brands that target Millenials (or "Gen Y"). We now accept that "Generation Now" wants to collaborate, share, and even co-create content. And they want to do it now, in real-time. Brands that tap into this rather than simply transmitting messages, for instance, with one-way traditional advertising, are today's winners. 

4 reasons you're not as agile as you think
Source: Altimeter Group

Assuming most if not all marketers believe this, why's it so hard? The main reason is silos. They exist between digital and other departments, and they even exist within digital teams. Many larger organizations have completely different teams, as well as plans and budgets, between digital advertising, SEM/SEO, social media, and others, making it challenging to plan and execute collaboratively across paid, owned, and earned media.

Agile marketing practices, such as daily scrum meetings that dictate closer cross-departmental work methods and accountability across different stakeholders, bring the silos closer together to make converged media happen, with digital and social working as one. The teams can then generate real-time data across media types that, with the right analytics and processes in place, lead to ongoing TLC loops evaluating the data, iterating again on tactics, and ultimately generating better results.

Part of the growing importance of incorporating a converged media approach to marketing campaigns is the now critical components of earned and social programs. Interestingly enough, video game marketing was one of the first categories to recognize the power of earned media and how it supported paid media programs. Big titles would kick off 12+ month-long product campaigns where the front half relied exclusively on PR, from product announcement to teases and previews that bridged into the start of paid campaigns closer to launch. On the social side, game forums were among the first online communities. They evolved into standalone social nets, and "community PR" entered the game-marketing vernacular. Many communities eventually migrated to Facebook and Twitter. Community PR became "social marketing," and simple community moderation evolved with strategies to drive community engagement, social sharing, and recruitment.

Do you have an ongoing active listening program?

Given that TLC is at the heart of agile marketing, you need an ongoing active listening program for the all-important "L," or the learn step. The two key words here are ongoing and active. Being agile is a continual and "always on" way of working. Consumer sentiment and behavior can change by the day, hour, or even minute. Your brand is part of an ecosystem and gets impacted by other events outside your control. Research initiatives, programs, and snapshots all have their place, but the real information now lies in the moment, which means you need to have a system in place to continually listen. Active listening then demands analytics and reporting that are digestible, together with intuitive and expert interpretation to provide the right insight to inform the next decision and action (i.e. the next "T" or test and "C" or commit in the agile marketing loop).

4 reasons you're not as agile as you think

At a recent ad industry conference, the North America head of marketing for Nokia talked convincingly about the power of real-time sharing and earned media input:
"Digital is the place that is defining our brand more than ever. The coolest, funniest, and most impactful content about your brand is no longer from an owned source -- it's out there. Your best bet is to co-author...[but]...you're expected to have a point-of-view at any one time for your brand. Your job as a brand is to be a catalyst for the conversation or a great conversation starter."

Ongoing and active listening systems provide the foundation for creating and starting these brand conversations, particularly when co-creation or sharing content generated by earned media is becoming one of the most influential drivers of your brand. So, being truly agile demands a robust ongoing active listening platform and process.

Do you substitute ongoing TLC for a "campaign by campaign" approach?

The old way to create any marketing activity was usually long and often tortuous. It would involve research-brief-(pitch, maybe)-plan-create-build-develop-implement and so on, often in three, six, or even 12 month cycles. Most were big leap initiatives and, while doubtlessly based on plenty of smart planning, the outcome would never be certain.

Agile marketing argues that this "hope for the best" approach will only succeed often if you're taking lots of smaller bets, rather than the traditional approach with fewer campaigns taking bigger bets. Take this principle further. If you can compress your campaign-by-campaign approach to one that's always on and always evolving, you're more likely to benefit from what agile marketing nirvana promises to deliver.

Is this practical? Well, it depends on the specific category, but it is being increasingly seen as the smart way forward. For example, if you turn the classic marketing funnel on its head and start with your customer base, then move on to active advocates, then fan base, and then lastly turn to prospects, you will see how the always-on approach to marketing would work in practice. The whole debate around whether brands should act like publishers supports this way of thinking and working, and there are some compelling real-world examples.

Speaking at Ad Age Digital in September, Heineken CMO Lesya Lysyj recently referred to their real-time marketing. She said, "We use Facebook as a research platform…we just put stuff out there and learn from the response."

Twitter referred to their CEO saying, "A really interesting conversation starts a campaign. We're moving from a time where campaigns were planned to a time where we adjust for the moment."

One of the most infamous examples of this in action is Audi's "I want an R8" campaign, which grew from an initial single tweet from a lady in Washington!

4 reasons you're not as agile as you think

Do you have limited links to the rest of your organization?

This is similar to the point above about silos, but this time it is a much bigger ambition. True, agile marketing goes beyond the digital marketing team and even beyond the marketing itself. It takes the power of data and insight from an always-on listening system, uses the process of team collaboration and faster, adaptive working, and works it all back into the rest of the organization. As such, it promises to deliver on the original promise of marketing, as both discipline and department, to really represent the external customer, understand the marketplace, and embed itself as the accelerant into everything the organization does.

The most direct area where agile marketing helps better integration is between marketing and product development, bringing them into sync and even changing the sequence from the marketplace leading product development rather than vice versa. Still, the opportunity can go much further.

An Altimeter Group report from September 2012 states, "Successful adaptive organizations have social media (the core connection to the outside world) embedded and operating across 17 different departments."

We know that most large businesses are still built to work vertically better than horizontally. An agile marketing approach obviously challenges this. Ask any organization that adopted agile at any level. It's a fundamental change. The four key questions aside, the primary one is, "Do you have the appetite for it?" 

It may be clichéd, but the old saying "every problem is an opportunity" is definitely applicable with agile methodology. Again, ask organizations that have benefitted from it, and you're likely to hear their challenges with adopting it first. For some, especially anyone who thinks they've gone agile while only implementing it piecemeal and wondering where are all of the benefits, it begins with identifying these four problems. 

Simon Ward is the director of strategic development at Ayzenberg.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Cartoon of business executives" 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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