What is Agile Marketing: From Buzzword to Best-in-Class Way of Working

How agile’s influence spread beyond software and transformed marketing

Andrea Fryrear Andrea Fryrear
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Agile methodologies helped to transform the way software is developed. By breaking down work into small increments, gathering continuous feedback, and allowing for flexibility to adapt to changes, agile helps software teams thrive. This approach has been so successful that other disciplines incorporated agile practices into their processes, including marketing. 

In fact, in 2021, 51 percent of marketers used agile ways of working, according to the 4th Annual State of Agile Marketing Report by AgileSherpas.

What is agile marketing?

Agile marketing is an approach to marketing that utilizes the principles and practices of agile methodologies. This includes having self-organizing, cross-functional teams doing work in frequent iterations with continuous feedback. It requires a strategic vision, as well as short, medium, and long-term marketing planning.

Agile marketing is different than traditional marketing in several ways:

  • Focus on frequent releases
  • Deliberate experimentation
  • Unrelenting commitment to audience satisfaction

Like the original agile framework that grew out of the Agile Manifesto, agile marketing has its own Agile Marketing Manifesto that serves as a reference and guide. It was created in 2012 by a group who met to share agile marketing ideas, successes, failures, and consolidate the ideas of other marketing manifestos. Since then, the manifesto has helped to guide marketing teams looking to become more agile. 

Agile marketing values, as outlined by the Agile Marketing Manifesto, include: 

  • Validated learning over opinions and conventions 
  • Customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy 
  • Adaptive and iterative campaigns over massive, big-bang campaigns 
  • The process of customer discovery over static prediction 
  • Flexible vs. rigid planning 
  • Responding to change over following a plan 
  • Many small experiments over a few large bets 

Every agile marketing implementation looks a little different based on the organizational context in which it takes hold, but all versions of agile marketing share multiple key characteristics.

Characteristics of agile marketing

Agile marketing diagram

There are four important characteristics of every successful agile marketing team: agile-based teamwork, decisions based on data, rapid and iterative releases, and adherence to the Agile Marketing Manifesto.

Teamwork and collaboration

The foundation of agile marketing starts with teams that embrace agile ways of working. Work silos and hierarchies should be replaced with free collaboration across a team. Every team member could be involved in each project in some way. Team-wide meetings and communication channels can be used to encourage collaboration.

Data-driven decision making

Agile marketers take a data-driven approach to marketing campaigns. Even though all modern marketers rely on data to some extent, teams that embrace agility are driven by it. Agile marketers constantly come up with new experiments for boosting the team’s performance and rely on data for measuring and adjusting their efforts.

Rapid, iterative releases

Agile marketing teams often use sprints, which are short periods of time when a scrum team works to complete a set amount of work. The sprint cycle allows teams to tackle smaller amounts of work within the sprint timeframe and produce iterative releases of work. Because they’re short, sprints offer the ability to adjust your plan of action every couple of weeks.

Adherence to the Agile Marketing Manifesto

Last but not least, agile marketing teams stick zealously to the values and principles listed in the Agile Marketing Manifesto, which features seven core values and ten principles that are crucial for achieving marketing agility. These values and principles underpin all the practices that a team chooses to employ, such as standups, sprints, and kanban boards. They are the “why” behind the “what”.

Benefits of agile marketing

For the most effective implementation of agile marketing, identify your most pressing pain point or desired benefit, and position agile as the means to achieving that goal. Agile shouldn’t be done for its own sake, especially in marketing. It’s best to look at a problem or goal, and employ agile ways of working to achieve success.

Speed and productivity

The first and most highly emphasized benefit of agile marketing is an increased speed of delivering value. This is achieved through changes in the organizational structure and the way teams plan and execute marketing activities.

Instead of grouping individuals by their function (e.g. creative, marketing technology, etc.), agile organizations prefer small, cross-functional teams that are capable of finishing projects autonomously with few handoffs between teams. This allows the teams to cycle quickly through work items without stalling out due to dependencies. 

Along with increased frequency and the ability to quickly implement customer feedback, an agile team structure provides a significant productivity boost without adding more resources to the team.

Transparency and collaboration

Another notable benefit of agile marketing is that it aims to create visibility into the team’s processes through visualized workflows and frequent touchpoints. Instead of keeping everything in an intimidatingly large spreadsheet, or hidden somewhere on a hard drive, visualization boosts collaboration between individuals and teams inside the marketing department.

To help you enjoy full process transparency, agile relies on tools for visual management like a kanban board (digital or physical) and frequent synchronization meetings like the daily standup. These facilitate process transparency and optimal collaboration.

The kanban board provides visibility into all work (it literally translates to “visual board” or “sign” in Japanese). Communicating daily priorities, progress, and issues during a daily standup enables the team to collaborate more effectively and work better as a unit.

Transparency holds agile teams accountable and helps them develop shared understanding about all the projects that are in flight. Transparency in agile also extends to customer relationships as agile teams tend to leverage frequent client feedback to ensure that they are delivering the right work at the right time.

Flexibility

Flexibility is one of the most cherished benefits of agile marketing. It manifests most strongly in the way agile marketing teams use iterative planning to deliver viable work, instead of blindly following an annual marketing plan. 

Agile marketing team success depends on whether or not teams are able to react to changing circumstances. The more traditional ways of preparing annual marketing plans, with every detail about work twelve months into the future, wasn’t helping marketers react to changing circumstances. In fact, it often discouraged marketers from reacting to changing customer expectations or market conditions. 

In an agile setting, teams focus on defining the long-term goals they aim to achieve and figure out the details along the way. This gives them the flexibility to easily change course based on data and customer feedback.

Data-driven success

Agile’s emphasis on experimentation means that marketing teams should align marketing campaigns with data to measure success.

Agile marketing teams should collect impact KPIs from low-risk experiments, which influence each final campaign they release. In addition, they should monitor team efficiency by collecting metrics from their processes as well. At any one time, agile marketers might keep tabs on task cycle time, efficiency rate, and process throughput to ensure the team moves at a sustainable pace. 

Agile marketing teams run small tests to prove or disprove assumptions, measure results, and improve campaigns over time. This helps teams make informed decisions about the types of campaigns they deliver, as well as how, when, and where those campaigns enter the market.

Increased competitiveness

Since agile promotes greater speed and continuous feedback, it allows teams to adjust and adapt marketing campaigns when desired, rather than committing to a long, inflexible campaign. This puts a greater priority on consumer needs and allows teams to measure the impact of their efforts before campaigns become outdated.

The marketing data collected helps guarantee that the lessons learned are applied to the next project, which keeps campaigns competitive and continuously improves return on marketing investments.

Agile marketing frameworks

While the scrum framework is the most popular agile framework for developers, most agile marketers don’t stick to a specific framework for applying agile, according to the State of Agile Marketing Report. Instead, they hybridize, mixing and matching practices from kanban, scrum, and lean to find solutions to their unique process challenges. 

The three most popular types of agile marketing frameworks that marketers apply are scrumban (a hybrid between kanban and scrum), kanban, and scrum.

Scrum

Scrum was the original methodology for agile software development. It’s a framework that creates a culture of transparency, inspection, adaptation, and a laser-focus on a subset of the team’s high-priority work through the practice of timeboxing. Scrum consists of two main components: ceremonies (events) and roles. 

Scrum’s four ceremonies aim to create a regular, predictable cadence for different types of communication within the agile marketing team and include:

  1. Sprint planning
  2. Daily scrum (also known as daily standup)
  3. Sprint review
  4. Sprint retrospective

The scrum master and marketing owner play important roles in any implementation of scrum, managing the process, and backlog, respectively. In scrum marketing teams, the scrum master and marketing owner tend to converge in one person: the team lead.

Kanban

Kanban is a lean-agile framework that was introduced as a method of process management for knowledge work much later than scrum. 

Due to its visual nature and drive towards continuous improvement (kaizen), kanban quickly attracted the attention of marketers. Kanban requires marketing teams to visualize all stages of the marketing process and every work item that passes through it. This helps marketing teams manage their process, limit the number of projects they work on, and helps improve efficiency.

The kanban method has six core practices:

  1. Visualize workflows
  2. Limit work-in-progress
  3. Manage flow
  4. Make process policies explicit
  5. Establish feedback loops
  6. Continuous improvement

At the core of kanban lies a paradox that can be counterintuitive to new agile teams: by limiting the amount of work performed (at once), the team becomes more productive.

Scrumban

Scrumban is by far the most popular hybrid approach to agile marketing. It represents a flexible combination of practices from both scrum and kanban. The method is highly customizable and, depending on your preferences and organizational context, may look more like either of the two pure frameworks.

Scrumban is suitable for teams who already have some experience with agile. It helps to understand scrum and kanban ceremonies, roles, and practices. 

At its core, scrumban pulls together some of the structural components of scrum along with the pull-based nature of kanban. Because it’s a hybrid approach, each team tends to implement scrumban a little differently.

Excited to start?

Agile is fast becoming the new “business as usual” for marketers. Since agile marketing was developed about a decade ago, marketers have made significant progress toward adapting its frameworks to meet the needs of modern marketing professionals.

Agile marketing teams all share several common characteristics: frequent campaign releases, emphasis on experimentation, and an extreme customer focus. The benefits far outweigh any challenges of transforming marketing teams, since these teams often see improved speed and productivity, process transparency, and flexibility. 

While there are several different approaches to making agile marketing happen, don’t rush into any one. Starting by building the agile mindset first, layer the agile practices into your processes gradually, and test before you go all in. That’s what an agile team would do!

Excited to get started with agile marketing? Check out Jira Software templates for agile marketing teams.

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How to create an agile marketing team