Agile Marketing? Why isn’t marketing managed like software development?

8 mins read

With the rise of the web, social, and mobile, I don’t have to work hard to convince anyone in a marketing department about the overwhelming shift in marketing focus to digital platforms.

Whether a small business is simply leveraging their Facebook Page to promote local specials, or a large brand is using sentiment analysis tools to detect shifts in patterns of brand resonance across consumer’s social posts, digital has made its way into the Main Street marketing vocabulary.

While digital marketing is being incorporated into marketing efforts, I am still seeing the marketing process, planning and management itself being executed about the same way it was in 1957. Big calendars with target project delivery dates to coincide with some media-driven promotional push.

Everything else is sort of tinsel hung on the tree around those big anchor investments. Planning the effort requires a huge coordination of lots of competencies to all work together in sync to deliver the big campaign on D-Day.

The Waterfall Method

In the software development world, we call that kind of planning and execution the “Waterfall Method”. Waterfall is a sequential effort where everything flows logically from the beginning, through all the steps in the project in sequence, to the end.

The Waterfall Method makes the assumption that all requirements can be gathered in entirety prior to the start of the project in the requirements phase. The project is then planned and executed in its entirety in logical, sequential order in a step-by-step, synchronous basis until it reaches completion.

In software, Waterfall Method served its purpose through the years, and millions of lines of software code were produced with this management methodology.

Problems With The Waterfall Method

However, as the software world advanced, analysts and architects realized not all of the requirements could be gathered up front. In fact, by the end of a Waterfall Project, even if all the requirements were present, enough changes were made to the project over the course of execution that only a percentage of the original requirements were intact. Lots of effort was wasted on developing features and requirements that were ultimately changed or abandoned after the fact.

If as a general rule in software development, not all the requirements can be gathered on the front end. And even if requirements can be identified up front, they will invariably change and evolve as the project rolls out.

Agile Software Development

Wouldn’t it stand to reason there was a better way to plan and manage complex custom software code delivery?

That’s exactly what a group of seventeen individuals realized in 2001 and set about to fix. While agile software development as a project management methodology can trace its roots back to the late 1950’s, the Agile Manifesto was released by this team, and has been adopted into the mainstream software development vocabulary ever since.

Agile development helps engineering teams adapt and respond to unpredictability where something must be developed while all the variables and requirements may still yet be unknown. Agile is an iterative process, wherein teams work in incremental time windows or cadences called sprints.

The Benefits Of Agile

Without getting too deeply into the operating protocol of agile, suffice it to say that it is arguably a better approach. Agile permits an engineering team to start working on a high level concept without the deep rabbit hole dive across many details.

Since agile is an iterative approach, the goal is to first release a baseline application (in startup circles known as a minimum viable product or MVP), and then improve upon the baseline with each subsequent iterative sprint of two weeks to one month.

Over time, a robust software application can be developed without requiring a fully detailed plan on the front end. Because the agile process mirrors continuous improvement processes, stakeholders and end users can guide the development as the project iterates over time. This results in less wasted time and effort on features not fully thought through or ultimately not wanted.

Agile Marketing

So what on earth does all of this have to do with marketing?

Not all marketing is digital, but all marketing has digital in this era. This means there’s a software component to just about every activity in which marketing engages.

Additionally, many marketing efforts have become less deadline-dependent, and more of an ongoing activity — thus moving from project-driven to process-driven.

When planning marketing campaigns and efforts, adopting an iterative approach allows for an improvement based solely upon the shift in how marketing is planned and managed.

Instead of betting the farm on someone’s theory about a promotion or a campaign, taking an agile approach allows for a small start to prove whether or not an idea might work without a huge budget and lots of time. If the metrics show there’s promise, the campaign can be expanded and built upon through subsequent iterations and sprints.

There will always be deadline-driven projects in marketing. Media buys, trade shows, etc… these all have hard dates where everything has to be in place. However, the skill sets and resources to deliver the various pieces and parts for those deadline-driven campaigns are generally the same. Graphic designers have to do designs. Printers have to print. Web developers have to code and integrate.

Whether the end goal is to just prove a theory around a marketing message or to attend a global trade show with million dollar booths, the competencies are still the same and can be planned and managed based on an iterative approach.

When marketing adopts agile, every million dollar idea, even if it’s coming from the CEO, starts with a small test.

Are you leveraging an agile management approach in your marketing department?




Michael Hiles

CEO 10XTS, INTJ, chaotic good, PDP/11 in '79 (THAT kid), info architect, Milton Friedman, data science, semantics, epistemology, coffee snob, OG hip hop

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