6 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing Agile Marketing
By Jodie Byass
Most chief executives wouldn’t even consider asking their head of human resources to run product a couple of days a week. Nor do you generally see the head of finance running public relations part-time, or any other role for which they aren’t equipped. But in marketing, we regularly encounter IT Agile coaches or scrum masters asked to ‘teach’ the marketing team how to implement agile marketing — without any training on how marketing actually works, and often in addition to their day job.
In the software industry, Agile is well understood, so there’s a base level of knowledge that most developers have. But the application of Agile philosophies and processes to marketing is still relatively new, and marketers used to traditional marketing processes often need a lot of help to make the transition successfully.
In the workshops Simple has run this year for marketing teams in the throes of implementing agile marketing processes, some clear frustrations have emerged as marketers look for how best to adapt Agile to the craft of marketing.
Here are the six most common mistakes we see marketing teams make as they look to implement agile marketing in the quest to find ways to get their marketing work done faster and better.
Mistake #1: Having an IT Agile practitioner train your team
Most CEOs wouldn’t put a marketer in charge of IT and expect outstanding results but for some reason they often think they can parachute in an IT-certified Agile practitioner to train marketing. Or they borrow one of their own IT scrum masters for some initial face time, and then ask them to help out the agile marketing team on an as-needs basis.
It might be good for explaining to your marketing team how your digital team operates, but expecting an IT-certified Agile practitioner to transform marketing into an agile team often fails.
For a start, there’s a whole thesaurus of terminology and jargon on each side that gets marketing planners thinking the scrum master is speaking Japanese and vice-versa. MQLs and Kanban boards require a lot of translation.
And IT Agile has well-understood conventions that must be adapted to suit the requirements of each agile marketing team. For example, product teams have agreed product release dates and on those days they release whatever’s ready with the aim of releasing functioning software often and in small increments. If something’s not ready, it is moved into the next cycle of work.
And while marketing has undergone a huge switch towards always-on activity, media ad space for campaigns still gets booked in advance, many campaigns are still planned around cultural events such as Christmas or other seasonal factors – and a lot of planning needs to work backwards from those immoveable external factors.
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Mistake #2: Deploying IT playbooks in marketing
Marketing is a craft — a mixture of art and science. It is NOT the same as IT, and attempts to bring the very disciplined, mature IT Agile playbooks into marketing without understanding how they can be tailored for marketing are a common error.
The blessing and the curse with Agile for IT is that it has very clear rules and definitions. As a result, marketing leaders often think it’s just a matter of following the rule book for Scrum, and everything will take care of itself.
But different marketing teams often work in different rhythms. The loyalty team may be suited to a fortnightly scrum, but the brand team might struggle to work in cycles of less than a month. Internal creative departments might function best with a Kanban approach, where they pull job tickets from a limited, constantly prioritised list of work.
Understanding how these pieces come together, where agile processes can be adapted — and which conventions should not be changed — takes experience and practice. For example, scrum team meetings should not be optional. Retrospectives are crucial for learning things from where your process has gone off the rails in the previous work cycle. And showcases are critical for communicating to the business what you’ve achieved.
Adapt the elements of agile that can be altered. Take learnings from your process. Then incorporate those learnings into your own marketing playbooks. The risk of not doing this is that your team makes the same mistakes over and over. Staff churn is a factor of life in marketing: do, learn, make changes as a result of those learnings, communicate or train your teams in those changes — and then start again.
Mistake #3: Failure to adapt planning to agile marketing
Traditional agile focuses on shippable product — the regular delivery of functionality rather than long-term planning working to a predetermined plan. But large areas of marketing can’t operate that way. If you’re advertising in the Super Bowl, or sponsoring an event, your marketing team better be able to commit to, and deliver, work by a certain date.
Marketing teams need a marketing roadmap — an agile version of the marketing calendar — with a clear commitment to essential dates.
Having this doesn’t mean your marketing team has abandoned agile. It’s most likely you’ll have a hybrid model that includes hard commitments. It means you have clarity when it comes to breaking down that work into the cycles, sprints or tasks to complete in order to meet those deadlines.
In addition, your team should be able to plan other events — the launch of a new website, for instance – where you might have more flexibility.
And you’ll have big-ticket strategic objectives — developing a more customer-focused positioning, for example – that won’t immediately translate into known outcomes – but which you’ll break down into tasks — a planning day, for example — that will result in actions and tasks you’ll be able to include in your agile process
Without understanding the planning process, your agile marketing team risks becoming obsessed with short-term activities and outcomes at the expense of your longer-term strategic objectives.
Mistake #4: Not making structural changes required to #GSD
One thing Agile processes facilitate really well is the development of a culture of execution — getting stuff done (#GSD). This is because in traditional Agile, teams must be autonomous and self-sufficient so there are few external hurdles that prevent them from getting work done. Translated to marketing, that may mean having a designer or web developer on your agile team, or having access to an internal creative agency.
Your agile marketing process will not operate as well if you’re outsourcing work to external suppliers with their own work processes and turnaround times — unless they’ve fully bought into your agile process.
The same may be true of separate teams within with their own work rhythms — legal and compliance, for example, or the approval process.
You’ll need to set up a “golden thread” to allow you to bypass the areas that you know will block your progress – or make it known you’ll tackle those areas later in your shift to agile marketing.
Mistake #5: Not making cultural changes required to #GSD
In many companies, marketing is traditionally a top-down process where the CMO — in some cases even the CEO — signs off on big campaigns.
Agile marketing teams, particularly those in large enterprises, will still need sign-off on big-ticket items and changes. But approvals processes need to change for agile marketing teams to be effective. For example, teams must have permission to execute always-on work without constantly seeking approvals from the higher-ups.
That doesn’t mean teams should abandon traditional approval processes – just that approvals should be tiered, with a clear understanding of the scope of work that teams must be able to put into the market without sign-off and a clear mechanism for obtaining approvals in a timely fashion where they are required.
Not well understood in agile marketing teams is the notion that autonomous means teams must be able to decide not only how they complete particular tasks, but also have input into what they should be working on next, informed by the customer research they should be doing in the process of working as an agile team.
Marketing leaders — like other managers — often find it difficult to devolve decision-making to their teams. And the managers of other departments might also struggle with the transition to less of a top-down approach. This is one of the most difficult things about the transition to agile marketing to get right — but the upside can be enormous in terms of the empowerment of marketers and their ability to work faster and more responsively.
Mistake #6: Not investing in agile marketing training run by marketers!
Okay, so this is really mistake #1 from another angle, but there are key things that change in an agile marketing team where it’s critical to have marketing experience if your team is to make the transition successfully.
For example, writing an agile brief is surprisingly hard, but it’s an art marketing teams must master if they are to go agile; so too, the art of creating your marketing roadmap, and of working with external suppliers such as advertising agencies — many of which are a long way from getting on board the agile train.
Trainers experienced in both marketing and agile will help take the pain out of this process and guide your teams on this journey.
So these are the most common pitfalls we come across when talking to marketing teams who are in the throes of making the transition to agile marketing. Let us know if you’ve encountered any others, or maybe had a different experience.