A few years ago, I fenced a new pasture for my animals. Before installing the fence, I had to mow a path through chest-high weeds so I could move between work areas. After the fencing was complete, our pony started following the path I had mowed as he moved around the pasture.

In the beginning, he followed the path because it was the easiest way through the tall grass and weeds. Years later, the pony still follows this winding path even though the original motivation is gone. In fact, by sticking to the old path, he misses the best grazing area.

As marketers, we also face the risk of following the path of least resistance—marketing to the same audience, in the same way, using the same programs, without looking out for new opportunities.

To reduce the risk associated with status quo marketing programs that adhere to the beaten path in spite of diminishing returns, marketers have taken a page from the software engineering playbook and adopted agile marketing principles. Proper application of agile marketing principles can help marketers break out of ineffective patterns and into greenfield opportunities.

Last month, I moved off the product path I had been walking and joined Adobe’s industry strategy and marketing team. Moving from a mobile product focus to broad-spectrum digital marketing and an endless list of customer priorities and challenges made my head spin. Where should I focus? What activities would provide the highest value?

I began to wonder how organizations answered those same questions about their marketing programs. Was there a secret ingredient that made some organizations successful in delivering sophisticated marketing and others not? I found no single marketing formula led to success in digital marketing (although best practices can smooth the journey). However, successful organizations do share a common element—marketing agility.

In fact, research from numerous sources including MIT, CMG Partners, BTM Corporation, and IBM all indicate organizations adopting agile processes and achieving marketing agility are more likely to deliver on their digital objectives.

What Is Marketing Agility?

“Agile marketing is the ability to adapt or refocus marketing effort quickly and successfully in response to changes in customer behavior, market conditions and business direction to benefit market share or share of wallet.” (Experian)

That’s a great definition but the following chart presented by Forbes and CMG Partners may help you visualize how those principles drive impact for your business.

(Image Credit: Forbes)

(Image Credit: Forbes)

 

In practice, agile marketers require tools that enable them to understand and anticipate changes in customer behavior and market conditions and quickly refocus marketing efforts. Digital data and marketing tools help marketers harness the power of agile marketing by

  • exposing new market trends and customer behaviors,
  • informing preliminary conclusions,
  • providing a single view of the customer,
  • creating robust customer profiles useful for predictive and look-alike modeling,
  • anticipating the next action or need,
  • delivering a unified customer experience, and
  • enabling fast testing and real-time marketing.

Agile marketers should be looking for tools that resemble boomerangs not bullets, reusable tools to understand the audience, quickly engage, and modify the approach in real time (tools like those in the Adobe Marketing Cloud).

Applying Agile Marketing

Here are a few examples of successful companies applying agile marketing in a big way:

  1. Verizon is building a consistent experiences across devices using a single customer view (Executive Q&A: Verizon’s Secret Weapon for Next Level Marketing)
  2. AT&T is rolling out LTE in-flight Internet on planes without material capital expenditure (new relevant services without significant investment signals business and marketing agility)
  3. Vodafone Australia is fueling a customer satisfaction comeback through data—15% of the marketing department are statisticians (Vodafone’s chief marketer Kim Clarke’s plan to revive its reputation & Changing the brand one conversation at a time)
  4. Agility In Action: How Four Brands Are Using Agile Marketing (CMO.com)

Thinking back to my path-padlocked pony, if he applied similar principles, I know he would discover untouched grass and spend more time by the pear tree eating a bounty of his favorite fall food. While my pony does okay eating the grass along the path (we supply plenty of food if he can’t find his own), marketing organizations aren’t so lucky. In a world where customers move at the pace of social and mobile, there is no prescribed path to follow—marketers must continually measure and experiment in order to nurture growth from both new and known sources.

Looking for ways to incorporate agile into your current position? Check out 9 ways to kick off agile marketing in your current role.

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