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.