Agile marketing may seem like the latest bit of jargon in the marketing world, but it represents a real challenge to marketers. They say they are under pressure to create more campaigns than ever and need more content faster in order to do this. Agile is the new norm in production, and marketers would do well to see the parallels and adapt agile strategies to meet the demands of today’s fast-paced, consumer-oriented environments.
The Rise of Agile out of the Waterfall
Content production used to be characterized by long release cycles called the waterfall. The stages of designing, building and testing had a gate at each step; no moving to the next phase until there was sign-off from all stakeholders. The project backed up behind these gates, like a dam, for release in a torrent upon sign-off.
This washed away in the rapid evolution of technology — in six months changes in technology could render a project obsolete while it was behind a gate. New features were held up by product cycles and reached market too late.
Product teams had to evolve so they could test and push out new features in pursuit of a more useful or efficient product. This meant doing a little bit of everything in a quick cycle, implementing design, development and quality assurance — not for the entire release, but for a subset — and getting those to market. They replaced massive releases in favor of quickly evolving the product in a faster life cycle.
The Waterfall in Marketing
Traditionally, there was a waterfall mentality in marketing where we would strategically think of a great campaign, involve our agencies, develop a brand strategy and message, and build campaigns for every channel. This might take six months where we would roll out the major campaign, review all the data and determine what to do next year. We see companies today that are still struggling with this paradigm even as they realize the need to be more agile.
Now, thanks to our newer mobile and social channels, we need to react more quickly to changing landscapes. Competitive threats and new entrants to the markets arise all of the time. We have a world that has turned upside-down as consumers drive market demand more than ever before. Marketers have to be willing and able to get multiple messages to market faster without losing the consistency and focus of these broader campaigns.
Replacing the Waterfall with Agile in Marketing
Technology is an enabler for us to get to agile. We quickly can increase agility through social or digital channels that deliver immediate feedback that can help in creating an even stronger message, faster than ever. At Adobe we see many cases where our customers use technology to slash weeks out of their marketing cycles.
Many marketers do resolve to become more agile after attending the latest workshop, only to return to an environment where they face the waterfall: quarterly and annual budgets, huge annual marketing events, and teams organized in mile-high silos. For example, creative works on a campaign’s assets to get things perfect before tossing them over the wall to marketing.
What’s more important is a change in mindset. Benjamin Estes described this well when he wrote about the Agile Manifesto in marketing. It is all about culture and less about tools. At Adobe we have creative and marketing teams working together on a campaign from the beginning and throughout the process. Technology enables this cultural shift by allowing teams to move away from emails and memos to view, work and comment on assets in real time through the asset management system.
Although marketing teams have to budget their spending in advance, this doesn’t need to prevent an agile workflow. You could still work within an agile mentality and just cap your budget where you need to. Insertions and authorizations are a good example where you put a cap on your spend so you know that you’re going to spend this much in a certain quarter but you’re not going over, and you have flexibility in how it is spent.
Agile marketing requires a comfort level in having multiple messages in market for testing and determining which one resonates with the customer. In enterprise marketing there’s less of a need to create six-month long projects to write really long, technical white papers. You have to have a message that’s more relevant and easier to consume and be able to adapt that message more quickly in the marketplace. It is a shift in thinking to more of a test-and-learn mentality than having a massive campaign that takes forever to build and then you’re stuck in market with it.
These are just some of the ways that an agile-minded marketer can begin to stem the flow of the waterfall and work toward an agile-centric environment. We now operate in a changing world where there is considerable uncertainty about future conditions. Agile marketing can reduce the stress by ensuring us that we have the ability to respond to whatever comes our way.