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How to get started with agile marketing

How to get started with agile marketing

How do you introduce agile marketing into an organization? I’ve watched many organizations struggle with this, with varying degrees of success. While there is no magic formula, I have a few suggestions based on experience.

My thoughts are highly influenced by the best book I’ve ever read on change management, Point B by Peter Bregman. If you haven’t read it, get it immediately. Everyone has to manage change, whether it be introducing agile marketing to an organization or introducing a new technology or service to a customer.

1. Make the Case

Why is the change being made? What’s in it for the participants in the change? You have to answer these questions first, and I try to do so by appealing to the heart, not the brain. I do this by telling stories, and weaving those stories into a narrative. If you’re unsure about the difference between a story and a narrative, see this post about story and narrative. The narrative, or the promise, of agile marketing is to increase the predictability, transparency, velocity, and adaptability of the marketing function. It leads to marketing that is done in a rapid, iterative, experimental, don’t-be-afraid-to-fail fashion that complements agile development.

Involve the participants in making the case for agile marketing. Someone told me a long time ago, “People support what they help create.” I think that’s true. If the participants in the change are making the case, and they’re involved early on, their level of engagement will be much higher. No one likes change foisted upon them. But change where they have some control, and that meets their needs . . . that’s much more likely to succeed.


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I involve people by asking questions. Here are a few of mine, but make sure that you add your own:

  • What do you love about marketing? What do you find frustrating?
  • What’s working here (at this organization)? What’s not working?
  • Does management understand what marketing does? Why or why not? Does sales understand marketing? Again, why or why not?
  • What’s your experience with the pace of change of marketing? Is it pretty much the same as it was 10 years ago, or has it changed? How has it changed? What about the next 10 years? Do you think the pace of change will slow down or speed up? What are you doing to prepare for it?
  • Do you have enough resources (everyone in marketing always answers no)? Would something that helped you get more done with the same resources be helpful here?

The answers to these questions lead to the reasons for change. Write them down. Refer back to them.

2. Sponsorship

Introducing “agile” into a marketing organization requires sponsorship, not just from the most senior levels of marketing, but from sales and general management, too. If they’re not committed to it, don’t do it. I once taught a class on Agile Marketing to a group, and the VP of Marketing sat in the back of the room, working on email, occasionally stepping out to attend meetings or perhaps do something else. She never participated in any of the exercises, and the only questions she asked were skeptical. Not surprisingly, agile marketing failed at that organization. I never understood why she spent the money in the first place to bring me in.

The sponsorship has to be the right kind. It can’t simply be a top-down dictum. It has to be the kind of sponsorship that is going to allow the team to make some of the critical decisions and find their own way. It has to hold them accountable, but also realize that there are going to be bumps along the way, and even some failures. If you’re not experiencing a few failures, you’re not taking enough risks. Good managers know this.

3. Build Competency

Learn the language of agile marketing. Understand the difference between a sprint and a scrum. Learn how to write user stories. Assign story points, and start measuring your velocity. By all means, take a class or read a book, but the best way to build competency is by doing. Realize that you won’t get it all right during that first Sprint. That’s OK. If you get it half right and improve from there, you’ll be fine.

Don’t practice “Scrumbut.” This is where you say, “We practice Scrum, but . . .” and you list most of the things that are at the heart of Scrum, and you really aren’t practicing it at all. Give the process a chance before you start modifying it for your own needs. Then, if you really have something that works better for you, by all means implement it. But build some competency first.

4. Persistence and Grit

Teams that succeed in agile marketing, just like teams that succeed in anything, have persistence and grit. It can easily take six months to a year before you start seeing all the benefits of agile marketing. The desire to change may be strong at first, but it will eventually get lost in the daily grind. People who persist due so by making small daily changes (like the daily scrum) and by showing perseverance. If you make a commitment and follow through on it, you are much more likely to succeed in making a change.

What’s your experience? For those of you who have successfully or unsuccessfully introduced agile marketing to your organization, what worked and what didn’t? I’d love to hear your stories.

Jim Ewel is an entrepreneur and a turnaround CEO. He has been blogging about agile marketing since 2011, and along with John Cass, organized SprintZero, which put together the Agile Marketing Manifesto. Jim spent 12 years at Microsoft in sales and marketing and the last 14 years as the CEO of three companies: GoAhead Software (sold to Oracle), Adometry (sold to Google), and InDemand Interpreting. You can learn more about Agile Marketing at his blog, www.agilemarketing.net.


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