Weidert Group has been a B2B inbound growth agency since early 2011, as well as a HubSpot partner for all those years. But in 2017 we made a big change here by hiring an agile marketing coach to begin our transformation to Agile. We saw that our world had changed dramatically in terms of the speed and flexibility needed to execute relevant and effective inbound marketing, and for us to stay relevant we needed to change our approach to the work we do. One of the biggest changes is our view toward annual marketing plans.
The Problem With Traditional Annual Marketing Plans
Think about the traditional approach to building and managing marketing plans. You started with all the very high-minded goals (awareness, brand image, share of voice, impressions, opportunities), selected strategies and specific actions that could be precisely planned and estimated (media, trade shows, PR campaigns, product launches) and you turned it into a month-by-month blueprint for what you did, how you spent, and what you measured. And then toward the end of the year you evaluated, made judgments, and started the process all over again.
The big problem with that approach today is that the world is moving and changing too quickly to rely on plans that you “set and forget.” Technologies, economic conditions, competitive offerings, regulations, natural disasters, and government actions are some of the types of changes that can turn an industry upside down in a 24-hour news cycle. If you treat your plans as “locked down,” how do you react when assumptions you made 2 months ago are suddenly null and void?
On the other hand, if you’re operating in an Agile marketing environment, you’re going to exert far less effort on building a highly detailed 12-month tactical plan and put more effort into:
- Understanding how marketing can address business goals
- Creating a marketing budget that’s more about the economics of your likely deliverables & results than the cost of tactics
- Building skills and processes to continuously “Build, Test, Measure, Learn” with minimum viable marketing “products”
- Use the process of measuring results to demonstrate with confidence the economic impact marketing efforts are delivering.
Key Principles of Agile Marketing
The guiding principles of Agile marketing are simple and brilliant. Simple, in that they’re easy to understand. And brilliant in that when you see them applied to marketing your first reaction might be “Wish I had thought of that!”
Instead of relying on the loudest voice in the room, or the person who’s had the most caffeine driving big decisions, Agile marketing commits to placing your greatest trust in facts, whether that’s data or observations about what’s actually happened. As an example, it could be testing two versions of a retargeting ad (headlines A & B) to see which gets the most click-throughs and most conversions from the landing page. So you’re validating with facts that one works better than the other for the subjects that saw it.
Not every organization has the luxury of deploying a self-directed marketing team, but Agile practitioners have learned that team collaboration can advance work faster than divide-and-conquer silos, because they benefit from more perspectives brought to bear on a challenge, yielding innovative solutions and rapid-fire cross pollination from different perspectives. So finding ways to encourage people to contribute as parts of cross-functional teams can be powerful.
Agile teams believe in attacking challenges iteratively, that is, being satisfied at making small but quick progress that’s validated as they go. Kind of like the proverb about eating an elephant: one bite at a time!
Lots of businesses believe they know their customers well by virtue of how long they’ve been in business. But Agile principles encourage you to learn more about customers from the data they generate. Things like the demographics, which allow segmentation based on who they are. Or behavioral data that lets you segment based on how they buy. Simple discoveries like learning that 8% of your customers buy 90% of your product, but need far less customer service support because they know your systems so well.
Flexible vs Rigid
Stay open to learning. As the data informs, something you assumed was true may become questionable, and something you doubted is validated as true. So avoid being married to strategies or principles that haven’t been validated, and keep looking for objective evidence.
As soon as you learn something about a strategy or approach that can result in improved marketing performance or results, it’s the responsibility of an Agile marketer to start changing toward the new understanding. Don’t let pride of ownership slow you down; instead practice celebrating discoveries that clarify, and start taking action immediately.
Agile marketers should never stop thinking in “What if” or “What about” statements because that type of thinking leads to small experiments (see “Iterative”) that help you advance objective knowledge about what works with your targets. Be disciplined about breaking experiments down into the most discrete units so you don’t get bogged down in time and budget-consuming complexity. Try to keep experiments simple and small, and you’ll learn more, faster.
Becoming Agile with your inbound marketing plans can seem intimidating since there are lots of process changes potentially involved. But taking the first steps toward Agile can be as simple as embracing philosophies that get you moving in that direction. How far and how fast you take it is up to you.