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Embracing agile: what it means for marketing

Agile, it’s got a controversial reputation. Some people adore it, there are plenty of sceptics and others haven’t quite got their heads around its benefits

But as technology changes audience expectations, as the reach of marketing channels grows, and as marketing technology gets more sophisticated – we are discovering that tried and true ways of working just don’t cut it anymore.  

More and more organisations are adopting agile practices to gain the speed and flexibility to embrace the unexpected and put customer experience at the forefront. 

So what does agile really mean for marketers and how can this mindset be adopted for marketing? 
At a recent Brainy Breakfast, three top marketers took the audience through what agile means for marketing teams and practitioners. We heard from Matt Bain, Marketing Director for Spark, Nicola Mitchell, recently GM Digital Customer at NZME, and Tracey Smithers, Chapter Lead, Agile Coaching at Westpac. Each speaker shared their personal lessons from transitioning to the agile methodology, touching on changes in culture, mindset, and working styles.  

Here are the top five themes that emerged out of the Marketing Association’s Agile Brainy Breakfast:  

1. Keep the customer at the heart of everything you do.  
As customer expectations rise, companies need to be able to keep up with their demands and adjust to their preferences. To keep up with customer expectations, marketing flexibility and speed is essential. By working to a fortnightly sprint and focusing on iterative improvements, companies are able to respond to the customer faster. Plus, delivering smaller projects more quickly shows the customer you are listening and want to improve their experience. Marketers have a lot to offer here – Tracy Smithers of Westpac argued that our naturally questioning perspective can add value across the whole product development process. 

2. Have an overall goal to work toward – and be flexible on how you get there.
For an agile team to successfully be able to work together, the overall goal needs to clear. Once the vision is clear, epics, sprints, and teams can be aligned and set up for success. It brings the “why are we doing this” into the mindset of every team. And remember, when someone comes to your team with a new task, to ask how it relates to this overall goal, and if it is more important than what is currently in the sprint. If the answer is no, pop the task into the backlog and keep moving.

3. Being data driven means an end to hippos (highest paid person’s opinion).  
Because agile is a data-driven practice, data becomes the decision maker, not the person who gets paid the most. This is a big culture change, so you need support from all parties, especially those at the top. Be patient and take people on the journey. So, Nicola Mitchell of NZME suggested we start with a singular focus on a specific customer problem and take a sprint to demonstrate how the data-driven approach has delivered value. But at the end of the day you’re either in or you’re out – there is no dipping one's toe into the agile methodology.

4. Death to PowerPoints! Use lean processes and procedures.  
Work must keep moving - so use lean process and procedures. Tracy Smithers said that PowerPoint updates were becoming an endangered species at Westpac, where they’re now mapping projects out, bringing people together, having a conversation, and following up with action. Five layers of sign off before a campaign goes out the door? That’s not agile. Think about an economy of scale for sign-off and do what you need to de-risk projects where it counts, so you can move fast with a stable infrastructure. Don’t forget that moving to an agile mindset means you need to bring everyone onboard, so think wider than just your immediate business. The external teams you work with, like creative and digital agencies, need to get with the programme. Make sure you have the courageous conversation with them about the benefits of working in this mindset and how this can work for both parties. 

5. And finally - respect the retro ceremony.
All three speakers expressed how important it is for the culture of the team to reflect on what you've done, what successes you’ve had, and more importantly, what didn’t work. The purpose of this ceremony is not to shy away from failures. Failures help the team move faster and learn what the customer really wants from the business. This then empowers employees to be confident in the decisions they are making moving forward. As Matt Bain said, bringing agile in to a business is going to break a lot of stuff - there is nowhere to hide. Spark was the first telco in the world to go agile. There was no playbook to follow, so they had to learn along the way. Being able to talk openly and reflect was critical to success

Even if you aren’t currently working in an agile way, chances are that you will be soon. Agile is a mindset not a strict bunch of rules. Don’t forget to have an open conversation with your team about how they are finding it and keep testing. Make it work for you, the team you are part of, and the business. 

Want to learn more about agile marketing? Read our blog on how we do agile at Qrious here.

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