This will probably be the 47th article you read today that tells you how marketers need to learn to adapt — that consumers have too many choices, too little attention and no patience for a poor experience. Let me remind you that the world is changing, rapidly. You can change with it or be left behind.
We've explored how to address uncertainty in many areas of business. Agile methodologies have done a great deal to help software development teams adapt to inevitable uncertainty. Lean manufacturing has transformed how we create physical goods.
Innovative organizations are beginning to understand how applying those philosophies to marketing can produce similar outcomes.
There isn’t a comprehensive nor a generally accepted methodology for it, like Scrum is to software development — not yet. But you should be looking for opportunities to build a more Agile marketing organization.
I want to share three ways you can look at marketing differently, injecting agility at a strategic level. These aren’t tactics or processes like those defined in Scrum. They are principles that will help you become more capable of adjusting to meet the expectations of your customers.
Don’t Measure to Validate Success, Measure to Validate a Hypothesis
Marketers spend a lot of time and a lot of money using analytical tools to validate success. How many pageviews did we get? How many downloads? What about cart abandonment? Marketers have amazing programs at their disposal. They can provide intimate details about how customers interact with their brands. It’s hard to justify not acting on that data, but building your digital program around a “measure first, then respond” philosophy can be a cart pulling a horse.
Take a classic example — pageviews. On it’s own a number of pageviews is pretty meaningless. Even noticing a 5 percent month over month increase is pretty much benign, because it’s not tied to a business objective or definitive cause. All alone, it’s a statistic without a context, which makes its actionability limited. It’s nice to know, but if you can’t define a cause and take action, what good is it?
Instead of defining what statistics you are going to choose to be your definition of success, look back to the scientific method (yes, the one you learned in 5th grade). Consider every campaign, feature or customer touchpoint an experiment. Learn to embrace the minimum viable product. Define what statistics will dictate a successful interaction, ahead of time. Then validate. This way you’ll quantitatively know what works and what doesn't, making no experiment — even the “failures” — a true failure.
Use your measurement tools to validate learning. Don’t just try to learn from your measurement tools.
Embrace Technology that Embraces Change
Technology is devouring the marketer’s job. In marketing, as with every area of business, the spirit of your technology will significantly impact the spirit of your execution. If your technology is overgrown, clunky and unreliable, chances are your brand will be represented as such. If you’ve been paying attention, you already know that clunky and unreliable don't cut it in the modern marketing world.
Seek flexible marketing technologies that empower your organization to experiment and adapt. Your technologists will know what these are. Watch them light up talking about these platforms and projects. I’m talking about technologies like:
- Those built on unstructured (read: flexible) data constructs like Java Content Repository or NoSQL databases
- Marketing automation platforms that algorithmically learn and adapt your digital customer touchpoints
- Continuous integration and test automation technologies and processes that allow you to significantly limit the risk of frequent code deployment
- Tag management systems that let you integrate marketing technologies using configuration over coupling
This is fortunately an era where innovative, agile technologies are growing more common, many of which are open source. Embracing them will require you to challenge your technology teams to learn new concepts, break old habits and hire new kinds of talent. Don’t let that scare you off. The marketing organizations that stay ahead of this revolution will prosper.
Challenge Past Successes
The seasoned marketing executives of the world know how to get it done. They’ve been successful for many years and their job titles reflect that. I don’t mean to disregard the importance of experience, but I do mean to suggest that a little skepticism is in order. Things are changing too quickly. You need to systematically and purposefully challenge the marketing strategies that have made you successful in the past, so you can be ready for the future.
Experimentation is due diligence, not digital native rebellion. Classic marketing theory hasn’t changed. The goal is still to demonstrate how you will deliver value to a customer, so they will pay you to deliver it. But, when everything changes exponentially, you must constantly reevaluate what made you successful in the past. Always be on your toes, seeking opportunity to strip your organization of outdated marketing tactics in lieu of new, effective ones. Learning and adapting are core Agile concepts. Embrace them.
You Can Change for the Better - For the Future
You can learn to respond to the dynamic, digital world we live in. If you do it well enough, you can even thrive in that world, taking strides ahead of your competition. At a strategic, organizational level, measuring to validate hypotheses, embracing adaptable technology and challenging past successes will make you a more Agile brand. It makes you more valuable for your customers. That’s the point, right?
About the Author
Ryan is a digital strategist and marketing technology architect for CITYTECH, Inc. (now part of ICF Interactive), where he helps organizations navigate the ever-changing digital landscape.
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