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Agile is a mindset. It’s an attitude that centers around responding to change swiftly, without friction PHOTO: Stevan Sheets

Consider this for a moment: According to the Pew Research Center, just a decade ago only 11 percent of people used social media, and no one had even heard of the sharing economy. Today, we order everything online and it seems like almost everyone has a smartphone.

To succeed in this immediate, always-on, omnichannel, fast-changing universe, being bigger is not necessarily an advantage over your competition. Now, the competitive advantage is to be quick. As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Understanding and Embracing the Agile Mindset 

This ability to adapt quickly to change — to business drivers, to customer expectations or to the shifts in the landscape — lies at heart of what it means to be Agile. Many leaders mistakenly believe that Agile is a methodology or a set of prescriptive rules and guides like Scrum and Kanban, which were designed for the software world. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Agile is a mindset. It’s an attitude that centers around responding to change swiftly, without friction. 

4 Core Principles for the Modern Marketer 

Agile was born in 2001 at a ski resort in Utah. On a cold winter’s night, 12 collaborators brainstormed ways to deliver results quickly, without losing the ability to be nimble and enhance the final product. The result of their work was the Agile Manifesto, a working philosophy that has proven incredibly effective in its simplicity.

In the spirit of Agile, my company has adapted Agile’s four core principles for the modern marketer: 

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Agile is all about collaboration. When marketers, content creators, analysts, UX designers and technologists collaborate in real time, they form tightly knit, self-organizing teams focused on critical thinking and problem solving. For example, a marketer can assess the impact of a campaign by collaborating with an analyst, whose insights might shift how budgets are allocated to the best-performing channels.

2. Working marketing strategy over comprehensive documentation 

Planning documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides are not substitutes for a working strategy delivered by a cross-functional team. For example, an analyst’s findings could reveal a behavior loop in a goal funnel, knowledge which a marketer could use to assess the impact on success outcomes and formulate a strategy. Based on the marketer’s strategy, a designer could then make design recommendations. The team could then run an A/B test to compare which design tactics achieve the desired marketing outcome.

3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation 

Data provides a terrific lens through which to observe how real-world users respond and behave on your digital property. Your ‘contract’ with the user may be in the form of useful content, an easy checkout process or omnichannel touchpoints. However, none of these will matter if you don’t recognize who your users are and how effectively your website is serving their needs. 

4. Responding to change over following a plan 

Business drivers change, technological landscape shifts and user expectations are fickle. It’s important to have a process in place where these changes can be measured, identified and acted upon. Getting data in real time to personalize content or update marketing spend on successful campaigns in a matter of hours or days, instead of weeks or months can offer significant advantages. Don’t make the question, “Can I be Agile?” but rather, “How can I be Agile?”

Being Agile Starts with Data and Insights

Peter Drucker, the management guru famously said, “What you cannot measure, you cannot manage.” Real-time, contextual data and insights can provide you with the engine to be Agile. These five steps executed in a loop will create a strong Agile marketing foundation that drives innovation continuously, while staying adaptive to the forces of constant change. 

  • Aggregate: Start by bringing meaningful data together from multiple, disparate sources and then implement processes that ensure you can rely on the insights your data provides.
  • Analyze: Formulate key questions that align with your overarching strategy. Don’t focus only on what happened, but also on why it happened and on whether it will happen again. Answers to these questions are critical for turning insights into action.
  • Identify opportunities: By deriving insights from your data, you can collaborate to identify opportunities such as new segments for campaigns, personalized content for targeting or design optimization.
  • Test and learn: Using A/B testing tools, you can selectively test these opportunities, experiment in real time and learn what resonates the most with users. Create mini and micro strategies that can be executed swiftly and measured easily.
  • Engage and convert: Test results can determine whom to engage as well as how, when and where to best engage them to drive successful outcomes rapidly. Target relevant, personalized content in real time to improve engagement and conversion, for example, to drive an email or social campaign for a newly identified audience segment or improve funnel efficiency through design adjustments.

Adopting the Agile Mindset 

Being Agile isn’t hard. If you’re not following an Agile process, start now with what you have and go from there. Apply the Agile mindset to the process of going Agile. Change is hard at first, but remember it is small, continuous, incremental growth that will lead to big wins.