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Some tips and tools to put your agile marketing into high gear PHOTO: eric.surfdude

My time working at enterprise software firms has run the gamut from small, quick startups to large, matrixed organizations. And in that time, I have seen many types of development and collaboration methods from waterfall to prototype to agile. 

Like a lot of the hot topics in the industry today such as machine learning, the concepts behind agile date back to the 1950s. Yet it wasn't until the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was written in 2001 did the methodology really take hold in large organizations. 

The Tenets of Agile Marketing 

Out of agile software development came agile marketing, which creates a very logical process when integrating the work of marketing and development teams. 

Agile marketing relies on the same tenets that agile software development does, namely responding quickly, iterating rapidly, data-backed decision-making, small experiments, individual interactions and tireless collaboration. 

Agile Best Practices and Tools

But how do these tenets apply to the discipline of marketing? As a marketer — and one I’d like to believe is agile — I’d like to share my thoughts on three important best practices when it comes to agile marketing and suggest some tools to help agile marketers stay ahead.

1. Collaboration and Communication

Marketing often gets a bad rap for not doing enough, but the reality is that marketing teams cover a lot of ground and often don’t get credit for the work that they do. Why? Because often they don’t openly communicate their work up and downstream within their organizations.

I cannot emphasize enough how often I have seen communication — or lack thereof — be the deciding factor in the perceived internal effectiveness of marketing teams. What’s more, I have found that over-communicating, meaning communicating much more than you feel is necessary, actually works wonders.

That’s because it helps people understand what you’re doing and why, as well as how your actions will impact the organization. This over-communication can take the form of visual boards, shared to-do lists, newsletters or weekly digest emails. 

Because the average technology worker is inundated with information throughout the day, it’s imperative to provide constant reminders of the work that marketing teams do. That means that encouraging or even forcing collaboration is also crucial. 

When teams are iterating quickly and multiple team members are working concurrently on projects, it’s imperative to have a way to keep track of versions, updates and changes in real time. Tools like Microsoft SharePoint, Google for Work and Box allow quick and easy collaboration across users and departments in organizations.

2. Data Usage

We’ve all been in Mad Men-style meetings where Don Draper types are throwing ideas and opinions against the wall to see what sticks. Fact is though, no one in those rooms typically has a single data metric to back their ideas. 

While such meetings can be fun, they rarely result in tangible opportunities for success or improvement. That means that the second important best practice for the agile marketer is to come prepared with data that can be used to validate facts and avoid gut-feel opinions. 

So if you have conducted a focus group, have a great new name for a launch, can preview results from a social campaign or can share findings from an A/B website test, bring and use that data to help the group make informed decisions. 

Some of the best sources of data include digital analytics tools, customer interviews and data purchased from third parties. Digital analytics tools like Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, Domo or Crazy Egg can provide digital data at the level of detail that can support agile marketing decisions. 

Tools like those facilitate the analysis of channel-based metrics like time on page, open and view rates, content consumption and navigation patterns. Customer-level information also lets you study such metrics as who is viewing a social or email campaign, how content is performing by customer by device and which customers are abandoning your branded properties. 

Agile marketing prioritizes content that reflects the needs of your customers. What better way to know these needs than to interview customers, either formally or informally, to understand exactly what they want but are not getting from your organization. 

This data can sometimes be hard to come by, but it always turns out to be valuable. Depending on the provider, purchased data can also greatly augment your marketing team’s internal data and build out what is known about prospects and customers. The result is better marketing interactions that lead to better ways to perform customer discovery.

3. Iterate to Scale 

Perhaps the best-known tenet of agile is failing early and often and doing so in small increments. To be truly agile and pivot quickly, it’s necessary to adhere to this rule because nothing is worse than a large, time-consuming marketing project or campaign that results in missed expectations or results. 

To that end, designing agile marketing projects or campaigns that are incremental or iterative provides the greatest flexibility to fail. This involves sectioning the project in such a way that a marketer can realize a failure has occurred and revert only to the last breakpoint rather than the beginning of the project. For example, in an agile development company where product releases come very frequently, the launch process must be created so the marketing team can quickly engage that process to get the launch to market in a matter of weeks versus months. 

This means having the planning and preparation components, as well as the base structures, for building collateral like video clips, training materials and presentation templates in a state where they can be quickly implemented. Iterating on existing processes allows for much more flexibility and agility than starting from scratch.