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PHOTO: Patrick Hendry

It should come as no surprise that there is heightened interest in adopting the flexible approaches to marketing campaign, event, and content creation and management embodied by Agile marketing. 

As every business faces continued uncertainty due to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, marketers need the ability to work more iteratively and collaboratively based on continuous feedback. However, rushing headlong into Agile marketing is no guarantee of success. An organization must educate and prepare marketers and their peers in other departments on how to best approach and implement the new methodology, with a particular emphasis on changing existing behaviors and streamlining processes. 

CMSWire spoke with four organizations that have successfully implemented Agile marketing about how they went about going Agile, the advice they’d offer peers considering Agile, and the benefits they’ve seen from taking an Agile approach to marketing.  

Getting Started With Agile Marketing: 4 Takeaways

Establishing Alignment Around Agile at IBM

IBM chose Agile to help its marketers become more effective and adaptable by aligning around a common core of values — openness, courage, respect, trust and empathy — and principles — clarity on outcomes; listen, iterate, learn, and course correct; and using self-directed teams to unleash innovation.

To get started, IBM put a transformation team in place whose role was to guide and coach marketers. “The philosophy was to educate everyone on our core principles and values for Agile,” said Jayson Gehri, executive director, marketing, information architecture at IBM. “But to let each team figure out what practices work best for them and what tools to use to allow them to be successful.”

IBM started with a small set of minimum requirements, such as a social contract establishing standup, planning, retrospective and showcase meetings. The organization also made several tools available to marketers, including Mural, Trello and ZenHub. However, everything else was up to the teams to determine how they wanted to work, according to Gehri.

Exploring the Benefits of Greater Transparency at 3M

As a corporation, 3M had adopted Agile marketing a few years ago. At 3M Health Information Systems, a division of 3M, software developers were already working in an Agile environment, so extending the methodology to marketing made perfect sense.

“We had the tools to help us with the process already from the development side, so a quick access granted to those same tools and voila, I was speaking the same language as them,” said Giannina Rachetta, product marketing manager at 3M Health Information Systems. “I was doing backlog refinement, sprint reviews and I had daily standups with my team.”

From the start, she saw a change in behavior she hadn’t quite expected. One of the first times the marketing team presented its sprint review, one of the product owners in the room had an idea. He phrased the idea in terms of not wanting to throw marketing’s next sprint out of whack, but as something to consider.

“I felt validated, respected and I could tell my team did too,” Rachetta said. “All of a sudden, we realized that our efforts within marketing were out there in the open; the work that we did, the impediments, the prioritizations.” Due to the transparency, there was also a much greater level of understanding across the business if there was an urgent matter that marketing had to handle immediately, meaning that another project might be put temporarily on hold.

TECHNIA: Start by Answering 'Why'

Product lifecycle management solutions provider TECHNIA had already successfully delivered a lead generation campaign in 2019 using Agile marketing. Applying that way of working to something completely new, its first-ever global virtual event in 2020, PLM Innovation Forum (PLMIF) felt like a natural progression. PLMIF had been planned pre-pandemic.

With a goal of attracting over 1,000 virtual attendees, the organization needed to get five different local teams working collaboratively and closely with its global team and its partner B2B Agile marketing consultancy Bright. In introducing the key players of each local team to Agile marketing, the focus was not only on covering daily standups, updated reporting and optimization techniques, but also on the reason why marketing was adopting a new approach.

“Answering that ‘why?’ question allowed us to bring all of the team members along on the journey with us,” said Ghassan Sultan, CMO at TECHNIA. “And, once they started to see results, we were able to ramp up our Agile approach accordingly.”

Start Small and Iterate at OpenFin

As a fintech, OpenFin was already familiar with the concept of Agile project management, and saw Agile marketing and sprint-based activity as a natural next step to support its campaigns.

“Starting small meant we could test our approach and message with the audience and be ready to optimize based on the feedback,” said Mitra Roknabadi, vice president, global head of marketing at OpenFin. “We set short-term goals for big targets and each sprint enabled us to see how close we were getting to our KPIs.”

By contrast, going in with a ‘big bang’ approach to Agile marketing might mean that an organization rarely comes up for air and so fails to realize it’s not going to hit its KPIs until there’s little to be done to influence the result, she added.

Related Article: Agile Marketing Your Way Through the Next Recession

Lessons Learned: Start Small and Share Your Agile Experiences

IBM's Gehri noted that, for some people, the thought of adopting Agile marketing is daunting or even a turn-off. “They hear ‘Agile,’ and think it has to be a huge transformation,” he said. “My thoughts are that you don’t need permission, you don’t need support from the top of your organization, or even from your direct leadership. Even one person can embody the Agile values and principles.”

An individual can lead by example, by adopting Agile marketing and the ideas of openness, respect, clarity and trust as they approach their peers. "You can start your own board of work to track what you do," Gehri said. "When other people see how well you are working with others and how much better you are able to organize and prioritize your work to be more effective — that influence can help them to adopt the same practices."

In approaching Agile marketing, 3M's Rachetta suggests starting small and staying the course. “All things that require change take time and effort, but it is worth it,” she said. “Get educated on Agile’s principles, how to implement it, its benefits, etc.” She recommends peers read the ever-growing amount of Agile marketing knowledge contained in articles, blogs and books published specifically on the subject.

Rachetta also stressed the important role internal evangelists can play in an organization embracing Agile marketing. “Getting leadership on board is crucial for a faster adoption,” she said. “You need champions who get it and who can help you get started within your organization.”

Roknabadi at OpenFin advised organizations getting started with Agile marketing speak to and collaborate with established experts. “Agile requires a change in mindset and an iterative approach,” she said. “Leverage external resources to train up your internal teams, and treat your external resources as an extension to your team, so you can learn, but also be tactical.”

The regular stand-up meetings, which are an integral part of Agile, enabled TECHNIA’s global team to provide strong support for local teams. “We could quickly share learnings and optimizations of what’s working and what’s not, allowing us to improve messaging more efficiently and implement a solid test, learn, build strategy across the regions,” Sultan said.

Related Article: Step Up Your Agile Marketing Game

Track Success Through a Mix of Specific Metrics and Anecdotal Evidence

Gehri has seen the teams he’s helped adopt Agile marketing deliver great outcomes. “Though not all results can be attributed only to Agile marketing, I feel that Agile has been the bedrock that enabled the teams to drive this success,” he said.

Some outcomes have been measurable, such as increases in employee engagement, which IBM surveys annually. “In one instance, we improved marketing’s contribution to both pipeline and revenue,” Gehri said. “The program that the team ran was one of the most efficient in terms of ROI within IBM.” He also notes anecdotal comments from the team about fewer meetings and emails as well as everyone being more aligned and aware of the work needing to be done.

Adopting Agile marketing has enabled 3M Health Information Systems marketers to collaborate more closely despite having to work remotely as a result of the pandemic.

“We are able to help each other out, decrease the amount of long ‘touch-base’ meetings, and have visibility into everyone’s efforts in order to communicate the value of our solutions to our customers in a more holistic way,” Rachetta said. “Another benefit is that we are now able to quantify the level of effort (story points) needed to produce any given piece of collateral.”

Marketers can share story point metrics with their peers in sales, product development, support and other departments so that everyone is fully aware of the degree of difficulty and amount of work involved in producing marketing campaigns.

For its virtual PLMIF event, TECHNIA doubled its initial target of registered attendees to over 2,000, more than half of whom matched target criteria to qualify as sales leads or prospects.

Sultan attributes this success to many factors, but primarily to the use of the Agile methodology. “It set us up for success from the start,” he said. “It drove us to try new approaches such as social prospecting, which proved hugely effective for us and a learning that we can take forward with other projects.”

The Agile approach was also invaluable in enabling the bringing together of a global team to work towards one goal, according to Sultan. “This was a companywide initiative, marketing, sales, and consultants shared information and learnt more about what is possible when we work towards a common objective,” he said. “With goals and KPIs smashed out the park, it was easy to measure that success.”

Related Article: The Road to Better Marketing Is Paved With Agility

The Trickle Down Effects of Agile

For Rachetta, adopting Agile marketing as a culture and a methodology makes sense for any marketer, regardless of the industry in which they work.

“We create customer experiences, we conduct small experiments, we plan and measure, we are data-driven,” she said. “So, I can argue that we are already following some aspects of being Agile. In addition, we are already customer-centric; our whole existence as marketers is to be that connection between what our customers want and need and bring them to our organizations to get solved.”

The strong focus on working together, both within marketing and with stakeholders in other departments is another key benefit of the Agile approach. “Collaborating is valuable, and you can take much of what you learn through Agile marketing, and use it throughout the business,” said Roknabadi. “It’s a win-win.”