two friends sitting side by side on a swing
PHOTO: Craig Whitehead

Some people see agile marketing and digital policies as inherently incompatible. Pardon me for being blunt, but that’s just wrong. Digital policies are exactly the kind of framework necessary for a successful agile marketing initiative. Let me explain why.

One of my favorite definitions of agile marketing comes from Andrea Fryrear, writing for Workfront:

“At its core, agile marketing is a tactical marketing approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high-value projects, complete those projects cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time.”

That quote illustrates why an agile approach is so well suited to a marketing environment in which change is a daily occurrence. Customer attitudes and preferences change on a dime, social media channels rise and fall, governments enact new regulations, new technologies disrupt the old way of doing things, Google changes its algorithm again, etc. Organizations that can quickly adapt to those changes have an advantage over their competitors.

The Role of Digital Policies

Without the right underlying structure, however, agile initiatives can quickly devolve into chaos. You can find yourself caught up in an anything-goes environment where employees are able to try even the craziest of initiatives without knowing whether they’re worth the cost or additional risk.

Digital policies provide the structure that keeps chaos at bay.

Related Article: Digital Policies Create Opportunities

How Digital Policies Keep Agile Marketing On Track

Prioritization of Work

Agile marketing teams work in short “sprints.” Every time they finish a sprint, they go back to the pool of work waiting to be done and choose their next project based on which will deliver the most value to the organization. But how do they know which of the projects awaiting their attention have the potential to offer the most value? And is “value” a subjective idea that could change the moment a senior vice president charges in and insists that his project be moved to the top of the list?

Digital policies make prioritization of work a lot easier. If an organization has already decided that it is not going to localize for a particular market, and that decision is reflected in its digital policies, then the agile marketing team knows not to waste time on an experiment about the best ways to customize content for that market (no matter who is making the request). And they have the documentation to back up their decision.

On the other hand, if there’s a digital policy that says the organization will ramp up user-generated content on a certain digital channel, the agile marketing team can be confident about prioritizing an experiment to find out what kind of content will be needed and how to go about getting it.

Elimination of Rework

Agile marketing is, by definition, iterative. Instead of planning everything in advance and continuing to trudge along past obstacles and changing needs, agile marketing teams quickly roll out new initiatives, see how they work, tweak them and try again.

That iterative approach would fall to pieces if teams had to start from scratch every time. At the beginning of each new sprint, they would have to hammer through decisions about issues like these:

  • What their deliverables should be, and for which marketing channels.
  • How they should make design choices about such things as fonts, colors, logos, images and models.
  • Whether and to what degree they should adapt and/or translate their digital content for different markets.
  • Laws or regulations that might affect the use of their content in various markets.
  • Whether they should devote resources to features like subtitles or captions for videos and images.
  • What, if any, statements the content should contain about things like accessibility, privacy and who the intended audience is.
  • Whether and how they’ll incorporate user-generated content.

Can you imagine how inefficient it would be to rehash all of those issues at the beginning of every sprint? A team could spend a few days just making decisions about things like fonts, colors and images. That’s a pretty big deal when it’s not uncommon for a sprint to last only a couple of weeks. Having digital policies in place lets you leapfrog right over all of those conversations so you can start your sprint with things that really matter.

Related Article: Step Up Your Agile Marketing Game

Freedom to Be Creative

The traditional approach to marketing — fighting for your budget by making promises you might not be able to keep and committing to timelines before you have a clear idea of what needs to be done — has led a lot of marketers to play it safe.

The short sprints that are the cornerstone of agile marketing, with their lower budgets and shorter timelines, give marketers the freedom to fail — and digital policies are the safety net. No matter how crazy an idea may seem, as long as it conforms to the organization’s digital policies (developed to support organizational strategies), marketers have the freedom to experiment and to stretch their creativity.

Productivity

One of the main benefits of agile marketing is that the various teams get more done because they stay focused. They do one thing for a short period of time. They’re also able to avoid the “tyranny of the urgent” because, instead of getting distracted by new requests that come in, they can refer to the policy (whether it’s labeled a digital policy or an agile policy doesn’t really matter) governing how work is added to the queue.

Backing agile marketing with digital policies also eliminates nonproductive downtime spent waiting for approvals. There have been numerous marketing projects over the years that died slow deaths waiting for permission to do something. Digital policies eliminate this problem. As long as a project is within the organization’s digital policy, there’s no need to obtain additional approvals.

And it’s not just high-level approvals. It works for more basic decisions, too. If the person who owns the design elements of the project is out sick, for example, any member of the team can make decisions about color and font as long as they’re in line with digital policies. And the iterative approach means that the risk of making a “wrong” decision is minimal, because it can always be corrected in the next iteration. It’s a great way to keep things moving.

Related Article: Can Agile Marketing Help Streamline Your Strategy?

Interpretation of Data

With agile marketing, decisions are based on data rather than on opinion, personality or organizational hierarchy. Digital policies provide a solid framework for how to look at and interpret that data.

Let’s say one short sprint involves testing a customer loyalty program. Digital policies spell out specific requirements for handling any type of personal data, and developing a test that would be compliant with those policies would take longer than the time allotted for the sprint.

So the team decides to stick to things like printable coupons and in-store discounts as well as low-risk social media approaches like an in-store discount for checking in with Facebook. Later, they examine the data and determine that the experiment didn’t achieve the metrics they had established as their goals. They then conclude that a more targeted approach would be more successful.

How does the marketing team decide what to do next? Well, because the digital policies make it clear that they can’t take a more targeted approach without making a sizeable investment in a loyalty program that’s compliant with the organization’s data privacy rules, they must approach the relevant executives for a decision.

A Framework for Success

Far from being incompatible with agile marketing, digital policies provide the framework that agile teams need to succeed. If you already have a digital policy program, trust your policies, and let the marketing people do their thing instead of micromanaging. Trust that your policies are the guiding star and let the experts do their work.

If you’re currently operating an agile marketing team without digital policies in place, consider this a call to action. Ideally, digital policies originate in the C-suite and include the entire organization. But if you don’t see that happening in the immediate future, do what you can within your marketing organization. Implement basic policies that provide guard rails relating to matters like these:

  • What marketers should always do, what they should never do, and which activities they should prioritize.
  • How they should document their initiatives and the results of those initiatives.
  • How they should report results (both positive and negative) to company executives.
  • When they should elevate decision-making.

Far from imposing limitations and restrictions, digital policies provide agile marketing teams with a safety net. They give marketers the freedom to experiment without having to worry about getting in trouble for violating a rule they didn’t know existed. Support your agile marketing team with digital policies, then step back and prepare to be amazed by the creativity and effectiveness of their work.