Unfortunately, too many marketers have confused ad-hoc social media promotions with genuine agile marketing. 

While the original concept of ‘agile’ as a way of working was first popularised in the world of software development, it wasn’t until recently when applied to the realm of social media that we’ve started to talk about ‘agile marketing’. 

Certainly real-time engagement with your customers can get you noticed. Oreo Cookies, for example, is famous for its ‘dunk in the dark’ tweet during the Super Bowl power outage. 

The success of Oreo Cookies has spurred many brands to attempt their own quick turnaround content for social media, which has often got them noticed in the wrong kind of way.

From barely thought-out newsjacking attempts, to the sloppy creation of ham-fisted memes, poor execution has helped make agile marketing a constant source of embarrassment for brands around the world.

It only takes a quick review of Econsultancy’s list of top social media fails to see this process in action. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way

Agile marketing is not about jumping on news headlines or riding off the back of a surge of tweets. It’s about creating an environment in which customer understanding, personalised content, data analytics and departmental alignment can work together to increase efficiency and speed to market across all levels of an organisation.

It’s about responding to data, trends or customer behaviour in a way that is both fast and smart.

If you want to move beyond the hit-or-miss social-media version of agile marketing however, it requires a bit of strategic planning. Quite a bit actually. Responding quickly and smartly is not an easy balance to strike, particularly if you don’t even know what your marketing problems are yet.

So how do you succeed with agile marketing? We interviewed experts from Sirius Decisions, Chiefmartec, Silverpop and Smart Insights to get their views on what agility really mean for marketers.

Avoiding sloppy work that hurts your brand

Before digital marketers jump on the latest trends, they need to understand how their brands relate to them, why they need to comment, or even if their customers care.

“Unfortunately, working fast doesn’t always mean working well,” says Scott Brinker of Chiefmartec.

In software development, the area that agile was first adopted in, there is a concept of 'technical debt', where sloppy code ends up costing you more time down the line than it would have done to write it well in the first place.

When embracing agile and breaking away from processes purely focused on best practice, I think marketers really need to watch out for a similar effect: brand debt.

To recover from brand debt, Brinker says, you have to work even harder down the road to recover from that deficit in the eyes of customers and clients who were exposed to it. Clear, open communication within the company is vital to avoid this.

Using data to make smart decisions

Agile marketing was never truly possible before, as the technology needed simply didn’t exist. From an internal point of view, the development of collaborative working tools has proved a fundamental catalyst for driving this change.

Externally, the growth of agile marketing has largely been the result of a rise in big data analytics and personalisation platforms.

By monitoring how customers and prospects interact with your content, you can start making more intelligent marketing decisions on the fly.

States Ellen Valentine, veteran marketing leader at Silverpop. As a result, if a consumer’s attitude towards a certain product or service shifts, marketers can use this information to adjust their messaging accordingly.

It is this level of real-time personalisation that is coming to define the new era of agile marketing.

In addition, by running small experiments on an on-going basis, you can achieve continuous, incremental improvements.

The danger of data without a clear focus

At the same time, brands should be careful not to depend too heavily on the outputs of big-data without a clear focus.

If marketers don’t know where their marketing problems are and what they should be testing, they put themselves at risk of being bogged down in data that doesn’t actually add anything to their campaigns. In many ways this can be an agile marketer's worst nightmare.

By working in a purely real-time environment, marketing professionals may find themselves constantly iterating a campaign based on the very latest data and statistics.

By getting too bogged down in these iterations, marketers may run the risk of weakening their brands by failing to provide a consistent messaging strategy.

“The trick with getting better results from marketing is asking the right question from the outset,” says Dave Chaffey, CEO of Smart Insights.

It’s about finding a line between the traditional ‘tick-box mentality’, in which marketers blindly follow the rest of the industry and becoming so flexible that the brand loses all identity and control.

Collaboration is key 

Julian Archer, research director at Sirius Decisions, says brands must work to “build a more agile marketing ecosystem” throughout their entire organisation.

This means not only working to develop real-time engagement with customers, but also collaborating with one another in a more flexible and ultimately intelligent fashion.

Agile marketing is just as much about improving internal inefficiencies as it is about developing an external approach.

Agile, when implemented correctly, can give marketing great flexibility, while retaining the core structure required to keep marketing on track.

This is the ideal middle ground that marketers need to achieve: flexibility and openness to new ideas, without a complete abandonment of marketing best practice.

Youtse Sung

Published 5 August, 2015 by Youtse Sung

Youtse Sung is Senior Manager, Global Marketing Programs at EPiServer and a contributor to the Econsultancy blog. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter

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Comments (3)

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Zoe Hart, Founder at www.TheLittlePancakeCompany.com

Having worked with big FMCG brands in the past, I think the mistake people often make when it comes to agile marketing or real-time engagement is overthinking it. Most small businesses who use social media are thinking on their feet and finding witty and creative ways to get involved with trends and news stories without big budgets and large creative teams behind them; it's just how they operate. Content calendars help achieve consistency on social media but they can also mean that engaging creatively in real world discussions has become a marketing project rather than business as usual.

over 2 years ago

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Jim Bowes, CEO at Manifesto Digital Limited

Great article Youtse, there's certainly fast growing interest in Agile marketing and I'm finding myself delivering coaching for more and more communications teams. Often with the organisations I work with it's the deeper cultural shift that's really key to introduce more Agile ways of delivering.

almost 2 years ago

Richard Tidman

Richard Tidman, Managing Director at Space 66 Ltd

Great article Youtse. If you're interested we are running a free one day conference specifically focusing on Agile Marketing. Details here: http://www.space66.com/the-agile-advantage

over 1 year ago

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