Seven reasons to consider Lean/Agile marketing

By: Pavel Naydenov

Date: 8 November 2018

Seven reasons to consider Lean/Agile marketingBefore we start, let me introduce you to the world of Lean/Agile marketing.

First of all, I call it that because it is a combination of the two methodologies, Lean and Agile. They're not initially marketing creations - Lean thinking was originally developed for car manufacturing, and Agile comes from the software development industry.

There are many different interpretations of Lean/Agile marketing principles. Most importantly, this new way of thinking makes marketing teams more responsive to fast-changing consumer markets - and way more productive.

Back in 2012, some of the top Agile marketing professionals created the Agile Marketing Manifesto - a set of seven guiding principles. Many things have changed since then, and Lean/Agile marketing thinking is spreading. According to the latest State of Agile Marketing Report, 61% of traditional marketing teams are planning to switch to Agile.

Let's look into the seven principles behind Lean/Agile marketing, and why you should consider making the switch.

1. Beware the "master plan"

I have worked in two huge corporations, and I can say that there is one major thing corporate marketing teams do terribly wrong - blindly following the master plan.

Making a plan for one year ahead and expecting nothing to go wrong is like building a house without a roof because you assume it will never rain again. It will.

Nowadays, the market is changing so fast that companies need to be as flexible as possible if they want to survive. For example, if your customers give you clear signals that something is wrong, you'd better listen. Don't ignore them just for the sake of following a plan.

The iconic brand Blockbuster went from a multi-million giant to bankruptcy because they refused to adapt to the changing environment. A small rival, Netflix, decided to make the transition from DVD shipments to online streaming content. Blockbuster refused to follow suit, saying they were a retail-rental business, not a tech company.

Guess what happened. Blockbuster paid for their arrogance with bankruptcy - just because they followed their plan.

2. Iterative, adaptive campaigns

Think back on how many times you've done this - planned for months what you believe to be an amazing campaign. You then release it into the world, and keep your fingers crossed.

Then, silence. Disaster.

Failure is a significant part of marketing, and we need to realize that. But it hurts a lot when you fail big.

So instead of investing in a "big bang campaign", try the iterative approach. Release campaigns in small chunks and test them while building the next one. This way, you can quickly realize if you took the right path or if you need to change the course.

Last year at Kanbanize we decided to build a massive Kanban resources section on our website. Instead of writing all the articles at once, we released one article at a time, once it was finished. This gave us time to collect feedback from our readers that helped to improve our content. It was worth doing, because we increased our organic traffic three times over.

3. Back up opinions with data

I guess I won't surprise anybody when I say that in marketing teams; opinions matter. Usually, the louder you shout, the higher the possibility your idea will be heard.

This is not valid in Lean/Agile marketing. Assumptions and gut feelings are left at the door, and only data counts. Don't get me wrong - instincts are very important, but they are only useful when you possess experience and a strong grasp of the issues at hand.

What I am trying to say is that you cannot just say: "This is right, and this is wrong, end of discussion" - unless it is backed up by data.

I clearly remember the first time a CEO tried to convince me that one of my ideas was wrong. However, he said, "Let's try it and see". As it turned out, I was right, and his response was "Well done - now, let's spread it". In other situations I was wrong - but it doesn't matter. What matters is that you learn and try to improve.

4. Visualise to organise

Marketing teams are very busy. The paradox is that, usually, teammates don't have a clear idea of who is doing what. Work remains invisible. But without visibility, you cannot really understand what your team's capacity is and if you have free resource. This creates a cascading effect of chaos.

In Lean/Agile marketing teams use visual boards, usually a Kanban board, which serves as an informational hub. Simply said, it is a to-do board (invented by Toyota), with a few simple rules to follow.

The most important rule - if it's not on the board, it doesn't exist. Every single task should be there, so that all teammates can have a clear overview of the work process. No more "I think it was…," or "Maybe the files are here…".

Here is a quick example I heard a few months ago. Terry White Chemmart is one of the biggest pharmacy retailers in Australia. They managed to reduce their average cycle time of tasks from two months to two hours, and increased customer satisfaction by 50%, after implementing Kanban boards for their marketing work.

What is the bottom line here? Don't try to memorize. Just visualize.

5. Multitasking doesn't exist

This is one of the core practices in Kanban, and probably the main factor in boosting productivity. It's simple - one thing at a time.

Multitasking doesn't work, and there are plenty of scientific studies to prove it. It's a fact - we are hard-coded to be mono-taskers. When we think we are multitasking, we do nothing more than task-switching. The brain literally stops doing one thing and focuses on another. These interruptions are devastating for personal and overall productivity.

Limiting the number of tasks you're currently working on (work in progress, or WIP) is a simple measure, resulting in people examining their workload, eliminating unnecessary tasks, and delivering work faster.

One last thing here - limiting WIP fosters collaboration. When there is a limit on in-progress work and one task is blocking the whole workflow, people collaborate to solve the issue faster.

Speaking of which...

6. Foster active collaboration

Two of the biggest problems seen in organizations are:

  • different silos don't seem to talk to each other;
  • the higher the hierarchy level, the less you hear the people below.

Marketing doesn't talk to sales; customer support doesn't communicate with marketing, and (crucially) marketing doesn't get heard by senior management.

One of my favourite business quotes is "No-one has a monopoly on good ideas" (I heard it from Richard Branson).

So, ditch the hierarchy, swallow your ego or whatever makes you think you are better than the rest - and collaborate. After all, the success of any organization depends on everyone, from bottom to top. It's shocking how few businesses realize this.

We have a critical need for active collaboration, more than ever.

7. Keep your experiments small

Big marketing teams like to release massive campaigns, and to test big. How wrong this is. Once again, if you succeed, then that's great - but if you fail, you and your team just threw all your resources in the bin.

Instead, just run small experiments, and if something goes wrong your losses will be minimal. Document your learnings, and move forward.

Look at it from this angle - usually, three out of ten ideas will succeed. Will it hurt less if you test all ten ideas at once, or if you run small independent tests?

One example that I recently read about is Tesco. They allow junior analysts at its corporate headquarters to conduct small experiments on a regular basis. The result is that they deliver something that the senior managers don't: a steady stream of creative new ideas that are relevant to younger customers.

What's the bottom line?

Customers are more informed than ever, and they are setting their expectations higher every day. This means marketers need to be more flexible in order to respond to market dynamics.

Lean/Agile marketing practices can help you organize and manage your work better, increase productivity and get more done, adapt to change, and improve communication (both internal and external).

If you think like a traditional marketer, sad to say, you are probably on the wrong path.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2018 Pavel Naydenov, digital marketing ninja at Kanban - demystifying content marketing and trying to take the most of ppc.