The concept of agility is known to have arisen in software development. But agile approaches now play their benefits in many contexts. These benefits include, for example, maximum transparency, mastering complexity and, last but not least, the ability to respond much faster to new challenges of any kind. The fact that agile, cross-functional teams are required for an agile approach is almost a commonplace. However, the role that marketing plays in an agile context is almost always overlooked. If a company really wants to align its value chain to meet the needs of its customers agile, this must also be reflected in its marketing: The agile approach also calls for agility in marketing.
Also interesting: What does an Agile Coach do?
Respond faster to changes in the market
The progressive digitization and new technologies are leading to an ever-increasing number of disruptive offers and business models. Suppliers in almost all sectors are forced to react faster and faster to the changes in the market, to quickly identify new competitive potentials and to make the best possible use of them. The focus is always on meeting the customer’s new, changing needs. Because marketing has always been the central communicative interface to the customer, the concept of agile marketing comes into play here. His goal is to achieve an appropriate balance between continuity and change, planning and action in order to act in harmony with the specialist departments and in line with the value chain.
Do not lose sight of the target audience
One thing all major marketing trends have in common – they focus on the target audience. Today it is no longer just about who the target audience is, but also where they are, when, how they feel, what they want, what they want to hear, and what they want from companies and brands. Target groups have claims. Boring messages and consumer benefits packaged in claims that have been heard by other companies in a similar or similar way – that’s not enough today. At the same time, it is increasingly difficult for customers to reliably differentiate between brands. No wonder with around 300,000 brand contacts every one of us is exposed to every day.
Sheer Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) were part of a golden marketing time that has long since passed. Digitization has further aggravated this problem: as fast as new products and brands are flooding the markets, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to stand out from the competition. In this context, the time horizon for operational planning in marketing has also shortened considerably. In the past, planning of this type was planned for more than three years, but today the planning horizon is often just one year.
Nevertheless, the question arises as to whether this one year has not been too long-term. Especially as the role of marketing changes significantly in our digital world. Companies are no longer just senders but also recipients. And because of social media, marketing is even the moderator – between the company and its brand on the one hand and the target groups on the other. Being able to react quickly is more important than ever for companies: in developing new offers as well as in their marketing communications.
Seven principles of agile marketing
Agility should enable marketing to implement strategies and measures as quickly as possible and to stay as close to the customer as possible. The approach of agile marketing also appears to shorten the response times in marketing. The concept of agile marketing is not completely new. A good decade after the groundbreaking “Agile Manifesto for Software Development”, in 2012 the “Agile Marketing Manifesto” was born, which for the first time explicitly transferred the concept of agility to marketing. Although the response to the Agile Marketing Manifesto has generally been limited and a far-reaching revolution in marketing has been missed, it is becoming increasingly clear how relevant its principles are today. With its claim to establish agility as an essential principle of marketing, the manifesto is more relevant today than ever before. In seven essential rules, it describes what modern marketing should do.
Validated learning instead of opinions and habits
Marketing measures have always worked on the principle of trial and error. Never before was it 100 percent confident that the chosen measure would actually achieve the desired effect. Also, control circuits in the era before digitization and digital marketing were rather bad. In the pre-digital age, effects were often difficult to measure, the subsequent analysis was more like an assessment than an actual evaluation. Thanks to digital measures and the ability to really track everything, it is easy today to analyze marketing measures and draw conclusions for the future course of action. The time of mere opinions and habits, which then again and again as standard measures in annual marketing plans, is over. The data that can be captured today speak a clear language and allow marketing to validate learning.
Customer-oriented cooperation instead of silos and hierarchies
Never before has the target group been so much the focus of all marketing activities. With digital platforms, social media channels and review sites, marketing today can easily capture customer opinions. Especially if the marketing wants to put the customer with his hopes and wishes for a product or service in the focus, it should also have a say in it. In this way, marketing can answer questions such as: What does the customer want from the brand, when does he most want to be approached, and above all, how?
Adaptive, iterative campaigns instead of big-bang campaigns and
Responding to change rather than strictly following the plan
Of course, in order to be able to adapt marketing measures in iterative steps, the planning must already be flexible enough to allow it to react agile to changing conditions and requirements. This also applies in terms of time as well as budget. If a flexible budget pool is available, agile marketing can draw on it as needed. Only in this way is it possible, as part of an agile approach, to adapt the next marketing measures on the basis of the latest experiences and insights.
Many small experiments are better than a few large projects
Again, a basic principle of agility comes into play: Small iterative steps are superior to the one, large project plan, because they ultimately lead to much more needs-based solutions. Agile marketing also wants to learn more and more about the target group and its needs in iterative steps, thereby initiating a continuous improvement process.
Continuous need satisfaction instead of static predictions
An iterative, ever-approaching approach is a central aspect of agility – and therefore of agile marketing. Especially since all the data collected form the basis for constantly optimizing agile marketing campaigns, which is in line with the Plan Do Check Act cycle (PDCA). Not only does the target group get sharpened, but marketing can also continuously improve its measures. Because the valid data are far more meaningful than the statistical surveys could ever have been on average. The easy-to-understand purpose: The better companies know their customers, the better they can satisfy their needs.
Flexible versus rigid planning
The end of classic marketing planning
Even today, it definitely makes sense to carry out a basic marketing plan for a certain period based on the goals set. However, it is equally important that this marketing plan can be flexibly adapted if necessary and leaves enough scope for continuous optimization. In future, marketing plans are no longer set in stone. It would be nonsensical, for example, to create an annual plan in the fall and to believe that it was finally completed. Rather, agile marketing is characterized by the fact that the planning phase basically never ends, because the plan has to be continuously adapted and improved – in line with changing insights about the customers and their needs.
Case study: Agility in the German middle class
In order to develop its new digital product, the medium-sized automotive supplier has for the first time relied on a project team that is as autonomous as possible – thereby realizing agile principles. In addition to the pure development, the agile team was also represented from the beginning by the specialist side and related cross-sectional functions such as marketing and sales. This is how the first cross-functional team in the company’s history came into being. Accompanied by an Agile Coach, the agile team was able to develop the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), the first usable product version, even faster and more cost-effectively than originally planned and accepted.
Meanwhile, the project team has become a highly motivated product team, which accompanies the product through its further life cycle. Team members and company management agree: It is not least thanks to the involvement of the customers in the development process and the knowledge of their exact wishes and needs that the automotive supplier is now able to succeed in the long term with its product.
The cultural and organizational change
One of the key aspects of the agile approach is to improve communication between departments. This is reflected in cross-functional teams that have one thing in particular: the pain of the customer, his or her needs, and a value chain within the company that is designed to do just that. This claim of agility to put the value chain at the center and thus the value proposition a company gives to its customers is certainly a matter of mindset in the company, the corporate culture. Unfortunately, the traditional organizational structure of a company is often at odds with the idea of the value chain. So it’s hardly surprising that agile, autonomous and cross-functional teams are still the exception and not the rule.
The same applies to agile marketing – and its participation in the new, agile teams. For many companies, it’s not easy to create agility in the organization. These processes of change are always a company-specific journey, with group dynamic processes and a – sometimes painful – cultural change. From a tanker of corporation, in which marketing has to adhere to rigid governance rules, the speedboat, which works with cross-sectional departments, which are cross-functional staffed and include the marketing role, because they are so focused on the Customer’s needs.
Getting Started on Agility in Marketing
Nevertheless, even without completely new organizational structures, a marketing department can already take the first steps towards agile marketing. It is conceivable, for example, that marketing initially initiates customer surveys more frequently than before and learns more about the customers’ actual needs and pain points. It also makes sense for marketing to keep part of its budget for marketing projects, the need for which is only temporary in the course of the year. In addition, marketing has always been dependent on information from product development, sales and management. In any case, this communication must be intensified so that agility does not fail at profane departmental boundaries.
Agile marketing means the future
Implementing the principles of agility and agile marketing is ultimately a matter of mindset and the overall corporate culture. Agility wants to be lived. The necessary change is complex. It holds enormous opportunities for a company, but it is also not free of risks.
Against this background, it may not be surprising that agile thinking is only now beginning to achieve marketing. It seems that marketing is predestined to benefit from the many advantages of an agile approach: from the shorter time-to-market and the higher productivity over a more flexible requirement management and increased team motivation to better communication between the relevant departments in the company. It is clear: agility also points the way to the future in marketing.
Jens Kroeger (Dipl.-Betriebswirt FH) is Management Consultant at Cassini Consulting (www.cassini.de). The certified Scrum Master and Product Owner mainly advises on agility and digital transformation. Among other things, he uses his knowledge and skills as an agile coach for companies of different sizes and industries. He is primarily concerned with scalable agility in non-software development areas and disruptive cross-sectoral technologies such as blockchain and smart contracts.