Is marketing ops the driving force behind agile marketing?

Frans Riemersma
September 3, 2021

This blog was adapted from BrandMaker’s: “Marketing Ops Now” podcast. Each installment discusses valuable ideas for both management and marketing executives. You can listen to this 20-minute podcast here.

Why agile marketing?

The Agile Marketing Manifesto dates back from 2012. Ever since companies have been implementing agile marketing and reporting remarkable results.

There is an anecdote from Scott Brinker when he was running a conversion optimization platform. At the time, testing a landing page was a very manual process. He was fascinated by the results, but even more so by the clients. Some of the clients were incredibly successful with this platform while others were not. The marketing teams that had adopted the agile methodology were by far more successful. They were harnessing the full benefit of this martech platform in no time. In three months, clients went from testing a handful of search campaigns to, three months later, launching literally over 100 experiments every month.

Numbers support these findings:

  • 93% said that adopting agile marketing processes helped them to improve speed-to-market
  • 87% said adopting agile marketing processes made their teams more productive
  • 80% said adopting agile marketing processes helped them deliver a better, more relevant end-product.

Still, many marketing organizations haven’t embraced the results nor agile marketing as yet.

What is agile marketing? What is NOT agile marketing?

In essence, agile marketing is an incremental, iterative test and learn process. It is as easy as that. Still, there are many misconceptions about agile marketing.

Here is one of the biggest misunderstandings: “You can be agile or you can be strategic, but you can’t be both”. It suggests that agile is somehow the opposite of being strategic. As if with agile you’re making tasks up as you go. There’s no actual plan here. But nothing is further from the truth. 

Every scrum loop starts with a set of priorities that follow the strategy. Against a hypothesis, a specific set of tasks in the backlog will be executed. Once we come to the end, we‘ll review if those tasks delivered the strategic results: “Did things perform well against the strategy?” And then that evaluation feeds back into the next loop, again starting with the strategic priorities. Granted, agile marketing can help us capture feedback from the market and make us realize we might need to actually tweak the strategy.

This is why 80% of people who adopt agile marketing frameworks say they have enhanced prioritization skills and focus on things that matter. Just to be clear, agile is a very disciplined and structured approach to make sure we are executing properly on strategy and, where necessary, incorporate market feedback into the strategy.

“Done” is good. “Success” is better.

Agile marketing originates from agile software development. In agile development, there is the concept of Definition of Done. That concept works great if you produce deliverables, but it doesn’t work if you have to achieve certain goals or results, like leads or conversion in marketing.

In software development, the definition of done can be a piece of software. In marketing, a definition of done can be a microsite or landing page. But that is not the end goal. It is merely a start for marketing. The Definition of Success would be to generate 1,000 leads with that landing page. 

The Definition of Success helps marketing to focus on achieving the right results. It helps to understand that what has been being built is not the same as the actual impact and outcomes that result from it. The result is not that you have built software, but people actually using it. Verify your hypothesis with questions like: “How long does it take them to get things done?”, “What’s the NPS?”, “Do users love it or do they hate it?” Measuring the actual impact is key here. Then use that market feedback in the next iteration. 

Is there a right way to do agile marketing?

An often-heard question in the market is: “When am I doing agile the right way? We do not work in cross-functional teams, is that wrong? Should we always use KanBan?” Questions like these indicate we’re missing the point. 

There are a great number of agile certification courses out there. The courses are great to get a firm understanding of the agile principles, but it is no guarantee whatsoever you’ll do agile the right way. If you aren’t convinced, then read the original Agile Marketing Manifesto again. The very first principle states: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. 

A certification is such a process or tool. Certifications are not as important as how we are affected by the interactions of individuals. Doing your stand-up at exactly 8:00 AM every morning isn’t necessarily agile. Knowing what you will do today in line with the strategy is.

“It is better to be approximately right, than precisely wrong.”

Is marketing ops the driving force behind agile marketing?

There are a couple of models we have seen that work great, but there are others, too. 

One way is, if the marketing ops team is large enough, using the agile mechanisms to run marketing ops itself. Let’s face it, marketing ops is one of those functions that is inundated with tasks and change. It thrives with some sort of mechanism to be able to sort tasks out quickly and set priorities in the right order. 

Another way has proven very effective by Rishi Dave, former CMO of Dun and Bradstreet. His marketing department was broken down into little pods. Each pod would focus on a particular marketing business challenge. These pods were all cross-functional. In each one of those pods, members were coming from other teams such as sales enablement, marketing campaign management, the web team, and a martech and marketing ops person. It was a way of embedding marketing ops. 

And then there is the Spotify model of chapters, tribes, and guilds. The reason why Spotify pioneered this model was a matter of scale. The number of people became so large that they had to come up with mechanisms to blend.

At Amazon, they championed the two-pizza teams. Running small teams and solving challenges while at the same time being able to provide some coherence across the disciplines and teams.

“We try to create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas. We call that the two-pizza team rule.” Jeff Bezos

So if you’ve got that scale and the willingness, by all means, try the Spotify model. But a word of caution. It’s almost like the difference between psychology 101 and the graduate level in psychiatry. Start with 101 and then mature and grow from there.

Please join us

BrandMaker’s “Marketing Ops Now” podcast series has officially started. In each podcast industry luminaries and deep thinkers share valuable marketing ops ideas for both management and marketing executives (some worth stealing). 

For every podcast in the series, we’ll do a blog post to share the highlights with you. You can listen to this 20-minute. podcast here.m

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