The agile framework is a method for organizing and executing work that was initially created and tested in the software development field. Tired of rigid, top-down workflows and long project cycles that maximized the distance between the initial concept and delivery to the customer, the framework’s creators proposed an alternative. Agile software development teams would be collaborative, cross-functional, self-organized, and focused on quickly creating and testing discrete project units.
Over time, organizations adapted the agile framework to support other business activities. Agile principles are particularly valuable for long-term projects with high levels of uncertainty, a description that includes many marketing functions. Although many companies set annual marketing plans, the most effective marketing teams work toward a long-term strategic vision while constantly testing their assumptions, adjusting campaigns to optimize results, and remaining responsive to marketplace changes.
What is agile marketing?
Agile marketing is a tactical marketing approach that prioritizes speed, collaboration, flexibility, testing, and delivering value to the end user. There’s information in the name: The ideal agile marketing team is nimble, efficient, and precise.
Agile marketing processes are popular with big companies: Apple, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and IBM all subscribe. Agile principles, however, can help businesses of all sizes break large projects down into discrete units, continually improve results, and quickly pivot in response to internal or external changes.
The Agile Marketing Manifesto outlines its core values. The five core values can be summarized as follows:
1. Value outputs over inputs
Agile teams focus on outcomes, not internal activities.
2. Deliver quickly
Agile teams deliver value early and often avoid perfectionism.
3. Prioritize data
Agile framework values data and experimentation over opinion and convention.
4. Work together
The agile framework prioritizes cross-functional collaboration and avoids silos and hierarchies.
5. Respond to change
The agile framework prioritizes responding to change over following a static plan.
How does agile marketing work?
Agile marketing is workflow and project management philosophy, not a project management system. Organizations implement agile processes using a project management methodology conducive to agile principles—typically either kanban or scrum. (Both are sometimes referred to as “agile methodologies” due to their popularity with agile marketing teams.)
The agile marketing process segments projects into short, high-intensity bursts, often called “sprints.” At the start of each sprint, agile marketing leaders assemble a small cross-functional team made up of the people needed to create the given deliverable. For example, an agile marketing team working on a digital marketing campaign might include a copywriter, a graphic designer, an SEO specialist, and an analytics lead. At the end of the sprint, the agile marketing team will test their deliverables and gather data that can be used to inform the next sprint.
Agile and scrum
Under a scrum framework, individual project teams (or scrum teams) organize around sprints, which are typically one- to four-week periods oriented toward a specific deliverable. The scrum framework assigns a role to each member of the project team. Teams have one scrum master, one product owner, and a number of developers.
- The scrum master facilitates meetings, handles any administrative duties, and helps other team members identify and remove any obstacles.
- The product owner maintains a focus on the final product and the end user.
- Developers fill in the other work roles needed to accomplish the sprint.
Note that these originated in the software development field—for an agile marketing team, the “product” might be a marketing campaign or piece of collateral, and the “developers” will hold the skills needed to execute the project (such as copywriting, graphic design, or campaign strategy).
The scrum framework also includes four meeting types:
- The sprint planning meeting starts the project.
- Daily stand-up meetings evaluate work in progress and identify obstacles.
- The review meeting closes the project.
- The retrospective meeting asks agile team members to reflect on a recently closed sprint, share feedback, and plan for future improvements.
Agile and kanban
Some marketing teams implement agile processes using the kanban project management framework. Although kanban workflows don’t always involve sprints, an agile kanban process will likely apply the time-bound urgency of the agile methodology to a kanban project.
One of kanban’s key contributions is the kanban board, a visual representation of work in progress that uses individual cards to represent deliverables. As the deliverable progresses through a workflow, cards move from left to right on the board. A kanban board tracking the process of writing and approving blog copy might have five columns, for example. Organized from left to right, they may read:
- Topic approved
- Copy in development
- Copy in review
- Copy in revision
- Copy approved
As individual projects progress from start to final approval, team members will move cards from left to right on a physical board (or digital tool). This visualization method can help project teams track progress and identify when and where a process is getting stuck. It can also help teams manage workflows—if you set up your kanban board so that one column represents one person’s tasks, a quick glance can tell you which of your team members is overloaded.
Like scrum, kanban defines and sets parameters around meeting types and frequency. Kanban meetings include the following:
- The kick-off meeting initiates the project.
- Daily stand-ups check in on work in progress.
- The delivery meeting plans for project delivery.
- The post-project retrospective reflects on the process and identifies areas for improvement. Teams review key performance indicators and any available customer feedback—keeping in mind that for marketing projects, “customers” are likely to be internal.
4 benefits of agile marketing
Many modern marketing processes move fast, gather data, and pivot according to findings—all practices supported by the agile framework. Here’s an overview of the benefits of agile processes for marketing teams.
1. Quick results
Creating discrete, time-bound project teams can help your employees focus on one goal and efficiently deliver the desired outcome—there’s no getting distracted by competing priorities.
2. Quality outcomes
Agile projects are relatively small in scope. Because each team is focused on a single goal, they’ll deliver the best possible solution given available resources.
3. Ongoing learning
By breaking large projects down into discrete units, agile marketing processes create built-in checkpoints and facilitate customer-focused collaboration. Both scrum and kanban methodologies also require reflection on workflow processes. These frequent feedback cycles can help your team continue to improve both products and collaborative processes.
Agile marketers expect constant changes in process and direction. This mindset can help businesses quickly pivot based on marketplace changes, giving agile companies a competitive advantage over less nimble organizations. While traditional marketing teams might struggle to shift direction during a global pandemic, for example, an agile marketing team can quickly redirect using familiar workflow processes.
4 tips for implementing agile marketing within your business
Agile marketing is popular with large companies for a reason: It delivers results. The agile framework, however, can offer benefits for businesses of all sizes. Here are five tips for implementing an agile marketing process in your business.
1. Know your goals
First, ask yourself why you are considering agile marketing implementation. How does it align with your core values and strategic vision? What are the current strengths and weaknesses of your marketing processes and products, and how might an agile marketing process fill in the gaps?
2. Prep your team
If you’re a business owner, discuss implementing agile marking with senior marketing leaders or the head of your marketing department. Present the benefits of applying the agile framework to marketing work and your motivation for implementing the framework. Then give them time to think about it, and solicit feedback before moving forward.
3. Embrace the mindset
The agile mindset is perhaps the most flexible and scalable part of the agile framework. Essentially, it is a commitment to the five core values expressed in the agile marketing manifesto. The agile mindset emphasizes collaboration, quality, efficiency, humility, and flexibility. Agile leaders seek frequent feedback, devalue hierarchies, and adapt to changing conditions.
4. Keep what works, toss what doesn’t
You can use the agile mindset to implement agile marketing processes in your business, adapt the agile framework to suit your needs, or even move away from agile altogether.
For example, let’s say that you test a marketing campaign using the agile process and a scrum project management framework. The deliverables are solid, but during the team retrospective, you learn that your team felt rushed and panicky and struggled to collaborate. Your web developer also tells you that the two-week sprint has put them behind on other projects.
In this case, you might use an agile mindset to modify the agile process to suit your team, perhaps deciding to only assemble agile project teams when each team member can commit fully to the sprint without falling behind on other responsibilities. Seek frequent feedback and prioritize flexibility over commitment to a static plan to customize the agile methodology for your team.
Agile marketing FAQ
How does agile marketing encourage continuous learning and improvement?
The agile framework emphasizes cross-functional collaboration, frequent feedback, and responsiveness to data. It also breaks work into small, time-bound projects, transforming marketing teams into nimble tactical units with built-in checkpoints designed to encourage reflection and prompt changes.
How does data play a role in agile marketing decision-making?
At the end of any agile project, agile project teams regroup to review results. For marketing teams, this typically means evaluating marketing metrics and key performance indicators and soliciting feedback from key internal stakeholders. This data is applied to the next project cycle.
How can businesses measure the success of their agile marketing campaigns?
Frequent measurement is built into the agile process. Project teams review marketing metrics at the end of every project cycle, and marketing leaders can use these metrics to monitor individual campaign success.