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The advent of mobile technologies and an ever-increasing number of customer touchpoints have had a drastic impact on how businesses interact with their customers.
Marketers no longer have the luxury of spending months working on a single campaign or project, and must instead innovate and respond quickly to evolving customer needs.
As a result, many businesses have adopted the concept of agility that’s more commonly associated with software development. This allows them to place a greater focus on the consumer and revenue goals rather than sticking rigidly to a pre-defined marketing plan.
This is a strategy that's discussed in the new Econsultancy Top 100 Digital Agencies Report, and one that I'll investigate in further detail in this article.
A survey of businesses and agencies by Econsultancy/Monetate published earlier this year found that businesses consider an improved customer experience to be the main benefit of real-time marketing.
Improved conversion rates and customer retention were also cited as key benefits, however there remains a significant proportion of companies that are yet to adopt real-time marketing as part of their strategy.
Only around half of company respondents (53%) currently use real-time marketing in digital channels (e.g. web, email, display, search), while 45% use it for real-time personal responses on social networks.
Do you or your clients currently employ any of the following?
While there are differences between real-time and agile marketing, it does show that businesses are aware that there are victories to be won by taking a more responsive, customer-focused approach.
Agility can also lead to cost-savings, especially when a potentially huge amount of money needs to be invested for transformation.
Companies are beginning to move towards smaller, iterative or repeat projects rather than the more traditional method of ploughing all their resources into a single platform or campaign.
This is because agile concepts stipulate that marketers should test rapid iterations that don’t require such a huge investment in time and money, which therefore lowers the risks involved in a major ‘big bang’ rollout.
These smaller experiments also mean that decisions on how projects develop can be based on testing and data instead of relying on opinions and conventions.
It also means that marketing teams aren’t slaves to a predetermined transformation plan and can instead respond to situations as they occur.
Ultimately this will lead to cost savings because investments are made in smaller increments and the removal of ego from the decision-making process will lead to fewer marketing disasters.
One tweet doesn’t make a summer
Agile marketing often gets associated with snappy responses on social media, but it’s actually a far-reaching practice that requires a fundamental shift in the way that a business operates.
It’s easy to give someone the freedom to post quirky tweets, but do they have the ability and the resources necessary to react to larger opportunities that could have a real impact on the brand image and the customer experience?
To put this in perspective, consider once more the much-referenced tweet sent by Oreo during the Super Bowl. People in the marketing world love talking about it, but aside from a huge number of retweets did it have any lasting impact on people’s perception of the brand?
Oreo should still be applauded for having its marketing team ready to go outside of normal working hours, however a single funny tweet does not constitute agile marketing.
Power out? No problem. pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) February 4, 2013
Compare this to the #nomakeupselfie phenomenon, which started as a user-generated meme that Cancer Research successfully turned into a hugely profitable fundraising campaign.
The trend began with posts from women wearing no make-up, who then nominated their Facebook friends to do the same. It was essentially a social chain letter that was designed to raise awareness of breast cancer.
Cancer Research wasn’t the only charity to benefit from the initiative, but it did become the organisation most closely associated with the #nomakeupselfie trend and eventually raised more than £8m in just six days, thanks to its ability to react and take advantage of this unexpected turn of events:
- The team spotted the trend out of hours because it had the monitoring technology and team rota in place.
- It set up a text donation mechanic within a day because it saw the mobile opportunity.
- It started bidding on paid search to drive more traffic after noticing the opportunity thanks to analysis of search data.
- It had the governance processes in place so that decisions could be made quickly.
- Cancer Research’s content team was able to publish blog posts quickly in response to questions on social media, thereby ensuring there weren’t any information gaps.
The charity was only able to respond to events in this way as it had an agile framework and processes in place.
How to become truly agile
It’s slightly ironic that planning, frameworks and structural changes are required if a business is to become agile.
As mentioned, an effective transformation plan requires fundamental changes to the culture and structure of the marketing team to ensure that it has both the skills and resources necessary to be truly agile.
It starts with having the right blend of multi-disciplined people who are able to efficiently create and implement their own ideas.
This requires a mix of content, design and tech skills from people working closely together, not sat in separate departments answering to different bosses.
Agility also relies on empowering staff with the confidence to use their initiative in the knowledge that their ideas will be respected, discussed and potentially implemented.
Similarly people shouldn’t be dragged over the coals for ideas that fail to take off – instead it should be seen as a learning experience and the data accumulated utilised to optimise future projects.
This may be one of the biggest challenges for companies with a strict hierarchy, however it’s absolutely necessary and has benefits beyond simply allowing staff to respond more quickly to consumers.
For one, it fosters accountability as people are more inclined to take responsibility for their own ideas and go to greater efforts to ensure that they succeed.
Agile marketing can also lead to increased employee satisfaction, as people take more pride in their work as a result of feeling more empowered and enjoying greater clarity in how their role impacts the business goals.
Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein advocates daily stand-up meetings, which are commonly used in agile software development.
These are daily team meetings where everyone has to stand up, to keep the meeting short, and say what they did yesterday and what they are doing today.
As well as fostering accountability and transparency, it helps to identify blockages in productivity.
Another agile business process is the use of Kanban boards, which help teams visualise their workflow using Post-It notes.
It allows teams to prioritise their workload and see what is coming up, what is in progress and what has been completed.
Injecting a startup mentality into a major organisation isn’t easy, but it’s necessary if marketing departments are to become agile and responsive to customer needs.
Data is king
One of the central tenets of agile marketing is the use of data to make informed decisions.
A process of setting campaigns live quickly, then iterating based on analytics and user feedback reduces the likelihood of major errors and wasteful decisions.
The idea is to run several small tests, then optimise and test again before scaling up.
This means KPIs need to be decided ahead of time and aligned with business goals so all decisions are commercially driven.
Marketers can only be agile if they know what they’re working towards, otherwise there’s no clear pathway or incentive to alter course as campaigns evolve and situations change.
An example of this can be found in Ryanair’s process for creating a new website, which is part of a much larger initiative to put digital at the centre of its marketing and customer experience efforts.
Ryanair's new website is being built using agile principles
CMO Kenny Jacobs said his team hold daily meetings to discuss various site metrics and address any anomalies that have appeared in user data.
Bigger development projects are then discussed in more depth at regular weekly and monthly meetings.
This move away from massive site builds to a gradual rollout means problems occur on a smaller scale and can quickly be ironed out before they become a major issue.
However this is only possible if the team is aware of its KPIs and is tracking user data.
If marketing teams can be made to adopt the same agile principles to bring them in line with software developers, then businesses will be in a much stronger position to satisfy the evolving expectations of digital consumers.