Agile methods are being increasingly adopted by marketing departments who recognize the need to become more dynamic and responsive in today’s fluid digital landscape. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with Agile, the subject matter available online for this topic is already inundated with jargon and vague claims that Agile will help you improve your productivity, without many details on the practical aspects of implementation.
Agile has never been a cure-all panacea, and viewing it in this manner is destructive. However, if you can manage to dodge the endless stream of buzzwords, you might find that agile is exactly the solution you need. Or, maybe you won’t. You won’t know until you try, but even a failed transformation will encourage new ideas and help your team to grow.
Disclaimer: not all online materials regarding Agile marketing are filled with buzzwords and shallow content. Check out these articles from PWC, Flite Agile Marketing, and David Baddock for some additional perspectives.
Scrum it up:
- Hold daily Scrum meetings so that your team can share what they did yesterday, what they’ll do today, and discuss any blockers they may have.
- Experiment with working in sprints (2-4 week iterations of highly-focused work). But, if your marketing team is small, make sure you don’t neglect work items outside the scope of your sprint. You have a lot of ground to cover.
- Establish sprint reviews to discuss what was accomplished during the latest iteration with colleagues and stakeholders. Explain your current campaigns, review metrics, and secure internal feedback.
- Establish regular retrospectives where your marketing team can talk among themselves about how the last iteration went, discuss team morale, review the current agenda, and make plans to improve.
Kanbanize your work:
- Establish a Kanban board with a backlog of work and custom swimlanes (to-do, planned, in-progress, rejected, done, etc.) that reflect your process. Make sure your board is readily available online for any remote workers. Transparency and open communication are vital.
- Experiment with using WIP (work-in-progress) limits to maintain quality and focus. Multi-tasking is a myth.
- Every time you move a card further into the workflow, circle back and try to think about the item from the point of view of your target demographic.
- Consider making it required for team members to leave a comment on work items every time they advance it further into the workflow. This is not for the purpose of documenting work for management. It should be an introspective practice to help each team member stop and reflect on the item. Marketers tend to be in a rush, which leaves room for mistakes.
- Use visual encoding to make your board easier to comprehend. Color code according by responsible person, task category (social media, blog posts, SEO), or level of work (Task, User Story, Epic).
- Planning your work to deliver “just-in-time” can help you to avoid the pitfalls of Parkinson’s Law (i.e. work expands to fill the amount of time allotted to complete it).
- On the same token, when you make estimates, make sure you give yourself some extra time for securing feedback from colleagues.
- Don’t let “almost done” work items pile up. Prioritize the items that deliver real value, produce an MVP (minimum viable product), share it with team members for feedback, refine the work, and finish the task.
Test, measure, repeat:
- Focus on small iterations and actionable new ideas over “big-splash” campaigns and unrealistic goals.
- Actively test new strategies, stick with what works, and repeat the process
- Fail faster. Don’t be afraid to drop a tactic that’s not working, no matter how much effort has already been put in.
- Never miss a chance to gather metrics on your campaigns. Using tools like Google’s URL Builder can help you measure what links are driving the most traffic to your website. Google Analytics (or some form of it) is an absolute must.
- Data’s useless if it you can’t understand it. Make sure you take the time to properly analyze it. Consider using a data visualization software, such as Vizydrop (our free side-product, also integrated with Targetprocess) or Tableau (a great SaaS product with 14 day free trial).
Facilitate collaboration and feedback:
- Establish an internal communication channel for feedback and suggestions. Use this channel to encourage employee engagement on important social media posts to increase post reach and demonstrate brand community to your audience.
- Make it easy for colleagues to contribute their thoughts to your brand. Get in the habit of asking for blog posts from other departments. Initiate conversations with quiet team members to get their perspective.
- Establish a practice of bringing in one member from another team every week to contribute their ideas to your campaigns. You’d be surprised how many good ideas people keep to themselves, and it’s enormously helpful to get insight from a domain outside of your own.
- Add a feedback widget to your online content. A simple “Was this article helpful?” can go a long way to securing metrics on what was most effective, and what areas need improvement.
- As a marketer, you shouldn’t be managing social media, but rather facilitating it. Do what you can to make social media an organic process that everyone contributes to. Consider holding an internal workshop to establish guidelines.
- If possible, integrate your social media channels with your internal communication tool. Create a public channel where all posts will appear so that everyone in the company can contribute.
Take and manage risks:
- Establish a rotating Risk Management role. Assign one person per month to dedicate some of their time to actively seeking out new risks (threats and opportunities). Have this individual act as a devil’s advocate (see “10th man rule”) during meetings. This role can reduce the potential for groupthink and help your team stay responsive without damaging their focus. It will also help your team members grow their personal perspective.
- Give your team the freedom to try new things. You’ll never get ahead of the competition by sticking with strategies you read on LinkedIn. Don’t copy innovation; be the innovation. If you fail, it’s no big deal; at least you learned.
- Experiment on social media. A post that goes through two management gateways before being approved probably won't push anyone's buttons or make you stand out. Copying the style of competitors is similarly safe, but will leave your brand looking average at best. Don't be afraid to try new social channels and tinker with your brand voice.
Stop working so hard:
- You can’t expect your audience to enjoy your content if you don’t even enjoy creating it. Make sure your team is happy with their jobs, and comfortable with the domain.
- At Targetprocess, we use Orange Time (optional time to work on self-education and side projects) to encourage employees to stay engaged at work and learn how to do their jobs better.
- Eliminate Muri (excessively hard work) from your routine. If there are some necessary tasks which your team finds excessively difficult, try approaching the work from a different angle, or use Orange Time to learn how to better facilitate the tasks.
- Measure your working habits, and try new personal strategies. I personally lose focus during the last hour of the work day. I no longer try to do difficult tasks during this window. Instead, I use this time for education, drafting tomorrow’s social media posts, and connecting with colleagues.
How to change your culture
Agile is not about what tool you use or what framework you adhere to; it’s almost wholly about your mindset and culture. Agile transformations need to happen both in the minds of your team members and in the actions of your management hierarchy. Changing the way people think is a monumental task, but there are some themes you can use to encourage this mental shift.
Focus on delivering value:
Many marketers have an unhealthy obsession with lead generation. Website traffic is driven by constant visibility via content marketing, social media, and good-old-fashioned spam. Of course, lead generation is vital for any business, but developing tunnel vision for this activity is dangerous. These lead-generation methods will not lose their relevance anytime soon, but the motivation behind executing them should revolve around delivering value.
Take some inspiration from journalism: deliver valuable information to your audience and empower them to make the best possible decision in order to make them feel like valued members of your brand community. Demonstrate the value of your product by delivering some of that value through your campaigns.
Encourage freedom, responsibility, and trust:
If your company has a solid culture of trust, giving employees more freedom will enable them to be more responsible. For example: you might not like the fact that your employees use Facebook at work, but you probably won’t get upset when they respond to a late night message on your company’s social channels.
As Michael Dubakov said in his his recent article on the future of Targetprocess: "A culture of trust in your company will slowly return a person’s trust in themselves, encouraging them to experiment and make mistakes."
If you can trust your team to be responsible, give them the freedom to work in the way that works best for them. Without this trust, freedom has the potential to backfire, so make sure you’re honest with yourself about the state of your company culture.
Pitfalls to avoid
- Lack of trust between team members
- Lack of shared vision
- Lack of transparency and communication
- Securing metrics but not using them
- Disregarding feedback and metrics in favor of your "gut instinct"
- Assuming that your management tool or process will guide the transformation for you
These are just my personal thoughts on how to bring an Agile mindset to your marketing and public relations campaigns. If you have any strategies of your own, I'd love to hear them in the comments.