The days of fixed annual marketing plans and long runways to launch are behind us. The average CMO tenure is about 3 ½ years—within that you have maybe 1-2 strategic planning cycles to make your mark. You must adopt an agile marketing mindset to use them to their fullest.
What is agile marketing? It’s getting to market quickly, testing and learning, and iterating or scaling to maximize effectiveness. I recently attended a Gartner conference in which the ability to pilot was reiterated time and time again as a critical component of the modern marketer’s toolkit. Whether it’s selecting a singular market, bringing in a few early champions within your organization to try out a new process, or other, it’s never been easier to test a hypothesis and show early results—whether to prove effectiveness to internal executive stakeholders or to help you disprove incorrect hypotheses and form new ones. Marketing organizations must always be learning, drawing new insights, imagining possibilities and creating greater outcomes for customers and the organization.
The need to be nimble is also driving the way marketers engage with agencies. Many organizations are looking to agencies to provide skill sets not core to the team (44% cited expertise as a top reason for engaging an agency), as well as to quickly scale as needs or opportunities emerge—without being locked into permanent overhead of staff that doesn’t suit a longer-term need. (In the same survey, 42% also cited flexibility and 42% cited ability to fill short-term gaps.)
One trend mentioned, which we’ve also been seeing as an agency, is movement towards a hybrid model, in which an agency is embedded part-time, on-site with the client. This can allow for more close-knit collaboration and a deeper understanding of your organization’s processes or needs, while still providing the agency enough autonomy and distance to provide fresh, outside perspective.
For those not naturally disposed to an agile mindset, here are a few quick recommendations:
Know your ultimate destination and be open to different paths there.
While some organizations have entirely eschewed annual planning in favor or quarterly campaigns, the sweet spot between long- and short-terms lays somewhere in the middle. If you don’t take the time to lay out long term goals, you risk falling victim to “shiny object” syndrome.
On the flipside, if you are too rigidly committed to a particular approach plan, you may miss better opportunities and waste valuable resources along the way. And as a follow-up, communicate early and often with your team to ensure they understand the strategic vision too.
Build trust and empower your team.
By nature, we humans like consistency and fear change. Trust is essential in agile marketing. The team must build trust in each other, and in you. Make it known that failure is okay as long as they’re failing fast and taking away key insights to effectively pivot.
And ensure they are empowered to make decisions without always having to go through a chain of command—a sure way to slow things down. Lay out clear guidelines for the kinds of things they can manage entirely, and at what milestones you require check-ins or the ability to provide approvals or feedback.
Work your team’s agility muscle.
It’s very likely you have at least a few folks on your team to whom an “agile mindset” doesn’t come naturally. Consider weekly or bi-weekly exercises that force them to think on their feet or to change their approach mid-stream.
We actually did a form of this at a recent team meeting, in which the leader set up the following scenario:
“Assume you’re in an empty room and there’s a full glass of water on the table. Name all the ways you could empty that glass of water without touching it.” (Cue all the traditional answers around moving or breaking the table, throwing a rock at the glass, etc.)
Then he challenged the group to think a little deeper. People began offering up suggestions to heat the room to evaporate the water, or to make it cold enough to turn to ice, etc.
But the answers became even more interesting when he said, “You are not bound by the laws of reality. I never said this room was on Earth, or that you had to do it by yourself, or really that there were any rules at all.”
It may seem silly but exercises like these can get people to think on their feet, build on each other’s ideas and break down the traditional ideas around what’s possible. This sort of thinking lends itself to a strong agile team.
Agile may feel like a buzzword, but it’s not a fad. Ensure you and your team are equipped with the right tools, processes and skill sets to avoid stagnation and capitalize on opportunity.