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The BIG Bright Podcast! Fail fast: is the future of marketing agile?

In our recent episode, we spoke to our Digital Marketing Manager, Briony Storer about Agile Marketing and how it could benefit marketing teams across the globe - especially in Tech. Here’s what she had to say...

 

I’m the Digital Marketing Manager at Bright, so I work across a variety of online channels to meet our business targets. I’m a bit of a professional geek and for me marketing is an interesting blend of strategy, psychology, design, tech and commerciality. Keeps life interesting!

My working day can change rapidly. I could be working with the sales team on campaigns, with an agency on how to evolve our brand design online, doing testing another day or looking at different global markets the next. 

I noticed a few years ago that Agile Marketing was a term that was being thrown around the marketing community. Maybe because I’ve always worked with developers and product managers who use agile, the term was vaguely familiar. But in the marketing community it seemed to be divisive; with people either praising it as the future of marketing and others claiming it was an excuse to do lazy marketing. 

I’ll be honest, I kind of ignored a lot of the conversation until it’s either come from above as a mandate - ‘we’re doing agile now’ or slowly, where suddenly the word ‘plan’ has become something you should only whisper very, very quietly.

Bright is a SaaS company - we create software and much of the company is made up of developers who work in an agile way. We are a small team, so we need to work as joined up as possible. If they work agile, we should at least understand what it is and what it means for our colleagues. 

You only moved to Brighton a year ago - how are you finding it? 

Wet? Windy? Constantly intimidated by seagulls?

It’s been great; it’s such a bizarre place - I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. The amount of restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and independent shops is crazy, but then it’s also really small, but there is so much going on at all times! I’ve realised that when I see something that is a little bit odd, I just start using the phrase - ‘only in Brighton’. Unless I see more 19 year olds with frosted tips. It wasn’t ok in the 90s and early 2000s and it’s not ok now. I’m from a place that’s so far from the sea, so it’s nearly a year and I still get excited by the seafront. 

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Photo by Victoria Alexander on Unsplash

We’re here to chat about your thoughts on how agile practises can be used within marketing, but could you begin by explaining to us what the concept of agile is and where it originated from?

Fundamentally, agile is a software methodology. Simply a way to deliver software quickly by talking to your customer, understanding their needs and building things in iterations in a ‘test and learn’ approach. There are lots of different ways of doing it (dependent upon your company, industry, the individuals involved etc.) but basically the idea is to avoid spending months building something so big that when you launch it, you’ve lost sight of the original objective or that things have changed and the outcome is not solving the problem. 

The concept of working ‘agile’ has made waves within the tech industry and when done properly has shown huge cost savings and better builds for the client. With this in mind, it makes sense to glean inspiration from these concepts and apply it to different parts of a business, including marketing.

However, it doesn’t always work. And why should it? You can't just say ‘we’re doing agile now’ and expect it to work. It makes sense in the tech industry, right? You have new tech appearing all the time, customers expect more and more from the tools they use. It’s a methodology that was built for the tech industry, which makes sense - but you can’t just lift and shift and expect it to work in finance or marketing or HR etc without some serious thought. 

It doesn’t mean we can’t take some of its underlying principles and apply those to different disciplines. There are some really interesting things that you can lift from agile for marketing.

So how can Agile be adapted to work for marketing?

I’ve heard people say that agile marketing is the answer to everything and others talking about it being the death of planned, strategic marketing. So which (if either) are right?

I feel that some of the key parts of agile are already what we do in marketing - we talk to our customers, we listen to what they say, we pay attention to the market and shift our focus or take advantage of changes that may happen quickly. Many of our digital channels are fundamentally focused on constant testing and learning. These are all things that underpin agile marketing. 

The difficulty is when you get a group of people who use it as a way to focus only on the 1% gains and call it ‘agile’. Let’s just be clear - doing agile marketing is not an excuse to do lazy marketing that focuses on the immediate at all times without strategy or a long term plan. 

Agile has a plan! Sure they may not want to call it that, but it’s still a plan as marketers know it. You have ‘stories’ - ideas about what you’re trying to achieve for your customer or user. And you build your iterations based upon this. From a marketing perspective, it’s about taking these principles and applying it.

Some concepts from the agile manifesto that are really relevant to marketing include:

  • Motivated, self-organised teams with complete ownership to satisfy a goal
  • Listening to customers and iterating based on that
  • Harnessing change for competitive advantage
  • Conveying information well to your team
  • Constant evaluation and improvement

In fairness, I think a lot of these things marketing already does.

So for example, here at Bright, we have Monday morning meetings. Marketing, Sales and our onboarding team sit in a room and we look at two things: our current performance and our team objectives. From here, we get to have a discussion about the big planned things as well as examining our discussing work or campaigns that we have done or need to do as a reaction to the numbers, as well 

So we’ve got all the people in the room that need to be there. We are a self organised team who have absolute ability to make decisions and plan, create and evaluate and review. We leave egos at the doors and respect each other's skill sets, but aren’t afraid to challenge or suggest something different. We have shared goals to achieve specific tasks throughout the week and we all jump on board to help (which means we all get to try and flex different skill sets as well), and we all know how they relate to long term goals as well. We have retrospectives where we discuss not just activities and how well they’ve gone, but also discuss how we work together and communicate. We don’t do standups, but that’s because we sit together as a pod, so we talk all the time anyway. We tried it and we all just stood there vaguely confused. 

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There is an idea of embracing failure within agile marketing, this is probably quite an alien concept to most marketing managers - do you have any personal examples of how you tackled this?

So many! I think there is a huge fear in the industry to be ‘wrong’. I believe marketing can be strategic and commercial, but I’ve always ended up having to try to convince other teams that marketing isn’t just about ‘colouring in’. So I think because I’ve seen so many examples of where marketing is almost having to prove themselves commercially viable, that if you say a campaign hasn’t worked there is this huge fear that it’s somehow a representation that marketing doesn’t work, rather than a multitude of reasons as to why something specific hasn’t worked.

This is where agile is quite a nice concept if you can get people to buy in. But then perhaps we’re not positioning ourselves right at all. Maybe we should start being confident in what we do as an industry. The important thing is that none of the ‘failures’ I’ve had were huge and I don’t feel bad about it! For example, a failure could be something as simple as A/B testing and one option completely bombing. But it’s a valuable lesson in what your customer reacts to.

Agile Marketing is a term that is often spoken about in a top level way - but we’d love to drill down and get an example of a well known company and campaign who you feel do agile well.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I know of any company doing it or doing it well - at least if they are, they’re not really shouting about it within the marketing industry.

SEMRush mentioned at BrightonSEO that employing Agile Marketing techniques helped them gain 500k users in 8 months. They claimed that the focus was that leadership set out what needed to be done, but the teams had complete autonomy as to how to do it. This then created high levels of engagement from the teams and also meant they worked hard to ensure their communication was spot on - using daily standups to build rapport in their teams. SEMrush, being primarily a tech based company, are probably very well suited to this. Digital techniques are often quite suited to this. 

Back in 2017 there was an article about Santander who were testing out small low risk campaigns rather than lengthy ones. So I think it’s interesting how both of these companies have incorporated agile.

Can you give us your Top 5 tips to working in a more agile way? 

  1. If you’re not already talking to your customers, (if you’re not, why on earth not?!) make sure to put a plan in action to speak to your customers - perhaps with online surveys, social media or just plain old-fashioned phone calls!
  2. Leave your ego at the door and build trust. If you get the right people in the room, don’t let the HIPPOS spoil a good working project. If you are trying to work agile and you know when you leave the room a senior person might change their minds and overwrite all your hard work then the whole of this idea collapses.
  3. Practise retrospectives - go over what has worked and what hasn’t, learn from things working as well as for things not working. Try to get over this fear that failure is a bad thing. The way to do that is by talking, examining outcomes and avoiding blame culture. 

If you’d like to hear more from Briony you can listen to the whole podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts or check out our other episodes!

Emma Pryke
Written by Emma Pryke

With a love for words and a head for marketing, Emma works with the team at Bright to create content that is *gasp* not just about Digital Asset Management! You’ll hear her voice on the Big Bright Podcast and she’s always keen to speak to our clients to get the scoop on what's going on their world. If you have a story for us about the incredible images in your Asset Bank just let her know!