An Agile Marketing Agency Model - Jeff Julian on the Marketing Agility Podcast

Posted 5/18/2016 7:36 AM by Krista Poore

Just a couple of weeks ago Jeff was asked to share his expertise on Agile Marketing with the hosts of the Agile Marketing Blog, Frank Days and Roland Smith. They frequently interview thought leaders in the world of Agile Marketing and Jeff was one of their most recent guests. The following are highlights from their conversation:

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BACK IN THE DAY

Jeff’s career has taken a few shifts, the biggest of which was moving from the technology/software world into the marketing world. He began as an “annoying smart kid” at the age of 17 with writing on a public blog hosted by Microsoft. After a few arguments, his content was removed and so he did what any young kid would do; he created his own blog engine, geekswithblogs.net, and garnered the attention of 4,000+ technology bloggers over the next 10 years. From maintaining the website Jeff discovered what he really enjoyed was building the community, thought leadership, and helping others create content with a unique voice.

For over 15 years, Jeff has used the Agile process daily in software development as well as in his home! He’s married to a Scrum Master and they frequently use Scrum Boards to plan for vacations and other household tasks. For his family and company, Agile is paramount because it breaks everything up into fine tasks, with estimates, allowing the creation of a rhythm. As time and his career progressed Jeff continued on into marketing where there was more concern for the audience. There was also a general shift in the workplace with website management and design moving from IT departments to Marketing teams. With the shift, Jeff decided that in order to really empathize with marketers, he needed to be one; so he “put up the 1s and 0s [of software development] and put on the marketing hat”.

NOW IN 2016

Now he is the CMO for AJi Software, a team of 13 that services the Midwest region. Something unique about AJi is the business model. Where you would typically consider these services as a “consultancy” AJi is a blend of that and an agency. Jeff used the analogy of Fix it Felix to describe the fact that our team brokers the relationship between IT and Marketing teams in order to advance technology and drive customer experience. Using a sprint-based pricing model opposed to a time and materials approach offers more consistency and flexibility in regards to which tasks are higher/lower priority, as well as consistency in pricing.

“The approach we take with Agile is really dependent on the client we are engaging with,” Jeff explains. “For example, if it’s an engineering team, odds are we will work with a Scrum process straight out of the box.” Jeff’s main concern with tailoring the process is that he doesn’t want to pull any element out without having an understanding of why (which is often uncovered during the retrospective meetings).

Jeff continues, “With content teams we often start earlier with personas, mission, backlog and prioritization then we jump to estimation. The degree of flexibility with this process often depends on the level of understanding a team has for the Agile process. The more familiar, the closer the team may be to a Kanban method.” The issue with this though, is that often the items will make it through the different swim lanes, but never become shippable because new ideas and tasks are always added. On the other hand, those who are just beginning to understand may pick a few elements to incorporate and then as they mature, continue to add more.

CHALLENGES FACED WITH AGILE

The overall challenge with the process is that it has been limited to software development. Agile marketing tools aren’t as evolved as they should be, like JIRA. It was built for software developers and is somewhat cumbersome, so the transition from paper to software has been a big hurdle. Another challenge for many teams starting out is the level of meetings for traditional scrum. Most marketers have not been keen on the idea of more meetings, and so we needed and need to continue showing the benefits of having the daily standup meeting and cross-functional teams.

Recently Jeff published a book,  Agile Marketing: Building Endurance for Your Content Marketing Team and used a real life running example to describe what endurance means in the Agile Marketing world. Often teams think about campaigns. They go out and sprint really fast, but in a marathon they need to set a good pace and have some training before. This is what they haven’t understood, so essentially they run too fast and burn out. “It’s like running a mile for the first time; if you start running as fast as you can, by the time you have to slow down to a walk, you’ll still be able to see your front door” Jeff explained. Most teams will try 1-2 sprints and be frustrated that it “didn’t work” when in reality, they ran too fast.  

Agile for many new teams can be intimidating because it seems too prescriptive and rules based. The best way to begin is to strip it down and start small. Then you can add elements back slowly like personas, because if that is the only element implemented – when not based on made up data – customer satisfaction will go way up (one of the #1 tenants of Agile). You don’t have to start at level 10, work towards it.

THE CONTENT STORY

Randy and Frank expressed that many marketers they talk to struggle with writing these. There’s the question of what context, what content, and how detailed? Jeff attended a lecture in 2004 where Mike Cohan addressed writing the User Story, which consisted of the persona, their problem, and a resolution. This is really tailored toward software development so we needed to tailor it for content. Jeff’s book speaks to writing the Content Story and he uses the same approach (persona, problem and goal). The main goal for marketers is to understand content management systems, what value they are going to deliver to the audience, and how to measure if it’s valuable.  

“What we do is create acceptance criteria to determine how we will demonstrate value. This is a list of specific ways to meet the criteria.  Once we have defined the story and acceptance criteria we find that the team will deliver very similar results when alone and together,” shares Jeff. Having a cross-functional team means everyone is on the same page and able to divvy up the tasks, pulling them into a bigger piece at the end. The only way to accomplish this is to know the emotions and value options presented in the content, and the plan to do it.

UPCOMING SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

Jeff and Andrea Fryrear just spoke at Intelligent Content Conference and will be speaking together in Las Vegas this May at Content Marketing Conference, and then again at Content Marketing World. Jeff is also presenting at several Agile Marketing Workshops hosted by AJi in Denver and Kansas City, as well as authoring a second book.