4 Things Agile Marketing Does Not Guarantee

Posted 9/2/2015 11:09 AM by Jeff Julian

It was a great time for agile content back in the early 2000s when I was first adopting agile software development.  The folks who developed the Agile Manifesto were the first to write books, blog and create articles in trade magazines.  They were real evangelists who brought the good news of a better way to write software. 

These times changed over the next few years.  People tried the process and found it to be too difficult for them as described and did something else that worked for them.  Shortly after that point, they wanted to blog as well and started to describe their process as better.  Quickly the search engines picked up the content and it became confusing what the definition and intent of agile was.  The thought leaders rallied the troops and did their best to respond with an accurate message.

Then the absolute worst thing happened, agile became a buzzword.  Oh no!  We were “synergizing” our way into being “agile”.  Thank God the term “Big Data” wasn’t around to join the fun.  Once the term was familiar enough to have an entourage, it became really confusing what it meant.  Agile was understood as a way to be faster but inside the agile mindset, maybe fast is the problem you are addressing.  Agile was described as not needing a plan. Just get to work right way with these tools, but if anything, being agile means you have a better grip on the plan than ever before. 

Nothing New Under the Sun

So now we are coming to the end of the initial honeymoon phase of Agile Marketing and people are starting to use the term more and more.  The exact same patterns are developing, people are writing content about the term Agile Marketing that is not entirely accurate.

In this massive content game of telephone, writers are learning from writers who learn from writers and the practice gets lost in the translation.  This is an epidemic in content and it stems from the desire to produce more that is relevant.  To be relevant, your content also needs to be timely.  To be timely, you typically need to talk about trends that are current and “in vogue.”  So we get heads down and start typing our little hearts away without doing an ounce of research on the topics we are presenting content on.  We are chasing the wind trying to catch a ride and our goal is to be like the others who have “made it” with their content. 

One significant flaw in this approach is the fact that those who have made it, did so by having a deep well of information and massive amounts of time to do research.  They found their niche and continued to talk over and over about the topic while sharing insights along the way.  When what they were talking about gained the status of being a favorite topic, they leveled up to the place of a thought leader. 

So when you talk about a niche, like Agile Marketing, you are doing so without the same depth of information.  Then in the attempt to present your topic as relevant, you smash this term with another and propose it as a point of conversation.  A large number of examples can be found with easy search results around “Agile Marketing” and “Social Media”.

All significant terms in marketing follow this same pattern: Content Marketing, Email Marketing, Customer Personas, Customer Journey and Experience Marketing.  So what can you do if you find yourself in this pattern?  Learn more about a particular subject, your niche.  Do research and continue to produce content on that same topic over and over.  As you build an audience and if your content is good, they will start to consume it regularly, share it with friends and place their trust in you as a thought leader.  Then you will be at the spot you wanted to be in the first place but it will be based on your hard work and consistency, not your ability to latch on to what is popular and ride the wave.

4 Things Agile Marketing Does Not Guarantee

Based on my review of the positioning that the term Agile Marketing, there are several broken promises being made directly or through suggestion based on outcomes. Here are 4 broken promises you want to steer clear of when adopting Agile Marketing.

  • Agile Means Fast – Agile means fast is a very common outcome most people proclaim because it is a great metric.  However, speed may be the one thing that is keeping your content from being relevant.  Rarely have I coached marketing teams and found their people were not producing fast enough.  In fact, most times I really think they need to slow it down a bit.  While it’s true, there may be some speed benefit by being agile, the goal is to produce content that meets your customers’ needs while maintaining frequent deliveries you can accomplish at a sustainable pace.  The three driving factors of that statement acts as a check and balance system to your overall speed.  Aim for more deliveries and you sacrifice the sustainability of your team and/or the ability to meet the needs of the audience.  The best approach is to find what speed your team can perform at comfortably before determining if being agile gained any speed of delivery.
  • Agile Means Less Red Tape - Recently I heard someone mention in a video their company was purchased by a larger company but they were able to escape the time to production that plagues enterprise marketing teams by being agile. During the interview, the guest stated his team doesn’t have all the processes the parent organization has, so his group can get content to their customers faster by being agile.  Anytime you are doing a process assessment for your team, consider why those extra steps are there.  We often forget the reason for their existence and just find them silly or irrelevant.  Then three months down the road, we face the problems they were there to protect us from.  I am 100% for removing procedures that are only there for status reporting or to allow an individual’s ego to feel control but some in-depth consideration should be placed on the benefits and weaknesses of the procedure.  The rule of thumb I use with teams for the Retrospective Meeting when we address optimization is to place any item up for consideration and do fact finding over a few sprints before it’s officially removed.  And vice versa, if you find you need more red tape through a Definition of Done for a particular content type, you may find yourself adding more protective processes then you originally had.
  • Agile Means No Planning – If any proclamation could be anymore false, it is this one.  While the type of planning changes and the meetings are designed to be more efficient, Agile Marketing is very much about planning.  There are scheduled meetings for persona development, content backlog grooming, sprint planning, review and demos, retrospective adjustments, and even a daily meeting for reporting status.  We want to capture as much as we need to ensure we are delivering on the expectations of the business and the customer.  We want to find all of our squeaky wheels and apply grease.  To do so, we have to check our process at planned intervals.  However, the promise I prefer when thinking about planning is the ability for change.  While this enables us to make changes to the process, the team, and the approach to delivery, the big one is the change in priority of the content.  We all deal with someone feeling something else is more important than the item we are working on and the Scrum methodology has some great ways to allow for change and allow for the team to not break their pace.  If someone determines a piece of content needs to hit the production team during a sprint, the Content Owner will have to make the call, end the sprint and reprioritize and plan or place a higher priority on the item and get to it in another upcoming sprint.  
  • Agile Means More Content – We all want more content because we feel more content is what we need to get our message out there.  We compare our work with the work of these monster media empires like BuzzFeed and Red Bull that have incredible media and at the same time, amazing budgets.  We find ourselves asking the question, how can I be relevant or make headway in a noisy conversation without making a louder noise?  This is why I like Robert Rose’s definition of enough as “the least amount of content to make the maximum impact.”  This may mean when we adopt an agile process that we end up producing more content because our team finds several rhythms that allow for us to be less distracted and more autonomous but the factor that could slow us right back down and for a good reason is the maximum impact.  Trust me, very few writers can make maximum impact in 400 words, but if that is all you are producing so you can daily blog, well ask yourself the question, when was the last time you gained an audience member based on frequency of the content and not what the content contained?

I do not want this post to be a downer, nor do I want cause any waves with a particular author.  Every point that was made could be a benefit you find from moving to an agile approach to content production. 

The best thing for your team and your audience will be determined by detailed analysis of the situation.  Continually dig and ask yourself, are we: focused on customer satisfaction, working at a sustainable pace, making frequent deliveries, reacting to change, and adapting the process when problems arise?  If we are, then we have a better chance of success.