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Agility in Marketing

What if, as a marketing leader, there was a magic bullet to make your marketing organization more productive, more responsive, deliver a higher quality of work product and, wait for it because there’s more, possess higher job satisfaction?

Good news – there is, and it’s the agile methodology. You’ve probably heard your IT and dev teams talk about this for years and now marketers are rapidly adopting this way of working. The research group, Agile Sherpas, released the “First Annual State of Agile Marketing Report,” tracking the adoption rate across marketing teams. Benchmarked in this first edition, the adoption of agile in the marketing world is around 37%.

Not as prevalent as our IT colleagues, but the willingness to try something new signals that adoption rate should be much higher for the release of the subsequent report, with over 60% of marketing teams currently operating in a traditional/waterfall approach report having plans to test into agile within the next year.

For my current marketing role, my business leaders asked for recommendations to better address the dynamic nature of the mortgage business and support aggressive growth goals – all signs pointed to standing up an agile marketing team. The following are my top 5 recommendations for standing up an agile marketing team, based on the journey we started in 2017 and realized in January 2018:

1.) Define the scope of NOT TO BE work(ed): While it’s critical to define the scope of the agile team, it’s more important to define what’s out of scope to help keep the team focused and the inputs aligned with the capabilities and KPIs of the team.

My recommendation is to set the team up for success and establish, in writing, the mission and governance process and maintain the discipline to say, “No,” to work that’s not within the defined scope, helping to align the team’s domain knowledge to the mission of the team. For the mortgage agile team, the scope aligned to the business driver for establishing the team – focus on demand generation marketing to support business growth plans. All incoming work, epics/stories in the language of agile, have KPIs for driving marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), tracked through sales-qualified leads (SQLs), and ultimately closed loan (revenue).

2.) Build upon existing experiences: Another recommendation is to limit work to marketing channels either currently in market or recently executed, and staff that channel expertise into the agile team. The mortgage agile team is staffed with marketing channel managers that have deep channel expertise and those channels have been used to market mortgage. By using this historical approach, the team could baseline performance to help quantify process improvements realized, post agile adoption. The teams’ first stories to market were time sensitive and the team, experienced in the go-to-market channels, realized over 400% improvement in time to market.

3.) Don’t use process for process sake: The agile methodology has been around long enough to be reimagined as “new and improved,” and has evolved into multiple sister methodologies. Don’t get analysis paralysis – pick one, try it, but don’t be afraid to adapt. The Agile Sherpas report confirms this approach and reports that almost 45% of the teams have either “combined methodologies or created their own.” 4.) Avoid the “one size fits all” approach: If a concern is that your business can’t go all in on agile and that you may need some waterfall processes – another recommendation is, you’re probably right – because ours did! The seasonality of the mortgage business aligns to having a significant, peak season campaign. The residential real estate market is highly-seasonal, with upwards of 40% of the housing inventory transacted in early Q2 (Source: Housing Wire). The Spring selling season campaign, crafted in a waterfall approach, was planned, tested, and developed during off-peak months and launched prior to 2018 peak months. The campaign, with a heavy emphasis on primary and secondary research, as well as rounds of ideation to reach the optimal message, positioning, and creative expression, didn’t align to the quick-turn approach of agile, but worked well in a waterfall approach. However, moving forward, the agile marketing team is tasked with “always on” marketing to support mortgage year-round by producing new iterations of the campaign and on-going test-and-learn optimizations.

5.) Agile is a mindset: The Agile Sherpa report states having the right training and tools accounts for almost half of the responds’ reasons as the “biggest barriers” to adopting agile. Because agile requires almost everything to change about the way of working, another recommendation is to select team members with an appreciation for, and willingness to change. Courses, like Agile Mindset, can help with the process and tools, but a scrum team that embraces changes is mission critical.

Best of luck on your journey to agile marketing!


There is lots of content around agile, but how to apply to marketing is more limited - here are a few resources the team found helpful:

- McKinsey & Company Consulting: pragmatic, how-to content ( on their blog.

- Scott Brinker: the Godfather of MarTech, published the book “Hacking Marketing” in 2016, after recognizing that the confluence of digital marketing channels and the marketing technologies for implementation, surfaced the need/opportunity for new way of working.

- Harvard Business Review: recent issue on newsstands, has cover story on agile, in general, at scale. To learn more about the Agile Sherpas’ report – visit the Marketing Insiders Group.

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