CMO food for thought: Agile marketing

In our latest series on leading issues for CMOs, we ask three marketers to tell us what agile marketing is all about

In our latest Food for Thought series with leading marketers, we asked three brands: What does agile marketing and being responsive mean, and how do CMOs achieve it?

Dominic Brandon, group manager, marketing and brand, Allianz Australia

Agile marketing is used to describe an iterative process where teams work on short cycles to deliver short-term programs or solutions. Popular examples have been responsive content in social.

At Allianz, we follow the spirit of ‘agile’ rather than just do ‘agile’. For this reason I prefer ‘adaptive’ rather than ‘agile’ because it signals the purpose of customer focus over speed to market. Marketing teams should develop their own version of ‘agile’, one that suits their industry and organisational culture. This is not to diminish the imperative of agility but to effectively manage the business change process and ensure alignment with business objectives.

Allianz has agile processes, tracking and technologies for social, SEO, SEM, user experience, digital display, even television advertising. This allows us to optimise our ROI and consistently punch above our weight in one of the most competitive markets: Financial services.

In a world of constant change, the connected customer and the zero moment of truth, Allianz is continually learning and improving. We’re expanding data management capability, installing a new automated marketing platform and helping strengthen digital skillsets.

It is important to have the right people; the ‘T-shaped’ people with a broad knowledge of marketing and a deep specialisation or talent. We also need ‘pi-shaped’ (π) people, as eConsultancy’s Ashley Friedlein describes marketers who can be analytical and data driven as well as understand brand, storytelling and experiential. These integrators bring it all together. Moreover, team members should have an innate curiosity and a determination to make it happen. Once you have the team, ensure there’s no friction with agencies and provide the space and structure to achieve.

Alexandra Sloane, head of marketing, Facebook A/NZ

The key to executing ‘agile marketing’ is balancing short- and long-term objectives, ruthless prioritisation and built-in optimisation.

Being responsive to short-term objectives, and affecting new or changed sales, or product adoption targets, goes a long way in building trust with stakeholders. Any marketer knows the most successful marketing plans are those the whole organisation feels it owns. Part of that is being flexible and reacting to change, whether it’s internally or externally driven.

Some long-range planning is important in terms of managing budgets, of course, but also for tracking to longer-term objectives, typically associated with parent brand metrics. At Facebook, the flat hierarchical structure and transparency provided at all levels and from top down, along with the focus on impact, allow team members to feel part of the overall mission.

Being a mission-led company focused on impact helps enormously when it comes to prioritisation. What defines your business strategy is ultimately what goals you want to achieve and the work you are doing.

Related: Why CMOs must embrace the seven principles of agile marketing

With agile, and responding to factors on the go, the risk is that you try to ‘do it all’. Ruthless prioritisation is key to ensure agile marketing isn’t just reactive marketing – the ship needs to be steered by someone who has their eyes on the horizon as well as the quick business wins. As part of our ruthless prioritisation, we often identify ‘non-goals’ – things that are important and useful, but not as crucial as the other things we choose to focus on.

Successful agility in marketing will come from empowering people to place and move bets based on where greater impact is going to come from. Agility will also flourish in a culture unafraid of failure. A team that can pivot their focus when needed must be creative, daring, resilient but disciplined.

Before moving onto the next ‘bright, shiny thing’, our team builds in ‘pauses’. This is dedicated time to assess, document and share learnings to ensure our next engagement is optimised.

Lisa Arthur, CMO, marketing applications, Teradata

When I think of an agile marketing organisation, I think of an ability to “pivot” – respond in real time to opportunities. Customers expect real-time response and while technology is central, ultimately agile is a frame of mind. Agile is about winning in the marketplace.

Read more: Friday infographic: Marketing automation's influence

Achieving this mindset calls for braiding together solutions, people and corporate cultures. To make agile sustainable, marketers need to operate in a data-oriented culture, because today’s marketing is de facto data driven.

The CMO must also be a deliberate and disruptive change agent. Strong leadership and people skills are mandatory to get the team motivated and focused on success. This requires articulating a vision with texture, that is attainable within the time allotted. Some challenges will be that existing silos will impede progress and cloud the broader purpose. In such cases, the silos need to be crushed, or at least blended. For example, it can no longer be sales versus marketing. The perception has to be that agile marketing is about ‘better enabling sales to sell’.

People will wonder ‘why are we doing this?’ and everything will feel clumsy until the new technologies and processes gel. I encourage marketing leaders to provide frequent updates on common metrics so teams can chart progress from their lines of sight (we had daily stand-up meetings, for example).

It is critical CMOs put forth a clear marketplace vision, a realistic strategy that maps to business goals, and use solutions built for agile marketing, such as those that help you get, use and make sense of data. Then, as you implement agile, you should always be over-communicating progress.

Read more: Kia Motors Australia aims for personalisation with new website

This article originally appeared in CMO's June 2014 magazine edition. To subscribe to the print or digital version, click here.

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