CMO Momentum 2020: How to embrace agile marketing

Agile isn’t just for software development, it can provide highly effective ways of working when it comes to marketing according to this panel of marketers.

At this week’s CMO Momentum virtual conference, four marketing chiefs from areas as varied as the university sector, airlines and real estate shared their insights and experience on working in an agile way in the marketing remit.
Agile is a philosophy that’s guided software development and has been woven into marketing so that everyone speaks the same language and is guided by the same principles in the REA Group.

“When it came to strategic product decisions or sales decisions, we needed to adopt the same framework as the product team,” REA Group chief audience and marketing officer, Melina Cruickshank, explained to attendees.

Embracing agile has meant that, for marketing, there is now more visibility and collaboration around decisions, Cruickshank said. While it’s given marketing a seat at the decision-making table, “the decisions are made more often and faster, and with a diversity of thought,” she continued.

At RMIT, agile is about being ultimately pragmatic and practical in looking at what the organisation needs and finding the principles that fit with those needs. With decisions being made too slowly and with them being made in isolation, an overhaul in how they worked was needed and agile provided that.  

“The biggest need was for the teams to become more collaborative,” RMIT CMO, Chaminda Ranasinghe, said. “We were in siloes and because of that there was no real appreciation for the customer. It was an internal point of view and so what was being taken to market had a lack of data and insight in the way that people were making those decision.

“The university’s vision is to create a great experience for students and if you don’t have these practical ways of doing things, you’re stuck."

For autonomous sensor and software business, Hexagon, adopting Agile was a path to move from linear business and marketing processes that were proving too rigid. Instead, the organisation needed to be agile enough to change and shift gears as required or as opportunities arise.

“We needed to have our finger on the pulse of data, of the market and of our customers,” Hexagon APAC marketing director, Ljubica Radoicic, explained. “We now have a rolling plan and we have a view of what are the key business milestones and key decision points that are happening in the business throughout the year. But we also have a view of the customer and the insights and bringing that into the forefront of the decision making. And having a review of the plans and projects.

"Finally, we have TONs that are ‘tweak’, ‘overhaul’ or ‘new’."

If something is working well, it becomes part of the routine. “Then we have sprints, weekly and monthly, plus standups. And we have the concept of the MVP, minimum viable product, that’s help us accelerate what we need to deliver and also having a common decision point around what is the kind of basic minimum need to look like,” Radoicic said.

Airlines aren’t typically agile organisations, yet as a business that is always responding to changing marketing dynamics, it can be helpful. Former Air New Zealand marketing director for Japan and Korea, Simone Ellis, talked about the approach she’d taken to providing across-team visibility into key areas like customers, the market, finance and the wider business.

Looking to energise the team, Ellis started with the simple act of having stand-up meetings and gathering people together to look at dynamic, real-time metrics in dashboards rather than review static dashboards was a key starting point. “At the same time, we started to get our heads around the strategic challenge, but these set up the mindset and behaviours that would help the team grow and learn about agile,” Ellis said.

Lessons in adopting agile

When it comes to embracing agile, panellists agreed you need to start small and avoid trying to do everything at the same time from the start. It's ainglso about focus on the ‘why’ to provide a rationale for making the change and allow stakeholders time to see the benefits and become invested in the new ways of working. That’s certainly been the experience for Ranasinghe in successfully bringing agile into the marketing remit at the university.  

With REA, adopting agile was done with a team who already knew and had experience in agile ways of working. “Adopting agile marketing, in a business that is so heavily tech and product orientated, it's almost like you have to establish credibility to have a seat at the table to have these kinds of conversations and event to attend the stand-up,” Cruickshank said.

"You have to earn your space to be able to have a voice there. And that's not an easy thing. You can't just say ‘I'm part of this now, I'm part of agile’, you have to actually understand the framework, understand how it operates and understand the purpose of it, which is really decision-making process."

The way Cruickshank went about this with her team was to demonstrate ways that would illustrate the diversity of thought when it came to products being created, packaged and taken to market with the sales teams, and would end up with a better result.

About two years ago, the marketing function at Hexagon went through a major transformation from a very traditional view of marketing, which was mostly communications and events, to building up a more sophisticated revenue marketing engine. "The key component was reviewing and optimising operations,” Radoicic explained.

Agile methodology and the 180-process that has helped the marketing team become more effective and efficient at delivering on objectives and made it more collaboartive. “It’s also elevated our reputation and put marketing at the forefront of growth and pull the right levers for the business,” she said.

“It’s fostered a growth mindset and a culture of innovation within the team and underpins what I call the ‘learning market organisation’, because we're always striving to improve, to get better results and find things to optimise our activity. And that really shows with the results that we're delivering.”

Finally, offering some advice for those looking to adopt an agile way of working, the marketers told the audience that it’s about finding a way to begin. “Really understand the concept of agility and what it means for your team. It’s a process and a mindset,” Radoicic said.

Ranasinghe emphasised the cultural shift required and again stressed you have to get in there and start doing it. “Start with stand-ups because when you change the physical state of the team, you can change the state of mind,” added Ellis.  

“Start working on those horizontal relationships and that will help the mindset shift almost immediately, because agile is based on strong, healthy, collaborative relationships."

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