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Can marketing learn from agile?

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Failing to focus, failing to choose one discipline and stick to it, is exactly what leads firms to a state of mediocrity.—Michael Treacy & Fred Wiersema

When I was the head of marketing, I got into a heated argument about our marketing and promotion programs. It was in a senior management meeting of directors, VPs, and the CEO. One of the directors took me to task for not supporting more industry speaking opportunities. Initially, I gave him a non-answer so we could get back to our primary discussions but he wouldn’t let it go.

“Tell me,” he demanded, “why we’re not speaking at industry conferences!”

"You’re getting all the marketing you can afford!” I replied.

I explained my approach. “We wrote down everything we wanted to do, put it in priority order, and then moved down the list until we ran out of money. Speaking didn’t make it.” I continued, “Of course, we can do more programs when we have more money. Does anyone want to move some money from their budget to the marketing budget? I thought not.”

We now know this technique as one of the basic elements of Kanban. And yet, in my conversations today, I still hear sales and marketing people arguing about individual programs. “We need to do a newsletter!” or “Hey! Let’s write an ebook!” or “Why aren’t we blogging?”

It’s time to take a step back.

Marketing, like every other department, has to prioritize. We have to choose. And that usually means choosing not to do things. Invariably some don’t get their pet programs funded. After all, there are always more ways to spend money than the budget allows.

small__5141328136 Marketing needs to focus on business prioritization—just like agile development teams.We can learn a lot from Kanban. Just like your home budget, you allocate funds by category, prioritize the list, start from the top and work your way through the list until you run out of time or money. We need to focus on business prioritization—just like agile development teams.

What if we managed the promotion plan like a product backlog? What if we applied agile techniques to marketing?

Think of your marketing programs in three levels: company, products or initiatives, and campaigns.

Start with your investments at the company level. There’s a big (or maybe not so big) pot of money. Allocate it among your products and initiatives. What are your big initiatives? What percentage should support the launch of your new products while maintaining the old ones? And don’t forget infrastructure and maintenance. How much do you need to spend on basic infrastructure, such as the web site, automation, and memberships?

With your percentage of marketing spend allocated by products or initiatives, write down your list of campaigns and promotions. Write down everything you can think of.

Now prioritize the list. Look at the business value of each item compared to the others. You can start with “this is more important than that” and after you have a rough sorting, look at the delta between current and desired state. That is, are there any items that are “good enough,” at least for now?

Consider using the quick prioritization method. It’s really quite simple. On a scale of 1 to 5, rate the importance of each item. Then, again from 1 to 5, rate your dissatisfaction with your current state. Add the value of the program to your business and divide the sum by the effort to deliver. The bigger the number, the higher the priority.  

If you need help wrapping your mind around applying agile approaches to marketing, Lean Samarai has a quick video overview of the SAFe approach to product development. Watch the video—but instead of thinking how it can be used in development, consider its application to marketing programs. Instead of development teams, think of your content teams, bloggers, PR teams, events, and so on.

This approach makes sense to me. What about you? Does agile marketing make sense for your organization?

photo credit: 3oheme via photopin cc

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