Image Credit: David W. Siu

In the age of social media, consumers expect and enjoy the immediacy of information and content on the web. Marketers, to remain relevant, have found they have to keep up. That's why in the past couple of years, I've seen so many companies shift toward agile marketing.

Some companies embrace the agile marketing methodology from the onset. But it seems just as common for brands to test the waters before jumping in.

Whatever you commitment to agility is, to be wholly successful with agile marketing I believe you need more that just a change in strategy. You need a shift in culture as well. 

To help illustrate what I mean, I've tried to summarize what I've noticed from our customers who engage in agile marketing, as well as our own agile marketing initiatives. Since Flite is a display ad platform, many of my tips are going use agile display advertising as an example. I think for other channels many of the same ideas apply.

So, here are 9 steps to create a culture where agile marketing can thrive. 

1. Make Good Friends with Legal

I've never met anyone in legal who actually wanted to impede anything. But days of delay can be an unintended consequence of protecting a brand.

Get friendly with legal teams and let them know about your agile marketing initiatives. Look for ways to streamline the approvals process.

I heard anecdotally that the way Oreo achieved "Dunk in the Dark" was to assemble brand, agency, creative and legal team members to watch the Super Bowl together in a room — on the lookout for opportunities. It's not your typical Super Bowl party, but that's how they were able to turn around the much-talked-about tweet in 3 minutes.

2. Pre-approve Parts of Your Ads

We work with a lot companies engaging in paid media publishing — which is where a brand makes frequent updates to display ads that are already in market — by publishing or streaming in fresh content to the ads every few days or weeks.

To be able to stay agile enough to make these continuous updates, some of our customers start by getting creative approval on layouts that can accommodate content. They then publish in content that is already approved for other uses (like on a website or in social media).

With the layout already approved, the team can agree that updates to the ad can be published on content approval alone. 

It's not always that simple and many brands want to see the final creative every time. But coming to the table with as many elements already approved as possible can make the process go much more quickly.

3. Not Too Many 3rd Parties

Marketing initiatives can only be as fast and flexible as the team responsible. When you start to parcel out the work across different companies, it can have a multiplying effect on delays.

Of course, there are countless ways that 3rd parties can add value — strategy, media planning, creative, ad operations, content production, technical implementations, the list goes on — but with more moving parts, likelihood of delays is greater as well.

A lot of agile marketing is customer-focused and requires innate knowledge of both the brand and the audience. So, the more integrated 3rd parties are with the brand team and agency, the better. Keep your partners close, and open up communication across all of the players so that approvals can happen quickly.

4. Thoughtfully Measure the Creative

Being agile isn't just about being flexible and fast. It's also about the feedback loop of data to inform next steps.

Try to run campaigns in a way that you can distill out best practices and learn from the data about what works. That means testing ad variations, or digging into individual ads to see which part of the ad got the most attention.

When reviewing display ad data for instance, remember to look beyond clickthrough rate if CTR doesn't related to your ad's objectives. For content ads, use interaction and engagement rate as a success indicator. For ads with video, track video plays and average play time.

5. Now Use What you Just Learned

If you actually distill those learnings from the above tip and report them to your team — you can optimize up and start higher next time.

For instance, let's say you optimized an ad from 3% to 5% engagement rate over the course of 6 weeks and 18 variations — looking at layout, call to action placement and content. Imagine how much effort you save by applying those learnings to future ads. For the next campaign, you may be able to start at 5% engagement rate and then optimize toward 7%.

A traditional agile methodology calls for a "retrospective" at the end of each initiative. It can be hard to make time for, but try to at least take a moment for your team to fully digest what happened, and apply those learnings to future initiatives. It will save you time and improve campaign performance later on.

6. To Be Relevant, Listen More

Agile marketing requires having the pulse of the consumer. Like any good relationship, this means sometimes you have to stop talking to your customers, and start actively listening to them.

For instance, in this Planters/SMG campaign profiled recently on AdAge, Planters wanted to increase the perception of Planters Peanuts as a healthy snack. By listening to the online dialogue around healthy living while assembling the campaign, SMG noticed a trend:

"It became clear that a few weeks into their New Year’s resolutions, people had been eating healthy all day, but were hungry at night and trying to find a way to have a snack without ruining their weight-loss resolutions"

Starcom worked with Planters to create content around the theme of peanuts being a healthy way to curb late-night cravings, and amplified that message by putting the articles into content-rich display ads scoring a big win for Planters.

While a lot of factors contributed to the ads' success, perhaps the most critical was selecting a topic that was important to consumers at the very moment of the ad campaign, and then being able to move quickly to create messaging around it and find a channel to scale quickly that message to a broad audience. 

7. Support Risk-Taking

Risk-taking is a critical part of engaging in agile marketing, and a necessary component to staying innovative.

For instance, in their quest for content excellent as part of the Liquid and Linked marketing strategy, Coca-cola has adopted a 70/20/10 rule for their marketing investments (see slides below). 

70% of Coke's marketing investments go toward what's working now. 20% go to tomorrows "next" ideas. And 10% is for totally untested ideas.

But by giving a tenth of their resources over to risk-taking, Coke is ensuring that they will continue to find fresh and innovative ways to reach their audience.

"Start small and scale fast." 
—Wendy Clark, Coke's SVP of Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities

When Wendy Clark, described Coke's marketing strategy as "start small and scale fast"  she demonstrated that even a massive global company can embrace agile marketing. To put her quote another way, for your innovative campaigns, make a lot of little bets. Once you find what works, bet big.

8. Demand Shorter Meetings

Being agile requires action. Don't let your team get locked down in over-planning or analysis paralysis. One way to focus on getting things done is to meet less and act more. 

Taking a page from agile software development — from which agile marketing originated. If you want to have a daily planning meeting for less than 15 minutes, do it standing up. At Flite, we have computers with large screens on stands around the office because so many of our meetings are done on foot. And some teams even have a policy that if a meeting isn't relevant to you, you're allowed to leave without judgement.

Of course, many meetings are incredibly important to the marketing process. Don't dismiss them all. But just as important in agile marketing is the rapid pace of innovation and action.

9. Market Your Marketing

As I said above, for many companies agile marketing starts as a test and then gradually becomes more and more of the way things are done. By sharing your results and what you've learned, you can help stakeholders outside of the marketing team better understand the value that agile marketing brings to the organization.

Especially for the early wins, it's important to be transparent. As you grow your agile marketing operation, you'll probably find the need to involve more departments and collaborators. Having some foundation of what you're doing and why it's important will serve you well.

Further Reading

If you're interested in learning more about how to apply agile marketing to display advertising, check out The Ultimate Guide to Agile Marketing in Display Ads.