Agile digital marketing – a practical guide
Updated 27 February 2023
Learn how to start adopting agile digital marketing methodologies and practices for you and your team.
Whether you are just beginning the arduous but rewarding journey of building a digital marketing engine or have years of experience under your belt, it's always a good idea to keep looking for opportunities to improve your marketing practice.
Marketing and technology teams are growing closer and closer together within businesses across the globe. Using an agile digital strategy provides an opportunity for marketers to empathise with how technology teams operate and start to build a shared language for implementing strategies.
So, what is the agile methodology?
Agile is a practice that was originally designed for improving the development of software but can also be applied to other areas of the business – especially to rethink marketing processes in a tech-heavy world. It's a manifesto of four values and 12 principles that became popular in 2001 through the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Working agile means to make a collaborative effort as teams to find solutions and execute them effectively.
The four agile digital marketing values
Find out what the values are and how they are applied for marketing.
1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Tools and processes are important and very useful to make every day life easier and more effective, especially with a growing demand of services and tasks to manage. However, in agile methodologies the team and having competent people working together to their best strengths and knowledge is more valuable. Bringing together your tech team with your marketing team allows to share their experience around potential obstacles and solutions they tested or want to try out. It also helps both sides to understand their way of thinking and what's important to them in terms of creating a lasting and successful project.
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
Clear documentation helps people to understand the what, why, where and when around a software project build. And of course that's a great thing to have so everyone knows how to use the software. That being said, it's more important to create software and make it function effortlessly in agile than documenting the process itself. Especially if the handling comes natural and it's easy to familiarise yourself with the software so you don't need to spend as much time on documentation. This also means to incorporate marketing as part of the software development so that it provides all the necessary functions for marketing activities.
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
No doubt, a contract is essential for any business grounds and to make sure all details are agreed on. But it's not replacing the collaboration aspect of a project and therefore should be treated as a separate thing. Working closely with customers to understand their needs and how you can support them is changing the whole outlook and outcome of it. That's why you should invest more time for your tech and marketing teams to recognise your customers needs than the negotiation of contract details within agile digital practices.
4. Responding to change over following a plan
Naturally, running a new project requires some planning to get started. In agile digital marketing, this means to also leave room for flexibility and changes – whether in technology, priorities, solutions, opinions or abilities. Letting your marketing and tech teams work closely together will draw out some differences in how they approach a problem which can easily mean the plan needs to be adapted (sometimes drastically) than originally anticipated to help everyone build a really effective solution that hits the target more accurately.
The 12 agile principles
These principles are based on the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.
Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
Welcome changing requirements, even in late development.
Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months).
Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers.
Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted.
Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location).
Working software is the primary measure of progress.
Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace.
Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design.
Simplicity – the art of maximising the amount of work not done – is essential.
Best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organising teams.
Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective and adjusts accordingly.
Although agile methodologies come from a technology background, the principles should already feel more adaptable for other areas of business like marketing.
How to implement agile digital marketing?
Now that you know more about agile, you might wonder how to start using this approach for your own projects going forward and what that means for your business – no matter the size of your teams, agile is a method that works for all types.
You do not need to overhaul your project delivery methodology from waterfall to agile sprints in order to achieve this value. It’s all about starting to move in the right direction. If you are in the midst of a project that is starting to feel a bit “Big Bang” (which could be wonderful or could blow up in your face) here are some ideas to start de-risking those big bets.
Write SMART goals with hypothesis statements
This may take you back to school but writing a hypothesis statement at nearly any level of a project will start to frame the work as an experiment. The sooner you recognise the fact you are experimenting, the easier it should be to identify when something is too “big”.
We believe that X will Y.
Example: We believe implementing marketing automation will improve our conversion rates and increase revenue.
Implementing marketing automation across an entire business is a large undertaking, so you could adapt your hypothesis to the following:
We believe implementing a three step marketing automation welcome series for our enterprise product enquiries will lead to an increased conversion rate of prospect to customer and increase revenue.
This gives you the opportunity to start experimenting with marketing automation, learn and implement learnings across additional product or service streams in the future.
Release early, release often
Think in iterations, even if your project is not designed for iterative release cycles, start to think about what you can release early. Even if it is not a public release, look for opportunities to release internally or build a test group for your project that allows you to start capturing feedback early and run experiments before your actual big release day.
Rank project requirements
Large marketing projects start to become long checklists of requirements with the team working their way from top to bottom. It’s not until you force everyone to step back and rank requirements that you see opportunities to release early.
Imagine you are building a new campaign to capture leads and send an on-boarding series, a traditional waterfall project would start with some user experience strategy, content development, design and finally integration development.
Without the integration development, you will not be able to capture any leads, so why leave it till last? Ranking project requirements should help clarify what’s important now.
Use data over opinions and conventions
Leading on from numerous small experiments over a few large bets you can start to leverage the data from these experiments to drive decision making. The digital world is filled with data points, leading all too often to data fatigue but it is important to identify for your strategic goals which data is important and which one is just noise.
It is also important to not allow this value to limit wild ideas or ingenuity. Creative thinking outside the box is essential to developing the unique content and experiences that are the cornerstone of inbound marketing. Enhancing ideas with data points for testing, review and iteration will make new ideas even more powerful when implemented. Alternatively, that same testing may tell you to abandon the idea and focus your team on efforts that are returning greater value.
Start running split tests (A/B testing)
The digital age allows us to test ideas quickly and easily with split tests or A/B testing. HubSpot’s CMS provides built in A/B testing functionality and 3rd party tools like Google Optimise can allow you to start testing content on your website with limited effort. A/B testing also helps you to stop wondering about what design or CTA performs best and start providing answers quickly.
If you are uncertain or unsure of what strategy to take, ask yourself: Can we test this? In all likelihood, you can. You do not necessarily have the time or resources to achieve statistical significance or write a thesis on your question, but one thing is for certain, even a little testing can go a long way. Keep your tests specific in purpose so the scope of the implementation of learnings from your experiment is manageable and practical.
Build a data-driven dashboard
Your marketing team needs to review and acknowledge what data points are important, why they are important and how they are tracking. With a data-driven dashboard you can identify three key metrics that the inbound marketing team are focused on delivering against. We recommend using Google Data Studio to build your dashboard and also try to pull in information from sources outside of Google Analytics.
Create personal customer groups over mass markets
Buyer personas are essential to developing a successful marketing strategy but sometimes it can be too restrictive and lead to mass market bias (please not another "Marketing Mary" for representation). The persona probably covers all the usual topics:
Goals & challenges
This information is all super useful when developing your strategies but often too static to be useful for an agile digital marketing team. Instead, look at commonalities and organise your personas into sensible groups. What are the common goals and challenges? Ensure that these groups are front and centre when running a new experiment or testing a new idea. If your template or document doesn’t have a place to put down what group you are targeting, simply add one.
Evolution and change are at the heart of agile digital marketing, meaning to ensure groups are reviewed on a regular basis and updated with new insights. A disruptive technology or business change could mean that your persona goals and challenges have changed – so should your marketing strategy!
Be more engaging and transparent
Bringing us back to the Agile Manifesto’s “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. The importance of engagement and transparency is a two way street between the marketing team and key stakeholders, this could be between an agency marketing team and internal marketing team implementing a marketing strategy.
Engagement with all team members is key. For the sake of efficiency, this doesn’t mean you can pull the whole agile team into every discussion, but it does mean that on a regular rhythm, the entire team needs to come together and engage. This will keep the team in-sync and aware of any risks or opportunities that should be considered for future sprints.
Engagement should naturally lead to transparency. If the marketing objectives are clearly articulated, then the team should be able to provide visibility to stakeholders of what’s in progress, what’s done and what are the results of recent experimentation.
Higher degrees of transparency avoids surprises for all stakeholders and humanises the process of implementing marketing strategies. It's very common to fail throughout any marketing campaign, in fact if there is no failure, you should review whether you are testing or challenging your ideas enough. Providing transparency will foster a culture where failure is accepted and the sooner you can identify failure, you can start the learning process to implement on the next go round.
Whether you are running agile digital marketing projects or more traditional waterfalls, retrospectives are a quick and easy way to start building engagement and transparency into your team’s culture. You don’t need sprints or a scrum master to run retrospectives. If you are running a waterfall project, you can introduce retrospectives into that project team today on a regular schedule. As long as you are open to incorporating the feedback and ideas from those retrospectives into the project as best as you are able.
The basics of a retrospective are to capture ideas from the project team that fit into these categories:
What went well?
What could’ve gone better?
Tip: Figma has an awesome free retro template we use every week.
Build a project dashboard
A project dashboard is not necessarily about bringing together every data point for a given project. Think less Google Analytics and more vision board.
The project dashboard should provide the entire team with transparency of the key marketing objectives and visibility of how the team is tracking against those objectives.
Don’t forget to bring some fun into project dashboards! Vision boards work for a reason, when we visualise our goals we better empathise and identify (engage) with the material. If you have a GIF or photo that embodies the project, put it up.
Apple’s former chief design officer, Jony Ive, stated during an Apple University class: “Give the quiet ones a voice”. This piece of advice is also borrowed from the first step of the “Get Stuff Done” (GSD) wheel via Kim Scott in Radical Candor: Be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity. The first step in that wheel: listen!
Cross functional teams will bring together a lot of personalities, some loud and others quiet. Retrospectives and engagement are great but unless you are hearing equally from all members of the team you are at risk of losing efficiency and missing out on opportunities. Also this rule does not only apply to team leads. If you are a member of a team and don’t feel as though you are getting a chance to hear from everyone equally, speak up and ask someone’s opinion that you may not hear. And if you are naturally more outspoken and quick to answer, remember to take a step back and listen every now and then too.
Try going agile!
Using an agile approach might seem like a big change at first for your business and your teams. But implementing the agile values and principles step by step will make a great impact on how your teams are operating – together. More transparency, less release pressure, quicker adaptation, there are many benefits to giving the agile method a go.
We've been using this method for years and have learned a great deal of new insights and ways to make our work more pointed and aligned across the different teams at Honest Fox. Contact us if you have more questions or check out one of our agile case studies to read more.