July 2021

Agile digital marketing - a practical guide

by Dillon Bailey

Whether you are just beginning the arduous but rewarding journey of building a digital marketing engine or have years of experience under your belt, one thing is certain, we are always looking for opportunities to improve our marketing practice.

This article will focus on how to start adopting agile digital marketing methodologies and practices for you and your team.

Beyond the inherent benefits of learning new ways to implement inbound marketing strategies that make you look like a marketing genius, marketing and technology teams are growing closer and closer together within businesses across the globe. Agile inbound marketing provides an opportunity for marketers to empathise with how many technology teams operate and start to build a shared language for implementing strategy.

If you are reading this article, we can assume you have two important attributes, an interest in inbound marketing and an interest in agile practices. Let’s also take a moment to broadstroke these two very large topics to make sure we have an equal footing before diving into the real value of the article.

Inbound marketing is a growth methodology centred around building equity with prospects who are searching for answers to problems your business solves.

Agile is a manifesto of four values and 12 principles focused on improving the development of software.

The following four agile marketing values are those proposed by Scott Brinker, Hacking Marketing, Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster, and More Innovative.

  1. Numerous small experiments over a few large bets.
  2. Testing and data over opinions and conventions.
  3. Intimate customer tribes over impersonal mass markets.
  4. Engagement and transparency over official posturing.

Numerous Small Experiments Over a Few Large Bets

No risk, no reward, but no one says we need to risk big. The “big bang” release is an unfortunate fact of life in marketing, but few have implemented them as well as Apple’s stage show. While the spectacle is no doubt impressive, it’s easy to overlook the hundreds or thousands of experiments Apple's designers and engineers executed in the lead up to a new product release.

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’s some ideas to start de-risking those big bets.

Start Writing SMART Goals

Writing hypothesis statements

This may take you back to high school science class, but writing a hypothesis statement at nearly any level of a project will start to frame the work as an experiment. The sooner we recognise the fact we are experimenting, the easier it should be to identify when something is too “big”.

We believe that X will Y.

Inbound marketing 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, consider rewriting that 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.

The later of the above options allows us 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 you big release day.

Start ranking 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.

Testing and Data Over Opinions and Conventions

Leading on from numerous small experiments over a few large bets we 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, what data is important, and what data 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 allows you to stop wondering about what design or CTA performs best, and start providing answers quickly.

Stop overthinking, start testing

If you are uncertain or unsure of what strategy to take, ask yourself, “Can we test this?” In all likelihood, you can. We 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.

But keep in mind our first value, numerous small experiments, keep your tests specific in purpose. This will help keep the scope of the implementation of learnings from your experiment manageable and practical.

Build a data-driven dashboard

Data, and lots of it, but the marketing team needs to review and acknowledge what data points are important, why they are important and how they are tracking.

The data-driven dashboard identifies 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!

Later in the article I will talk about a “Project Dashboard”, you can bring your data-driven dashboard into the single view, or leave it as a separate dashboard.

Intimate Customer Tribes Over Impersonal Mass Markets

Buyer personas are essential to developing a successful inbound marketing strategy, but sometimes can be too restrictive and lead to mass market bias.

Think of your average buyer persona (<insert clever title> <insert clever name that matches the first letter of the title>). I don’t think I can handle seeing one more “Marketing Mary” when trying to develop an inbound marketing strategy.

The persona probably covers all the usual topics;

  • Background
  • Demographics
  • Identifiers
  • Goals & Challenges
  • Quotes
  • Key messaging

This information is all super useful when developing our strategies, but all too often is too specific and too static to be useful for an agile inbound marketing team.

So, how can we start to build tribes and avoid impersonal mass market marketing?  

Start talking about tribes

Provided you already have a number of buyer personas developed for your inbound marketing project, start to look at commonalities and organise your personas into sensible tribes. What are the common goals and challenges that will unite personas into a tribe?

Incorporate tribes into planning and testing

Ensure that tribes 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 tribe you are targeting, add one.

Evolve your tribes

Fortunately for us, we are not currently drafting strategies on parchment or reviewing data with an abacus. Evolution and change are at the heart of agile inbound marketing, ensure tribes are reviewed on a regular basis and updated with new insights. A disruptive technology or business change could mean that your tribes goals and challenges have changed, so should your inbound marketing strategy!

Engagement and Transparency Over Official Posturing

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 an inbound 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 inbound marketing strategy 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 inbound marketing strategies. Failure will arise throughout any inbound marketing campaign, in fact if failure is not occuring, you may not be testing or challenging your ideas clearly enough. Providing transparency will foster a culture where failure is accepted, and the sooner we can identify failure, we can start the learning process to implement on the next go round.

Think of official posturing as the opposite of transparency.

Let’s take a look at how you can start building a culture of engagement and transparency.

Start Running Retrospectives

Whether you are running agile inbound 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. In fact 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 from the project team ideas that fit into three categories;

  1. What went well?
  2. What could’ve gone better?
  3. Shout outs
  4. Ideas

Figma’s new product, FigJam, 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 inbound 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 (digital project dashboard) or photo that embodies the project, put it up.

Listen more

Apple’s former chief design officer, Jony Ive, stated “Give the quiet ones a voice”, during an Apple University class. 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 we are hearing equally from all members of the team we are at risk of losing efficiency and missing out on opportunities. This rule does not just 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. If, like me, you are on the bullish side in meetings, remember to take a step back and listen.

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Dillon Bailey

Seizing the opportunity to lead a life of adventure Dillon made his way to Melbourne after graduating from the University of Notre Dame. Dillon is a co-founder of Honest Fox and brings the technical know how to every project.

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