Competing with Agility and Speed

Digital Business Strategy & Innovation

The Trend Toward Speed

Leading digital marketers favor rapid iteration, or launch and learn versus the big bang. Yet many organizations still operate under traditional models designed to drive toward perfection before anything is launched.

Old behavior, whether applied to product development or promotional activities, can leave marketing organizations prey to more nimble competitors. Agile techniques liberate marketers from rigid, process-bound habits that slow things down. But they must be adopted responsibly. Use our insight and advice to assimilate agile behaviors that enable speed without compromising quality.

The trend

In a digital economy, many leaders compete through their superior ability to adapt to change faster than competitors. As Jack Welch once noted, there are only two sources of real business advantage: the ability to understand your customers better than anyone else coupled with the ability to fulfill their needs faster than anyone else. This “sense and respond” way of operating forms the base of the agile marketing movement. 

In this piece from Razorfish, we help you:

  • Test your organization’s need for speed
  • Craft your own road map to agile marketing
  • Get a quick win under your belt
  • Kickstart your larger effort


Test Your Organization’s Need for Speed

Doing things faster without a clear goal can do nothing more than compromise quality. As one marketer lamented, “Our agile practices generate bad leads faster.” To avoid such a scenario, we often advise clients to do a quick audit of their organization to pinpoint where agility and speed can make a difference. For example:

Start with new product development

As the digital economy becomes more connected, it generates even more data marketers can use to enhance existing products, while introducing solutions uniquely tuned to the advantages of connectivity. Are you already feeling the heat from disruption? Are rivals outpacing your efforts to release new products? Over the past 12 months, how many times have you been first to market with a new idea versus responding to a competitor’s idea? If you’re not happy with the answers to these questions, you’re a candidate for agile marketing.

Benchmark your organization with leaders outside your sector

If an agile approach to marketing is new to your organization, take a look at leading practices occurring outside your sector. For example, repeated disruption in financial services has been a wake-up call for many banks and insurance companies. In response, many traditional players are competing with smaller, more agile competitors by becoming skilled at launching products with only the highest-value features versus waiting for more robust feature sets to be completed. This has had a dramatic impact on time to market, business advantage and customer retention.

A similar trend is occurring in the media and entertainment industry, where traditional products are being rapidly reinvented around the broad range of functionality offered by digital platforms. This has forced market participants to release “early and often” in order to make quick decisions around which digital models will be key to their survival. 

Identify other areas that require agility and speed

No one likes to compete on price, but it’s an area marketers cannot avoid. How many times have you called emergency meetings based solely on the price of your offering being noncompetitive? If you don’t compete on price (and few marketers do), how often and how quickly do you add new features without increasing price to compete with a superior price-performance ratio? Do you lead in setting price, or do you tend to follow the herd? If you fall into the latter category, there’s more reason to consider the adoption of agile marketing behaviors. 

Then there’s social, which inherently requires speed to be effective. In fact, few marketing techniques have put more pressure on the marketing organization to act fast than social marketing. Are you on the hook to migrate a local or regional social marketing program to a global scale? Does the pace of social marketing put stresses on traditional processes that weren’t designed for agility and speed? If so, is this diluting your competitive edge?  If you responded yes to any of these questions, all the more reason to get agile. 

Next, take a hard look at distribution, an area that is profoundly impacted by digital business techniques. How are you harnessing digital technologies to get products to market faster and at less cost? This technique was pioneered by the music industry through a digital model that gets music into the hands of customers more quickly with an experience (and price) that users can’t resist. You may not be able to digitize your actual offerings, but can you digitize the process customers use to research, evaluate and buy your product? Starting this type of migration to digitally enabled distribution also makes a good candidate for agile marketing.

Music Industry Digital Model.

Craft Your Own Road Map to Agile Marketing

If your organization is challenged when it comes to competing with speed and agility, take a look at how we’ve helped many clients start their journey to agile marketing.

Consider the entire marketing mix

Many modern marketing executives are being asked by the CEO to deliver more than promotion and communications by taking on broader strategic responsibilities that include input into product development. Others go even further by leading pricing, distribution and customer experience. In these scenarios, the stakes might have changed, but the processes remain the same, putting goals and means at odds. If you choose to limit your functions to promotional activities, you risk not getting a seat at the table. Developing agile marketing skills can help you broaden your scope, which will ultimately increase your organization’s strategic value. 

Become adept at forming cross-functional teams 

Business has become more dependent on the cross talents of people drawn from different internal silos. For example, a marketing program manager might lead a new product launch with support from product development, public relations, social/mobile marketing and IT. During the project, team members are accountable to the team manager (versus their functional manager) for results. This technique frees the team from traditional processes, which can be limiting when trying a new approach. 

Enjoy the rewards of delivering in smaller chunks

This technique is one of the most rewarding payoffs of agile marketing, yet it challenges large marketing organizations accustomed to long, detailed plans with defined milestones and acceptance plans along the way. Start by breaking your six-month plans into sprints that last four-or even two-weeks. 

Make sure your sprints produce discrete outcomes you can measure. Sprints are also characterized by the “stand-up“ meeting, where checkpoints are designed to be quick (often 20 minutes) and focus exclusively on “What’s been completed since yesterday? What will be completed today? Are there any issues we need to crush?” These meetings can be followed up with efficient, solution-oriented sidebars focused on aligning team members on how to address the problems of the day.

Establish clear feedback channels


You can't manage what you can't measure


“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” has been a battle cry of business for decades, and it’s particularly relevant in agile scenarios. Whether it’s data, metrics or user feedback, cycling your learnings back into the process is a key benefit to an agile approach. For example, a sprint should begin with a crafting of clear goals that extend into observable metrics.

Structure your data collection process

The sprint should also define how data will be collected and analyzed, and at what intervals. In the world of digital marketing, everything is becoming measureable: cycle times for campaigns, leads, sales, active followers, sharing, conversion metrics. Learnings not only impact what your team produces, but also how your team produces it. Consider soliciting feedback from within your agile team along with “sprint retrospectives” to help identify how the team can be more effective and efficient.

Empower your people

We often marvel at how leveraging agile empowers teams to own their success. Teams should own project estimation, course correction and ultimately the outcome of their efforts. For agile teams to work, they require strong leaders with vision, discipline and enthusiasm for reaching a final objective. But they also require leaders who are willing to share ownership with their teams. Without such leadership, the beauty of the cross-functional, multidiscipline team often goes unrealized. Make sure departmental managers buy into the concept that while one of their people is on a team of people drawn from multiple organizational units, that individual is accountable to the team manager and his or her teammates. 

Hire an agile coach

For many, the move toward agile techniques represents a big change, even culture shock. Hence an agile coach is definitely worth the investment, especially if you’re lacking agile/scrum experience within your team. A coach can provide training, arm the team with a common vocabulary and provide guidance through uncertainty. Moreover, a coach helps you get it right from the start.


Agile Development Chart.

Get a Quick Win Under Your Belt

Marketers tend to deprioritize internal promotion. In the spirit of agile marketing, be sure to craft a cadence of success stories from your agile experiences. Share your learnings, especially those that derive from mistakes or false starts. Part of developing an agile culture is getting people to be comfortable with being uncomfortable (which is how admitting mistakes can often feel).

Many clients use search engine marketing as a means of promoting their early adoption of agile techniques because it can be quickly executed, measured and iterated. For example, an initial sprint might be three Google AdWords campaigns that employ unique storylines and their own calls- to-action. One campaign drives the audience to a thought leadership piece, another to a video, and another to a free trial offer. After running the campaigns for two weeks, the results are compared using click-through and conversion rates as success metrics. In this scenario, you can use the call-to-action winner as the control in the next sprint, where you optimize variations on the story. 

Cross Talent Business Team.

Kickstart Your Larger Effort

After a small pilot, you can move onto something larger with potential for greater impact. Keep in mind, an agile approach might not work the same in all cases across the board, especially when you’ve sourced activities to others, such as a media partner or an event management company. Where agile techniques make the most sense: business model innovation, new product ideation, product launches, entering new markets or opportunities to launch social campaigns at a moment’s notice.

  • Select a pilot project that is cross functional and requires a multidiscipline team. If you select a project that involves a partner, make sure they’ve bought into the intent of your pilot.
  • Get people bought into the spirit of agile marketing with daily stand-up meetings, 10- to 20-minute checkpoints that are highly focused on daily progress, plans and impediments.
  • Train and reward people for deconstructing big milestones into smaller chunks of work that can be quickly and easily measured and that generate useful feedback.
  • Don’t forget to promote successes and learnings within the internal organization.

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