Using Agile Marketing for Developers and Marketers
Marketing and Development: An Age-Old Rivalry
“I need a new landing page in two weeks,” says the marketing manager standing in front of your desk in the engineering group at BigCo Inc.
“I’m sorry, but that’s just not possible,” you reply as you imagine the week required to design and code new templates in your company’s unwieldy CMS, the three-days QA cycle required in both development and staging environments and the fact that, by policy, the company only deploys updates to its production site once monthly. Besides, you’re only in week two of a fully loaded three-month project plan for your team – a plan the marketing group agreed to, which didn’t include this new landing page!
It’s part of what seems like a perennial struggle between marketing and development.
As the marketing manager pleads her case, she explains that the team just got results of their latest promotion – and they aren’t good. The sales bump they expected never materialized and now the company is significantly behind on its revenue plan. The board isn’t happy, the CEO is worried and the marketing team is under tremendous pressure to deliver. They really, really need that landing page.
You’d like to help, but you just don’t have the resources. You have to stick to your three-month development plan, which is based on commitments you’ve made to stakeholders throughout the company.
Situations like these are all too common. It’s part of what seems like a perennial struggle between marketing and development. Marketing has a great idea and needs implementation ASAP, while development would like to help, but already has it’s available resources fully committed for the next 3-6 months.
But, here’s the problem: To an overwhelming extent, effective digital marketing relies on rapid execution and iteration. Great digital marketing doesn’t just require a new landing page in two weeks, it may very well require new landing pages every week – and revisions to those pages every few days based on the latest Conversion Rate Optimization results. And this need just doesn’t fit with conventional development practices.
Ironically, it’s through the application of new development practices that marketing and development teams can achieve the speed and flexibility they need, while simultaneously eliminating the frustration and drama that has been an all too frequent staple of their working relationships. Enter Agile.
Introducing Agile Marketing
Agile, originally a software-development methodology, was born of a need to be more responsive to business requirements and rapid changes in the technology landscape. With increasing frequency, software developers were finding that, by the time a multi-month project was completed, new technology and shifting requirements rendered the result largely obsolete.
Agile development practices avoid these pitfalls by making ongoing iteration and prioritization an omnipresent part of development. Instead of multi-month projects, work is planned, prioritized, assigned and completed in short bursts called “sprints”, which typically last 1-2 weeks. As a result, Agile allows teams to quickly respond to change, and use the power of iteration to be working constantly toward better software.
Okay, that’s nice, but how does that apply to Marketing?
What is Agile Marketing?
Andrea Fryrear writes:
“At its core, agile marketing is a tactical marketing approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high value projects, complete those projects cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time.”
In a nutshell, Agile involves the following steps:
- Triage – Identifying, from among all possible projects, those projects that will have the greatest business impact.
- Sprint Planning – Once high-value work has been identified, the work is described in “User Stories” that define the goal and is slotted into a “Sprint”, or an agreed-upon timeframe in which the work will be accomplished.
- Delivery/Sprint Demos – At the end of a sprint, the work that was accomplished is delivered and demonstrated.
- Rinse-Repeat – The team measures the impact of previous sprints and initiatives, then triages the priorities for the next sprint, and the cycle continues.
The power of this process is that it focuses Marketing on what is most impactful in the short-term as well as giving more flexibility to pivot and adjust based on results so far.
Requests Are Easy with Agile
So, how does Agile make it easier for a development team to support marketing requests? Agile tends to make implementation easier by requiring marketers to do two things that make developers’ work much more productive:
- Qualify the business value of the Marketing request. This requires thoughtfulness and quantification of business impact, which makes working together to prioritize tasks and plan sprints a rational process based on shared data.
- Describe the goal (rather than the solution). This allows developers to be flexible and creative in supporting marketing requests, which can enable surprising efficiency and outcomes. We can see an example of how this plays out in the user story below.
The Power of Agile Stories
Let’s translate our marketing manager’s request for a new landing page into a user story, and see how Agile Marketing practices enable better outcomes.
In Agile, everything starts with a user-story. Often in the form of “As a ________ I need ________ to achieve ________ and will have ________ benefit to the company.
“As a marketer, I need to be able to promote a new digital offer on a dedicated page on our website and measure the effectiveness of that offer via analytics because tracking engagement and conversions enable us to drive more efficient revenue for the company.”
- Here’s what this user story clarifies that the original request for a new landing page did not:
We only need a page to support a new offer. It’s not an entirely different kind of page than exists on the site – just a landing page with new content. This can be supported by using an existing marketing page template and just populating with new content and graphics. In fact, the marketing manager can do most of this herself, since she has CMS access. And, since no new development is involved, our five days of development time drops to an hour of support time and QA time decreases from several days to a couple of hours.
- We need engagement and conversion tracking, which we can support with Google Analytics, which we know is a part of every page template already. We’ll augment conversion tracking with some custom event script and by configuring a new goal, all of which should take less than two hours.
By leveraging user stories as part of agile marketing, the time required to fulfill the initial landing page request drops from at least two weeks to just a day or two.
User stories ask us to think about what precisely we are trying to accomplish and why. By asking ourselves these questions requests can be broken down to their essential elements, which creates clarity and controls for assumptions. This process also helps ensure that requests have been thoughtfully considered and truly have business value (which then can be used to determine prioritization).
Tips for Strong User Stories
- Make sure your needs and objectives are clear and concise.
- Qualify the Business Value of your request. (Why is it important)
- Be Descriptive rather than Prescriptive in your requests. In other words, engineers and UX designers should be able to decide “how” to solve your problem.
Iterating Together for Success
The real magic in Agile is that it is an inherently iterative and collaborative process. The best outcomes occur when marketing and development work side by side throughout the entire process, making frequent adjustments based on results so far and on new opportunities.
Once you have measured the results from your latest campaign, it is time to update your user-stories and make changes for the next sprint.
Helping Developers Code with Marketing in Mind
Ultimately, Agile is a cooperative process and everything outlined in this article should be done in partnership with your engineering department. Improving how marketing communicates with development is only half the problem.
In an upcoming article, we will be discussing what engineers can do to lessen the work involved with servicing marketing requests. And how by building marketing into their system architecture can make the process easier for everyone.