Mere weeks into 2020, B2B marketers and business leaders everywhere found themselves scrambling to adjust their forecasts, strategies and marketing plans in response to an “unprecedented” global pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout.
While agile marketing—an iterative approach inspired by software developers—has long had its proponents, the uncertainty of the future and the volatility of the economy in a post-COVID-19 world is pushing marketers in virtually every industry to take a hard look at the benefits of adopting an agile approach.
According to research from Merkle, 85% of marketers plan to increase agile usage in the next two years. So how should it impact your B2B marketing efforts? Here are 5 ways to make your marketing efforts more agile.
According to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “the only thing constant is change.” The year 2020 has proven that to be truer than ever before. And a fast-pace, ever-changing world requires a fast-pace B2B marketing mindset. Gone are the “set it and forget it” days of marketing planning. The proliferation of digital ushered in a new era of fast-pace marketing, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only further reinforced the need for agility in a firm’s marketing approach.
So what exactly is agile marketing? I like this definition from Workfront: “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.” At its core, agile marketing runs on the “80%” rule—valuing speed to market with ongoing optimization, over waiting for an initiative to be perfect before rolling it out.
The Agile Marketing Manifesto lays out the seven “values” of agile marketing, as opposed to traditional marketing, this way:
While client-centricity was paramount long before the pandemic, in this uncertain economy, becoming client-centric in all things will force you to respond more to the needs of your clients, and less to the latest news and market forecasts, or someone else’s clients. This goes beyond client experience initiatives, which are crucial for gaining and sustaining competitive advantage. An agile mindset will drive you to make the client an integral influence in your firm’s planning, processes, products, services, marketing and sales activities.
Instead of depending solely on the opinions of executive leadership, an agile mindset shifts the greater source of influence to the client. Client-centricity turns marketing from an inside-out approach to an outside-in approach, which is a massive paradigm shift. This kind of thinking leads to a more concentrated focus on solving client needs—which are always evolving—as opposed to a traditional emphasis on sales numbers and balance sheets (which are both very important). With an agile approach, the objective is to seek input from clients, learn from their feedback and make adjustments in order to better serve their needs, which will lead to higher sales and improved balance sheets.
When the pandemic first hit, some industries immediately came to a screeching halt (e.g. theme parks and movie theatres), while others experienced a sudden boom (e.g. puzzles and toilet paper). Marketing teams in both situations were left scrambling to figure out the proper course of action to take moving forward. Desperate times called for innovation in order to capitalize on the situation or to simply stay above water.
The kind of experimentation, innovation and iteration observed during this year’s pandemic is what agile thinking is all about. Today’s market demands agility from high-growth firms who want to continue growing and thriving—in spite of turbulent times. This means reacting rapidly to a client need (see #2) or an emerging trend with both operational and marketing changes. Agile thinking encourages firms not to fear trying something that might fail, in an effort to achieve growth and success.
Along the lines of fail fast and fail often, agile marketing also places a high value on testing and experimenting. As stated by Scott Brinker, “testing has become the quintessential data-driven marketing process: running controlled experiments to determine what resonates best with prospects and customers.” In other words, a campaign or initiative should always be running in beta mode, with marketers closely monitoring the data and making necessary optimizations along the way. A/B testing and multivariate testing can now be leveraged in a variety of channels, such as email, landing pages and websites, advertising and social media—in order to improve the effectiveness of the campaign.
Our responsibility as marketers is to connect the dots between the work we do and the bottom line. While return on investment may not always be easy to demonstrate, especially in more complex B2B industries, return on effort can and should be in view. Agile marketing goes beyond traditional measurement and metrics and seeks to turn data into actionable insights.
Finally, an agile mindset brings together cross-functional teams with an “all hands on deck” mentality. And “all hands” is not limited to the hands of the marketing team, but rather any and all stakeholders that should be involved to ensure the best possible outcome. This means seeking input from and collaborating with agency partners, inside and outside sales, operations, IT, accounting, HR and product or service teams.
No longer should a firm’s organizational structure limit their ability to react quickly and deliver best-in-class client experiences. Collaboration and communication should become more open firm-wide and a greater emphasis should be placed on them becoming an integral aspect of the firm’s culture and DNA. Just like marketing needs to rely on input from the client, it also needs to rely upon input from other departments and stakeholders that can offer valuable insights and ideas for iteration and innovation.
In a world with an uncertain future and an ever-shifting economy, focusing on high-value marketing initiatives, while prioritizing continuous improvement, will ensure the best return on your marketing efforts. By implementing these and other agile marketing essentials, your marketing (and your firm) will be better prepared to grow moving forward.
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