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Agile Marketing Development At Webtrends: Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, VP Of Marketing

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff Webtrends 9 just launched this summer, reading about the product (Webtrends 9 Reinvents Web Analytics Story Telling) and the company's amazing new features (storytelling, simple design, overlay RSS feed in data) I wondered how Webtrends had been able to build such an impressive product. I was even more intrigued when I read how Webtrends CEO Alex Yoder described the importance of agile development to the new version of his company's product.

Webtrends, an early pioneer, once dominated the web measurement industry, starting in 1993. The 2001 acquisition of Webtrends by NetIQ was a great opportunity, but may have restricted the company's ability to develop and compete freely. The Google 2005 declaration to make Google Analytics free no doubt partly galvanized the Webtrends management to take Webtrends private again in 2006.

After two years as a private company, Alex Yoder took the helm in 2008 from after working for the company in sales for a number of years, and he brought on Jascha in the same year. Alex was Jascha's former Webtrends sales rep at Microsoft, so the two men already had a close relationship. Jascha had always been an advocate for Webtrends while at Microsoft. When Alex took the helm at Webtrends, Jascha was brought on board to reformulate the company's marketing strategy.

With the change to agile development the development cycle has gone from 14-16 months to 4 months at Webtrends. I spoke with Webtrends VP of Marketing, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff who explained that Webtrends marketing strategy now drives product development. He explains, "The integration of experimentation into the front end of the idea generation process causes the largest churn and everything downstream is touched in some capacity," and that two guiding principles influence marketing activity at the company.

1) Be quick.
2) Learn and get better.

The process for marketing development for the creative team is to develop ideas, put a shell together before passing the idea onto development for production and the programs team for implementation. Formerly, the process was that 3-4 ideas would be generated, the creative team would work on deciding which idea was the best and then one idea would be passed onto development. Today, the process is similar in that 3-4 ideas are developed, but there's no sorting of the ideas down to the best presumed idea, instead all 3-4 ideas are moved forward to development and implementation.

What the creative team loses in time from putting 3-4 shell ideas together, the team gains in time from not having to decide what the best idea is. Instead the reality of the market reveals which idea was the best from customers and ROI once implemented.

The switch to agile development fundamentally changed the way marketing worked. Jascha believes that for marketing to be effective in today's world Webtrends has to both listen and interact with customers, otherwise Webtrends will not be able to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves before the company. The company is even okay with failing on projects, as every time Webtrends marketing fails Webtrends learns through the implicit and explicit feedback of customers.

Jascha explains why it was critical to change marketing at Webtrends:

Jascha: Marketing has fundamentally changed. I’m not talking about today compared to 10 years ago; everybody can see that. Rather, marketing is in a constant state of flux these days. It’s different today than it was 12 months ago. What works today might not work tomorrow. And it’s likely to keep changing at a rapid pace to keep up with the similarly frenetic pace of change in communications, business and technology.

But most organizations haven’t adapted to these new realities. Most marketing teams are not agile. Too often, marketing teams get one shot at ‘getting it right.’ Most times, they fail.  This produces organizational and business frustration, and the casualties marginalize good marketers. What’s striking is that failure is often the result of the rigid business processes embedded in the organization, the lack of accountability to business drivers, the lack of good data and sometimes even the one-shot budgeting approach. Often, there’s nothing wrong with the underlying marketing idea.

Today, successful marketing is about experimentation. As marketers, it’s our responsibility to build a process-driven foundation for constantly adapting and improving our ideas in order for them to consistently produce the results our organizations require. The results our organizations should demand.  But an out-of-the-box infrastructure for iterative marketing doesn’t exist. The component pieces – analytics, campaign management, multivariate testing and experimentation, and social media — each require too much specialized expertise and attention for any one vendor to effectively deliver them all.  You could say, it takes a village to run a successful marketing campaign these days. But that would be trite. As our engineering team has adapted it’s methodology as too has marketing. Some things we’ve done as we’ve modified our processes to support agile are: 

We’ve adopted iterative marketing as an operational methodology. Test, Learn, Improve, Repeat

1) The team meets for daily scrums to check in on progress against priorities
2) We’ve added new members qualified to handle the rapid pace.
3) We’ve moved more communications to a collaboration portal for faster and better communications (less synthesis required, improved version control, less organization of local files, etc.)

John: When you move to an agile model, everything upstream has to speed up. Coming on board in the last year, Jascha had to find a good team of people who could handle the pace of change. He has made sure he has a Creative Director who is used to the pace of change. Jascha believes agency creative people have an advantage over many internal brand creative teams because of the necessary pace of change at an agency. Alex Yoder promotes the philosophy of building the best team in a company, and encourages all of his executive staff to do the same.

Webtrends has a business analyst who reports to Jascha, the analyst develops a strategy around measurement, and the analyst and Jascha review how any design ideas meet their marketing goals. Webtrends also has a senior manager of social media, who considers how each campaign fits into their listening grid.

In moving a project from creative to development, marketing has to determine the right amount of time that needs to be spent on a project to make it good enough. Jascha believes being quick and getting a project 90% right, gives you flexibility to try different programs, and be iterative on programs, as customers start to interact and results are good, you know it is worth spending more time and execute against a project that's going to get your results.

Budget development has been affected by the move to agile marketing development. Marketing is considered a profit center, and as such as results increase, the more marketing will receive. Webtrends practices quarterly marketing budgeting, with forecasting at half years, and a monthly review process. Jascha is able to go back to the CFO and CEO throughout the year, demonstrate credible returns and ask for additional money.

As a strong believer in the marketing concept, it occurs to me that Webtrends is going to do well because of the work the company has put into building a quicker, more agile strategic marketing process. Not only can marketers gain a lot from the company’s new products, but we can learn a lot from how Webtrends approaches agile development and marketing.

Webtrends Timeline

1993 - Webtrends founded
2001 - NetIQ acquires webtrends
2005 - Google Analytics free of charge.
2006 - Webtrends management takes webtrends private.
2008 - Alex Yoder becomes new webtrends CEO.
2008 - Jascha Kaykas-Wolff  become new VP of Marketing.

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