Samuel Scott wrote 'Agile marketing’ is a crutch for those who do not have a real strategy' where he takes agile marketers to task for borrowing agile from developers, and failing to realize that agile only helps when working on tasks that change rapidly.
Great, we like controversy, because it encourages debate.
My biggest issue with the article is equating agile with speed. In the sense we practice agile because the practice allows us to do things more quickly. I think it is possible for agile marketing to do things more quickly, and it is one of the results you receive, but that's the consequence of enabling marketers to have greater control of what they do. To me agile marketing's benefit is transparency over what work we should be focused on now, the transparency gives stakeholders insight into what marketers are working on and helps negotiate a plan. The speed comes because of focus not because somehow marketers are getting faster at a task, or moving more quickly through development cycles.
Samuel Scott suggested agile marketing had merit when used for SEO. The point being that SEO is a practice that lends itself to agile marketing because it’s constantly changing. Marketing's problem isn't that individual marketing tactics are staid, rather than we have to do so much and decide what we have to do at anyone moment. The constant change for marketing doesn’t lie with the tactics, it's the choice between what tactics we use.
Agile marketing empowers marketing teams to focus, and so the speed comes from dedicating enough time to get a task done. Existing practices don't help marketers to focus because marketer's agendas aren't controlled by the marketer, but rather by sales, the CEO and stakeholders. Transparency helps marketers to point out to their internal customers why giving control to decide what to execute on is so important.
Mike Volpe in an early interview with Frank Days and me on the Agilty Marketing Podcast made this point about HubSpot's use of agile marketing. It was the practice's ability to inform stakeholders on what marketers were doing that was the real value, and the consequences of interrupting them. It was a reality check for the CEO and senior member of staff.
"Hey we can switch to XYZ latest marketing/sales tactic, but it's going to bump off our quarterly marketing plan?"
Folks paused and did a double take realizing that they were bumping the very plans they had agreed upon at the beginning of the quarter. Agile marketers then had the ability to ask,
"Can we move this tactic to next quarter instead?"
because everyone had agreed to the discipline of sticking to sprint plans, the marketers were able control more what they did, and stay focused. Once everyone got to see the consequences of that focus, better results, in terms of getting through more marketing tasks because those tasks were planned and executed on a schedule. Senior managers became advocates for the discipline.
Focus, not the ability to change is the benefit of agile to marketers. Yes, we can still change, but again, if we are undisciplined in managing our overall list of tasks from stakeholders, we will be undisciplined in altering execution of tactics over time. Agile can help us to test more but you only get to do that practice if you have control of what you do next.
It’s Okay To Borrow Ideas
As for Samuel Scott’s criticism that marketers borrowed agile from developers, we did, I don’t see anything wrong with that. It actually moved from development, to product managers working with the development team, who then started using agile methods for product marketing.
Developers are a profession where using practices to manage projects is party of the DNA of the profession. Marketers don’t have that DNA, which is surprising because the profession is one of project management on a myriad of tasks. Software development has numerous management practices, I don’t think I could say the same for marketers.
Yes, marketers are guilty of running to the latest fad, I’d argue we invented the concept. But as someone who’s been attempting to use agile marketing since 2009, I can tell you it’s been a slow grinding process to get folks to adopt the practice. We pulled teeth between ’09 and ’12 to find any marketers who were using the practice to interview. And SprintZero really was the largest gathering of agile marketers at the time, 35! I sure hope agile marketing is becoming fad, because then more marketers will sleep better at night because they were able to control what they do, and get support from their CEO in what they are focused on!