Agile Beyond IT: Targeted Marketing

Software engineers have long known that Scrum is the quickest and most efficient way to design, test, and launch a new product. Now sales and marketing departments are finding the same strategies equally effective when it comes to creating, trying out, and reaping the benefits of new campaigns and messages.

In fact, Scrum is a natural fit for marketing professionals looking to be, well, more agile, according to Maria Matarelli, Certified Scrum Trainer®, founder and president of Formula Ink, and cofounder of the Agile Marketing Academy. "Jeff Sutherland says that Scrum lets you do half the work in half the time. So in marketing, why not sell twice as much in half the time? Why not reach twice as many users at half the budget?"

While using Scrum involves a complete shift in mindset from traditional approaches, it's also a natural fit, says Michelle Accardi, chief operating officer of Star2Star and author of Agile Marketing. "Sales, by its very nature, is very Agile," says Accardi. "You're driven by a customer's timetable and desires rather than your own, and to do a good job, you're going to pull in all your resources and say, ‘What will help me create a good relationship with the customer and move them through the buying cycle?' That requires agility, as what the customer wants and what messages resonate can change very fast."

It's all about iterating

By applying Scrum's iterative process, marketers can track results and evolve campaigns according to what works and what doesn't, saving both time and money while getting a better return on their investment, says Matarelli.

As an example, she cites the case of a coffee company that had been marketing acid-free coffee to a general audience with a message that it was healthier than regular coffee. It wasn't working — sales had stagnated and the company was stuck in no-growth mode.

By creating a series of targeted messages and tracking them online, the company determined that people with digestive illnesses, particularly ulcers, responded overwhelmingly to the company's product. After that, "they actually ran out of inventory because they kept selling out," Matarelli says. By using such a results-driven approach, the company increased revenues by 300 percent in six months, and more than 780 percent in a year.

"It's a key difference from traditional to Agile marketing that you start with the user story to find the actual customer need that the product solves," says Matarelli. "Then you do short, iterative testing; you can validate your hypothesis to see if this is really who wants the product. Then you start driving traffic and track the leads generated. You can do it with radio, print, TV, any marketing channel. When marketing online, you get faster feedback loops based on solid data points."

Perhaps even more importantly, using an iterative process helps avoid potentially costly mistakes that come with a "big bang" launch, says Accardi. "In a traditional marketing campaign, you have a certain amount of money to spend, so you hire an agency, form a team, and build out a campaign, all budgeted ahead of time. And then what happens when that doesn't resonate? You just wasted tons of money. And now you have to figure out what went wrong."

Instead, break the marketing process into smaller sprints that can be tested along the way, and you find out much sooner when you've chosen the wrong target or the wrong message, she says. "By taking smaller chunks and figuring out where you're going to have the greatest impact, you've saved yourself tons of time in what you're going to pay in print costs, digital costs, and internal costs."

A team-based approach increases input

Another advantage of marketing with Scrum is the team-based approach, which makes space for input from all levels of the selling process. "In my experience, having alignment between executive management, sales, marketing, and customer service and getting team members from all those groups involved up front is very valuable," says Accardi.

"You've got this valuable resource in the sales and customer services representatives, who are closest to the customer and really understand the customer experience. But traditional marketing ignores that. Here you have people on the street getting daily feedback from customers who might have important insights into which kinds of messages would work. Why wouldn't you want that on your team?"

The frequent check-ins built into Scrum also allow sales and marketing teams to run multifaceted campaigns with better communication between the various elements, says Accardi. "You're getting input into the problem you're trying to solve, building out marketing use cases, developing the pieces you want to have, and using 15-minute stand-ups as checkpoints with group members about what problems they're running into. You're keeping all the pieces as tightly aligned and integrated as you can."

Marketers move to Scrum

Working with Nic Sementa, a serial entrepreneur with an extensive background in marketing and advertising, Matarelli launched a case study program based on the successes of the coffee company. As they began applying Agile concepts with more clients and sharing techniques with others in the marketing field, Matarelli and Sementa uncovered an enormous need. Company after company, it turned out, was failing to track its marketing messages and adapt when needed.

"People weren't looking at the cost of customer acquisition; they were spending 80 percent of their time and money on something that only brought in 20 percent of their revenue," says Matarelli. "Applying Agile to marketing in iterations allows you to pause and reflect, and that's what most of these business owners were not doing."

Indeed, surveys back up the level of interest. According to the 2015 State of Scrum Report, 26 percent of all companies reported implementing Scrum in sales and marketing.

But companies are realizing that just trying to apply a few Agile principles ad hoc isn't enough, Matarelli says. "People try to do Agile buffet-style, going, ‘Here's what I choose to apply,' but they're not going to get the full benefit. To get incredible results, you have to be willing to try something different and empower your team to do what needs to be done — even if it's uncomfortable, something you haven't done before."

The change is being felt at all levels of marketing, from in-house departments to big creative firms, says Accardi. "The way of the future is that you'll win business product by product, project by project, over time, because you continuously deliver based on knowledge of who the users are and who your customer is. And you'll have the advantage of more insight than your competitors could ever bring."

Companies are pushing for a more Agile approach from a financial perspective too, Accardi says. "It used to be you got your budget for the year and you planned everything out in advance, especially in public companies. Now you can take a more Agile, chunked approach to things depending on where your revenues are at the time. Boards don't want to hear, ‘This is going to cost $80,000' and not see a return from that. Big bang just doesn't work anymore."

This article is a part of Scrum Alliance's Agile Beyond IT series. Stay tuned for upcoming web articles and membership blog posts on this topic.

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