By Andrea Fryrear published June 16, 2016

Agile Marketing: How Marketers Work Smarter


More, more! Faster, faster! It’s an easy trap to fall into: If only we work more or work faster, surely our results will improve, we tell ourselves. In fact, 89% of marketers are logging into work outside of their normal working hours.

You probably know that the more-more-faster-faster approach isn’t working. The number of B2B content marketers who see their efforts as effective fell 8% between 2015 and 2016. I suspect that those content marketers are missing the Agile marketing boat.

The number of B2B #content marketers who see their efforts as effective fell 8% between 2015-16 via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

The good news is that anyone can get on board that boat any time. Unfortunately, few are doing so. Only 11% of content marketers report using Agile marketing compared with 63% of marketers overall.

I believe that the time to get on board is now. Why? Because, as Joe Pulizzi predicts, “Now is the time when we will witness the greatest content marketing failures of all time. And right now we also will see some of the greatest success stories of our time.”

As the content marketing waters get turbulent, Agile marketing may give your team just what it needs to stay seaworthy.

What’s Agile marketing again?

In the generic sense, “agile” means “nimble.” Agile with a capital “a” refers to a methodology invented by software developers. The concept of Agile marketing may seem foreign if you’ve never seen it in action, but it’s easy to understand.

Here’s how it works. For starters, your marketing team agrees on a list of priorities. Based on those priorities, you decide which tasks – including content marketing tasks – are most important. The team agrees to focus on those tasks that it can expect to accomplish during the next “sprint” (typically somewhere between one week and one month) – and it puts all other tasks on hold (on the “backlog”).

A sprint is a set period during which team members aim to complete a set amount of high-priority work that’s connected to a long-term plan. Teams work through one sprint after another, reassessing priorities each time.

When someone brings you a new request during a sprint, you may stop and address it only if it’s more important than what you’ve committed to. Otherwise, you assign it to a future sprint and return to your priorities.

An Agile approach enables you to become more effective without working more. You may get more done – or you may not. The point is that you’re more likely to get the right things done.

An Agile approach enables you to become more effective without working more via @AndreaFryrear #contentstrategy Click To Tweet

Why are marketers reluctant to try Agile methods?

According to the Wrike report The State of Agile Marketing in 2016, when marketers were asked what prevents their teams from more completely implementing an Agile approach, they cited these seven barriers:

  • We lack training or knowledge about Agile approaches. (23.5%)
  • Our current approaches are working well enough for us. (17.6%)
  • Management doesn’t see the value of Agile marketing. (11.6%)
  • There’s not enough time or bandwidth to start a new approach. (10.7%)
  • There’s generally not a willingness to try a new approach. (10.3%)
  • We don’t have the right tools to implement an Agile approach. (9.1%)
  • We don’t have a champion to lead this for our team. (8.1%)

Sound familiar? It wasn’t long ago that similar challenges prevented teams from embracing content marketing. People said things like:

  • We don’t know how to do content marketing.
  • Our current approach to marketing is working well enough.
  • Management doesn’t see the value of content marketing.
  • We don’t have time or bandwidth to start creating content.
  • People aren’t willing to try a new approach.
  • We don’t have the right tools to implement content marketing.
  • We don’t have a champion to lead content marketing for our team.

Eerily similar.

Many brands are still trying to catch up with early adopters of content marketing – those forward-thinking marketers who didn’t let little things like complacency or a lack of knowledge stand in their way. Let’s use the lessons we learned during the rise of content marketing to ride this Agile wave a little better.

Adopting an Agile approach has the same game-changing potential to launch organizations into a new phase of marketing excellence.

Agile marketing helps you hit your targets

Agile teams make small, strategic plans rather than huge plans. They adjust, observe, and adapt based on data. They are more likely to hit their targets – and to stay in sync with evolving business opportunities – than are teams that invest enormous amounts of time and resources in large projects.

Agile VS. Waterfall Process

Image source

Agile marketing teams put foundational Agile principles to work on marketing-related initiatives. Since these principles were created for software development, they sometimes clash with the realities of modern marketing. Fortunately, the Agile methodology calls for improving and adapting the methodology itself, so it’s appropriate for us as content marketers to experiment and come up with variations that work for our unique situations.

Agile marketing balances the need for speed with the quest for quality

Simply getting faster isn’t likely to do content creators much good. If your writers were suddenly able to type twice as fast, you wouldn’t instantly double your leads.

While it’s important for modern marketing teams to respond to market changes in as close to real time as possible, we must balance that need for speed with audience expectations for quality, relevance, and meaning in our content.

In my experience, Agile marketing helps content marketing teams find that balance.

Agile methods help you treat content as a strategic asset

Agile marketing helps you maintain alignment between day-to-day content production and the content strategy that drives it.

It’s easy to dismiss marketing plans that span dozens of pages and try to plan marketing initiatives months (or years) in the future. If we create content strategies that are similarly far-sighted and inflexible, we risk recreating a waterfall approach to content.

A waterfall approach requires a huge amount of planning in preparation for a big release. Sometimes this approach yields a correspondingly big impact, but there’s also the risk of an even bigger failure.

A waterfall approach can sever content marketing ties to the audience; we go into our bubble to make a huge amount of content. By the time we’re ready to deliver that content, our customers’ interests and concerns – or the channels we had planned to use – might have changed.

For example, we might draft a content marketing strategy that calls for unleashing a bunch of content that helps marketers get the most out of Facebook – perhaps a good strategy based on today’s view of our opportunity (the gray dot on the chart above). But by the time we’ve got dozens of pieces of content ready to go, Facebook may have changed its algorithm in a way that renders our advice obsolete.

If, instead, we released a few pieces of content, measured our audience’s reaction, and then repeated that process – making a series of small evolving plans (represented by the small blue dots above), perhaps dedicating one sprint to each – we would learn about changes as they happen. Armed with these unfolding insights, we could continually adjust our strategy to more accurately target tomorrow’s opportunities (the big blue dot).

To achieve this level of flexibility, our content strategy would need to be adaptable and data-driven enough that we could do the following frequently:

  • Identify shifts in our audience’s needs.
  • Create content experiments to help us connect with those needs as they shift.
  • Track which experiments succeed and fail so that we can repeat successes and abandon failures.

The goal of Agile content marketing is to create a system that enables us to incorporate new information and emerging innovations into our marketing more rapidly than quarterly or yearly plans allow.

Perhaps most importantly, Agile methods support rapid adaptation in a strategic, balanced way. Agile teams may be fast, but they aren’t chaotic. Choices are considered; decisions are not reactive.

Agile teams may be fast, but they aren’t chaotic says @AndreaFryrear #contentstrategy Click To Tweet

Agile marketing in general, and Agile content marketing in particular, can help us pilot our teams through the choppy seas of disruption without capsizing.

Rough waters ahead

If content marketing is descending into the trough of disillusionment, we need to be piloting the most nimble ship possible to navigate the rougher waters. By adopting Agile marketing, we give ourselves the best possible chance of sailing through.

I believe that many of those marketers who, as Joe predicts, will achieve “some of the greatest success stories of our time” will do so, in part, due to Agile methods.

Are you part of the 11% of content marketers who are using Agile methodologies today? If not, what’s keeping you from joining their ranks? All aboard!

Want more on working smarter when it comes to your content? Sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers weekly email newsletter, which features exclusive insights from CMI’s Chief Strategy Officer, Robert Rose. If you’re like many other marketers we meet, you’ll come to look forward to his thoughts every Saturday.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Andrea Fryrear

Andrea is the president and lead trainer at AgileSherpas, a training, education, and consulting company designed to help marketing teams transform their work from frantic to fantastic. Her most recent book, Death of a Marketer, chronicles marketing’s troubled past and the steps it must take to claim a more Agile future. She geeks out on all things agile and content on Twitter.

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  • Jill Pfaus Schmieg

    This approach has a strong correlation to lean – that is to say, people involvement in continuous improvement with shortened lead times – in a manufacturing or operational environment – love to see these types of marketing operations recommendations. By nature, many marketers are so strategic and creative, that this isn’t an area they tend to favor, and then they really struggle when their management teams ask them to do more with less and exceed last quarter’s performance continuously……. Agile Marketing can help provide some solutions to this!

  • Afryrear

    You’re absolutely right, Jill. There’s a whole lot of overlap and intersection between this kind of approach and lean (particularly an emphasis on reducing waste and simplification). Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  • Bill Cushard

    Funny that I read this today….just 30 minutes after our marketing finished up our Sprint Retrospective and Sprint Planning meetings. We run a scrum process to plan and execute all of our marketing activities. From planning webinars to writing ebooks to running paid media campaigns. The best part for us is in the sprint planning (we run 2 week sprints) we can, if we do it right, focus on getting the most important stuff done for the business during that sprint. Then we lock it down and focus only (well mostly) on that stuff we planned. We minimize unplanned work and focus on planned work.

    It works pretty well for us.

    Call me the scrum master.

    • Afryrear

      I will indeed call you scrum master, Bill! I love hearing about teams that are doing this well. Keep on keeping on, and please feel free to reach out to me anytime you want to chat/vent/ask something!

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  • Lindsay Wolfe

    How do you become trained in Agile marketing? Is there a website you can find courses to become certified?

    • Afryrear

      Hi Lindsay,

      I know there are a few emerging courses out there that are specific to agile marketing, but I can’t speak to their content or quality having not taken them myself. Personally I’ve focused the majority of my own education on general Scrum training (Scrum Master and Product Owner) and then relied on online resources and my own experience to fill in the gaps. I have done onsite trainings/workshops and would be happy to talk with you more about that if you’re interested. I’m @andreafryrear on Twitter – feel free to message me.

    • Bill Cushard

      Lindsay, I recommend reading the Scrum Guide.
      You will find it easy to follow and you will say, “we can do that.” With that foundation, I bet Andrea’s workshops would be highly valuable.

  • Brian Driggs

    As an Agile practitioner (ironically, never in a software environment), I’m very pleased to see this less than 24 hours after picking up the CMI newsletter. I spend a lot of time in the “solopreneur” space, jack of all trades without time to truly master any one, so this is just the way it has to be.

    Appreciate seeing this. Thank you.

    • Afryrear

      Hi Brian – I’m very glad you found the article interesting! I’m curious — are you using Agile as an individual? This is something I find helpful myself, but I don’t often hear about people who’ve got their own system dialed in for a team of one.

      • Brian Driggs

        As an individual, though not in any structured form which wouldn’t leave a certified scrum master screaming at the screen. When and where I can, I introduce Agile into the process. Sometimes I get a horse to drink. Others, not so much.

        For me, much of the benefit comes from reprogramming my mind to think in Agile methodologies, given a situation. Most of the time, I’m trying to take Sinek’s “Start with Why” mindset, break things down into smaller pieces for my various sprints (which often end up being more than a little Kanban), then apply a Covey-esque 4-square prioritization. It’s a never-ending work in progress.

        Revelation: Maybe I should have a single backlog for all life’s projects and work THAT list…

        Appreciate the engagement, Andrea.

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