Getting beyond the buzzword of ‘agile’ digital marketing to improve your customer relationships

As the director of brand and digital experience, Sarah Fruy leads the strategy, goals, and road map for Pantheon's public-facing website and branded assets. Fruy is a ScrumMaster® and Certified Agile Marketer who joins Pantheon with over 10 years of experience in the marketing, digital publishing, and online advertising industries, along with marketing strategy and digital marketing certifications from Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management. Previously, she worked at emerging media companies, such as Say Media, as well as heritage brands like the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mention the word “agile” in a business setting, and it may lead to furrowed brows and scratched heads. Agility creates a lot of buzz — and a lot of misinterpretation.

To clear up any confusion, agile generally refers to optimizing and managing workflows. According to McKinsey & Co., it involves “using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating.”

More specifically, agile uses real-time insights to inspire workflows that are less siloed, more efficient, and more tuned into the target landscape — in other words, it’s perfect for marketers. So what, exactly, is “agile digital marketing?” It’s a project management mindset in which a marketing team uses the insights it gathers to inform interdepartmental and intra-departmental collaboration, all in the hopes of developing a more customer-centric final product.

Agile digital marketing puts a premium on transparency, with a well-defined hierarchy that has one person or department manage work and delegate real-time adjustments based on up-to-the-minute feedback. Agile digital marketing is imperative because it improves collaboration by eliminating silos, filtering out unnecessary tasks, and putting people in positions to let their expertise shine. All of this combines to help you better respond to customers’ needs.

Customer-centric digital marketing

About 42% of respondents to Adobe’s 2018 Consumer Content Survey said content that is irrelevant to their current interests is “annoying.” Personalization is a sizable undertaking, but it’s an essential part of agile digital marketing’s infrastructure.

For example, my company’s most recent website renovation started with a lot of external outreach. We polled customers, prospects, and stakeholders on every facet of the website, from design to content to functionality. We knew that our website is the marketing team’s top asset, which means it must be a fluid entity that always accounts for customer feedback. With agile digital marketing, we could intake all outside feedback and disperse it to every internal website stakeholder to shape a final product that continues to resonate with and engage visitors.

Take a more flexible approach

Listening to customers is nothing new to marketers. Customers have been — and always will be — the fuel for your strategies. But customer feedback only goes so far up the flagpole; it could easily stop at your department and never reach design, IT, or other departments that need to hear the information.

An agile digital marketing mindset allows those departments (and others) to have the ear of the customer. If you’re unsure about how to integrate this marketing approach into your existing structure, try the following four steps:

1. Prioritise ‘individuals and interactions.’ Agile is a mindset that values people over the tools they use. In a marketing landscape in which keeping up with the marketing tool Joneses is paramount, make your company stand out by putting people at the centre of your strategy.

Focus on customer experience by regularly checking in with customers about your products and outreach efforts. What works and what doesn’t? What’s missing? What does the competition offer? Read customer reviews and inspire feedback with calls to action. Use these human elements to inform your marketing and overall corporate functions, which will add a flexible and personal touch to your customer engagement.

2. Don’t be averse to change. Agility is heavily reliant on open-mindedness and dexterity. Apply that same thinking to your digital marketing plan by throwing the original plan out the window if the situation calls for it.

Take those personal interactions and apply them to current or future marketing initiatives — especially if you fall short of a goal. If something works well, dive deep into why and assess whether there is another variable you can pull from those insights to hone your approach further. Whatever you can do to be a pliable partner to customers will benefit your strategy.

3. Ditch silos and hierarchies. When asked about his company’s digital transformation, CarMax CIO Shamim Mohammed said the effort “isn’t solely driven by IT, or marketing, or product. It’s a CarMax strategy that requires all parts of the business to work together to deliver a simple and seamless customer experience. It’s been crucial to breaking down the silos between departments to drive customer-centric innovation and business results.”

Cross-functionality is one of agile digital marketing’s main value propositions. Instead of a tried-and-true approach that involves plenty of red tape, bring in experts from different departments at all stages of development and production to gain their insights. This tactic prevents new ideas from derailing momentum, and it ensures the customer remains central to the final product at all stages.

4. Seek little victories instead of big wins. Traditional waterfall planning might involve one significant launch preceded by a few smaller milestones. With agile digital marketing, however, you should instead look for a series of small victories.

Big bets come with big risks, big rewards, and — unfortunately — big consequences if they fail. Instead, create minimally viable products and iterations that build on one another. These small investments allow your team to learn and make smart decisions along the way. That way, the final product is what the customer needed and envisioned all along.

Why bother marketing to a customer base you’re ignoring? Embrace agile digital marketing to put customers at the centre of all outreach efforts while you show them that their input matters — at all levels.

Photo by Cara Fuller on Unsplash

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