agile-marketing
Image from Flickr by Peter Fristedt.

“Agile marketing” has become a bit of a buzz-word for start-ups. But what exactly is it, and is it just for tiny companies?

The idea of agile marketing comes from agile development: a software development practice that means using an iterative approach, with lots of experiments, testing and feedback.

The goals of Agile Marketing are to improve the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.

– Jim Ewel, AgileMarketing.net

It’s an approach that’s gained popularity in the past few years, since the publication of Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses in 2011.

Why Agile Marketing Works So Well for Startups

When every penny counts, companies simply can’t pour funds into huge campaigns, pre-plannned down to every last detail. An agile, flexible approach offers:

A Quick and Viable Way to Test Ideas and Products

Central to agile marketing is the idea of a “minimum viable product” (or service) – a very basic offering that can be created cheaply. Rather than spending months or even years developing a product that, it turns out, focus groups love but no-one wants to buy, start-ups can test their ideas in the real world, quickly and cheaply.

Feedback from Early Adopters

The people who buy a bare-bones product at a great price will, hopefully, be willing to offer feedback. By finding out what they liked and what they want done differently, the start-up is in a great position to create the next iteration of the product or service – confident that they’re going in the right direction.

Another approach, suggested by Copyblogger’s Brian Clark (in 5 Ways a Minimum Viable Audience Gives You an Unfair Business Advantage) is to build an audience first and get feedback from fans – even better than early adopters who don’t have any investment in the company.

…and Why it Could be Great for Large Companies Too

Agile marketing isn’t just for entrepreneurs launching new companies. It’s a great strategy for any sized business … and one that’s only becoming more important.

Why? Because the online world demands agility. On social media, you don’t have 48 hours to get management approval and run a message past your legal team; customers want a quick response.

Agility is also a huge advantage if:

You Want to Respond to Events Quickly

News and events move fast – and that means being in the thick of it, willing to tweet (or post on Facebook or Google+) in the heat of the moment.

One great successful example of this is Oreo Cookies’ Super Bowl tweet, which (if you follow a few social media related blogs) you may well have heard about already:

Something Isn’t Working and You Want to Change Direction

Let’s say you’ve embarked on a new content marketing campaign, producing guest posts for a large number of blogs in your industry about a particular topic.

The problem is, the posts simply aren’t going down well with the audiences of these blogs. Maybe the style and tone are wrong, or the topic isn’t a good fit. Whatever the problem, you definitely don’t want to carry on with the campaign as-is.

If you have every last detailed pinned down and signed off three months ahead, it’s going to be tough (perhaps impossible) to change things. With a more agile approach – perhaps with a broad plan for your content but without all of it being created up front – you can re-plan what’s coming up and run a far more successful campaign.

Three Principles of Agile Marketing You Can Use Today

With agile marketing there’s no need to change your whole strategy, just make sure you’re adaptable enough to learn what does and doesn’t work – and be well prepared to take advantage of any opportunities that may come along.

– Kevin Gibbons, Is Agile Marketing the Future of Search in 2013?, Search Engine Watch

Whatever size your business, here are three ways you can get started with agile marketing – or do more of it, if you’re already using this approach to an extent.

#1: Create a Minimum Viable Product

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a full product – you can apply the “minimum viable” principle to other areas too.

Let’s say you’re thinking of creating a subscription-incentive for your newsletter list – perhaps a downloadable guide. It can be tough to find the time for this sort of project (especially if you’re anxious about “getting it right”) – but the “minimum viable” approach lets you create something rough-and-ready, and refine it in the light of real-world feedback.

#2: Run Controlled Experiments

Do you ever test two versions of the same email, or two versions of the same landing page on your website? If not, you’re missing out on sales.

Sometimes, surprisingly small changes (like wording a headline differently) create huge differences in conversion rates. The tough thing is, even experts can find it hard to predict what’s going to perform well. This means it’s essential to experiment and use hard data. If you’re interested in learning more about testing – and seeing results of other companies’ campaigns – take a look at MECLABS, who have a wealth of resources.

#3: Give More Control to Your Marketing Team

Unless your company is a one-man band, your marketing team may be hampered by needing to get approval on the content they create.

While this is a good idea on major pieces of content, like infographics or blog posts, when it comes to social media, you’ll often see much better results if you give your marketing team guidelines on what they can and can’t say … and let them get on with it.

Plenty of brands are doing this, and Mashable reports on Teradata, saying:

[CMO Lisa Arthur] is streamlining processes so her team can respond more quickly to business and customer needs, including tactical activities such as issuing press releases or managing an event.

Whether you’re already using an agile approach, or whether this seems a major and possibly scary step, see if you can find one simple way to use flexibility, experimentation and/or feedback in your marketing this week. Drop us a comment below to let us know what you’ll be doing.