Marketing online demands a unique combination of skills, knowledge, and specializations, thanks to the fact that the online environment is both linked to, yet distinctively different from, traditional marketing mediums.
In many organizations marketing projects are managed using time-tested, linear systems such as Waterfall, however, these old-school methods simply don’t deliver the speed and responsiveness needed to stay on top of the online marketing game.
In response to a growing market filled with short attention spans, instant gratification, and real-time consumer feedback, marketers are turning to Agile methods to create and execute internet marketing campaigns.
The History of Agile Internet Marketing
Agile internet marketing has its digital roots in the agile software development space, where teams of programmers embraced agile concepts in order to expedite development work in a race to be first-to-market with new products such as apps, operating systems, and cloud-based software.
A notable part of the shift towards agile methods among software developers was the inclusion of the customer – the end-user – in the development process.
Prior to the adoption of agile methods, software developers mostly relied on the ’Waterfall’ model – a one-way, progressive development framework that meant each step of the project needed to be fully completed prior in sequence, as there was no opportunity to re-visit previously completed work.
The downfall of the Waterfall method was that testing was left to the very end of the project, leading to lengthy (and costly) delays in the process. Additionally, consultation and review by stakeholders and end-users was at the end of the product development which left no room for feedback from the target audience.
The 5 Fundamentals of Agile Marketing Philosophy
Simply put, Agile internet marketing is based on five fundamentals:
- Measure value from the perspective of the client/consumer
- Minimize uncertainty to minimize waste
- Work incrementally to maximize flexibility and responsiveness
- Ongoing, transparent collaboration
- Continuous improvement
The Agile approach places a priority on audience response, and changes are welcomed (and encouraged) at any stage in the project. In-depth, multi-page marketing plans are replaced with brief, one-page outlines that specify the goals of the project, and team members work to tackle small problems instead of creating one singular, big-budget campaign.
Another important distinction in the Agile philosophy is the focus on proof, which means only ideas that can be confirmed by clear, measurable test results are accepted, regardless of who generates the idea. This evidence-based approach puts the emphasis on collaboration rather than job titles and hierarchy, giving each member of the Agile team an equal role in the outcome of the project.
Agile vs The Alternatives
According to Mary Lotz, (PMP, B.S., M.S. Applied Computer Science), “Agile is an iterative, team-based approach to development” in which the “deliverables are prioritized by business value as determined by the customer”. Agile is based on “time-boxed” outcomes that can be continuously reviewed and re-staged in response to shifting client needs, market trends, and audience feedback.
By contrast, the Waterfall model of project development (also often referred to as simply ‘traditional’ project management) is a straightforward, step-by-step process that is structured and rigid. If changes need to be made, the entire process needs to be re-started, leaving no room for error or adjustments.
Agile offers a number of attractive features from the perspective of the Internet marketer, namely, the fact that it allows for real-time reaction to consumer feedback, market trends, and other factors that impact the campaign. Better yet, in comparison to other marketing models, Agile allows for ‘partial success’ thanks to the fact that testing is integrated throughout the process.
By contrast, linear marketing development is mainly focused on the final product, which means the project is either a success or a failure – either all the contract terms are delivered on, or the entire project needs to be re-done.
Critics of Agile claim that is can be difficult to manage, given the constant communication that is needed between team members, however, the availability of numerous cloud-based project management applications helps to mitigate this concern.
Another downfall of Agile could be that it’s simply too fluid and responsive, which can make dealing with budgeting a real challenge in fixed-price scenarios.
Creating An Agile Marketing Team
Because Agile places a strong emphasis on people and interactions over structure and tools, building a team of like-minded marketing professionals who fully embrace the Agile methodology can be challenging.
Marketers need to be fully committed to the process in order for Agile to work, which means letting go of ‘traditional’ ideas regarding project outcomes, audience engagement, and the timing of testing. Agile also demands a high level of interpersonal interaction (even on remote-based teams) and accountability, which can present a challenge for some managers and human resource professionals.
The number of people on the team and their roles will clearly be first dictated by the scope of the project, followed by the skill sets of each member. Ideally, an Agile marketing team will be lean and compact in order to promote constant communication while eliminating unnecessary processes.
In order to meet the all-in objectives of Agile, team members should be liberated from any other duties so they can be fully committed to the project. Generally speaking, each member will spend their entire day working either independently or in a small cluster, and the team will re-convene at the end of each day to review progress, assess testing results, and reset.
Project Management Software
As we’ve already noted, Agile demands constant, clear communication between all team members, which can be a challenging for remote-based environments. These challenges can be effectively addressed by both ensuring that all team members are fully committed to the Agile approach and engaging the right tools for the project.
Cloud-based project management software such as monday.com, Asana, and LiquidPlanner, as well as Basecamp and Slack are solid choices when using an Agile approach to internet marketing, since each system allows for on-the-fly interaction, customization, and real-time tracking. Which software to use with an Agile internet marketing project is largely a matter of budget, personal preferences, as well as special requirements such as support for time-tracking and file sharing apps that are already used by team members.
A/B Testing Methods
Because ongoing feedback and consumer engagement is integral to any Agile marketing project, choosing the right A/B testing tools is a critical element in the process. Simply put, A/B testing is a compare and contrast test – it pits two comparables against each other and asks testers to provide feedback on the pros and cons of each sample in relation to the project goals. With regards to internet marketing, basic A/B testing with actual users usually involves looking at two versions of a website, ad, or social media post, although it can also mean testing for SEO and SERPs.
For A/B testing related to internet marketing, there are a few solid options available. These include Optimizely, an on-demand service that provides real-time feedback for programmers, developers, and marketers. There’s also the Google’s Content Experiment interface, a testing platform that replaced the now-defunct Google Website Optimizer.
Other options for testing include AB Tasty, Omniconvert,and Convert Experiences, which all provide similar features to both Optimizely and Content Experiment. Each of these testing services allows users to run real-time analysis of both desktop and mobile websites, checking a wide range of variables related to conversion rates such as load times, trending topics, and custom insights.
Steps To Adopting Agile Internet Marketing Within An Organization
The first step in implementing Agile methods is education – ensuring that all the stakeholders understand the process, benefits, and goals of shifting away from traditional, linear-based project management.
Next, a team needs to be deployed. As we previously discussed, the most effective Agile-focused teams are compact, committed, and able to quickly adapt between different functions and roles. The actual size of the teams should range anywhere from 8-12, although smaller organizations will clearly have fewer resources to access.
Each team requires what’s known as a ‘scrum master’ – a team leader who is responsible for prioritizing tasks, securing resources, identifying pain points, and overseeing liaison with the client. Once the team is established, goals and expectations need to be reviewed and a sense of urgency established – this usually happens in a ‘kick-off’ event which includes all team members.
Because Agile relies on rapid-deployment techniques, results should be expected within the first day of the project launch. Initial outcomes should include the identification of both barriers and opportunities, and a report by each team member in which they identify what role they plan to take to contribute to the common goals. This process is designed to create both accountability and an environment where every member has a stake in the outcome.
Almost immediately, the issue of testing needs to be addressed in keeping with the Agile philosophy that continuously focuses on the audience. Teams need to identify both key performance measures and the best testing methods. Once ideas are prioritized, they are immediately tested so that team members can integrate the results in real time.
Remember, all of the ideas generated using Agile methods are checked – this can be a real shift for marketers who tend to rely on their ‘gut’. The testing is the backbone of the Agile philosophy – concepts that don’t deliver results right away are immediately discarded from the project to make room for ones that achieve better results through the ongoing testing.
Introduce Agile One Team At A Time
Despite the fact that the Agile philosophy has been embraced by the software development industry for over a decade, it’s still considered to be a relatively new concept in relation to marketing. It’s recommended that Agile teams be added slowly to an organization in order to maximize acceptance and address any bureaucratic issues on a small, manageable scale.