Sex and the Agile Marketer

Over the last few years, I have noticed a division in the types of marketing people I meet.Some colleagues have referred to this as data driven vs. marcom/branding types but in my mind this view never really worked.While the increasing measurability of the web does provide an unfair advantage to marketers with MBAs and an undergraduate degree in something unsexy like engineering or chemistry, it always seemed like there was something more at play.

In recent weeks, I’ve been a part of a team that is transforming its product development philosophy from a “waterfall” (lots of time building a fixed specification followed by a long development cycle) to an “agile” approach (shorter development cycles with lots of iterations since you can’t really know reality until you try something). Software developers have employed this methodology for years but it isn’t just a more effective way to get “good enough” products out on time.It is a way of thinking that can be embraced by other  functions including marketing.

I know that many of the world’s greatest dictators/managers want to believe that marketers can accurately predict the future but they can’t.I’ve never been able to do it and as a result have resorted to an iterative approach that relies on low cost testing of media and programs.This makes the ad sales reps at the trade magazines or WBUR radio angry but the fact is that marketing is as much about science as art.I know, I know, we all have to build a brand by spending money on difficult-to-measure things like PR and advertising.By using iterative, agile tactics, however, it is possible to mitigate your risk, improve your overall marketing ROI and put a smile on your pointy headed CFO’s face.

Taking inspiration from an article on the Web 2.0 organization, I created this table that highlights what I see as some of the key differences between a traditional waterfall and an agile approach to marketing.

Waterfall Marketer Agile Marketer
Focus on fixed annual marketing plan Builds monthly, weekly or even daily plans
Repeats of familiar programs Is always testing of new programs and media
A few expense programs Many low cost programs, scale up proven programs
Sees personal value as relative to size of budget Sees personal value as relative to results
Creative Analytic
Know what media is best from datacards Always testing since doesn’t know the best media
Still believes in physical events Skeptical about the effectiveness of tradeshows
Brand comes from long expensive strategy projects Brand comes from the experience of customer and business
Sees things as predictable Lives in an unpredictable world
“Can’t measure that” is often an excuse Invests mostly in measurable programs
Gets nice gifts from ad sales reps Refuses meetings with ad sales reps
Fights for maximum budget each year Justifies budget bottom up from goals
CFO is the enemy CFO is good friend
Complains of repeated budget cuts CEO asks if you can take more money to accelerate growth

Did I miss anything?I would welcome any other suggestions people might have for the list as I don’t think it is exhaustive.

Author: Frank Days

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  1. Nice post. Here’s another…

    Waterfall marketer – talks to the market
    Agile marketer – listens to the market, engages with the market

  2. Slice,

    I read your post with interest and agree that the division you are trying to define almost certainly exists. In addition, I believe you are suggesting that the ‘Agile’ approach is superior to the ‘Waterfall’ approach and there I would also be tempted to agree with you. There are still many marketers who believe that their role is to churn out a certain number of pre-defined activities for a fixed number of dollars and if they can tick those boxes then they have done a good job.

    However, I would raise two objections/discussion points in response to your post.

    Firstly, I am not convinced that every attribute expressed in your Waterfall vs. Agile profiles should belong exclusively to one and not the other. For example:

    Creative vs. Analytic

    I think many would agree that creativity is an essential item in any marketer’s toolset, however this quality can be expressed in different ways. I would imagine that creativity for the Waterfaller could be described as artistic creativity, where perhaps the Agile equivalent might be expressed as creative problem solving instead. Similarly, ‘Analytics’ abound in the wonderful world of the Web, but being able to sift through that data and divine appropriate actions based on the information gathered is where real boosts in performance can be made.

    Revised Waterfall attributes: artistic creativity; collation of data
    Revised Agile attributes: creative problem solving; action-oriented analysis

    Secondly, I would also urge caution around an exclusively iterative approach to developing effective marketing strategies. I agree that this is a low-risk approach which can yield significant efficiencies and improvements in ROI, it should not exist in isolation of other more daring approaches. When Columbus set sail he was not executing an iterative process, but embarking on a risky and expensive foray into the unknown which eventually brought great rewards.

    There’s my two cents. Great post!

  3. Chemarketer is right on about “creative vs analytic” – in fact, I would argue that a lot of marketing suffers for being too much of either one and not enough of a mix. If you’re addicted to A/B testing but can’t think of anything worth testing, you’ll end up at some local optimum and never break through to the truly great stuff.

    Like the wise man (or was it the wise guy?) said, “If you seek what you sought, you’ll find what you thought.”

    On that note, I’m off to LA for focus groups…


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