'Agile' Marketing: Borrowing More than Buzzwords from Tech

Gareth Mellor, Marketing Director, UK & EU, Kobalt Music Group

Gareth Mellor, Marketing Director, UK & EU, Kobalt Music Group

Agile marketing, like its namesake in software development before it, had the misfortune to become sometimes maligned and often overused buzzword before it became a recognised practice. Fortunately, and following in the footsteps of its technology forebearer, it’s now entering the consciousness of teams globally and becoming not only a viable way to work but often the most likely to provide success. Driven forward by marketers such as Andrea Fryrear, it’s no small thing to say that they have pioneered a new way of working for an industry used to living for ‘eureka’ moments. It’s also no accident that Fryrear’s Agile Sherpas found 69 percent of Agile marketing teams to say that producing higher quality work is a priority, compared to 46 percent of traditional marketing teams in their State of Agile Marketing Report.

When implemented fully, the basic ethos and process of Agile marketing hold true to the tenets of Agile software development; two-week work ‘sprints’ are commonplace, daily stand-ups exist to highlight blockers and coordinate efforts (coupled with post-it notes and Trello boards), and iterations happen rapidly. While scrum masters are perhaps less common, their role is often amalgamated into that of the team leader—a sign that the practice is still taking time to be fully engaged. It is, however, fair to say that marketing teams, both in businesses large and small, are starting to move towards a more ‘Agile’ way of working.

As technology becomes ever more entrenched in the day-to-day lives of marketers—from the tools they use to the businesses and products they market—it’s no surprise that data has taken over from gut instinct and more rudimentary forms of research. But, as with any source of information, it’s important not to let data completely overwhelm all other avenues. This is never more apparent than in the music industry, the world in which Kobalt and its unique alternative to a record label, AWAL, live. Data rarely lies, but uncoupled from its environment, it won’t give you the full picture. A ‘hit’ song or ground-breaking artist isn’t born from data, but by knowing the audience and understanding the market in which they exist. The data guides decisions and provides evidence of their success, but the human touch will never become redundant.

It’s in this environment, that agile marketing is allowed to flourish. The global music industry is awash with content, whether that’s the songs vying for a listener’s attention or the videos, interviews, reviews, and artist insights that support their growth. Individual tracks, EPs, and albums seldom appear out of nowhere, and due to the advent of streaming, it is even rarer to see one jump to the top of the charts. They are meticulously worked in the months before and after release, often taking weeks, if not longer, to travel up the ladder. AWAL, both as a recordings business and as a brand, was built in such a manner to pre-empt this changing world and as with its parent company, Kobalt, technology and the methodologies that surround it, have supported its growth.

Agility in any form requires clear and extensive channels of communication, meaning that siloed working habits and hierarchy often take a backseat. In the brand marketing team of a global business such as Kobalt, that often means working across more than a dozen timezones and in regional markets with cultural nuances that directly impact the organisation’s success. It also requires us to work in a highly collaborative way with the teams on the ground and pro-actively respond to changes taking place. Testing is not only expected and commonplace, but allows the team to constantly evolve the messaging in-situ in a way that doesn’t deviate from the brand’s core values and end goals. It also allows a marketing campaign the opportunity to breathe, to grow in previously unexpected ways, and to interact with audiences that are themselves constantly developing and redefining themselves. Furthermore, a new generation of marketers and product managers have ever more similar skills sets and expectations, and as digital natives, born into technology and the concept of ‘beta’ testing and soft product launches, failure is no longer seen as definitive, but an expected part of a campaign or product’s evolution.

"Agility in any form requires clear and extensive channels of communication, meaning that siloed working habits and hierarchy often take a backseat"

Core to Agile marketing is the ability to respond to change rather than stick rigorously to a plan; but that isn’t to say that the latter doesn’t exist. The parameters are perhaps wider, but the overall mission should be cemented in place. Each member of the marketing team should know what they are expected to achieve, whether that is how the business is perceived and by whom or more tangible goals such as acquisition numbers and fiscal growth, but the path taken to reach those goals is less restrictive. With a reduced reliance on big moments, marketers are, perhaps ironically, empowered to make more ruthless decisions. If something isn’t working in a campaign and through consistent testing hasn’t proven its worth, then the consequences of cutting it are vastly reduced.

Yet, if the benefits of Agile marketing are so clear, why has its application across teams happened so sporadically? In the first instance, the profile of the practice is still relatively small, with agility discussed as an adjective rather than a tactical approach. Those who do implement it often do so without a guiding hand, resulting in working practices that aren’t fully engaged—a necessity in such a system. Moreover, Agile marketing requires dedication and a team willing to consistently communicate with each other, with supporting departments, and with senior management, who may naturally take time to adapt to less obvious and more evolutionary success. However, as teams across the world are steadily finding out via the success it provides, Agile marketing is proving to be more than just a buzzword.

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