Marketing agility refers to your ability to adapt your go-to-market programs in response to a new situation with speed and quality. Both of those attributes are necessary. If you’re first to market, but your programs/messaging/etc. are poor then they won’t resonate. If you’ve got the best programs in the world, but you take too long to go to market then your competitors will surely have you beat.
But what can you actually do to make your marketing more agile or even agile to begin with? What muscles do you need to strengthen in order to enhance this skill?
Research shows that agility consists of several factors, including leg muscle, running technique, and straight sprint: “Agility requires muscle power in order to move quickly and technique to move efficiently.” Let’s hone in on these three areas and see how they translate to marketing:
3 Exercises for Increasing Marketing Agility
1. Leg Muscle Strength = Team Collaboration Strength
Do you have strategic, corporate-level objectives that your team’s collective goals roll up to? Have you empowered your team members by letting them know what you need them to achieve, but allowing them to work together to determine how they get there?
Agility starts with the strength of your team. They need strong collaboration skills to not only move together quickly but move together at all. Collaboration can’t happen on a one-off, project-by-project basis; but must be instilled into everything the people on your team do.
The best way to bring people together? Unite them under the same goal. Determine the top 3-5 priorities your team needs to tackle that year or that quarter in order for you to meaningfully affect the corporate-level objectives during that time period. Keep that number to less than five; if everyone is a priority then nothing is.
I’m not talking about activity goals like “launch X eBook” or “host X event” or unquantifiable goals like “assist sales team in driving pipeline velocity” or “drive customer retention through education,” but metrics-driven priorities like “penetrate 80% of target accounts” or “increase product usage by 25%.” These types of goals not only clearly demonstrate what you’re trying to do (accelerate sales and drive retention, respectively) but also how you’re going to get there.
Let your team then determine the programs or initiatives they think will be most effective to address the priorities. Remind them that not all actions are created equal: Focus on what will have the biggest impact (based either on historical data or data-driven guesses) and act as the most efficient use of your resources. Work together with them to solidify which programs you’ll keep, modify, or table for the time being.
This process prepares you for when objectives, goals, and programs/initiatives need to change. When a change in company objective or team goal is needed, your team can work in an orchestrated fashion to adjust.
2. Running Technique = Go-to-Market Technique
The programs or initiatives your team thinks will be most effective to address the set priorities will largely depend on your go-to-market technique. A strong GTM technique involves using adaptive storytelling (staying in tune with your customers) and being channel agnostic: Your story should constantly be evolving to stay aligned with your customer and you should be able to tell that story across any channel.
At least one person on your marketing team (the more, the better) should be responsible for “customer stories” or “customer research” to ensure that you’re not only telling the right stories, but that you’re telling them in the right places. This is a good fit for someone in customer marketing, product marketing, or content marketing as they are likely already in touch with your customers on at least a semi-regular basis.
When things change for our customers, a strong go-to-market technique allows us to change with them. Turning the ongoing interviews with customers into an established process helps you answer the question, “Are these tactics still relevant?” and “Does our messaging need to change?” Tactics do become irrelevant. Messaging will need to change. And sometimes an unforeseen event of global proportions will force you to all of it at once.
Sharpen your running technique by keeping all of your go-to-market programs (marketing, sales, and customer) aligned with the value prop at the core of your current messaging, and then updating them in sync with every messaging change. Sure, that’s a lot of work. But it’s better than creating an inconsistent or confusing experience as buyers move throughout the customer lifecycle.
Sometimes your stories will need to be adjusted for different media. Keep your GTM technique tuned by constantly reporting on the success of different messages across different channels and making adjustments where necessary. If a message doesn’t seem to be working in one place, test it in another channel or part of the buyer’s journey before you throw it out entirely. Sometimes the form factor simply needs an adjustment.
3. Straight Sprint = Day-to-Day Planning & Execution
How do we plan, execute, and stay focused on goals rapidly in a rapidly changing environment? My father once told me that to run a mile, you need to keep your mind on the goal and your eyes on the next three feet in front of you. (Coincidentally, that strategy also allows you to jump over obstacles or change direction when needed.)
As marketers, we love to plan in quarters. But three feet is a sprint.
Planning in shorter “sprints” allows you to very clearly define what you’re saying “yes” to over the next two weeks (or however long your sprint is). They also provide a framework for making trade-offs when priorities that do come up that cannot wait until the next sprint: If we’re taking on X during this sprint, then will A, B, or C will have to wait until our next sprint. This enables your team to focus on what is most important right now and ensures that you meet deadlines.
You exercise your straight spring muscles simply by practicing your sprints. If you’re not familiar with Agile software development or project management, Atlassian has a great guide here.
Start by planning a quarter—not just what you’ll do during that time frame but approximately when you’ll do it—in a way that aligns with the programs happening across your company also within your team. Break that quarter down into months. What does it mean for each of your marketing team members and marketing teams? Then break those months into sprints. I’d recommend running sprints for one or two weeks at a time: The goal is to be able to operate, communicate, and change quickly; bigger and bulkier plans don’t work for that.
The sprint should comprise all the tasks, projects, and campaigns/programs that will be completed within that given period of time. Allow your teams and team members to elect what they think they can complete within the sprint. (A smart product manager I used to work with taught me that no one person should plan for more than five hours of tasks each day because we know that, inevitably, more things will always come up.) I recommend using a project management tool like Jira, Asana, or Trello to keep track of the tasks each of your teams and team members commits to each week.
Sprinting means creating a program calendar and task list, but being ready to pivot. Keep evergreen programs in your back pocket for when things fall through or you experience an unexpected change.
This brings us back to that idea of uncertainty and discomfort: The smartest teams control what can be controlled, and then build the muscles needed to be ready to change.
Why does marketing agility matter? Because faced with the weight of sudden or massive change, the teams who have focused on building this strength will not falter. They’ll keep moving like water: fluid enough to slip through pebbles, but strong enough to carve through rock.
This piece is part 2 in a series about marketing agility. To read part 1, click here.
Fearless Thoughts are my insights on marketing, entrepreneurship, startups, business growth, creativity and whatever else comes to mind on any given day. Writing is how I make sense of the world.