15 essential elements of an 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.


  1. Great post, Frank. It often seems to me that “agile” is the natural inclination of smaller companies, and especially start-ups. Perversely, I think agile gets harder as organizations get more success, and grow.

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  3. i think the mindset is to blame here, not from the tactical level ‘grunts’ but from management that is often scared to take on a seemingly involved process. anytime change gets thrown around it makes C level and management anxious b/c it’s a different way of doing things and by nature people don’t change.

    @Ian, you’re right about the size of the organization and the ease of deploying agile methods. when you’re small you don’t have a long chain of command and change can often be undertaken by a single employee. as the org grows and revenue increases so does the ‘it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mindset which can stifle things. i agree about leaving proven producers in place, but you simply need to fold this into a sprint that runs parallel to a ‘new’ idea. run a month test and analyze the results – i think you’ll find output increases along with leads/opps/sales.

    • Thanks Travis. On the podcast, we’ve been exploring the role of culture in the adoption of agile marketing. The consensus is that you need a culture that is comfortable with the concepts of agile and lightweight processes.

      • Absolutely. An encouraging culture will help push things along and when you pair that with proven results it’s tough to ignore. A fun, agile culture to begin with will grasp the concept where a traditional business may not.

  4. Great post, I’m kind of coming into this blog kind of backwards and realize after a week of reading/listening to a post per day for a week, that this entry is the starting point.  I learned about agile from a software development team and have been trying to take a more iterative approach to my marketing, with varying levels of success, since.  A couple of comments:

    1) Though I am not by nature a creative person, I struggle with the manichean “if you are creative you are not analytic and vice versa” view.  I think great marketers can be both and I strive to be better at both.

    2) I’m actively looking for ways that I can be more data-driven, more web driven, and less trade-show centric in a bit of a laggard industry:  Construction.  I’m a firm believer that the power of “above the line” marketing is diminishing at an accelerating pace, but in my industry I’m not sure what is taking it’s place.  I  market construction adhesives, and while there are some building contractors who carry smartphones and surf the web, the majority of my target segment is simply not web savvy and is most certainly not cruising twitter, facebook, or even LinkedIn.  Where to start with this group?  I’d like to believe that I can carry some 2.0 lessons to the 1.0 world, but I’m struggling with where to start.

  5. I believe agile marketing requires a marketer to be even more creativity than the traditional campaign. The analytic is the feedback but the solution is creative.

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  7. Frank,

    I’m just finding your blog after doing some research for a panel I’m speaking on next week at NMHC OpsTech. The topic is “Top Marketing Trends” and I am planning on discussing Agile as it relates to marketing in the Multifamily Apartment industry.


    The challenge I see is that this industry has historically lagged other industries and the ownership groups and property management companies do not investment in marketing. Agility seems to eat up a lot of bandwidth and the real estate industry, especially multifamily, doesn’t approve the resources necessary to be nimble. There still exists a legacy culture that is rooted in some “old school ” marketing tactics.

    2 questions for you:

    1. How would you suggest a marketing team of one to three individuals begin to test agile tactics. Especially in an industry that takes the previous year marketing spend and adds a flat 3% to the top line.
    2. Can I use some of your talking points in my presentation next week. (With the appropriate credit given of course.)

    Cheers, -Gary