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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.