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Agile Marketing or Bust! (And the Problems Therein)

From a consumer standpoint, being able to directly interact with companies and brands on social media platforms is pretty great. You get cool stuff like coupons, the most up-to-date news, event invites, location-based perks, etc. But most importantly, the public nature of digital interaction means you get a voice.

It feels really great, for example, to be able to show a company your appreciation via outlets like Yelp and Twitter. It’s also really great to be able to call them out when you feel you’ve been bullied. My favorite example of this comes from Canadian musician Dave Carroll. After United Airlines refused to acknowledge mishandling and breaking his guitar, he wrote a song about it and posted in on YouTube. United apologized and finally offered Carroll compensation, but by then it was too late. It was a giant PR disaster.

A Marketing Makeover

On the flip side, the social media phenomenon has been like a swift kick in the pants for businesses — especially their marketing departments. Instead of putting together one message and pushing it out to the masses, they now have to worry about things like targeted ads, search engine optimization, optimization by platform, monitoring thousands upon thousands of status updates, and constantly being ready to course correct their output if need be. It’s fast, it’s demanding, and it doesn’t leave room for traditional long-term planning. Welcome to Agile Marketing.

On a panel at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference, our CMO, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff (hi, Jascha!), compared this shift to Agile Development after the advent and popularization of Cloud Computing. “Marketers need to be thinking about Scrum, and they need to be thinking about Lean. It’s not about spending less money, it’s about adjusting business processes to be more adaptive to the person that matters most — our end customer.”

It’s Not Easy…Being Agile

It’s not rocket science — not really. But it is challenging.

“What’s easy to forget is that it’s actually in no one’s interest in the marketing ecosystem, other than the consumer, other than the end user, to actually do agile, because it requires far more transparency than anyone is comfortable with,” explained PepsiCo’s Digital Director, Shiv Singh, who sat on the same panel.

And it’s true. For agencies, going agile means an inability to project potential revenues and lock in resources. For brands, it means a lack of structure and figuring out how to measure social success — which we still don’t have a good model for. For creative teams, it means replacing holistic processes with so-called “planned spontaneity” and I don’t know about you, but I think phrases composed of opposing ideas are their own world of difficult.

Add all of these issues up and going agile is a hard argument to make, especially when it comes to your CFO.

“The process for budget creation, with budget ultimately being the proxy for authority, doesn’t work anymore. It just flat out doesn’t work,” added Jascha. “There are challenges that you have to work through within any organization to find alignment with your CFO, probably more so than anybody else in the C-suite today.”

The problem is clear: We understand the need for Agile Marketing, but almost nobody feels motivated to move in that direction. And even if they did, the roadblocks are tremendous.

Power Through!

All that said, the Agile Marketing show must go on, and that’s because its powerhouse, social media, isn’t going anywhere.

I know I’ve made that point before, but I can’t stress it enough. Here’s a great example of how big it’s becoming, plus a failed opportunity at responding to it (thank you Shiv) : Kony 2012. The film was released on YouTube on March 5th, 2012. Today, ten days later, it has been viewed over 79 million times. During my time at Interactive, it was being talked about on social outlets five times more than SXSW. It’s a campaign that deserves a really meaty conversation, and yet a conference designed to be on the bleeding edge of everything digital and real time couldn’t pivot in a way that allowed for that.

What is absolutely true, and increasingly so with each day, is that we live in a real-time world. And if we expect to see success in business, then the reality is that we have to find a way to make our processes responsive to that world and that world’s voice.

Success. Scratch that– how about plain ol’ relevance? That should be enough motivation, don’t you think?

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