In an excellent recent blog entitled Don’t fix your marketing processes, David Raab argues for more flexibility in marketing systems rather than improved processes, the staple recommendation of most consultants and experts. I heartily endorse David’s point of view and would like to extend it a bit further.
According to David, the primary drivers of flexibility are small, simple, loosely connected processes, frequent measurements, technology that enables easy integration of new data sources and ease of use for marketers who want to change programs on the fly. He also emphasizes the need for generalists who are comfortable with technology. Good points, all of them.
Marketers can learn a great deal from designers and technologists, who have long used agile development to overcome similar issues when building systems. We have seen this within our own company. We build and maintain comprehensive marketing systems, integrating disparate data sources, data hygiene, database and diverse application tools for campaign management, analytics, reporting and dashboards. The underlying assumption when we designed these systems was that marketers understood their requirements clearly and could articulate them. This was often not the case. Marketers were neither sure of their requirements nor could they articulate them very effectively. As a result, we moved to an agile methodology, building these systems in a very iterative fashion, with short development cycles (measured in a few weeks) with visible deliverables that clients can react to and change as they go.
Change in this context is not an intrusion but is an expected part of the process. This has shortened development cycles, reduced costs while also ensuring that systems meet the needs of our marketing clients who are delighted with the results. Strangely, we find that marketers, while they appreciate the benefits of agile development in the systems that serve them, have been slow to adopt this approach. They could benefit a great deal from it. Agile, however, is as much a mind set as it is a process. It really does require a different way to think about designing and executing marketing campaigns. It requires greater discipline, shorter feedback loops and more team work across disciplines. Of course, all of the enablers mentioned by David are also needed. The one point on which I might quibble is the need for generalists. While marketers do need to have broad awareness and knowledge of rapidly morphing channels, many of these sub-disciplines do require deep expertise that it is unrealistic to expect generalists to possess.