Time for Marketing to Learn from Software Development

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The tough economic climate has significantly impaired marketing budgets.  Although the economy and budgets may be bouncing back, Marketing professionals are still being asked to do much more with less and prove that marketing is working. In this tough environment, it would behoove marketers to think of agile marketing rather than the traditional approaches they have employed in the past.

Marketing has traditionally adopted a very intensive planning and execution process that is sequential in nature. They plan for months and months and debate the strategy and messaging. By the time the project execution is fully underway, the project team and stakeholders often come to the realization that what was originally planned only partially meets the business needs. By then it’s too late and attempts to adjust execution even slightly is often met with a massive and inefficient change control process, which only delays execution further and makes things worse. The project suffers. Even if the team delivers exactly what was documented in the original requirements and time frames, what is delivered will rarely meet what the business truly needed. Marketing lacks a clear methodology, a standard best practice and an organizing principle and framework of execution. To solve this problem, marketing should look closely and take its cue from the software development industry.

Most development organizations were faced with the same challenges. In the past, they used the “waterfall” method of developing software which is very similar to the current planning method used in most Marketing groups. The waterfall approach employs a highly controlled progression between defined phases or steps. 

  • There is a requirements gathering and planning phase with a clear sign off on the requirements as defined at the “point-in-time”
  • That is followed by a design phase in which the solution components are designed as per the requirements
  • Once the design is signed off, then the development starts and components and solution is developed and tested

 This methodology has some serious drawbacks: 

  • Hard to predict all requirements or needs upfront
  • Lack of flexibility to support future needs/unknowns
  • Lack of transparency throughout execution

To overcome these drawbacks, many software development organizations have transitioned to an agile methodology which is based on the principles of: 

  • Embracing changing or evolving requirements
  • Continuous iterations with customer feedback or in-market testing loops
  • Commitment to continuous improvement

Marketing should follow the same paradigm in these challenging environments. Online environments make it feasible to do so. Some companies already use such an approach when it comes to specific areas such as paid search.  The application can be extended more broadly.  A successful marketing program uses extensive experimental design and testing.  Using the agile methodology, marketers can constantly test, learn and improve.  The cycle can be repeated over the duration of a campaign to drive better campaign and marketing performance.

Traditionally marketing has used the single stimulus – single response models which leads to lengthy timelines in terms of understanding the campaign performance. With agile methodology, marketing is transforming to a multiples stimuli model. Consider the example of building landing pages or microsites for marketing. In the old approach, all the components and versions of the landing pages or microsite would need to be developed before launching a campaign. Start with a few versions of landing pages and iterate over time to create and optimize the versions of the landing pages. This also provides a real time view in to the performance of your campaigns, incorporates customer feedback rapidly and also builds in continuous process improvements through an iterative approach.

In the next few blog posts, we will address how agile methodology can be incorporated to the marketing planning and execution process.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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