The challenges of a modern marketer

It’s not easy being a modern marketer. We’re often challenged to deliver more, faster and with less. We have an increasingly technical role to lead digital projects and implement marketing technology. With the growing importance of data and ability to show ROI for marketing investment, modern marketers are playing a larger role in overall company strategy. The modern marketer is the guardian of customer experience. Improving the customer experience must be a relentless focus.

To succeed in this our future lies in embracing Agile marketing. But what does that mean?

You may have come across Agile in the context of software development teams. Over the past 30 years Agile methodologies have been credit for increased efficiency, quality, speed and improved motivation in IT Teams. The latest Harvard Business Review suggests, Agile is poised to transform management across “nearly every function in every industry”:

“Those who learn to lead the extension of Agile in a broader range of business activities will accelerate profitable growth.”

From a marketing management perspective, Agile is key to surviving the rapid rate of change in media and tools we experience. It’s the key to mastering the technical decisions and projects we now lead. And most importantly, Agile is central to forming motivated teams and providing purpose-led employment.  

What is Agile?

Agile started as an extension of Lean manufacturing principles (systematic reduction of waste) with a customer focus. Jeff Sutherland, the creator of the Scrum method for Agile, and co-author of the HBR article “Embracing Agile” describes Agile as “Lean plus getting the customer directly involved”. Agile projects seek to arrive at the best possible end result, by breaking work down into small phases and using feedback to improve as you progress.

Agile is usually explained in terms of the Agile Software Manifesto, which shows that Agile is more of a mindset than a process to be followed. This is why you’ll sometimes hear people say it’s better to “be Agile” than “do Agile”.


The Agile Manifesto

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

This approach was revolutionarily compared to the traditional “waterfall” method commonly used in IT projects. In waterfall, strict requirements were written into a document and then the project ran as distinct phases of work until the project was complete. All the design work first, then all the coding and then all the testing, usually culminating in a major launch. The problem with this approach is that it might take years to complete a project, in which time the market, competitors or customer needs may have changed.

Agile reduces risk by dividing projects into small cycles of building and testing. The idea being that you learn as you go and can both respond to change and pull in real customer feedback.

Contrasted with predictive innovation, which tries to guess at the beginning all of the requirements necessary for the end result, we think of Agile as adaptive innovation. You can not forecast everything you will need. You can start with a vision of where you want to go but be prepared to shift the path along the way of how to get there.

~ Darrell Rigby, Partner, Bain & Company and co-author of the HBR article “Embracing Agile”


What is Agile marketing?

Many marketers will see similarities in their marketing planning with the waterfall project management style. Creating annual plans at the start of a financial year, executing on these and then reviewing success at the end of the year or at certain milestones.

This approach no longer corresponds to the demands of a modern marketer. New media channels, customer demands or competitors can arise quickly and change the landscape of our market in weeks. We also have far greater access to feedback and customer data that can help us evaluate our actions and tweak our plans.

While lacking the conciseness of the software manifesto, an Agile marketing manifesto now exists:

The Agile marketing manifesto

Validated learning over opinions and conventions
Customer focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns
The process of customer discovery over static prediction
Flexible vs. rigid planning
Responding to change over following a plan
Many small experiments over a few large bets

For myself, learning to adopt an Agile mindset was a challenge. It meant letting go of my inner perfectionist in favour of releasing often. The value of real feedback outweighs the desire to over-polish or over-engineer. This doesn’t mean releasing shoddy work or typos!

An Agile marketer looks for ways to experiment, release smaller projects to gather data and constantly improve. For example:

  • A one-page website with contact details today, is better than a full site in 3 months time.
  • Writing a blog post to see how your readers receive a topic, and gather their input, is better than starting with a full e-book
  • Using website data and customer surveys to guide which features to build on your e-commerce store, is better than developing everything at once   
  • You try a few small campaigns with digital influencers, rather than going “all in” with a large annual contract with one celebrity.


Time to throw out the annual plan?

Agile is sometimes feared as being anarchy. No planning, changing directions often, teams getting to decide what to do — surely it’s chaos? Well no. The key to Agile, and Agile marketing, is a strong strategic vision. Agile teams are led by a “product owner” who holds the strategic vision. All teams must be working towards the same vision.  

Agile helps us move forward and learn as we go, but it doesn’t tell us where we are heading. The vision acts as a compass, guiding your refinements, ensuring you reach your destination. I’ve personally found Agile allows a stronger strategic focus for teams as each task must be outlined in terms of how it helps move us closer to the bigger picture goals. I’ve previously written about providing purpose as a product owner on the SilverStripe blog.


What we stand to gain by embracing Agile

By embracing Agile marketing, we can deliver far greater value and results. We can increase the output of our teams, while creating motivating and purpose-led environments. I’ve seen first-hand how Agile marketing transforms thinking from jamming more hours into a day, to mindful marketing where actions are data-driven and purpose-led.

If you’re not already convinced, here’s some seriously impressive stats courtesy of Boardview:

And to top it off, Agile can improve employee satisfaction by up to 30%. An Agile marketer is a happier marketer.

In the following weeks, I’ll be sharing my tips on becoming an Agile marketer. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or tweet me!

In the meantime, here’s some great Agile resources to get you started:


Posted by Nicole Williams

I'm a marketing geek with a passion for tech. Previously, I was the marketing manager for SilverStripe (open source CMS and cloud PaaS) Currently, podcaster and blogger for and founder of Wellington Marketing meetup. Currently exploring Europe and living the dream! I'm always up for a chat about marketing and I love sharing my experiences so that others don't have to learn the hard way.


  1. Interesting read for our marketing team. Thanks!



  2. […] my earlier post, Modern marketing management in an ever-changing world, I discussed the need for marketers to embrace Agile. Agile enables marketers to deliver far […]



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