On The Inside: Agile Marketing Times “they are a changin…”

Welcome back to On The Inside! This is part 8 of my Agile adventure at Allthings, a technology startup in sunny Dundee building a group project collaboration tool. If you’re new to this series and I’d suggest reading part 1 which is all about diving into the deep-end! If you’ve stumbled upon this post but have missed last week’s edition of On The Inside then you can find last weeks here. I’m trying to give an honest, personal, warts-and-all account of our journey…

Right now Marketeers all over the world are meeting the connected customer head on and for many, it’s a car crash. The tried and tested approaches used for generations are failing to reach consumers. Customers have become active rather than passive. Anyone with an iPad or Phone can ruthlessly compare you to the competition, judge you, praise you, chide you, advise you. Their opinion is very public and effectively permanent for everyone else to read.

This is happening all day, every day and there’s no way to turn it off.

Connected customers are taking control of their buying journeys, no longer happy to be fed messages passively through traditional channels, using multiple types of connected devices to leverage their own complex interconnected network of social media, online friends, influencers, detractors and internet searches. Their buying journey is increasingly complex, evolving and  unpredictable and this may all be going on before you even know they exist.

Google call this the zero moment of truth (ZMOT).

Connected customers are effectively taking the traditional marketing funnel, scrunching it up and making it an unfathomable mess. The traditional yearly, orderly, marketing planning cycle can’t keep up with this new level of complexity and Marketeers know it.

Dave_Snowdens_Cynefin.pngThe role of the Chief Marketing Officer is changing. According to a recent study by the IBM Institute for Business, over the next 5 years, 79% of CMOs expect a growing degree of complexity. What 71% of CMOs say is that they feel, first and foremost, unprepared about the explosion of data among the industry, customers, brands and products.

What’s happened here? Looking at Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework can help explain.

The framework defines five domains:

1. Simple/Obvious – where cause and effect are apparent. When X happens, do Y.

2. Complicated – where cause-and-effect are related, but that relationship has many more steps and moving parts. These situations tend to require experts and more in-depth analysis to know what to do.

3. Complex – where there are causes and effects, but they’re entangled in ways that can’t be predictably separated, even by experts. Here you’re looking for empirical patterns while engaging in trial-and-error sense-making.

4. Chaotic – where there are no patterns between cause and effect.

5. Disorder –  when you don’t yet know which of the four categories above describes your current situation.

For example, building a Ferrari is complicated. I can’t do it but a suitably trained mechanic could.

The weather and climate are complex. Predicting exactly what the weather will be like to any degree of accuracy requires huge models that can be studied in supercomputers and even then it can be wrong locally. It’s impossible to plan a BBQ in Scotland and know it’s going to be sunny.

And that is the essence of the problem facing Marketers and CMOs. Marketing used to be complicated. Now it’s complex.

The organic fragmented social media ecosystems are complex. The interrelationships between connected customers are complex. There are cause and effects here but it is only possible to know them retrospectively and they are always shifting and evolving.

Lee Odden very nicely illustrated the complexity involved with just one single customer’s journey:

“Imagine where a customer might ask a friend for advice and then search that recommendation on Google. Then they might visit a review site and go back to friends on a social network, finally using Google to find a site to actually transact”.  The possible alternative paths through this single journey are simply staggering.customer-journey-timeline.png



So how can Marketers cope with this new complex environment?

According to David Snowden’s framework, you should change your approach to probe-sense-respond. Experiment, stay alert for patterns in the results and adapt.

David Armano wrote a great blog illustrating how this could work and the difference between what he calls “conventional marketing” and “unconventional marketing.”


Conventional marketing is complicated. Start with a big strategy, test with a representative focus group, make adjustments and launch everything all at once.

Unconventional marketing is about handling a complex market. You start with a little strategy and engage in iterative cycles of plan-design-launch-measure. After a series of cycles, you step back to reflect on what you’ve learned and look for patterns and insights.

In comes Agile marketing…

An agile approach is perfectly suited to this kind of environment. The basic process of release planning and release retrospectives bookending a series of nested planning-sprint-launch-learn cycles support the learning and adapting cycle required to experiment in a complex environment.

The benefits an agile approach have demonstrated that the following are just as tempting for a CMO as a CTO:



  Value Delivery


  Cope with Change

  Business Focus

  Customer Focus


But marketing is a very different activity from software development. Taking a process like SCRUM and applying it as is to a new domain quickly shows how different and similar they are.

What I believe is needed isn’t a way to retrofit SCRUM for marketing by trimming the edges and making it fit, but a way for Marketers to embrace the values at the heart of Agile and use them to invent their own set of practices for their domain from first principles.

The first step is to define those values. The agile marketing manifesto is one of many places that is starting to address those values. It’s an ongoing conversation about what’s important to Marketers – from personally going through the journey in development I know they’re in for a hell of an exciting ride!

Next time on On The Inside I’ll be delving into the detail of how I got on doing Agile marketing at previous companies and how we’re approaching it here at Allthings.