How Agile Can Change How Marketers Think, Work, and Succeed


In the software world, agile has been around for many years.

It's how software is developed more efficiently and iteratively.

But agile is also being embraced by organizations looking to make their marketing more successful.

Michael Seaton says agile fundamentally changes how marketer think and work. 

It's about making marketing more structured, focused and effective.

It's about giving marketing teams the psychological safety to test and learn without getting sent to the penalty box if they make mistakes.

Hi, it's Mark Evans and you're listening to marketing sparks. Here's the thing about marketing. It's dynamic, fluid and ever changing. There's no time to rest on your laurels. You constantly need to be learning, training and embracing new approaches and tools. And, as important, markers need to be flexible and agile. They need to roll with the punches quickly and seamlessly, sees new opportunities and turn it on dime when need the challenges. Many organizations use outdated marketing management strategies which don't work in an always on digital world. So how should marketers operate so they're smarter and more successful? Well, Michael Saton, president of level see digital, believes the solution is agile marketing. The most innovative and forward thinking companies embrace agility to grow and thrive. On today's podcast, we're going to take a deep dive into agile marketing and why it's the knee new way that marketing happens. Welcome to marketing spark, Michael. Well, thanks mark, thanks for having me in having the conversation on agrible. So let's level set. Let's start by talking about how many companies currently manage or operate their marketing. Fundamentally, why is the current approach antiquated or the wrong approach given today's marketing landscape? Yeah, so that's break is the natural leading to how we talked to this subject. So I like to say the State of marketing and I hate the word, but all use it. It's called Vuca. I don't know if you're aware of the VUCCA environment we're in, but it's the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment that we find ourselves in, both at a business and marketing level. If we take a classic swat sort of look at things and we look at the external factors that are threats that are hitting us, the explosion of choices that we have as marketers today, the fragmented channels and touch points, the data and the Marquette that is on top of everything that's making it a bit more complex than it's ever been, a rapid piece of change, the Hyper Competition, the distraction of consumers in the fight for attension. So you know, if we situate that in the marketing world, that is no longer the Big Bang explosion of a campaign. It's always on. We have niche skills and silos that have been created. We're not really good at collaborating, although we should be. We have skills and capabilities that are being shared and cross pollinated and, by the way, we're trying to deliver customer experience through all of this, and it's the way we manage it that that's really broken. So, you know, the tech over marketing discipline. We need to blend those together. We need to have this knowledge transfer from everybody who's within the world of marketing these days and boost morale and then focus as well on the outcomes from a marketing versus just the outputs, because that's what I think we are so that's what agility is providing benefits for. Well, let me challenge you and one of the things you just said. You said that marketing is broken, or the way that we manage or strategically approach marketing is broken. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that, because that's a pretty bold statement. Yeah, so we have antiquated ways of going the managing things. One of the things that agility presents us with is, you know, a back it up to the plan over planning. We've been really good in the past that creating these big bullet plans that are broken by the time we actually go to market with it. Things Change, we need to adapt and we haven't built in the flexibility that we need. Is Today's marketers, you know. And layer the pandemic on top of everything. And if we were slow to change, that brought us really quickly to the point of needing to change, and so it brought into play all these elements and still to this day we always on nature of work versus the point in time or temporal projects. We need to balance those things out. So that's where it really is needing the fix. The second thing is that we are focused again, as I mentioned, on...

...the outputs of our marketing, and so where are we actually sitting down and going through getting those customer insights, dealing with their needs and creating value for them in the chain of what we do? I think one other last point is marketing has been really good at selling and I think that switches to how we can service our base or customers, are audience. So that's another place where I think we need to shift from from selling at all costs to serving our audience for longer term. Of You know, it's interesting is that agile in my world, in this the BDB SASS world is nothing new and we've been talking about agile development for many years because it allows companies to iterate, experiment, test and learn on the fly what resonates with customers and what doesn't. And it is interesting that, despite the presence of agile and the embrace of Agile, is that many organizations haven't applied it to marketing. Can you explain why that is the case? What was born in the software world and in the product management world and we saw that, you know, we like twenty thirty years ago, what we were getting out of that world is not great. And so along came agile and, I guess, the development sort of the delivery frameworks of scrum or Canden, and they started to fix things and they started fix things by orienting the teams to sort of be more economous and deliver it that value and do it through, as you mentioned, the increment so that we can learn along the way back to, you know, where white it took so long, is because these things aren't easy and they take some time. It's not a magic quick fix, but we start to see that the products we're getting a lot better in the software world, that customers were we're being impressed by how we were meeting their needs when we were, you know, delivering on what we had promised. So there's a lot of you know to back it up. where I think this is really situates itself in terms of its mindset and values and its principles. Truly dry agility and software got it first. They started to improve things and we started to look over the shoulder at them and say, how did they go about that, and so it started to then break out to other areas of organizations like hr like into marketing. In fact, it was bout ten years ago that marketing sort of shift their head and that we've got to improve, because digital transformation kind of hit us first and we were going through it. But we realize that we needed to sort of fix and mend our ways. But it's taken a while for us to get from we need to fix this to now where we see it really evolving and starting to be absorbed in marketing. So we've danced a little around the idea of agile marketing. Maybe you can take a step back and I don't want you to dumb it down, but I'd like you to explain or define what is agile marketing and what's the difference between Agile Marketing and the way that we currently, many companies currently do marketing? So I'm going to start with with very I'm going to make it simple, because we can get carried off into the nomenclature and then we want to hear that and really down that rabbit hole. It really is about it organizational effectiveness and I like to call it modern marketing management. In the simplest way to think about it is that it's ability to change the way that we think and that we work and that we share and we get to creating that highest customer value. The power is mentioned in the in the mindset and the values and the principles and at the core, if we think about the swad analysis again, it will really puts us in the position of building new internal strengths that we can then take to seas new opportunities. Put in this way, it I believe it changes. It's transformative because it changes our beliefs again about how we move from selling two more servicing our customers. It changes our behaviors in terms of looking at the highest value that we can create and put into market...

...and learn from immediately, and the actions that we take also are transformative in terms of being more empirical, more iterative and, again, more transparent in what we're doing and and how we're driving value, and then how we're looking at ourselves to continuously improve big market or sometimes to a lot of dark work. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. We need to kind of bring that out and and show people what we do, how we go about it and how we're learning along the way. I think there's this notion that marketing is just the you know, the arts and crafts kind of department, coloring between the lines and put pas the words on things. We talked about stuff and metrics that nobody else cares about aside from marketing. So I think this is our chance to really start to marry up where where we've come from and where we find ourselves with digital and really put the stamp of like Business Strategy and business outcomes on it before we take a deeper dive into agile marketing and how companies can embrace it. I do want to ask you about the rise of data and technology and how they're being used or how they're being embraced and used by marketers, because my thesis is that a lot of marketers have gotten lazy due to technology tools that allow them to scale their work, to extend campaigns, to analyze just about anything digitally. I believe we've as marketers, we've gotten away from being creative and iterative and and trying new things and and I think most of all, and I and and this is increasingly something I I see on Linkedin a lot, is importance of knowing your customers and serving them in the right ways with the right kind of marketing. What are your thoughts on data and technology and and how they're being used by marketers and what the relationship is to agile marketing? That's a great question, a great set up because it brings into play a lot of things that aile marking set up to actually do, and you better than we do today. So you know, let me start off with a more hair cover kind of a statement that we know, we've talked for years and we've known each other for a long time in this world about customer centricity and personalization and testing and learning and continuous improvement. And you know, I've seen a lot of what goes on in marketing or just not doing it. Your question specifically about marketing technology and data. I mean my background why I love the the agile marketing pieces because it really does go back to my beginnings and marketing is a direct marketer at database marker or someone who was involved in crm and then took off with the digital piece later on. But yeah, we are. I find, and I say this through my experiencing, through my teaching and instructing and training, that what I see is a lot more people familiar with the technology, they understand the platforms in terms of our skill sets, but they don't have the marketing discipline behind them to know what they're actually looking to do with it. And then on the other side we have a lot of, you know, marketing that still is sort of stuck in whold ways of thinking without understanding how the technology and data will work. So we're got to marry those two together and agiles are really sweet way to do it. Your question, though, is yeah, I think we got lost in the worrying too much about automating everything, about it all happening here programmatically or through the MARTEX solutions, and I think the complexity of that and making of work, or the magic of making work I should say, is really understanding marketing in the first place. You don't throw tools at you know, at a tools become the solution to a problem that doesn't exist. I believe that the problems that exist for marketers are more upstream understanding, sort of the the quintessential. You know your brand, you're positioning, the story, you tell, your calls to action, a great website, a great user experience, and I think what agility allows us to do start to break that down by using concepts like personas and customer journeys, users stories and understanding the increments of value that we can actually put in front of our customers to learn from. So I really see it as being a really sweet, nice tool kit where we can start to play into the...

...right areas and and gain those insights that we've been asking for. We just haven't had the right dominos falling in the right order for us to achieve them. As you know from our relationship and some of the things that I write about, I'm I'm all about first principles. I'm all about the fundamentals and really being strong around the key pillars, up positioning and messaging and knowing your customers and all the good things that underpin successful marketing. One of the things that I'm curious about is how and when should companies approach agile marketing? What needs to happen so they can successfully embrace it strategically, tactically and, as important, culturally, because I suspect that the shift to addile may rub some marketers arong way, given it's a new approach to doing things. Let me defind what it's not first, because I think there are misconceptions out there, because we hear about agility and we think that it's beening on a GE and being flexible. True power of agility comes from it being more of a noun than a verb, meaning you've got to be actually understanding the mindset, the values, the principles, and it does take us to the side a little bit as markers, because we marketers just want to playbook. We just want that algorithm. Tell us what works and we'll do it. This is not, by definition, super easy, or everybody would be doing it right. What it's not? It's not reactive or unsustainable marketing. Everybody thinks the Oreo Dunk in the dark. You know response within two minutes was agile marketing. That's an element of what Addi marketing can help you with, but that in and of itself isn't you know, we're we have a million priorities coming down the pipe at us. How do we know what work we should be doing and, by default, how do we also know what work we shouldn't be doing? I think that's that's a huge concept to understand. What's the Max how do we maximize the value in the work we do, and how do we maximize what we're not doing as well? Again, the outputs over in out the outcomes over outputs, sort of decision. Culturally, this is not a simple thing, meaning that part of what this does is it creates sort of self organizing, autonomous teams that are allowed to decide what value what they want to prioritize in terms of delivering to our customers. It doesn't it kind of removes this layer of Middle Management and the command and control. You should be working on this. Go do that, and it brings get into the team, team deciding with the with the what they need to do to deliver against objectives right now in incremental or iterative fashion. That then we'll build upon our learning, validate what we're doing or invalidate it, and then we can move forward with that knowledge in our back pocket. We've known about this for a long time, for direct marketing and database marketing, test and learn, maybe testing and marketing, but we have been that great ef executing it all the time. I think that's what agility allows us to do. In simple terms, is agility? Does it have a lot to do with focus and establishing and focusing on the key priorities, because, as marketers, you know, off the top you talked about the fact that there are so many options, so many channels, so many things that marketers could do to achieve their objectives and to connect with prospects and customers, and it sounds like agile marketing is a way to add discipline to the process, to make marketers focus on what is important to the customer, what is important to achieving our goals, as opposed to running often in a million different directions. Is that a simplistic way of talking about the value of Agile Marketing? Yeah, absolutely so. I think you're getting a large part of that equation. It really is a bit the value that we can deliver and also have a team looks at the work that we need to work on right what we need to do, and visual allizes our work and says what is the most important thing we can do right now to satisfy the customer and the audience? How can we make this...

...easy? And it's not about doing everything at wants to, but selecting those key things and the team prioritizes what they find the most value. And it doesn't mean that we don't align to strategic objectives or aligned to what our stakeholders want or you know, but it really does put the focus on delivering against the customer needs. We do that, as I explain, through understanding the better, meaning insights on and I think that's the discipline. It's really going through this world where we're not guessing or, you know, thinking that this is going to be the right thing. We're actually getting into the mind of the customer and understanding where they are in the journey to pain points or solutions. I mean it goes back to Lake Christianson and that very simple, like understand the jobs and the tasks that your customers have and and make it as simple as possible and make it easy for them. Don't complicate it, don't make it something that they shape their heads. It should be as simple as anything. Example, in in my banking days. You know, mortgage was the ugly product detail of what people, you know, had to reconcile with about homeownership. We, when we attack that, we thought about the insight was it's about homeownership, we should talk about all the wonderful things that come along with the Oh and by the way, we do have a mortgage that we can get to you and it's at a great rate. And it's thinking in that capacity that really puts it into the marker's head that it's not all about the product, it's about the customer and how they can live with our product. But then answer the question about the values and the priorities that empowered the team to deliver. Yeah, I does, and I think one of the things that maybe I didn't have clarity on is that is defining agility versus flexibility. Agility is about focusing on what matters. Flexibility is about being able to turn on a dime and their different concepts when it comes to tagile marketing. Is that correct? Yeah, absolutely. And so you know, I think one and I have said this conversation earlier, I believe it's really more about effectiveness. We get to a thing efficiency later on, but you know, if you're doing the wrong things and you're just making the wrong things efficient. That's not going to work out well. So I put sort of the effectiveness of what we do and you mentioned earlier and I didn't hit on this this point. It allows us to be hyper focused, it reduces the the distractions and hopefully the mindset for agility when it's absorbed by executive in our leaders. They understand their role in this world is. They're the constant source of interruptions and distractions and new priorities and it's sort of invets in them. You know, we have a methodology, the process that we're actually going to deliver this value. The more that we get interrupted, the more that we get asked for other things because we have this notion of agility, is all of that flexibility and turning on the DNE. We want to quash that out of the gates. One of the other things that agility allows us a focus story helps with the focus on, is allowing the team it's not just a toronomy but psychological safety that they can test and learn and they won't be, you know, put in the penalty box for doing something outside the realm of what the executive thinks is the their opinions or conventions for where they think marketing should be or what marketing should be doing. Okay, so let's assume that you're the CEO or the Head of marketing or an entrepreneur and you like the idea of agile and you're looking at making your marketing more effective and more focused and you are ready to explore or ready to embrace agile marketing. What do they need to do to make sure that they become agile marketing catalysts or change agents? You know, what are the keys to taking a concept and turn it into a corporate reality so that an organization can be structured differently, can focus on what's important and can become more efficient and more successful from a marketing perspective? Well, you know, my company is invetted in workshopping and Training and coaching. So I'd say that's a quintessential piece of at the Undia going with.

But it's more I want to say about sparking the imagination. What is the art of the possible and the ways of unity? We've been under the guise of this, you know, military tailorist, tailorism sort of approach to all of our corporate marketing are sorry, all are sort of corporate structure and hierarchies and, and I mentioned before, the command and control. This is a radical change. The first thing is understanding what it is and, like I mentioned before, what it's not, because it is driven by values and principles, again in the way that we think about our work, the way that we know behave with our work and the way that we take action with ourselves and work. So it's understanding that understand the values in the principles that allow us to be more collaborative, adapted to change, deliver that value and also be able to be transparent in our work. I think that's one of the huge things that executive is kind of a little wary of, like how far does this go and what does it mean in terms of how we operate? Now, once the mindset and is sort of established and it creates that air cover for how we can operate differently, you know, we start to shift how we think about a waterfall type of a project management approach to, you know, we need to do just enough planning to get us to the next stage, because we are starting to acknowledge that, you know, the world's best plans change you five seconds after the project starts. So it is that shift. It's also this, you know, absorbing the work that we actually need to do in the termining what, again, that value piece is, I think, the you know, the the other piece is looking at how empirical we get. One of the things and one of the one of the mistakes that we make in bringing in agile is thinking that it's all about a framework like scrum or CONV on. Those become the the methodologies for which we can deliver, but, you know, following those dogmatically, getting somebody who's really good at scrum bringing them in with no marketing background is not necessarily the recipe for success. So there's a lot of elements that need to sort of balance out. I think the key, though, is understanding what it is versus what it's not, and then getting involved in understanding values and principles and how that fundamentally changes how we look at what we do and then approach the change to how we do it. Let's Segue, given that, into what you and level C do. How do you work with organizations like how do you help them embrace and be success of with Agile Marketing? Is a workshops? Is it one on coaching. Is it seminars? What are the different ways that you can then work with a company to help them with this process? The answer is yes to all the above. So level, see, digital is an accredited has accredited courses with to teach adderal marketing where those participants can get the natural marketing certificate. So that's sort of the back end of where you go with the workshops. What I found along the way with delivering the workshops, and we know each other for a long time, a new you know, I was teaching digital marking strategy and management for quite a while. What I always found mark was that, you know, you deliver the training and if there's no follow up after it really, you know, kind of hits with a thought that people are they love what they learned but they have no application for it. So where I take things, as you know, I will discuss what companies as as right. That's not right for everybody. That's the first step is really talking with leadership and understanding the issues and problems and, you know, obstacles to overcome in their marketing and and then look at, because it's not a one size fits all, how can agility help them? So we have those natural conversations. I will come in and do a training and workshop over several days to train the core execution team. Then teach leadership what it means as part of this sort of package that...

I put together. Teach leadership about how to think about agility, how they need to behave and understand how they can either stop it in its tracks from being successful or help to reinforce its benefits and behave in different ways. And then I follow up with Ninety Days of coaching. And the coaching comes into play where the team decides what they're going to do and we pilot something, but it may take two weeks to set it up. You may take two days to set it up. This is then becomes their work to do, with coaching along the way that I will provide an ongoing way, and we find is that we start slow and we built we don't do everything at once. We sort of build in things that we test and learn. We are being agile in our agile implementation of agile mark. So that's what I that's what I bring. It's really funny how fast the stuff does break down. Right we go back to old ways of working. When I have to, I'm there to sort of remind people that this is called a jelly because we're supposed to being agile with it, and it really changes the way that people think about about their work and about how they work together. One final question in terms of how companies are embracing agile market at a time when many people are still working from home. has this whole work from home phenomena been a positive or negative influence on the adoption of Agile Marketing? It's had its challenges, but we you know, I like to say agiles not about the tools or the software, but they certainly help a lot in the online environment when we're working from home. You know, these teams work really well when you're colocated, when they're all sort of face to face, and hopefully we'll get back to that environment one day soon. But there are ways you you can do it online. In fact, I had to take my whole course and build it for the online environment. There's a lot of learnings, but how you can make it effective online and you know some of the fundamental changes that it Joili brings to how a team operates really fits, really facilitates using the online stays. But also one of the detractions in it it's true piece of agility is when we lose that human touch in that, you know, working side by side with people and looking over their shoulder. That's one of the pieces that I hope to get back and I don't know that any software can help with that. That's where the mindset and and behaving with the values of how work really steps into play. Again, a team can jump on zoom for ten minutes, as opposed to an hour, really to solve a problem and then do a thing to you. Well, this has been great insight into a Jile Marketing, a subject that I didn't know much about before we touch space. So thank you for that. Where can people learn more about you and level? See Digital. People can learn more about level. See Digital, level, cee digitalcom. I have a newsletter that I also send out called the digital digital digest that comes out weekly, and actually you were the inspiration for that newsletter and then you change your whole way of doing newsletters and stuff that I'm just going to stick with my knitting on it, while I was trying to be agile with my way with my newsletter. Well, that's that's great and hopefully you're measuring and validating your learnings and it's continuously improving for you. So you can find me at my my website. I also teach you the University of corn. No, I'm also taking on a roll with Seneca, where I'm teaching there as well. So that a lot of sort of irons and empire, but court my website. Well, if you enjoyed this conversation, leaving review, subscribe by Itunes, spotify or your favorite podcast APP, and share via social media to learn more about how I help me to be sads companies. That's a fractional CMOS Fortgi advisor and coach. Send an email to mark at marketing spark dot com or connect with me on Linkedin. I'll talk to you next time.

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