• John Bell

4 Principles of New, Digital-First, Agile Marketing


Whether you are a startup, small, mid-size business or a non-profit organization, you can leap ahead to adopt more effective marketing programs rather than the same, old approach. If you continue to rely too heavily on non-digital channels or superficially adopt new tactics (e.g. just add some 'social media marketing'), you will likely miss the real opportunity.


Marketing is going through big changes right now. This is largely due to three trends: the rise of “customer-centricity," the increasing importance of data and the growth of performance marketing. Brands are moving towards more customer-centric priorities because people have much more control in the marketing relationship with brands, and those same people demand more value from the brands they do business with.


At the same time, digital marketing generates and uses far more data than ever before. Modern marketing is a numbers and creative practice. This change is leading to the imminent prioritization of 1st-party data (the data a business holds on their own customers from sales, channel preference, behavioral and demographic characteristics).


The third, big change is the growing importance of execution and optimization. Where marketing plans and creative ideas were agonized over prior to deployment in costly paid media channels, now a marketer’s success hinges more on the ability to test-and-optimize on the fly. Plans matter, just not as much as agility. This blends the discipline of direct, digital marketers who design around performance what it takes to build a brand. This is a new form of performance marketing.


If you want to leap-ahead to adopt more effective marketing strategies and techniques, it’s time for digital-first, agile marketing.


Agile Marketing

A lot has been written on agile marketing. In short, it’s a bit of an emerging idea that blends the concepts, rituals and tools of agile manufacturing and software development with the needs of our new, digital-first marketing world. You can get more background here: Eight Principles and Voices of Agile Marketing.


Any business or organization can grasp this approach without breaking the bank or requiring an army of consultants.


The 4 Principles of Digital-First, Agile Marketing


Customer-centricity – Essentially, businesses put more focus on customer experience and how to deliver increasing value. Small business owners have traditionally been close to their customer and often proud of how well they understood them. Now, there is more to know about customers and more ways to keep informed.


  • Constant listening & insights: From post-transaction surveys to co-creation sessions with our best customers (where we invite them to help design the next product or service feature-set), there are more ways to stay in timely touch. To improve how you engage customers, you need a methodical way of understanding what works for them and where the pain points remain. Big companies call this “voice of the customer” and customer journey programs. Call it what you want, just make sure you are more closely in touch with your customers than ever before.

  • Empathetic orientation: If there is one clear lesson from the COVID crisis, it is that brands need to shift from pure selling to have genuine empathy for their customers. Empathy means you arrive at an understanding of the emotional and rational needs of people, and you seek to help them.

  • Improving customer experience: From ordering online to stopping by the storefront to unboxing delivered goods to getting an answer via customer service, it’s all part of the experience. It all has a positive, neutral or negative impact on customers. Amazon, AirBNB and Lemonade (insurance) have raised our expectations for experience from all brands. Businesses that are continuously improving that experience will do better in the marketplace today and tomorrow.


Data-driven - From natural search data that tells you what people are trying to get done to customer information that makes all communications more personally relevant, there is a lot of data to master. Most people would argue that only big companies have the resources to go deep on data. Not true. Smaller and mid-size businesses can start today and build a capability that will pay off in greater and greater ways in the future.


  • Predictive data – While big enterprise is investing in artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop more powerful predictive models for who will buy what when, any company can tap into Google search data to understand what people intend to do.

  • Performance data – Which social posts drive the most traffic to your site, which of those folks actually convert by purchasing something? How well are your Web pages leading to folks buying or finding your location? Social media, paid media and Web experience data is all very accessible and reasonably understandable to any business owner.

  • Customer data – Privacy concerns and platform changes will make mastering customer data (often called ‘1st-party data’) critical for businesses of all sizes. Your customers' email addresses are key to you contacting and selling more to them, targeting them with advertising, and beginning the journey of personalizing your marketing and communications for greater efficacy.


Test, learn and optimize – Big static media plans architected and then launched are a thing of the past. A new discipline springs out of ecommerce, direct-to-consumer and intuitive digital marketers that actively manages and optimizes a marketing program every day. This requires intimate knowledge of the ad formats and optimization variables of social platforms (e.g., do you optimize to clicks, views, engagement, landings, leads, etc…), a team handy to adjust creative or switch up the ad buy, and a facility with performance metrics.


Businesses who want to get the most out of this new form of performance marketing will stop looking to media companies to do a "media buy" and will instead build the capability - in-house or out-of-house - to constantly manage live, paid media investments. Former Aetna CMO, David Edelman, calls it "media portfolio management."



Seamless and purposeful collaboration – We need our marketing and sales teams to work more seamlessly and adapt quicker to changes with our customers. COVID restrictions have only accelerated our need to work remotely. Newer digital platforms like Mural, Miro, Notion, Slack, Zoom and more offer new ways to collaborate with a distributed team. Still, it takes more than new software to deliver change. Too many big businesses dropped software in the laps of their teams without any additional collaboration training.

Teams need training to work effectively in our new distributed model. Businesses who invest in collaboration methodology and training will hold onto productivity gains found in the new WFH world.


“Seamless” means working highly efficiently. “Purposeful” means that everyone is aligned and clear on purpose. That goes for the business or sales purpose as much as it does for the act of collaboration. When people work together every day or are “snapped into” a team for a special project, they will work more productively if they understand a shared goal or purpose of that collaboration.


Businesses of any size can adopt new, digital-first agile practices. Is starts by embracing customer centricity, committing to getting more out of data, building a performance marketing capability and intentionally improving team collaboration.

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