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Embrace a value-based approach to agile marketing leadership

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Embrace a value-based approach to agile marketing leadership


The following is a selection from the e-book “MarTech’s agile marketing for leaders.” Please click the button below to download the full e-book.

To lead an agile marketing organization, you must take a value-based approach. Rather than thinking about how your process will change, think about the values you need to live by and get your teams to live by, and then make day-to-day changes that support those values.

The agile leadership values below will help you understand your role in an agile marketing organization.

Collaborate with your teams to set metrics for success, but leave execution to the teams. Create a dynamic that encourages interactive and not insular problem-solving.

When you were a child, your mom probably picked out your clothes for school, made your lunch, packed your backpack, looked through everything you brought home from school and knew where you were at all times. Your parents controlled everything you did because you didn’t have the emotional maturity to do things on your own in
kindergarten.

By the time you were in high school, while not yet a full-fledged adult, you probably had a lot more responsibility. Your parents could tell you what outcomes they wanted you to achieve such as “Maintain a 3.0 GPA” or “Get accepted into college”. But they (hopefully) didn’t look over your shoulder with every homework assignment or require getting their approval before you wrote an essay. They gave you clearly desired outcomes and trusted you to get the job done.

When I look at companies and how they operate, I find that a lot of leaders are helicopter parents. They want to know what the team is working on at all times, and instead of talking about desired results, they’re focused on tactics and approvals.

I was working with a traditionally-operated bank that was trying to learn agile marketing. However, the micro-management culture ran deep. Work was initiated by stakeholders that felt a lot more like they were going to McDonald’s and placing an order than working with smart, creative and talented people. “Hi, I’d like two travel articles with a social media post on the side. Make sure that it contains no ketchup or mayo and an extra big helping of approvals.”


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As a leader, you have the power to change this behavior. You can turn your staff into consultative marketers that can bring valuable ideas to the table. Start by helping your team to ask the right questions. Instead of blindly accepting every request, encourage them to have a dialogue like this:

Stakeholder: “I need you to send out an email blast to everyone on our mailing list telling them about our new banking app.”
Employee: “What are you trying to achieve?”
Stakeholder: “We need to build up our sales pipeline.”
Employee: “What does a successful pipeline look like to you?”
Stakeholder: “Getting 50 qualified new leads that we can follow-up on.”
Employee: “An email may be one avenue. However, our team has had some recent success with short videos. Can I talk to the team and we can come up with a really great plan on how to achieve 50 qualified new leads?”

When we can have these types of conversations with our stakeholders, we empower our teams to be part of the solution. When the team is part of the solution, a lot of great things happen. You get happier employees, more creative ideas and a team that does more than just take orders. Teams like this really work on the right things at the right time.

Metrics that matter

There are metrics you should ask your teams to provide and others that are not helpful in an agile environment.

When you’re leading a marketing department, it’s important to understand how the team is progressing on a campaign or project timeline; how a campaign is performing and how customers are responding to it; how good the team is at delivering customer-ready work; and how predictable a team is at delivering on its commitments. These metrics are all team-based and revolve around desired outcomes.

Whether you’re using agile marketing or not, the question of when something will be done will always be relevant, and the team should always be transparent about it. A campaign burnup chart is a good visualization for understanding how a team’s work is trending. This is especially important if you have a fixed date by which you must complete the entire campaign. Be careful, however, not to pressure a team into unrealistic timelines or you might end up with skewed metrics that make you happy in the short-term, but will let you down when it’s time for delivery.

Campaign performance should be transparent from the team, but doesn’t need to be a formal metric. Discussions around customer engagement and about whether the campaign is over – or under-performing should take place in real-time and as often as possible.

Customer value and delivery, not volume, need to be at the heart of what you are asking for. Real value happens when work gets to customers and the team can respond with agility. One way to understand whether this is happening from your agile marketing teams is to look at how much work a team takes in, versus how much gets fully completed. In agile marketing, the user stories a team works on are supposed to be about customer value rather than an individual’s task — so a team that gets 10 stories done is actually doing better than a team that got 15 started, but only completed four of them. Most agile software tools will show committed versus completed stories, so this is a great metric to request from your teams.

Some metrics to avoid are:

  • Individual contributor utilization — remember agile is all about teamwork to get something of value to customers
  • Story point comparisons from team to team (teams point differently and will begin gaming the system to look better)
  • How many tasks got completed.

These metrics focus on individual performance and output, the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve with agile marketing. As a leader, helping your employees learn to become equal partners in determining work, and giving them the space and support they need to learn and grow, are essential skills for agile marketing.

Customer engagement, not rigid contracts

Feedback from diverse customers is essential for improvement, and there are always improvement opportunities.

Engagement can come both from internal stakeholders and actual customers, but the idea is that we’ve built enough flexibility into the way we work that feedback can be quickly incorporated into our workflow.

Large organizations are often only taking feedback from the highest-paid person in the room. While that opinion should be valued, it’s imperative that it’s not the only voice that’s heard.

Let’s say the team is reviewing a recent marketing campaign with you and their CMO, and you honestly think the campaign is not hitting the mark. It may be tempting to tell the team everything that’s wrong with it; however, you need to give them the freedom to hear other people’s perspectives. So instead of telling them what’s wrong, consider asking:

  • “Can you test a small piece of this in-market?”
  • “Can we get the sales team to weigh in?”
  • “How does customer service think this may resolve some recent complaints?”

A successful agile marketing team will get feedback from a lot of places, but you need to give them the autonomy to decide what to do with that feedback. Maybe it’s a small tweak? Maybe they scrap the campaign and start from scratch?

The “rigid contracts” piece is another consideration you must think about as a leader. If teams have had to commit to specific deliverables, they are probably running at 110 percent execution mode and don’t have time to stop, accept feedback and make changes.

It’s important that as a leader you offer flexibility in deliverables so teams have time and space to do the right work at the right time.


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Working solutions, not excessive documentation

Find comfort in good enough, and create room for teams to focus on identifying and removing impediments. Offer support to devolving complex problems, and allow the team to iterate and deliver solutions.

Focusing on “good enough” can feel really scary — after all, we’ve been conditioned our whole lives to make sure things are done perfectly. So why does agile marketing say to focus on good enough?

Let me first say, I’ve seen the perfectionist mindset at work, which reminds me of my time as a program manager at a large commercial bank. The bank had a project to remove customers’ full account numbers from their statements to meet compliance requirements. I worked on this one project for nearly a year, and it had started many months before I arrived.

When I left this role, the company was still discussing the requirements of the project. There were hundreds of people and millions of dollars involved, yet nothing was getting done. As a customer of that bank, a year later I checked my statement and nothing had changed.

While this is an extreme example, the point is that waiting for perfection is expensive and customers don’t see any benefits from your internal process. All of that time making something just right on the inside is like a retail store with inventory sitting on the shelves — no one can buy your product!

So as leaders, it’s business-critical to embrace the “good enough” mindset. This isn’t to say you should just work as fast as you can to deliver garbage; instead, help your teams embrace that sweet spot where enough time is spent to get valuable work in the hands of customers.

Here are five ways to embrace the good enough mindset:

  1. Reduce the number of approvals needed.
  2. Coach your teams to think about a minimally viable campaign by asking, “What’s the earliestnpoint in time that we can release parts of this campaign?” It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing answer.
  3. Have your teams create “Definitions of Done.” What things are needed to make a story done, and how can this strike the right balance of quality versus speed? Help teams reduce unnecessary process overhead.
  4. Strive for work to happen within the teams whenever possible. Every time they have to wait for an expert, inventory sits on the shelf.
  5. Look for the simplest solution, not always the desired end state. You may be able to create a landing page that meets business goals quickly by compromising a few bells and whistles.

Flexibility, not concrete plans

Look for opportunities to take risks and test hypotheses safely. Continuously review so that you can re-prioritize and stop activities that are not yielding benefits in the required time frames.

This really speaks to the heart of agile marketing. Sure, there are some common practices to learn, but the flexibility to experiment and change gears based on customer feedback is critical, and yet so many marketing organizations miss this opportunity. The first thing you can do as a leader is give your teams permission to be wrong. If your teams feel like all of their marketing has to be spot on, you will lose innovation and probably some really great out-of-the-box ideas.

The next thing that’s needed from you as a leader is to consider the feedback process to be part of the work when teams estimate how long something will take to complete. So when a team is planning, they should be keeping in mind more than just getting the marketing tactic out the door.

They need time to gather results, analyze those results and decide what those results will mean for future work. This requires space and time. If a team is in 110 percent execution mode, which most are, you will simply get output.

I was recently talking to a government agency that has mastered this concept. When they see that a campaign isn’t performing well, the team has the ability to stop it altogether. This may seem like a small thing, but it takes a lot of trust and empowerment to allow the team to make the decision.

It also takes leadership that will respect the team’s decision to not deliver something as expected. However, when you take a step back at the end of the day, is it your marketers’ job to crank out stuff to meet a deadline, or is it to achieve business outcomes? If you can shift your organization’s mindset to the latter, then stopping campaigns that don’t achieve results will seem like a smart thing to do.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all.”



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The Biggest Ad Fraud Cases and What We Can Learn From Them

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The Biggest Ad Fraud Cases and What We Can Learn From Them

Ad fraud is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, the latest data indicates that it will cost businesses a colossal €120 billion by 2023. But even more worrying is that fraudsters’ tactics are becoming so sophisticated that even big-name companies such as Uber, Procter & Gamble, and Verizon have been victims of ad fraud in recent years. 

So what does this mean for the rest of the industry? The answer is simple: every ad company, no matter their size or budget is just as at risk as the big guns – if not more. 

In this article, I summarize some of the biggest and most shocking cases of ad fraud we’ve witnessed over recent years and notably, what vital lessons marketers and advertisers can learn from them to avoid wasting their own budgets. 

The biggest ad fraud cases in recent years 

From fake clicks and click flooding to bad bots and fake ad impressions, fraudsters have and will go to any lengths to siphon critical dollars from your ad budgets.

Let’s take a look at some of the most high-profile and harmful ad fraud cases of recent years that have impacted some of the most well-known brands around the world. 

Methbot: $5 million a day lost through fake video views 

In 2016, Aleksandr Zhukov, the self-proclaimed “King of Fraud”, and his group of fraudsters were discovered to have been making between $3 and $5 million a day by executing fake clicks on video advertisements. 

Oft-cited as the biggest digital ad fraud operation ever uncovered, “Methbot” was a sophisticated botnet scheme that involved defrauding brands by enabling countless bots to watch 300 million video ads per day on over 6000 spoofed websites. 

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Due to the relatively high cost-per-mille (CPM) for video ads, Aleksandr and his group were able to steal millions of dollars a day by targeting high-value marketplaces. Some of the victims of the Methbot fraud ring include The New York Times, The New York Post, Comcast, and Nestle.

In late 2021, Aleksandr Zhukov was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay over $3.8 million in restitution. 

Uber: $100 million wasted in ad spend 

In another high-profile case, transportation giant Uber filed a lawsuit against five ad networks in 2019 – Fetch, BidMotion, Taptica, YouAppi, and AdAction Interactive – and won. 

Uber claimed that its ads were not converting, and ultimately discovered that roughly two-thirds of its ad budget ($100 million) wasn’t needed. This was on account of ad retargeting companies that were abusing the system by creating fraudulent traffic. 

The extent of the ad fraud was discovered when the company cut $100 million in ad spend and saw no change in the number of rider app installs. 

In 2020, Uber also won another lawsuit against Phunware Inc. when they discovered that the majority of Uber app installations that the company claimed to have delivered were produced by the act of click flooding. 

Criteo: Claims sues competitor for allegedly running a damaging counterfeit click fraud scheme 

In 2016, Criteo, a retargeting and display advertising network, claimed that competitor Steelhouse (now known as MNTM) ran a click fraud scheme against Criteo in a bid to damage the company’s reputation and to fraudulently take credit for user visits to retailers’ web pages. 

Criteo filed a lawsuit claiming that due to Steelhouse’s alleged actions — the use of bots and other automated methods to generate fake clicks on shoe retailer TOMS’ ads — Criteo ultimately lost TOMS as a client. Criteo has accused Steelhouse of carrying out this type of ad fraud in a bid to prove that Steelhouse provided a more effective service than its own. 

Twitter: Elon Musk claims that the platform hosts a high number of inauthentic accounts 

In one of the biggest and most tangled tech deals in recent history, the Elon Musk and Twitter saga doesn’t end with Twitter taking Musk to court for backing out of an agreement to buy the social media giant for $44 billion.

In yet another twist, Musk has also claimed that Twitter hid the real number of bots and fake accounts on its platform. He has also accused the company of fraud by alleging that these accounts make up around 10% of Twitter’s daily active users who see ads, essentially meaning that 65 million of Twitter’s 229 million daily active users are not seeing them at all. 

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6 Lessons marketers can learn from these high-profile ad fraud cases 

All of these cases demonstrate that ad fraud is a pervasive and ubiquitous practice that has incredibly damaging and long-lasting effects on even the most well-known brands around the world. 

The bottom line is this: Marketers and advertisers can no longer afford to ignore ad fraud if they’re serious about reaching their goals and objectives. Here are some of the most important lessons and takeaways from these high-profile cases. 

  1. No one is safe from ad fraud 

Everyone — from small businesses to large corporations like Uber — is affected by ad fraud. Plus, fraudsters have no qualms over location: no matter where in the world you operate, you are susceptible to the consequences of ad fraud. 

  1. Ad fraud is incredibly hard to detect using manual methods

Fraudsters use a huge variety of sneaky techniques and channels to scam and defraud advertisers, which means ad fraud is incredibly difficult to detect manually. This is especially true if organizations don’t have the right suggestions and individuals dedicated to tracking and monitoring the presence of ad fraud. 

Even worse, when organizations do have teams in place monitoring ad fraud, they are rarely experts, and cannot properly pore through the sheer amount of data that each campaign produces to accurately pinpoint it.

  1. Ad fraud wastes your budget, distorts your data, and prevents you from reaching your goals

Ad fraud drains your budget significantly, which is a huge burden for any company. However, there are also other ways it impacts your ability to deliver results. 

For example, fake clicks and click bots lead to skewed analytics, which means that when you assess advertising channels and campaigns based on the traffic and engagement they receive, you’re actually relying on flawed data to make future strategic decisions. 

Finally – and as a result of stolen budgets and a reliance on flawed data – your ability to reach your goals is highly compromised. 

  1. You’re likely being affected by ad fraud already, even if you don’t know it yet

As seen in many of these cases, massive amounts of damage were caused because the brands weren’t aware that they were being targeted by fraudsters. Plus, due to the lack of awareness surrounding ad fraud in general, it’s highly likely that you’re being affected by ad fraud already. 

  1. You have options to fight the effects of ad fraud  

Luckily, as demonstrated by these cases, there are some options available to counteract the impact and losses caused by ad fraud, such as requesting a refund or even making a case to sue. In such cases, ad fraud detection solutions are extremely useful to uncover ad fraud and gather evidence. 

  1. But the best option is to prevent ad fraud from the get-go

The best ad fraud protection is ad fraud prevention. The only surefire way to stop fraudsters from employing sophisticated fraud schemes and attacking your campaigns is by implementing equally sophisticated solutions. Anti-ad fraud software solutions that use machine learning and artificial intelligence help you keep fraud at bay, enabling you to focus on what matters: optimizing your campaigns and hitting your goals. 


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