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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.

Embrace a value based approach to agile marketing leadership

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.


Embrace a value based approach to agile marketing leadership

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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

Why leading an agile marketing organization requires a vision for

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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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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