May 7, 2018

How Does Agile Marketing Work?

Epics, User Stories, Sprints, Scrum, Chickens, Pigs, and Burndown Charts—Agile has a language all its own. How does Agile marketing work anyway?

how agile marketing works

Marketing today can be incredibly challenging: how does the marketing team find time to drink from the daily social networking fire hose, create new marketing materials for semi-weekly product releases, write content for the lead nurturing machine, monitor and react to a mountain of marketing analytics, and still find time to think strategically?

This is particularly difficult during times when marketing headcount is flat to declining.

Get our free Agile marketing cheat sheet for more information about the terms and processes discussed in this post.

While not a panacea, Agile marketing does bring process to the marketing function in a way that can maximize the available resources, provide focus, and help marketers keep their sanity. This how-to Agile marketing post will give you the foundation of this method so you can implement it on your team.

Starting with the Sprint Planning Session

agile marketing quote jim ewel

Agile begins with the Sprint Planning session. The objective of the session, which can last anywhere from an hour to half a day, is to get agreement on the goals of the Sprint, the various projects that the team commits to for the Sprint, and initial assignment of responsibilities.

During this time, it is important to involve the business owners, sales, and perhaps development. The team must agree upon priorities, and the tasks that the marketing team commits to must fit within the capacity of the team.  

Over time, teams get very good at understanding their sustainable performance rate—how many "points," in Agile-speak, the team is capable of accomplishing in a given period. Trying to fit too many points into a given Sprint, with exhortations from managers of "you can do it," generally leads to cynicism and burnout.

That's why, in Agile, it is the team members who commit, not the managers who make the commitment on behalf of the team.

Watch our on-demand webinar "Agile Marketing 101 Training" for more Agile tips for beginners.

Managing The Sprint with Scrum

jim ewel quote agile marketing scrum master

The Sprint itself, which is generally two to four weeks long, is managed by a process called "Scrum." Scrum is at the heart of this project management method. It was developed to manage software development projects, but with just a few tweaks, marketers can use it to manage marketing projects.

One of the key elements of Scrum is the daily Standup meeting. Generally no more than 15 minutes in length, each person involved in the project reports on three things:

  1. What they did yesterday.
  2. What they will do today.
  3. Any obstacles that stand in their way.

In the Scrum meeting, there are core roles, known as Pigs, and ancillary roles, known as chickens (after the story of the Chicken and the Pig). Normally, only Pigs speak at the daily standup meeting.

The three core roles are the voice of the customer (in small teams, this may be the same person as the product owner in Agile development; in larger teams, it may be a separate person), the marketing team, and the Scrum Master.

The role of the Scrum Master is NOT to manage the marketing team, but to run the Scrum process and eliminate obstacles on behalf of the team.

The Scrum Master is also responsible for updating the Burndown Chart, which is a publicly displayed chart of the work remaining in the Sprint. It is usually shown with two lines, one showing the ideal completion of tasks, the other showing actual completion.

At the end of every Sprint, two meetings take place. The first is the Sprint Review, the second is the Sprint Retrospective.

The Sprint Review meeting is the bookend to the Sprint Planning meeting. Again, the business owner(s), sales, and development are invited. The team reviews the commitments made at the Sprint Planning meeting, demonstrates the work completed, and presents the results.

The Sprint Review meeting may also identify uncompleted work or suggestions for new work that are added to the Backlog for consideration at the next Sprint Planning meeting.

The Sprint Review meeting is invaluable in making sure that the rest of the company is very aware of what marketing is doing and the results they're producing.

See "Agile Marketing Webinar Recap: Advice from Two Pros - Part 1" to get more expert advice on using Agile.

Unlike the Sprint Review meeting, which talks about what was accomplished during the Sprint, the Sprint Retrospective talks about how things went during the Sprint. Each participant answers two questions:

  1. What went well during the Sprint?
  2. What could have been improved during the Sprint?

Usually, only the marketing team and the Scrum Master attend the Sprint Retrospective. Part of the answer to the question "how does Agile marketing work?" is that it relies on very defined and specific roles and organization.

Adding User Stories

jim ewel quote agile marketer user stories

The last concept that's important to understand in Agile marketing is the concept of User Stories, and the related concepts of Epics and Themes.

A User Story is simply something that a user or buyer wants to accomplish. Developers typically write User Stories as tasks, which translate into features and functions of the product. For marketing, User Stories must be looked at in a slightly different light.

Marketers can look at User Stories in two different ways: first, in helping customers get through the buying process, and second, making sure that the marketing team has a deep understanding of the tasks that the customer wants to accomplish.

Download our free guide "Agile: The Creative Team's Key to Speed and Predictability" to find out how you can increase speed-to-market, improve work quality, and more.

For business to consumer products, consumers typically go through at least five different stages in the buying decision process (this can get even more complex in business-to-business transactions):

  1. Need recognition
  2. Information search
  3. Evaluation of alternatives
  4. Purchase decision
  5. Post-purchase behavior

One of the roles of marketing is to aid the buyer in getting through that buying process. To that end, marketing needs to produce materials that help at each step of the way.

One way to document this is through User Stories. Each target segment may have slightly different needs in the various stages, so User Stories are written at the "role" level. For example, if you were marketing a video camera like The Flip camera, you might write a user story as follows:

"As a soccer mom (one of your target audiences), I need to evaluate alternative video cameras so that I can spontaneously take pictures at the soccer match and share them with friends and family."

The marketing team would satisfy that need by producing material (content marketing, advertising, sales brochures) that help the buyer through that stage of the buying process.

User Stories can also be used to focus the marketing team on the customer’s viewpoint and benefits. To learn more about this, see my post on User Stories.

Epics are nothing more than big User Stories that typically require more than one Sprint to fulfill. Themes are bundles of User Stories with a (you guessed it) common theme. For example, you could group a series of User Stories around the buying process for one of your target audiences.

Use this how-to Agile marketing guide to help your team understand how this project management approach works and how it could help you be more productive.

Ready to go even further with Agile marketing? Download The Advanced Guide to Agile Marketing and take Agile to a new level.

jim ewel

Jim Ewel is author and owner of The goals of Agile marketing are to increase the predictability, transparency, velocity, and adaptability to change of the marketing function. It leads to marketing that is done in a rapid, iterative, experimental, don’t-be-afraid-to-fail fashion that complements and provides input to Agile development.

This article is by Jim Ewel from

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