Agile: Not Just for Software Development Anymore

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Lisa and I spent four days at a marketing workshop and conference this week.  On day one we met an enlightened guy from Portugal, Michel Ozzello, Product Manager for OutSystems.  After showing Michel the Agile board the software engineers use, he asked if we have applied the same approach to marketing.  We stared blankly….”well, no.”

I thought about that for the next four days.

Software engineering uses Agile/SCRUM development to break huge, overwhelming product releases into smaller chunks.  These chunks, called user stories, are coded and tested according to the logic of the product roadmap and how many can fit into a short release cycle, called a sprint.  This approach has two main advantages over traditional software development: it maximizes the team’s ability to deliver quickly and to respond to emerging requirements.

So how does this apply to marketing?  For us, the deliverable is the tangible vehicle (a web page, a brochure, a speech at a conference) that drives demand for our products and services. But the market pains are so many, and the vehicles we can use to reach the market are so diverse, so expensive, and so labor intensive (think trade show, email campaign, 12 different versions of collateral, direct mail,  webcasts, surveys, call campaigns, advertising, speaking opportunities, promotions, and NOW we have social media opportunities too!)  With a 1 or 2 person shop, it can easily get very overwhelming.  That’s where agile comes in.

Old school software development followed the waterfall method, which is highly structured, process oriented, and covers a broad scope of requirements.  The marketing equivalent is the “Annual Marketing Plan” which attempts to map out all the details, coordinates, intersections, content and milestones of everything marketing will do this year to build brand and drive sales.  It’s really overwhelming and by Q2 many elements have already changed.

The DAXKO Association marketing team is ready for a fundamental shift.  We are going for Agile.

Lisa and I walked all over Boston yesterday in search of index cards to begin the exercise.  1,184 miles later (flying, not walking around looking for index cards) we have our major “user stories” written out for Website, Email, Social Media, Collateral, Lead Nurturing, Advertising, PR, Events, and Metrics.  The idea is that we can break our big jobs down into smaller bits and COMMIT to having them delivered in a specific timeframe.

We expect that we’ll get much more done faster, and be more aware of the tradeoffs at any given moment of choosing one priority over another. Now we just need our own SCRUM board (Justin, how about another trip to North Birmingham?!?)

"We’re All in Marketing": Not Just Another Cliche

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You’ve heard it said before…”we’re all in marketing” or “we’re all in sales” or “we’re all in customer service.”  But you may wonder what that really means when you hear it.  Is it just an attitude? Or worse, just lip service from your boss? Or should you take it literally and start sending out branded mass emails, making cold calls, or answering the support line even if those aren’t your designated responsibilities?  Well, in some small organizations, the answer to the last question is definitely yes. However, in larger organizations is that really practical?

As I read the latest work from the founders of 37Signals, Rework, I found their chapter titled, “Marketing is not a department,” to be right on target…at least as it pertains to “we’re all in marketing.”  Here’s an excerpt…

“Accounting is a department. Marketing isn’t.

Just as you cannot not communicate, you cannot not market:

Every time you answer the phone, it’s marketing.
Every time you send an e-mail, it’s marketing.
Every time someone uses your product, it’s marketing.
Every word you write on your Web site is marketing.
If you build software, every error message is marketing.
If you’re in the restaurant business, the after-dinner mint is marketing.
If you’re in the retail business, the checkout counter is marketing.
If you’re in a service business, your invoice is marketing.

It’s the sum total of everything you do.”

It is critical for your entire organization to comprehend this.  You have to engrain it into their thinking.  Has Southwest and Zappos gained the reputation and loyal fan base they enjoy due to clever taglines, snazzy flyers, or hip commercials?  Sure, they may have some of those things, but that’s not what drives their brand in their respective markets.  Their brand is based on the fact that they realize that everything they do says something about who they are to their customers.

So I’ll leave you with two things…

  1. Remember that “marketing is not a department.”
  2. Pickup a copy of Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson.  It includes dozens of bite-size pieces of sage advice just like the one above.

Product Management Lesson from Dora the Explorer

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My 2-year-old daughter recently discovered the amazing world of Dora the Explorer. Since then we have bought Dora books, a Halloween costume, backpack, bracelet, blanket… the list goes on and on. Just when I thought I couldn’t handle another Dora-themed item, we ventured down the canned vegetable aisle at the grocery store and found Dora the Explorer peas!  Yes…some genius marketer (likely a mom) knew that if she put Dora on a can of vegetables then kids would literally scream for them, and moms everywhere would buy them. Brilliant!

In the world of product management, we generally plan our roadmap (or list of features to be released) based on certain criteria: number of customer requests, time saved by users, opportunities waiting on feature, technical effort involved, value, etc. The Dora experience helped me to realize that you also need to include something eye-catching – something that will grab the attention of your intended audience and leave them squealing with delight.

When considering all of the criteria above and prioritzing a feature decision, I often lean toward the most logical answer. I guess working on an accounting project for the past couple of years has brought out the ultra practical side of me. For some reason, accountants just want the ability post a journal entry instead of the flashy heat map chart on a dashboard. Several times I have chosen to add another field to a report (for some this sounds boring) over an upgrade with some cool grids. However, we’re getting a lot of the basic accounting functionality completed now.  And I’ve come to realize that you need the practical stuff PLUS a few “Dora” items scattered in each release.

To determine your product’s Dora quotient, ask yourself… “When I demo this product, are there features that our audience will literally pitch a fit for?”  If not, you might want to take a page from Dora’s book…

In case you’re wondering, I said “no” to the Dora peas.  But don’t worry… the Dora tennis shoes totally made up for it. (And yes, Beans peeps, this means we are re-designing the home page.)

Marketing Lesson from Hairy Green Guy Named Muzzy…

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I recently ordered a set of foreign language DVDs for my 5 and 7 year olds. The Early Advantage company (www.early-advantage.com) had all of the right promos you’d expect from a solid B to C: money back guarantee, buy now and get this bonus interactive game set, etc.

I ordered. Several days later our box arrived. Surprise number one, the collection of DVDs are packaged neatly inside a colorful cookie tin. So
fun.

Surprise number two, included in the box is a dark green hairy stuffed thing that looks like he leapt off the pages of Where the Wild Things Are. Meet Muzzy.

The children argue over who gets to hold Muzzy first while they play their DVDs. They want to sleep with him. They want to order another set of DVDs to get another Muzzy.

Finally, we get an online newsletter about Muzzy & friends, language, and learning. The surprises keep coming.

My take-aways?

1. Make it easy for your customer. The Muzzy decorative tin is cute, but more than that it helps me and the kids keep the DVDs where they need to be—all together—thus increasing their value.

2. Include an un-advertised bonus. Everybody loves surprises. It doesn’t matter if you sell a consulting service, electronics, or software…give a new customer a “Muzzy” (that extra -something special). They won’t forget the pleasure of first doing business with you.

3. Appeal to everyone in the buying decision. I hold the wallet, but the kids will ultimately determine the value of the DVDs. The Early Advantage company had to appeal to both of us. So far they’ve done a good job.

4. Keep the connection going. Provide post-sale value in the way of a newsletter, promotional offers, or games to keep the buyer engaged until their next purchase decision.

Early Advantage could have just shipped 7 DVDs and a receipt. Instead, a few extra touches went a long way towards customer satisfaction and a favorable experience.