I’m writing this in Frankfurt, where I was honored to be one of the keynote speakers at André Morys’ Conversion Summit, a yearly gathering of several hundred conversion optimization professionals in Germany.
My topic was agile marketing, one of my favorite. After 7 years of working in the conversion optimization space, I’m convinced that adopting agile is the single best thing a company can do to improve its results in conversion optimization.
Usually when I present on agile marketing, the audience splits between those who are intrigued by the concept and those who dismiss it out of hand. (“Clearly, this guy is a software developer, because he just doesn’t get how marketing works.”)
This time, however, a significant portion of the audience fell into a third group: those who were already practicing agile marketing and were enthusiastic champions of it. There’s nothing better than finishing a presentation like this and having someone jump up from their seat, “We’re doing this in our company, and it’s been fantastic!” (I swear I didn’t pay that guy to do that.)
It’s great to see real adoption of agile marketing start to take off. But at the same time, it provides a sharper contrast with those who continue to dismiss it. “Oh, that would never work at my company.”
There are two ironies here.
The first is that the companies who have successfully adopted agile marketing and those who refuse to consider it are now sometimes in the same industry, competing for the same kinds of customers, executing very similar work. The ones who dismiss it often use the excuse, “It’s not a good match with the kind of work we do.” Yet those succeeding with it, just two rows back from them, are direct counterexamples.
It’s not about the kind of work. It’s about culture, management, and — perhaps more than anything — a willingness to change.
I had one head of marketing come up to me after my talk and say, “I liked your presentation, but it would never work with my group because the creative team would hate working in that structure.” I tried to suggest that they might actually find it helpful, as a way to better regulate the flood of requests they were constantly hit with and to carve out more time to focus on the joy of creation. She just smiled politely in a way that communicated that she didn’t believe that for a minute.
Yet as we parted ways, someone else grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “I just want you to know that we’re using agile in our marketing department, and we love it. I’m the head of creative at my company…”
If only I could have gotten the two of them to meet.
Yet even that may not have bridged the gap. Because the second irony is that I increasingly hear people who believe they can be agile — without actually having to adopt any kind of agile methodology.
My question back to them is, “Okay, how? What will you do differently now?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an agile fundamentalist. I don’t care if you rigidly follow Scrum or any other formal agile methodology. Make up your own! But agile is not merely a state of mind. No motivational speaker will make your organization agile. You need real, explicit organizational processes and management approaches to enable agile behavior. This often requires replacing rigid, top-down, hierarchal structures with more flexible, bottom-up, distributed leadership.
That is a very different kind of operational gestalt than most companies have built themselves around. Changing that is hard. And “greenwashing” your old processes with agile labels doesn’t cut it.
Adopting an agile methodology — frankly, any agile methodology — forces you to break old patterns and consciously rethink how you’re doing things, not just what you’re doing. A good agile methodology forces you to act differently, as a catalyst for learning to think differently. Only once you’ve broken the stranglehold of existing habits are you free to start inventing new ones.
But, hey, you don’t have to do that.
As W. Edwards Deming noted, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
Photo credit: Alexander Gut at DAIR Media.