In a 24-hour economy where there is no such thing as clocking off for the customer, agile marketing is supposed to be able to absorb the changes from a rapidly evolving marketplace and adjust its responses, while making sure it does not lose sight of the company’s end goals.

Definitions of ‘agile’ vary, from a formalised process of product development to a more general attitude towards change, but in any case responsiveness is key. It requires a seamless interplay between different departments and disciplines across the organisation to deliver the whole package of customer experience. Speed, quality and flexibility are all vital attributes.

This is the theory. Attendees at Marketing Week’s roundtable on agile marketing, in association with Workfront, found the reality somewhat different.

“It’s all because the buying transaction has moved from being business-driven to customer driven,” said Pippa Collett, programme manager at Cisco. “Customers inform themselves, which means we’re no longer in control of the message.”

Alex Bates, marketing director at Page Group, added: “As a business, you can now react to what people are saying and doing. This creates an environment where it’s all about test-and learn.”

Fast feedback

Marketing plans of old may have been neatly built and executed but it often did not become clear for some time how effective they were, according to Jane Bloomfield, head of sales and marketing at Kantar Millward Brown.

The panel agreed that a process of test-and-learn is vital if brands are to work effectively. Ideas need to be generated, built on and released in the shortest of lead times. The faster route to market is usually the best.

Test-and-learn is becoming a core procedure and for executives who have experienced it, there is a stark contrast if they move back into a traditional structure.

Customers inform themselves, which means we’re no longer in control of the message.

“I used to work in a very small, agile team where we were doing things, failing fast and moving on. Now I have moved into a big team where it’s so slow. We’re looking for ways to energise ourselves and move beyond annual planning cycles where the day it’s done, it’s out of date,” Cisco’s Collett said.

Although the buzz might be about agile today, that is not to suggest that agile marketing exists in a state of polished perfection or that it is the only acceptable way of working in the modern world.

Premal Patel, commercial director for Sainsbury’s at Catalina, admitted: “The market has changed, habits have changed and consumers aren’t loyal any more. Even at board level there’s a lot more tolerance around trying new things. We don’t need to get things perfect any more.”

Managing mindsets

Interestingly, while Patel mentions that there is a tolerance at board level for agility and a less-than-perfect approach, this experience is not universal, warned Sandrine Martin, global campaign and analytics lead at GfK. She said: “Agile is a trendy word but more importantly it’s about how you change the mindset in the company.”

It was reiterated time and again how vital cultural alignment is to agility. A truly agile organisation needs the moving parts of so many…