Agile Marketing – Whiteboard Friday Moz

Howdy, SEOmoz fans. I’m Jonathon Colman from
REI, and today we’re going to be talking about agile marketing. This is a discipline that
we are picking up from software developers, who have been practicing agile for decades,
and we’re applying it to our discipline of marketing and we’re doing that for a couple
of really good reasons. First of all, agile helps us focus on our
users and create more value for them more often, in ways that make sense, and it also
helps us, as an organization, adapt to change. And you know better than anyone, how much
change there is. Google’s releasing algorithm updates, 52 of them last May, 29 right after
that. There’s Panda, there’s Penguin, all of the news and tips and tricks we see on We are constantly taking in new information
to our organizations. But, oftentimes, our organizations aren’t able to respond to them.
And why is that? Because they’re structured like this, because they’re structured in a
big hierarchy that’s not centered around the user. So even when they take in new information,
they can’t apply it directly to the people who matter most, their customers. Secondly, we tend to work in models like this,
which is a waterfall development model, where we take in requirements at the beginning,
and then we do a chunk of work, and we do a chunk of work, and we do a chunk of work,
and so on. But if change is coming down the road, if something happens here, like a Penguin,
we can’t respond to that because that’s six months later. And, as you know, SEO, inbound
marketing, social media, that’s changing hourly, not in six-month or one-year cycles. So we
have to become better at changing, and that’s what agile helps us do. So let’s talk about four principles of agile
and a couple hacks that we can use to change our organizations. First of all come customers. They’re the most
important people. They’re our reason for existing as a business. So we like to say, “Users are
number one.” “We’re number one!” So what we do is we structure our work and ourselves
all around the user. And one great way of doing that, here’s a hack you can use, is
to develop user stories. So as you’re doing research with your users, as you’re collaborating
with them and sort of bringing them into the business to find out what they need to succeed
in their goals, you’ll start building these out. And they have a really simple formula. As a user or buyer or shopper or, in our case,
maybe something like backpacker, I want whatever is that they have as a goal. Perhaps I want
to be able to find the lightest weight backpacking products so that they can succeed. So this
would be so that I can have a great time in an outdoor adventure, hiking the Adirondacks.
And what this helps us do, what user stories are so good at is keeping us focused on that
increment of work that we need to do so that our customers can succeed. So this is a great
way of doing light and quick documentation to help us fulfill user goals. The next principle we’re going to talk about
is cross-functional teams, and that’s where we really blow away this hierarchy from the
old-school business days. What we do is we take all those institutional silos and we
just reduce them to rubble, and we form this sort of cross-functional team, where content
design, code, inbound marketing, data or analytics, project management, we all sit together, all
in the same place, work together on the same thing at the same time. No one is ever gone.
You don’t have to walk to another building or send a long e-mail to explain something.
We cut down on documentation, on all those pesky e-mails and IM’s, and we actually have
person-to-person interactions. It’s a real strength of agile. So I have a couple tools to help you with
that. First is the stand-up meeting. This is one of the few meetings you have in agile
marketing, and if it takes longer than 10 minutes, something has gone wrong. Imagine
just having one meeting of just 10 minutes, 10 minutes, once a day, and then being able
to focus on real work that creates value for users. It’s awesome. So here’s how the stand-up meeting works.
Everyone gathers around, you stand up, and that helps keep it short, and you talk about
first what you did, then what you’re doing, and then anything that might be blocking your
progress. We’ll talk about how to deal with problems like that in just a second. Some
tools that can help you out with that, if you visit They’re an online collaboration
tool. Distilled used them as part of their creation of DistilledU, which is an awesome
tool. And then the Meeting Cost Calculator, which you can get at, and
you can also click in these links below us here. So next, we have the principle of having a
bias toward action, and really this is very simple. Doing is always going to be greater
than not doing. So when we deal with problems like analysis paralysis, when we have problems
like a politician who has the power to say yes or no, and here’s my favorite, when someone
comes up to you and says, “It sounds like a good idea, but we just don’t do it that
way,” agile helps us break that down, because we always go back to our user story and we
say, “Well, this is something the customer needs.” So what we do is we negotiate to “Yes.” What
we do is, we find that ground that allows us to proceed with our work. There’s actually
a role in agile that does nothing besides remove impediments to your work. So doing
is always greater than not doing. And another hack that you can use is to just say no, because
once you have your set of user stories developed, if someone comes around and tries to give
you extra work or tries to say, “Well, you need to do this, and this, and this,” which
happens quite a lot, the old, “Yeah, I’m going to need you to have to come in on Saturday
and, yeah, maybe on Sunday too,” that doesn’t create value for the customer right now. What
we have to do is get this prioritize user story out the door as quickly as possible.
So we want to maximize the amount of work that we do not do by just saying no. And our last principle is to “Don’t Hate,
Iterate.” I’m stealing this from a colleague at REI. It’s just a great phrase. When we
don’t release on a six-month or a one-year cycle, when we’re releasing every two weeks
or every four weeks, we fall into Eric Ries’ “Build, Measure, Learn” model here, where
we develop our products or we do our marketing campaign, we get it out the door, we launch
it, and then we see how it works for customers. We have this measurement phase. We see how
it performs, and you know what, if it’s not up to snuff, that’s okay. It’s all right.
We learn. And then, two weeks later, we release a fix. When we do an iteration, we do something
better that customers are going to respond to. And if that doesn’t work either, that’s
okay. We go through the cycle again until we get closer and closer to what the customer
needs to succeed in their goals. And that leads to our final principle, which
is “You’re Not Perfect.” I’m not perfect. Rand Fishkin is not perfect. He’s pretty good,
but he’s not perfect. And that’s okay. We don’t want to be perfect, because perfect,
chasing perfection holds us up in our work to get something out the door to customers.
We don’t want that. We want to always be delivering, always be shipping to customers as fast and
as quickly as we can. So you shouldn’t chasing the A+. You should be chasing what’s going
to be valuable for your users. Go back to your user story. That’s what you need to succeed
at. And if you don’t get there, it’s okay because two weeks later, you’ll have another
chance. So, I talked about this at MozCon, and you
can download my presentation at There’s also a link below. Please comment
on the story. I’ll come in and try to answer your questions and direct you to more resources. So that’s it. Thank you everyone, and see
you next Friday.

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24 thoughts on “Agile Marketing – Whiteboard Friday Moz

  1. Thanks for sharing that Jonathan! You're right, nobody or process is perfect but your take on Agile Marketing is close to perfect. If you do a follow-up later to this video, please consider providing a real world example (with more detail, excluding private info. of course) of utilizing this concept.

  2. Many thanks, Zoom — will do! If you'd like to learn more and see real-life examples, check out this bundle of Agile Marketing link goodness:

    Hope that helps — cheers and thanks again for your kind words. 🙂

  3. The Agile-Scrum model only truly works when you have a dedicated project team and don't have to worry about resources being pulled from your project. I think your implementation into the marketing sector is great however.

  4. Hey Jonathan, thanks for sharing! What is your thought around building a cross functional teams where physical distance is a problem? We have team members located at different locations, do you think the face to face stand up meeting can be replaced by a Skype meeting for e.g.? What is your experience? Thank you again for sharing this great video.

  5. Good presentation! Thx for spreading agile!

    for those marketing people who want to learn (by doing) more about all the individual theories Jonathan has combined:

    Read: Agile (common sense described) :
    Learn: SCRUM (proven process of co-creating ):
    Notice: Build-Measure-Learn, Eric Ries:
    Learn: Customer Development, Steve Blank,
    MustRead: Ash Maurya: (he's working out an online LEARNING course as well, W.I.P. but keep in mind!.)

    Xtra Material:

    And remember it takes time to really comprehend, don't rush. Agile is a BIG pivot in the way we think and act. Don't jump to conclusions to soon. Keep your feet on the ground!

    Happy learning!! 

    Teacher @Saxion 

  6. Thanks for that presentation Jonathan. I find it really valluable so I described it in Polish and presented to my blog's readers. Hope it will influence them and popularize agile marketing philosophy in Poland 🙂

  7. This is great! My company is a services company. Do you know of any service companies that have put agile marketing into practice?

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