The Guarantee
June 8

COVID-19: Maintaining Agile Innovation Post Pandemic

“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.” This quote by Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, Ellen Glasgow, has served as a North Star throughout my career. My takeaway has always been that if you’re standing still — not innovating or growing — you’re dying.

This quote has been on my mind often throughout this pandemic. The level of transformation that companies across the globe have been able to deliver in a matter of days is nothing short of astonishing, and as a result, here’s what I’ve been wondering.


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What would be possible for our companies if we moved as nimbly and rapidly as we are now to develop new revenue streams after COVID-19 is long past us? Could we launch innovations far more quickly? Could we let go of perfection as a go-to-market minimum and simply launch a minimally viable product to the market for reaction before investing weeks and months getting it just right?

If we can do this in the middle of a healthcare crisis, what are we really capable of during more stable times? And how do we maintain the momentum? The answer is agile innovation.

Outside of a crisis, human beings are generally wired to struggle with change. There has been much study over the years about the psychology of change, our natural resistance to it and how to navigate through it. Being able to embrace change when it is foreign to you is like breaking a bad addiction — an addiction to routine and complacency.

Fortunately, agile innovation is simply a process that, when consistently deployed, can become muscle memory like anything else.

Creating a culture of agile innovation begins with an understanding of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, penned in 2001 by a group of forward-thinking software developers under the moniker of Agile Alliance.

They were seeking an alternative to the long-standing software development processes which they saw as overly complex, unresponsive and far too focused on documentation. While this manifesto was created with software development in mind, forward-thinking companies across the globe are creating agile teams across their organizations — far beyond the confines of IT. In fact, for some companies, agile is a way of life.

The most critical elements of the Manifesto include its core values and operating principles. These have been adapted below — by  — to apply specifically to innovation in the marketing space.

Agile Marketing Values

  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Rapid iterations over single-launch, big campaigns
  • Testing and data over opinions and conventions
  • Many small experiments over a few large bets
  • Test and pivot versus perfection and fear of failure
  • Individuals and interactions over one-size-fits-all
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy

Agile Marketing Operating Principles

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of marketing that solves problems and creates value.
  • We welcome and plan for change. We believe that our ability to quickly respond to change is a source of competitive advantage.
  • We deliver marketing programs often, from every couple of weeks to every two months, with a preference to the shorter timeline.
  • Great marketing requires close alignment with business leadership and sales.
  • Motivated individuals build great marketing programs. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • Learning, through the build-measure-learn feedback loop, is the primary measure of progress.
  • Sustainable marketing requires you to keep a constant pace and pipeline.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail; just don’t fail the same way twice.
  • Continuous attention to marketing fundamentals and good design enhances agility.
    Simplicity is essential.

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve likely been adopting some of these agile principles in light of the pandemic. The question is: how we do we continue to replicate and systematize this rapid-fire approach to innovation — especially as it relates to your marketing strategy — when we aren’t in the middle of a crisis and forced to do so? For that, let’s explore the Agile marketing process.

Scrum Process

Agile marketers follow a process — dubbed scrum (originally a rugby term) — which is designed to improve (1) communication within the marketing team and among other internal teams, (2) alignment of marketing strategies with the larger business goals and (3) the responsiveness of marketing to the changing market and customer expectations.

This process is iterative — meaning, short marketing test campaigns or projects are deployed with quick measurement and adaptation based on results and marketing conditions. It all starts with a sprint-planning workshop, followed by sprint execution, sprint review and sprint retrospective.


Sprint-Planning Workshop

A sprint is a short period of time — usually 30 days or less — within which a marketing scrum team agrees to complete a marketing deliverable. The sprint-planning workshop establishes the fundamental assumptions of the company’s approach to the market, the goals of the sprint and the list of activities which the marketing team will execute in order to achieve those goals.

Be sure to invite the marketing team, business owners and the sales team to your sprint planning workshop as they are all critical stakeholders with useful information that you should consider in your planning efforts. The first one of these planning meetings you conduct could take several hours, but in time, you’ll see this time greatly reduced as the process becomes muscle memory and your team builds trust in the process.

Walk into your sprint planning workshop with a couple of key pieces of information: the start and end date of the sprint, as well as the team capacity to focus on the sprint in terms of number of hours. Then, consider an agenda for your workshop that flows something like this:

  • Review and agree on base assumptions. Put together a one-sheeter in advance of the meeting for review during the meeting with the goal of getting everyone on the same page regarding your: targeted customer segments including the demographics and psychographics of those segments, their pain and aspirations related to your offering, your value proposition, your current customer/prospect touchpoints, key channels of focus, etc.
  • Establish goals for the sprint. How will you measure your team’s progress at the end of the sprint? Consumer engagement? Leads generated? Ensure these goals are specific (e.g., number of leads) and realistic.
  • Create/review the marketing backlog. In your first sprint planning workshop, you’ll be developing your marketing backlog which is simply a list of all of the known marketing strategies on your list to test. In future workshops, you’ll simply be adding to and updating this list to determine what’s relevant given current market conditions. When thinking about what to include on this list, ask your team questions such as: What do we need to better understand about buyer behaviors? What is our content-marketing strategy? What content do we believe would be in demand with buyers? What split testing should we be considering? What are the craziest tests we can imagine throwing against the wall in an effort to stand out and break through? Do the greatest opportunities for us exist in attracting leads, engaging with and nurturing those leads, or in converting leads? Are we gaining a volume of unqualified leads and need to test strategies for narrowing our focus?
  • Create the sprint plan. With the marketing backlog developed, your team them ranks these activities in terms of importance of reaching the goals of the sprint. You’ll also need to estimate time and costs for each activity — one at a time, until time and expense resources are tapped out for the current sprint. The projects leftover are placed back onto the backlog for ranking and consideration during the next sprint planning workshop. Activities for prioritized projects are assigned out to sprint team members along with incremental project check-in milestones.
  • Gain commitment. Before wrapping up your workshop, ask your team for their commitment to deliver on the activities and outcomes crafted. Once everyone is committed, share the resulting document with all attendees.

While there is certainly far more to the Agile marketing process, these fundamentals will get you well on your way to making rapid marketing innovation a part of your culture and a difficult-to-replicate competitive advantage. Naturally, this same process can be applied to your sales team and innovations to your sales strategy.

Just remember, “the only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.” Let’s not let the progress we’ve made on the innovation front fizzle out after the pandemic. Commit to making Agile marketing and innovation a cultural imperative.

As long as COVID-19 is decimating our economy and business outcomes, each week I’ll be sharing the most effective growth strategies, like these, that forward-thinking companies are executing during this crisis. My hope is that you’ll find additional inspiration to advance your vision forward with a full-on strategic offensive, and that includes the sales and marketing front.

We are all in this together. RedRover is deeply committed to Memphis and any business working to support our great city. Let us know if you’d like a hand retooling your sales and marketing strategies in order to ensure growth during and after this crisis. Knowing what to do next can be difficult. There are resources and partners all across our city ready to help. RedRover is here for all Memphians working to save their businesses.

Lori Turner-Wilson is founder and CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy. A fast-growing agency of seasoned professionals, RedRover is the only Memphis agency to integrate sales training with marketing strategic planning and execution. RedRover has a uniquely intense focus on achieving measurable results for its clientele, as the only Memphis area agency to offer its clients a results guarantee. The agency’s diverse client roster represents nearly every industry vertical in greater Memphis.


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