Another Tool in the Box.

One of the things I enjoy most, as someone somewhat (in)famously opinionated about what they do professionally, is being asked to deliver keynote speeches. In many ways, it is just like giving any other kind of speech. In others, it is completely different. The most significant difference, perhaps, is that a keynote speaker tends to be broader in their choice of topic, while other speakers zero in on a particular detail or particular question relating to a particular subject.

Consequently, though I am above all else a brand strategist, I have given plenty of keynote speeches on wider aspects of strategy. One of them was delivered in April this year at a brilliant conference for project planners in Zagreb, Croatia, called JUMP IT.

As one should do, after TV/PR/interview commitments had been fulfilled, I sat down to listen to the other speakers; it is always a great way to take in new ideas and gather knowledge. Quickly, I learned that there are three major project plan approaches  —  Waterfall, Agile and Change Control  —  and a smattering of hybrid versions of each. As you would expect, each has its own strengths and weaknesses and should be used accordingly. Agile is particularly good for developing software products and applications.

One supposes it was inevitable, then, that Agile would be appropriated by software-obsessed digital marketers as a way of increasing flexibility and maximize event output, though in the trademark modern marketing way of viewing it as a universal solution rather than a tool among many. However, the issue with the approach, as Samuel Scott detailed in today’s Promotion Fix column in The Drum, is that while Agile may increase the speed of decision making on-the-fly, it doesn’t do much for the overall profitability of the brand.

There are a couple of reasons why, but chief among them is that Agile’s use of incessant testing ignores a fundamental truth about buying behavior  —  consumer purchases are spread out over time. The results of top funnel advertising don’t show up fast enough to even make a blip on the Agile radar, which means that effectiveness (with the exception of activation metrics) is thrown out in favor of efficiency.

So, the problem with Agile, in a nutshell, as I said in Samuel’s article, is that it very much plays into the current short-termism that plagues modern business in general and marketing in particular. Often, what is called Agile is merely an abandonment of strategy in favor of whatever direction the wind happens to be blowing at the moment, which inevitably leads to action becoming purely tactical and quickly degenerating into nothing more than a flailing about.

Of course, Agile marketers will tell you that it’s all about short response times to clients’ and customers’ needs, though none of that should be out of the ordinary for an agency or brand anyway. “Getting a fucking move on” is not, despite popular belief, an entirely novel concept.

The irony, though, is that most ”serious” Agile marketers will tell you that Agile needs to be a cross-function workflow and collaboration, requiring everyone in the organization to be on the same page to work properly. Which, of course, is what strategy ensures and Agile in practice precludes.

Marketers today would do a lot better to spend more time building their strategies than calling themselves Agile simply because they lack a direction. Throwing the proverbial pasta at the wall to see what sticks, if at a quicker pace than ever before due to digital tools, requires little talent or training, but yields equally little of long-term use.

I’m not saying Agile cannot be a part of what one does. I’m merely saying that the strategy should tell us if it would serve a purpose. In marketing, project planning or otherwise.