20 Jul

Agile in Marketing – Part 2: in action

“So we thought we’d try SCRUM in marketing.The goal was to have a team that collaborated from the planning through to execution, deliver more value more rapidly and to be more responsive to a our changing environment.We still set our overall goals and broad strategies for 6-12 months, and a list of what we want to deliver.

  • We have a “backlog” of projects that is constantly re-prioritised, based on what we agree with our “client” (the business). We work in 2 1/2 week cycles (“sprints”) where we deliver either a completed project or a defined phase of a project.
  • We write exactly what we will be delivering on cards, which in turn are stuck on a white board (the scrum board) which is visible to everyone in the team, and everyone in the business.
  • The board is used to track the activity, i.e they are updated every other day (we used to do this daily, but found we didn’t need that frequency), showing the progress made and eventually moving from one side of the board (not started) to the other (completed).
  • Rather than the traditional team meetings, we have regular “stand up” meetings around the board to update each other on three basic questions: what did I do yesterday, what will I be doing today, and do I have any roadblocks in my path that stop me doing my job.
  • There is no moving the end of the sprint date; the deadline is set in stone, but if you see that certain items can’t be delivered, you can negotiate with “the client” (which in our case is essentially the business, represented by an executive)
  • At the end of a “sprint” we get together, and sometimes invite others to show what we have done, in a “”demo””, (ok, I call it “show and tell”…) The purpose is to make the achievements highly visible, and to celebrate the success.

So what have we gained from this?

  • First, we deliver more of the right things. We re-prioritise every couple of weeks, and we deliver specific outcomes at the end of every sprint.
  • Second, we have fewer distractions. Now when someone in the business comes up with the next great idea we should be executing, we put it in the “backlog” for the next sprint, and people understand that.
  • Third, we work far more as an integrated team. Everyone has ownership of the actions on the board, is aware of them right from the planning stages and feels part of the process.

What’s difficult

There are still challenges of course. For example, the planning process every week (which is critical to the delivery) is time consuming, and if you’re not careful, you either spend too much time on it, or not enough (resulting in poorly scoped projects that can’t be delivered in the sprint).We probably also have more dependencies on others for input, review, feedback and sign off than a typical software development project. This often puts our ability to execute the final product within the sprint in jeopardy.

For you?

Well, that depends on whether there is a problem to address. Why change when everything runs like clock work.For those of you who do recognise some of these marketing execution challenges, drop me a line if you want to know more about our experience.

So what’s your experience? Have you tried something similar? Do you have other ideas or questions? Keen to hear from you.
29 Jun

Agile in marketing- is SCRUM a new way for marketing project management?

“90% of our activity is in execution” (Even for those that do take strategy seriously).

What holds you back more than anything in executing on your plans? My guess is that it probably somewhere between competing priorities and changing priorities.This post is about a new and different way of managing your marketing projects. First a bit of context: The company I work for Aconex, adopted an “”agile”” software development approach a few years ago, widely used by tech companies such as Google, etc. I took part in their workshops and realised that the problems software developers face, are not too different from ours.

The traditional approach – “”The “waterfall” method

A major challenge for software development teams is that there are always far more ideas of what should be developed, than there are people/money to develop. On top of that, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what the final product should look like. Think about it. You have an idea about what the software should do, but how do you foresee all the great new ideas that come about when you actually start using/playing with the software? It’s as much a creative process as a design” process.

In traditional software development methodologies, one or more people write a spec of exactly what they understand their client (the business they work for, or an actual client) wants, (takes a lot of time), hand it over to developers who build the whole thing (takes a lot of time) and then to another team who test it. It’s called a “waterfall” method, reflecting the typical GANNT chart of activity. It’s one all marketers are familiar with.Often, by the time the people who provided the input (client) see the end result, it is not quite what they expected. (We’ve all read the stories of tech projects years in the making failing to deliver little or no value at all.)

There are a bunch of reasons for this. A very common one is that people often can’t exactly visualise what they want.Another issue is that the best ideas to solve a problem can come at any time, not necessarily at the beginning of the project, when it is being designed. Finally, the people who write the code often have only a limited idea of what the business problem is that their code solves. In a traditional world, these development projects can take anything from months to years, and only at the very end it is clear that the project is a success or a failure.In comes “agile” development.

The core concept is that you work closely with the “client” (which could be an actual client or the business itself) to develop “stories” that articulate what it is that they want the software to do. (Stay with me, we’ll get to the marketing bit in a minute.)They then work in short cycles, called “sprints” involving all the team participants to deliver a “potentially shippable product”, that the client can evaluate and provide feedback on to determine the appropriateness. The key is that you are “agile” in your ability to respond to the needs of your client, or new and better ways to solve a problem. Importantly, it is the whole team who are responsible for the delivery, forcing close cooperation.

The relevance to marketing

I went to the workshops essentially to make sure we understood what the development teams would be doing, but I walked out with the idea that the problems they were trying to solve were very similar to the challenges we face in marketing.Like our development friends, we’re in a business that is continuously changing, like many businesses today. We continue to enter new markets, develop new partnerships, new products. There is always far more that we could be doing than we have time or resources for, so prioritisation is essential. Similar to the development environment, the best ideas to solve a problem don’t always get thought of in the annual planning session. To further complicate that, the marketing tools at our disposal also continue to evolve at a rapid rate.I’ve never worked on a 12 months marketing plan that:

  1. Was executed the way it was planned at the beginning
  2. Met the needs of the (changing) business during that 12 months
  3. Was actually developed by the team that was meant to deliver it

More likely than not, the plan is written at the beginning of the year, agreed, worked on for a few months at best, before the world changes and the plan is forgotten about until next year’s planning.

As always, you’re never alone

When I started looking into this, I realised that quite a few people in marketing have realised the same. Andrew Filev in his Project Management 2.0 blog writes about yahoo, H&M, John Deere using the same with great success. Another good read is Jim Ewel’s Agilemarketing.net, who’s actually seen a business opportunity in it and provides lots of resources.

Next post: read how we applied it and what we learnt

31 Jul

What has changed in the past 4 years in B2B marketing?

Change is not always obvious when you’re in the middle of it. Looking back over the past few years, here are a few things that I’ve noticed:Marketing automation and lead nurturing has replaced old fashioned email marketing Good news – more relevant, targeted communications. Powerful reporting that let’s you talk numbers with confidence. Bad news – requires excellence in content creation, which is HARD and TIME CONSUMING. So never mind the technology, it’s still hard work to engage people and keep them engaged.Social media has gone from “something we should do” to “something we’re doing” Good news – participation and experimentation are the only way to learn with this, so many brands are actually starting to do something meaningful. See, you never needed the “Social Media Guru”. Just a little courage. Bad news – It’s the new shiney corporate thing…everything now has to be “social media”. People feel overwhelmed with the volume and frequency of communication. The signal to noise ratio is terrible.We’ve gone through the GFC, and as always, marketing budgets get slashed first Good news – even people who used to have big budgets have started to look at more creative ways of marketing. Including social media. See point one. Bad news – Well, I know I for one would have loved to have had a little more to spend…Video is emerging as the killer app Good news: People were never designed to write and read, we were designed to talk, look and listen. Now that anyone can make and publish video at little or no cost, there is a whole new world of opportunity opening up to generate interest, build a brand and convert prospects. And if I was 20, I would go head first into that business. Bad news: As with everything online, the barrier to entry is low and so is a lot of the quality. This is not an easy game and requires people with skills to write stories, direct and create interesting stuff. No, I don’t subscribe to the idea that all you need is a flip camera…Have you seen any other trends and changes? What have I missed?

06 Apr

Food for thought – differentiating in a commodity market

A quick story about fresh food and little Aussie battlers.

In Australia the groceries business is largely controlled by two players, Coles and Woolworths. There are many things wrong with that. For example, you can imagine the negotiating power these guys wield over their suppliers. Or their motivation to give you the best products possible.

As a consumer, I care mostly about the quality of what I buy and the price I pay for that quality. Woolworth and Coles are falling over themselves to tell me that they are fresh food people (just like me, they recently told me in an ad). But I don’t see it.
Then we discovered (through word of mouth) that there is a crowd called Aussie Farmers Direct, who decided that there may just be an alternative to dancing to the tunes of the big boys.

They believed that there was room in the market for an old fashioned milkman, who delivers not only milk but juice, bread and fresh vegetables. We’ve started using this service and now get a weekly delivery of all the stuff that you need to get fresh. The only proviso is that they select the fruit and veg that go into the box, but if you like variety, that’s ok. At pretty much the same price as the supermarket, but at superior quality.

Who would have thought that while they are taking the last remaining bit of service out of the supermarkets (they now want you to scan your own stuff), there is a good business in home delivering high quality produce?

So what are the magic marketing ingredients?

Good model – cut out the middle man, direct to the consumer

Good positioning –  “Helping the Australian farmer” – “The Milkman is back”

Differentiated offering – home delivery, no more lugging the heaviest part of your groceries

Quality – no more good-looking but crappy tasting fruit and veg..

Word of mouth promotion – as a result of all of the above

Who says you can’t differentiate in a commodity market?

18 Feb

Bing vs Google – side by side

Here is a great idea: someone created a site that let’s you search one term and brings up Google and Bing side by side. The moment I saw this I realised why I liked Google so much. First, have a look that this:gogle_vs_bing-sm.pngThe information provided by Google on the term Aconex is a summary of the most relevant pages right on the top. In contrast, Bing gives me a list of seemingly unstructured information.google-sm.pngAdd to that the “show options” link right above the result and I can’t for the life of me think what would make me change from google to Bing…bing-sm.pngAnyone have other ideas? Am I missing someting?

05 Oct

“My 6 year old son could have done that”

Anyone in marketing dealing with branding has heard that one before. About a logo design. About a tag line.
Most of the time, it is very hard to argue the point. When you look at the final product of a logo design, or when you read a final tag line, it is probably really simple. Doesn’t look hard to do. But that’s measuring the wrong thing. It’s not about how hard it is to create something, but how strong it communicates the desired brand positioning.

For example. Kraft thought it was a fun idea to engage their customers in naming a new product. They put little jars with Vegemite flavoured cheese spread and decided to crowd source the name for the new product. “Name Me” the little jars of spread shouted off the shelves. So that was the brief. “Name Me”.isnack1

The result was that thousands sent in their ideas, and the good people at Kraft, (custodians of one of the most iconic brands in Australia, Vegemite) chose one that sounded like something their target audience might like. iSpread 2.0. I won’t go into all the reasons why this was a terrible choice, there is plenty of commentary from all sorts of media (social and otherwise) on that. In fact, the Wall Street Journal even reported the fact that the company has decided to pull the name and think of a new one.

What I am more interested in is how they got there. The reason you don’t let your 6 year old son design a logo (or a product name) is that he is not likely to be clear on what you’re trying to communicate, how you are trying to position the product. That is the difficulty in design and good branding; how to communicate an idea in the simplest, most powerful way.

The sort of thoughts you expect to go through someones mind naming a product (especially for an iconic brand) are:

  • What is the position I want this product to take in the mind of my target audience?
  • How does the new product fit with the things people think of here in Australia when they think of Vegemite? (i.e. the brand)
  • What do I need to avoid, so I don’t damage the most valuable thing my company has, its brand?

Without that, how could either the people creating the name, or the people choosing the name know if it was good, bad or indifferent?
It is the difference between advertising thinking and brand positioning, and I think Al Ries should have a field day with this one, in one of his contributions on Branding Strategy Insider.

Get your customers involved is fun, but don’t think that you can take a short cut to the hard work of positioning a product.

12 Sep

11 ways to make your online life easier

Over the years, I’ve used (and abandoned) literally dozens if not hundreds of online and offline software applications to help me deal with information overload, get things done, or simply play. Here is a list of the ones that are helping me get on. Yes, I am a bit of a closet nerd, but if you spend a bit of time behind your computer, you might find one or two of these tools handy.

Dealing with information overload (and sharing around)

  • Hootsuite – the most elegant way to manage twitter in a clean, easy to use interface.
  • Delicious – one place to bookmark everything I find of interest and want to share with: 1. Everyone, 2. A select group of people.
  • Feedly – a really nice little plugin for Firefox that grabs your RSS feeds from Google Reader and makes it easy to digest, share and manage what you read.
  • Yahoo Pipes – a bit more techie, this is a very clever tool to combine and filter information from the web.

Getting things done

  • Firefox 3.0 – The best web browser, simply because it allows you to customise with all sorts of handy tools, such as the one I am using now to write this blog post offline, but in a browser (Scribefire) or the Delicious plugin that lets me quickly manage bookmarks (without leaving the page). If you’re still on Internet Explorer, you should really have a look.
  • Xmind – a “mind mapping” tool that helps me organise thoughts and plans rapidly and communicate them with others in a simple, visual way
  • Dropbox – so simple. Why store files on your PC? Store them in an online folder by dragging them into a your “dropbox” folder. Access from anywhere, synchronized copies on all your PC’s if you install the little app.
  • Logmein – Lets you remotely access and control someone else’s computer (with their permission of course). I’m talking helpdesk to your Mum, or accessing one of your computers at home from work.
  • Jing– a simple screen recording tool that allows you to either grab a screen image, or record a little flash movie (for US$9.95 pa you can get the pro version, which has MP4 recording and no Jing branding at the end of your movie)
  • Google, of course…..In particular Gmail, Google Maps and iGoogle if you want to personalise your news and get some RSS feeds (look in the right top hand corner of the Google page) as well as the “forms” function in Google Docs (spreadsheets) that allows you to run simple, free little questionnaires online. Lots, and lots more but these are the ones i use mostly, or see the greatest application for.
  • Audacity – a free audio recording and editing tool that’s so powerful and easy to use it is almost ridiculous.

So what do you use? Have I missed any great apps you are using? Share!

11 Jan

Youtube tells you what part of your video people like

I haven’t used Youtube very much, but I suspect I will use video more and more in the future as it will become increasingly popular in B2B marketing.

My use to date has been to post little video’s of my kids. I had a bit of fun and dubbed “Dance little lady, dance” by Tina Charles over a video of my (then) 3 yo dancing. It’s had about 3,000 views (because of the title, I presume).

I had a look at it again last night, and I noticed some options to the right of the screen for “video owners” one of which was “insights”. I clicked and got to a dashboard of analysis tools:


The next thing I clicked on what the “hotspots” button, which allowed me to see which part of my video people found more interesting than others:

Imagine how this can help you improve your communication over time? It tells you what people like with their actions, without having to provide any feedback. It allows you to continually improve your video, based on what people like and don’t like. I must be dreaming. Awesome.

06 Jan

Social media in B2B – who is reviewing your product?

If there is one thing unique about B2B purchasing, it is the time and resources people devote to evaluating a potential purchase.

Now imagine you are launching a new product. A good launch is one of those rare moments when you can get the media’s attention and a good launch will probably play a significant role in your products’ success. So you target the right media, you write compelling stories hoping they get picked up by those hard to reach technology writers. If you represent a big brand, you’re company may even advertise in the media you are hoping to get favourable reviews from them…

But of course they are not “the media” anymore. There are an increasing number of “other” media outlets. The people that create this “other” media tend to write out of passion or to demonstrate their thought leadership and generally share a couple of important characteristics:

  • They don’t get paid by a media company that relies on advertising
  • They are often very passionate
  • They are often not generalist “technology” writers but people with a very narrow interest/specialization

They are free to write what they like, they are likely to know what they are talking about, and they probably have a narrow group of readers who are equally focused and who are looking for unbiased, knowledgeable critique.

A real world example

Here is an example of such a product review by Stephen Few, from Perceptual Edge, a consultancy assisting companies “design simple information displays for effective analysis and communication.”
The blog post is called “ Xcelsius Present – Fast Track to Nowhere“; a 1,700 word review of the latest version of Excelsius from Business Objects. Now, I have no idea if he is right or wrong, but this is a little piece of the conclusion:

“Business Objects is a leading business intelligence vendor (based on sales), but its products consistently demonstrate that they don’t understand analytics and haven’t a clue about data visualization. A vendor that claims to be the best, which Business Objects unabashedly claims (just like every other major BI vendor), should be ashamed of selling such moronic products.”

Ouch. Not exactly what you’re hoping for. But the difference with traditional media is that it doesn’t stop there. The conversation is about to start.

44 comments and a great discussion
There are 44 comments posted, and it is a lively discussion including an exchange with what appears to be a representative from Business Objects (although not identified as such). Either way, good on them for participating, as it provides potential buyers of the product not just one take on the product, but many.

Now Google “excelsius review, business objects”.

So just before you start to believe that social media is just about Twitter, (and I don’t blame you) it is the fragmentation of media and the increasing number of very narrow, niche blogs, wiki’s etc that increasingly will come to the top of the search results when potential customers do their product evaluation. Search “excelsius review, business objects”  and the review by Stephen Few is on the first search page, just under ZDNet. If I was in the market to buy, I’d probably read it. Rightly or wrongly.

So what can you do?

Without pretending to write a strategy, here are a few simple things you could do.

  1. Know who the people are outside the “traditional media” that publish on your subject.
  2. Engage with them. Maybe give them an opportunity to preview your product and ask questions. It won’t mean you’ll get a positive review, but you might just be able to ensure there is no misunderstanding about your product (which there seems to in this particular example)
  3. Participate in the discussion, using not only the comment section of their blog, but also your own. (What do you mean, you’re company doesn’t have a blog?)

What else would you do?