Several of us are in Austin this week, attending the now 17-year-old Interactive portion of the South by Southwest festival (SXSW) (side note: why are we still calling it “new” media?). With the torrent of information flying towards me all day, it’s challenging to select just one topic on which to blog. But one panel on Sunday has stuck with me; it focused on the move to “agile marketing,” headlined by some major brand representatives from Pepsi, Dell, Disney and Mindjet.
The reality of the giant shift to digital communications for brands and organizations – 24/7 Twitter streams, customers complaints coming at brands via Facebook Timelines, 70%+ smart phone adoption in the U.S. – effectively impacts marketing in many more ways that just the shear number of channels on which we need to communicate. Success at agile marketing also means that organizations need to rethink time, money and culture.
Time is Now
Marketers no longer have the luxury of time. In the PR world, we’ve always had to be nimble to be effective at media relations and crisis communications, but larger-scale marketing programs could be planned and executed on a timeline that we determined. Today, the timeline isn’t in our hands: it’s in the hands of our target audiences, or – as seen with the recent announcements by Facebook – in the hands of the mediums on which we need to engage with our audiences.
Moving the Money
The move to agile marketing poses challenges not only to creative development and execution, but also to budgeting. Annual budgets set in the third quarter of the year can’t anticipate the myriad of changes that can happen in the second quarter of the year following. Smart marketers have always communicated with their customers where they are, but today those same customers can make a dramatic and rapid shift from one medium to another. A great recent example of this is Pinterest. The explosive growth of this network has happened really quickly, and very few brands were able to forecast this in October 2011. So now, in March of 2012, if your audience is spending 10 hours a week on Pinterest, does your marketing budget have the dollars – and flexibility – to respond and move into that space? While a Pinterest page may be “free” to set up, the time and expertise needed to communicate effectively in that space are not.
In addition to the impacts on time and money, probably the most challenging change imposed by agile marketing is an organizational culture one. One of the best quotes of the session came from Shiv Singh of PepsiCo, who stated that “agile marketing requires too much transparency for most to be comfortable with.” Even with the relative maturity of the digital marketing world, many organizations are still in their infancy when it comes to mastering customer communications on social networks and other interactive channels. This is as true for small brands as it is for large ones. But here’s a reality: being a social business isn’t really optional if you are going to compete. There are so many brands who are doing it well – and many who are still struggling; or worse, refusing to adapt and trying to maintain a very controlled approach to communications, even as they launch Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. For those organizations, I’d say that social media are going to be very disappointing – and possibly even harmful – channels for them.
The shift to agile is happening now. Are you ready?