De-Risking Campaigns with Agile Marketing

On Tuesday morning last week, as part of the Communitech Strategic Marketing P2P Group, I attended “Agile Marketing: The Art and Science of De-Risking and Adapting Your Campaigns”.

This session was delivered by John Beresford, who has “over a decade of experience driving business results in the Canadian technology sector”. He spent eight years with RIM/BlackBerry managing a number of different North American sales and marketing teams, and since then has become involved with the Laurier LaunchPad and his own start-up, Eventpeeks.

I’ve been giving more thought and focus recently to marketing campaigns, so the timing of this session was quite fortunate.

During John’s introductory remarks, he was talking about the Laurier LaunchPad and noted that “Entrepreneurship isn’t just about 1s and 0s”, meaning that entrepreneurship isn’t always about technology companies. While a fairly casual aside to the overall introduction, I feel like this statement deserves greater recognition and importance – too often people think, “Well I’m not an entrepreneur, because I’m not a computer person”, or they dismiss their own ideas out of turn because they aren’t sufficiently technology focused. This upsets me. A good idea is a good idea. Technology will likely be involved, but perhaps only as an enabler, rather than the focus. That doesn’t make the idea bad.

John began by drawing parallels between Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and start-up founders:

  • they both have short tenures, typically between 18 months and three years
  • they both deal extensively with risk management
  • they both have high levels of stress

Another parallel is that just as a poorly executed start-up can flame out (and not in the cool blaze-of-glory kind of way), so, too, can a bad ad campaign. Both of these scenarios are made more likely when all validation and ‘input’ is internal. Agile Marketing seeks to apply the concepts of Agile software development to the realm of marketing, in order to prevent catastrophic flame-outs and lead to greater successes.

The meat of John’s presentation was around a number of core concepts:

  • Everything is a hypothesis
  • Get out of the building
  • Build – Measure – Learn (then repeat)
Everything is a Hypothesis

Whether you’re assessing product fit in a market, or campaign fit for an audience, too often we take things for granted and fail to realize that we’ve made many assumptions and, ultimately, don’t know jack. Our ideas must be treated as hypotheses, so that we can actually test them out to see if they’re valid. But how to do so?

Get Out of the Building

John is adamant, and I’m in agreement (I write this while in Dubai), that the best way to truly learn is out in the real world. Out in this ‘real world’, you can have ‘real’ ‘conversations’ with prospects, customers, etc., and get real-time feedback about your hypotheses.

I don’t think I’ve ever produced a sales or marketing presentation that didn’t continue to change and iterate once I got out there in the field to present it to prospects and customers. Even if you’re thinking, upon creating material, that it’s a sure-fire hit, out there in the real world you’ll spot opportunities for improvement. Sometimes it’ll be obvious, like “Oh hey, they’re falling asleep” or “Hm, this slide is actually difficult to speak to” or “that’s a clumsy segue”, and other times it’ll be far more subtle. But the only way to put yourself in a position to hear this real world feedback is to…put yourself in a position to hear this real world feedback.

Be prepared: you’re going to learn a lot, and sometimes the lesson will be hard to take, but consider it all as valuable feedback that will help you refine your overall message.

Be prepared: you’re going to learn a lot, and sometimes the lesson will be hard to take, but consider it all as valuable feedback that will help you refine your overall message.

John also made it clear that getting an agency to do this type of research and to gather feedback is a big mistake – particularly when you’re wanting to be agile and dynamic. Surveys are fine later, once the message has been carefully crafted and you’ve stopped learning new things from your conversations and interviews, but until then: real world, in real time – that’s the way to be agile.

Real world, in real time – that’s the way to be agile.

Build – Measure – Learn (then repeat)

This is the Agile Development model, and it applies equally well to marketing. If you’re locking yourself in your basement, or chaining yourself to your desk, until you come up with the seemingly perfect campaign, then you’re doing it wrong. Instead, you have to build your idea, measure its effectiveness (…in the real world, with real conversations), learn lessons, and then apply those lessons when you build your next iteration.

Don’t fall into the trap of wanting your idea (campaign) to be right; instead, want to find the right idea (campaign).

To be agile, you must be able to validate (or invalidate) ideas quickly, and at low cost. This means you must have a readily available means of reaching your target market, and gaining their honest feedback. If you already have a customer base, then find a trusted group within that base; if you’re just starting up, then you need to identify prospect demographics and go where they are (e.g., tradeshows, conferences, online forums, etc.).

Remember, this is all about de-risking your campaigns. The worst thing you can do is work your butt off to produce what you think will be a killer campaign, with no input at all, then back it with enormous resources, and then sit back and watch while it sputters out.

No matter how good an idea sounds in your head, it needs to be tested. Conversely, no matter how dumb an idea might sound, maybe that’s the one that resonates!


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Marketing
3 comments on “De-Risking Campaigns with Agile Marketing
  1. […] In my recent post about speaking at the Canadian Telecom Summit, I mentioned having “an extremely busy schedule”; well, a few days after the conference I was onboard an A380 en route to Dubai. While there, I summarized my notes from a recent Communitech event. […]

  2. Hi Lee, I wanted to call your attention to a local meetup group that’s just starting up that the readers of this blog might be interested in. It’s called People X Products and John Beresford will be the Discussion Leader at our next meetup on November 25! He’s going to seed some discussion topics on Agile Marketing – should be a great conversation.

    Check out the group here:

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