Various Marketing Case Studies
SEMRush’s marketing department strives to be Agile at all levels. They’ve gotten as close to a purely flat structure as they can, which has allowed them to fully empower their various teams. According to Olga’s presentation, leadership clearly identifies what needs to be done, but the team gets total control over how to do it. To her, she’s like a soccer/football coach who sees the field and understands the opponent, but she’s not the one kicking the ball.
This doesn’t, however, lead to chaos. Their Scrum approach and its daily standup meetings ensure people are staying on track, and the trust placed in the teams make them both highly creative and deeply invested in their work.
Scrum-style sprints also allow the marketing teams to experiment rapidly, testing and learning on an ongoing basis. These small scale tests have paid off in a big way, netting SEMRush 500,000 users in 8 months.
Olga acknowledges that there are challenges too, particularly when it comes to hiring and firing. A mistaken hire, for instance, can take a big toll on the team if they don’t pull their weight. It’s also up to the teams to fire members who aren’t contributing.
Thanks to Agile marketing, year over year average revenue growth from top 10 new markets was greater than 90%, and SEMRush gained 500,000 users in just 8 months.
Northern Arizona University:
This scrappy four-person team once followed traditional marketing practices, creating an annual budget, creating goals, and designing highly specific projects. With the help of freelancers and agencies, they’d produce around 50 pieces of marketing collateral a year. Then, digital happened.
Despite multiple reorgs, they couldn’t keep up with client needs and expectations. Then deWees discovered Agile marketing. Instead of individuals taking on an entire project themselves, they now structure work in 2-week Sprints.
They joined forces with IT to create a single in-house design group for support, and phased out their reliance on external contractors. Tara Cobourn, marketing manager, says this new approach allows them to break projects down into smaller pieces, which are in turn given to team members based on skills and availability. Now they can get an entire project done in two weeks instead of waiting months for outsourced work to come back, get edited, get revised, and finally get released.
Now that budget isn’t going to contractors, they’ve been able to hire more writers and designers, increasing the team’s agility even further.
In their first year as an Agile team, content production increased 400% (50 pieces to 200 pieces). Sprint tasks have nearly 95% completion rate. 20% cost savings have been realize. Client satisfaction rating increased by over 30% in six months.
Case study summary: It wasn’t the lure of Agile that brought Trisca and Deakin to Agile. Instead it was the perfect storm of deadlines. The team had to deliver four programs within a few days of each other, and their existing processes just couldn’t handle it. They made some initial changes, bringing together project-based teams and “chunking down” activities to hit their deadlines.
Then, it was time to embed the Agile way of working across the whole Deakin marketing division. Now all the staff have been trained, and they’re applying Agile to daily tasks as well as project work.
Increased productivity through staff empowerment, reduced meetings and email, and greater real-time communication
With nearly 200 people in Dell Software Marketing worldwide, Greg had a lot of ground to cover: SEO, lead generation, channel, web, field marketing, channel marketing, etc. And everybody was doing things a little differently across product lines and portfolios, leading to “disconnect points and gaps” and processes that weren’t repeatable.
To counteract these issues, they reorganized into an Agile marketing formation and combined it with an inbound marketing approach. Over about 7 months they created a worldwide team across all product lines that’s organized into an Agile formation that operates on one-month Sprints.
Size and complexity aren’t obstacles if the problem is big enough and leadership is committed.
General Mills has founded their Agility in the right place: with their customer and their needs. They’ve then taken three steps to create Agility:
- Embrace mobile as the device of choice.
- Build a standard set of components that can be deployed across any site.
- Invest in “always on” teams.
These teams include marketing, agency, and tech resources that work as a single unit to ensure the customer gets the best possible experience.
Most importantly, everything is founded on hiring amazing people and removing any barriers preventing them from delivering a world-class customer experience.
Agile is rooted in a desire to deliver for the customer. This holds true for great marketing as well as great software.
The traditional marketing cycle of long booking times and lengthy review cycles with agencies wasn’t working for Santander anymore. In their place they adopted a more Agile approach, releasing small, low-risk campaigns in two-week Sprints. Those that were successful got more budget and more attention. Unsuccessful experiments were abandoned.
Now that it’s comfortable experimenting, Santander has expanded its Agile approach. Recent results of an experiment combining its first party CRM data and Facebook data were “staggering,” and the application of those learnings to search, social, and programmatic activity is already delivering amazing results (see takeaways below).
Their new approach to iterative experiments is delivering measurable results:
- Loyalty increased 12%
- NPS (Net Promoter Score) at its highest in 17 years
- Account satisfaction increased 10%
- Highest ever positive sentiment at 90%
On the surface, Sam and his team were doing everything right. Shipping content, marketing their product, building links, and generally doing solid marketing. But they knew they weren’t being as efficient as they could be.
So, they turned to Agile marketing and Scrum. They followed four steps:
- Choose an application
- Plan your Sprint
- Add Sprints to your chosen application
- Decide on meeting frequency
(Truth be told this sounds more like Scrumban to me…but it’s really a to-may-to to-mah-to situation.)
Sam also gives a detailed walkthrough of their tool of choice, Favro, if you’re looking for guidance on tool selection and implementation.
“It’s not about getting things done; it’s about getting the right things done and feeling productive rather than busy.”
Alberta Motor Association:
The AMA leadership was looking for a way to kickstart innovation and creativity in their marketing, and so they turned to Agile during a 2017 reorg. With about 40 people spread across multiple interdependent teams, they struggled with dependencies, handoffs, and achieving transparency into their process.
AgileSherpas joined them and helped all the teams redesign their kanban boards, resize the cards being used, and improve their communication across teams (among many other things). We also transitioned the creative services team to a more flow-based Agile approach to try and free them from some of the stress being caused by overloaded sprints.
One of my favorite things we tried with the AMA teams was the creation of Pen column on their boards. This is where all work lives that’s currently outside of the team’s control, and it helps them maintain visibility into its status without the need to stop all work while they’re waiting for feedback.
The Pen can help mitigate a difficult review process.
Case study summary: Dave and the rest of the marketing team at Sunlife saw the value in Agile marketing, but knew they couldn’t put everything on hold to undergo a huge transformation. Instead they implemented one of the smartest pilot programs I’ve seen, creating a single cross-functional team to work on a finite project as a test case for using Agile.
When that project succeeded they added another Agile team, and then another, incrementally expanding their agility further and further into the department. They’re still early in the process, but Dave (who led the original pilot) and his colleagues have gotten rave reviews from their internal partners. Expect to hear great things from these teams in the near future!
The Creative Services team proves that pilot teams and projects are excellent proving grounds for Agile marketing’s viability.
Harried by fintech startups, Nick felt that ING was starting to become an elephant trying to race against greyhounds. He believed it was time for a big change, so he visited some of the world’s most innovative brands: Google, Netflix, Zappos, Spotify, etc. He and his executives then launched 5-6 pilot teams to prove the Agile approach while they simultaneously drew up a whole new structure for the 2,500 employees at the Netherlands headquarters. They modeled themselves on Spotify, creating Squads, Tribes, and Chapters (as illustrated in the video below).
Another big company proving that size isn’t an impediment to Agility, ING is seeing quicker time to market, increased employee engagement, reduced impediments and handoffs, and an improved client experience, even though they’re still early in their transformation.
Big teams are no match for agility. The Spotify model can be modified to work outside of software development.
Case study summary: This mortgage broker went Agile in a big way, using its $25 million brand relaunch in 2016 to test the approach in its marketing organization. A major catalyst for the transformation was the move to new premises, which were designed to facilitate collaboration within and between all departments.
Equally key was the “comprehensive agile training program” taken by both executive team members and the staff. This provided a solid understanding of the “why” behind the switch as well as the information needed to make it successful.
After 18 months of transformative effort, Aussie now uses 2-week Sprints and combines physical boards with digital project management tools. Each team designs their own board and optimizes their process from Sprint to Sprint, helped along by Scrum masters.
Building a strong team and culture that’s finally focused on the right priorities.
Case study summary: In 2016 IBM’s new CMO called the company’s 2600 marketers back into the office only a few years after they’d all been asked to work from home. It was time to trade productivity for innovation, and for Peluso that also meant a focus on Agility. She stated that the newly co-located teams would be going Agile by “creating small empowered teams with the right skills, clear accountability, sprints, and a constant focus on prioritization.” These teams would be cross-functional as well, boasting “a strong mix of creative, process, digital, and data science skills.”
This transition is part of a larger business transformation that has seen IBM spend $380 million on “agile hubs” in Austin, San Francisco, New York, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Raleigh, North Carolina. They’re also investing $1 billion in training and development programs for the US workforce over the next four years.
I heard Michele Peluso speak at DMA’s &Then in 2017, and she was overwhelmingly positive about the success that Agile marketing was having with her team. Hard data on IBM’s transformation remains scarce, but if it surfaces we’ll share it here.
(Incidentally, agility in marketing isn’t new at IBM, as you can see in this 2014 interview with Ben Edwards, then VP of Global Communications and Digital Marketing.)
With the right budget and level of executive buy-in, you can turn a ship of any size towards great organizational agility.
The reasons behind CA’s Agile journey were familiar: be faster to market, iterate rapidly, prove their impact on the business, and improve team morale. It’s taken two years and a lot of learning, but CA is now using Agile marketing with over 100 team members across six Delivery Groups, each of which is aligned with a particular Business Unit. Sixty of those team members are full-time and part of the core Agile teams. The rest are leaders, specialists, data scientists, and regional marketers who offer support as needed.
Like many success stories, CA started with a small pilot team. Most members were co-located and worked on a single product: CA Agile Central. They also drew inspiration from the Rally Software marketing team, which they acquired in 2015. Once their pilot proved successful, they expanded steadily over the next 18 months or so.
While pipeline improved, delivery times shrunk, and win-rate tripled, the journey wasn’t without its obstacles. A lack of co-location and marketing work that didn’t lend itself to traditional two-week sprints kept them on their toes, but it was management that had the hardest time. The need to relinquish control and start coaching rather than directing was a tough hurdle in the early days.
- Pipeline improved 20% with a flat budget
- Campaigns can now be delivered in two weeks rather than 1-2 months
- Win rate of marketing-sourced opportunities has tripled
Sources: Cameron’s posts on the CA Blog
More details on these case studies can be found at the source links and on AgileSherpas.com