Why you should embrace agile marketing to succeed as a startup

Posted on June 21, 2012

Over the past few months I have been increasingly discussing the relevance and growth of agility in marketing. It seems to me that the marketing industry, especially the digital arm of the industry, is forever undergoing an identity crisis. Am I an online marketer, a digital marketer, an inbound marketer, a content marketer etc etc? Each month there seems to be the latest trend or newly coined phrase that perfectly describes “what it is we do”. For the most part I tend to ignore this as it’s a needless distraction, and anyway I’m an online marketer and most of the time that covers what is being discussed. However, I have found recently the increasing relevance of the term “agility” when it comes to describing what I do and what I believe we should all do.

Agile marketing is a burgeoning term, perhaps that is even a little too strong to describe it as such, but is one that all marketers and startups should take heed of. With the fast paced, “always on”, fragmented marketing landscape we negotiate today, the ability to move fast, be both reactive and proactive and always remain in touch with the customer is what separates the leaders from the losers.


So what does it mean to be an agile marketer?

Well before I go much further I am going to direct you to two resources for some background reading. Firstly check out this post on the MarketingProfs site, it highlights the 4 winning facets of adopting an agile marketing strategy are:

  1. Speed – we live in a fast paced world and you need to be ready.
  2. Priority – you will prioritise quickly what is essential and what is a “nice to have”.
  3. Engagement – both internally if applicable and also with your audience/ market. 
  4. Relevancy – With a fully transparent approach which actively uses the market for feedback, you will ensure your customers are at the heart of everything you do and you create products that suit them. Dell are past masters at this though their Idea Storm website.

Secondly, watch the video below – trust me it is worth investing the 10 minutes in this:

You watched? Inspiring right?! Always asking, always thinking, always doing! That is how you stay ahead of the game in todays world. Especially relevant to the start-up world, yes you may be smaller than the competition but you have the ability to be a hell of a lot more agile. You are most likely talking one on one with you customers, you know what they want and can deliver it quickly. Also you can afford to fail, if you try something that doesn’t work then learn from it and move on. In fact I would argue your biggest risk is not trying something at all. That is the one time you can’t afford to fail, as you will never succeed.


But how does this translate to you everyday?

That’s a fair question, it’s easy to preach agility but how can you tie this into your every day work? Well I am going to assume that your startup is a pretty small operation. Maybe it’s just you, maybe there are a handful of employees. The process is still the same.

Think in quarters, but act in months - You need one eye on the big prize and an understanding of your value proposition, that will ensure you keep a consistent message. But aside from that forget about the long term plan and set yourself monthly targets. Review progress against these targets around 3 times a week and focus on delivering what’s right in front of you now.

Be bold – The chances are you’re a pretty bold character already, afterall you did just start a company, carry that boldness through to your marketing. Take measured risks and test out new ideas, concepts and content.  It worked for Dollar Shave Club (note: they used this video for their pitch to investors as well):

In fact it worked so well that, as you can see below, searches for “Dollar Shave Club” far outweighed searches for “men’s razors” in 2012:

Run fast and break things – Ok this is stolen from the Facebook motto, but it’s a great one and it’s one that you as a start-up should embrace. You aren’t able to get the absolute final product ready, you don’t have the budget to do massives amounts of in-depth product testing and if you think like that you will never get your product/ service out there. There is no better market test than actually getting real users trying out your service. So work out what your minimum viable product is, get it out there, test, iterate, improve and test again. Technically Google is still in beta – not even they say they have a finished product yet (and they’re right!)

Lean metrics – Don’t measure everything under the sun, work out what is important to your business, what is really going to move the needle and focus on reporting those. Is having a larger email database best as you make more revenue from that? Or do you know that you have a conversion rate of 40% off your landing page so your best best is to optimise traffic to that page? Each company is different, work out what’s important to yours and build towards it (remember think only in month by month goals).

Collaborate with tools – You may be a one man band or you may be a team of 5 – either way tools will make your life easier. I will speak more in the future on the ones I find useful, but I will make special mention here of Trello. It’s the shit when it comes to project collaboration and management. Below is a screenshot from this week’s hack day we had at Distilled in preparation for the launch of DistilledU.

We had around 30 people mobilised across 3 offices and 3 time zones to deliver a host of marketing assets in the course of one afternoon that enabled us to be ready to launch the next day! Without Trello we could not have done this – I advise you all to use it. Even if you’re just a team of one, it helps organise and prioritise your workload so you ensure you get things done.


I hope that has, in some way, been useful to you in showing just how and why agile marketing is a way of thinking that you need to embrace if you are to succeed in your venture. I can tell you it’s not easy, it goes against every gut instinct you have as a marketer and as someone who has put so much time and effort into getting your business to this stage. But honestly, reach out and embrace this methodology and it will lead to future success. It’s incredible what I’ve learnt in just the past 24hrs about DistilledU that I would never have got to through months of market research and planning (or at least it would have taken a lot longer and cost us a lot more).

I’d love to know your thoughts on this and whether you’ve used this methodology before. Please do comment below and let me know about your experiences?