The Bank Marketer’s Agile Manifesto

By Nick Kastner

As marketers, we find ourselves highly valuable. We consider ourselves not cost centers but profit centers. With that said, we also get assigned the craziest projects.

In my first marketing job out of college, I served as marketing research and technology coordinator for a small bank for roughly two years. And in that role I had the opportunity to do all sorts of things: conduct marketing research, provide graphic design, manage our CRM database, dress like a giant rabbit in a hat for a parade, design cowboy boots for the CEO, etc. It’s amazing how we are assigned all things “crazy” because we’re the marketing department, right? It’s what we do…at least, that’s what most of the other departments in the bank think. Just because we are assigned those tasks does not mean that we don’t have an opportunity to create value.

I believe we can provide a great deal of value for the institutions that we work for if, and only if, we choose to do so. If we want to continue dressing as rabbits and march through the downtown square for a local parade, we can do that. What I would propose, however, is that we focus on the opportunities that create the most value and run at those opportunities as hard as we can.

I don’t believe that’s done consistently in a traditional marketing environment. But I do believe it can be done in an agile marketing environment.

The Agile Difference

Over the past 14 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work for great organizations where I’ve been involved in everything from marketing research, digital marketing, web design, project management and marketing strategy. And in every organization that I’ve worked for, I’ve found that the traditional marketing planning method creates problems for everyone involved. It always seems that the plan is either incomplete at year’s end, complete by mid-year (which makes others think we have time to dress as rabbits), or ignored. And if it is used, we at times aren’t willing to change, even when the plan itself doesn’t make sense three to six months after it was written, all because of the expectations that we have set with upper management and our unwillingness to admit when we are wrong.

Plus, with the advent of digital marketing, we can’t plan a year in advance, knowing that everything could change within a week. So how do we go to market? What should be the method we use? How do we ensure that we create value? How do we make decisions if everything changes?

That’s where agile marketing comes into play.

The idea of agile project management is not new. However, the idea that it can be applied to marketing has only been presented in the past four to five years.

In agile project management, teams first identify the high value projects that will make the biggest difference for their client (in our case, the customer or our institution). Then we create sprints, or short, finite projects, and complete those projects as a team. After each sprint, the team reviews its effort, the impact and results, and creates an incremental improvement plan to create the next sprint. It may also decide that a given “sprint” was a bad idea and should not be done again.

All in all, the agile concept allows marketing teams to effectively tackle projects, change on the fly, and focus on what creates the most value.

In 2012 at the SprintZero conference, a group published the following Agile Marketing Manifesto, with seven principles as the core of agile marketing.

We are discovering better ways of creating value for our customers and for our organizations through new approaches to marketing. Through this work, we have come to value:

  1. Validated learning over opinions and conventions
  2. Customer focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
  3. Adaptive and iterative campaigns over big-bang campaigns
  4. The process of customer discovery over static prediction
  5. Flexible versus rigid planning
  6. Responding to change over following a plan
  7. Many small experiments over a few large bets

I think each of these values gets to the heart of the mistakes that many of us marketers make.

Validated Learning over Opinions and Conventions – Raise your hand if you’ve ever came back from a conference and said, “That was a really cool idea. We’re going to do that!”—without ever considering whether it really is a good strategy for your organization? I’m sure most of you have. In college, we still teach students to validate their campaigns through analytics. We just need to be reminded of that sometimes. This first principles does just that.

Customer Focused Collaboration over Silos and Hierarchy – Who matters most? The opinion of your retail team or your commercial team? Or wait, let me guess, compliance. Why is your financial institution even in business? Isn’t it about the customer? We all sometimes get into our own little world and neglect our other teams in the organization. Agile requires collaboration for the benefit of the customer, and not just in marketing. Agile marketing works when we all work together, no matter the title or department.

Adaptive and Iterative Campaigns over Big-Bang Campaigns – Oh, do marketers love big campaigns. I know I do. But they’re difficult to measure, run for long periods of time and sometimes can’t put ROI on paper. Agile is about ROI, so these campaigns just don’t work in an agile environment. In my opinion, the days of big brands constantly doing big campaigns are almost over. We have too much data and information now not to use agile instead.

The Process of Customer Discovery over Static Prediction – While we want to analyze our customers to the point of being able to predict their next purchase, we’ll always be surprised. Marketing is about discovering who our customers are, especially in today’s marketplace where things change daily.

Flexible Versus Rigid Planning – We all know rigid planning doesn’t work. It doesn’t account for change…and things change constantly.

Responding to Change over Following a Plan – We have to adapt to the marketplace. As I mentioned earlier in this article, plans fall apart over time.

Many Small Experiments over a Few Large Bets – Small experiments cost less and can be measured. All marketers should want to be able to provide measurable results to their executive team. This is a great way to do that, while showing the finance team you can provide value.

So, is this idea perfect? Of course not. No idea is. But, that’s the beauty of agile. We realize the plan is flawed, fix the issues through testing and move on. Over the coming months, I’ll be continuing my research in this field and hopefully learn a few more things along the way.

Nick Kastner serves as marketing manager and instructor for the Mike Cottrell College of Business at the University of North Georgia. He has extensive experience in the fields of digital and financial marketing. His current research is in agile project management and its potential ability to disrupt marketing planning and strategy. Email: [email protected]. LinkedIn. Twitter.


Learn more from Nick at his course on Digital Marketing at the ABA Bank Marketing School, June 8-15, 2016.  We look forward to seeing you in Atlanta!