How we apply Agile thinking to marketing planning

Working smarter not harder delivered an award-winning product for Kraft Heinz

“Work smarter, not harder” is a phrase that supposedly goes back to the 1930s and the wonderfully-named industrial engineer Allan H. Mogensen.

So in the nearly 100 years that have passed since the phrase was coined, we’ve cracked it right?

Well, even if you have, I’ll bet you an expensive hourly-rate that your marketing agencies haven’t. Particularly at the research end of that market, the default is still to produce lengthy reports in PowerPoint. Reports are reassuringly concrete; you know you’re getting your money’s worth if the document has 200 slides.

But here’s the thing: getting your money’s worth is not the same as getting something worth paying for. Writing reports takes a long time and therefore costs you a lot of money, when what you actually need is business guidance. Formal reporting might be part of how that gets delivered, but it shouldn’t be the default any more.

Software developers have a word for this sort of thinking: agile.

The four core values of agile software development are captured in the Agile Manifesto:

1 / Individuals and interactions…  over processes and tools
2 / Working software…  over comprehensive documentation
3 / Customer collaboration…  over contract negotiation
4 / Responding to change…  over following a plan

Agile developers recognise the value in the items on the right, but value the items on the left more.

These values emphasise the power of smart people doing the right thing for their clients, working flexibly and responsively and not being tied to process. All things we believe make sense for the kind of complex and strategic work we do, and those values are reflected in the flat non-hierarchical way we work internally too. And the agile philosophy’s emphasis on the role of end user in the process is reflected in the time we spend scoping work, and communicating with clients throughout the project to make sure we stay on track.

The one value which may be more challenging to our industry though is the second one: the emphasis on a working product rather than comprehensive documentation. For a start it means defining what a working product means for research and marketing consultancy. We’d argue it means simply a plan of action grounded in a better understanding of your audience. So what about the “comprehensive documentation” we are meant to be letting go of? We’d argue in many cases that means the classic research report.

If there’s a way of getting to the product without having to go via the documentation, we think you should take it.

Paying an agency to think rather than write means quicker, less expensive projects that get to the answers clients need without superfluous busy work.

The issue is that agencies’ attempts to turn reports into narratives leaves them falling between two stools. On the one hand, even well-written insightful research reports typically need further translation, editing and summarising before they can be used internally as a record of what the business should do, creating even more work. And on the other hand, if you think of a research report as a reference work, it’s typically not the most comprehensive, easy to navigate way to store and retrieve large amounts of information anyway.

In practise, we’re applying this thinking more and more in U&A and even simple segmentation projects. Instead of writing 200 pages and spending weeks embedding that analysis, we move quickly from data collection to a collaborative analysis workshop with our clients. We come armed with data to pore over, and pre-agreed analysis plans matched to the business questions at hand. By the end of the day we have the answer: the business should do X because of A, B and C.

The rest can be captured in data tables, transcripts and other forms better suited to later reference, but this process unlocks the immediate value of research more quickly and therefore more cost-effectively.

And the answers we reach are better-informed by business needs, with a clear sense of ownership from the client side team, plus the real sense that the team knows and understands the underlying research. It’s the approach behind some of our most successful recent projects, including work for Kraft Heinz that helped them launch an award-winning new product.

If agile working sounds like something your organisation is ready for, let us know here.