Throwing Spaghetti at the Wall: Why ‘Agile Marketing’ Won’t Build Your Brand

by Andrew Stanten

Agile marketing is just another term for throwing spaghetti at the wall.

Lately it seems that just about every marketer wants to steal a page from the software development world and implement “agile marketing.”

Terms like “growth hacking” have been adopted and have become buzzwords in circles of my marketing professional peers. And getting something done quickly and good enough at the expense of strategic thinking and quality seems to be gaining in acceptance.

While I’m a big believer that some principles of agile software development can apply to some aspects of marketing, there is a real risk in insisting on an “agile marketing” approach when you have not yet crafted and developed your marketing foundation.

What Is the Agile Methodology?

Iterative and incremental development methods can be traced back as early as 1957, with adaptive software development emerging in the early 1970s. And the idea of applying this to marketing isn’t new either.

Agile software development advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery and continual improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.

Similarly, the purported goals of agile marketing are to improve the speed, predictability, transparency and adaptability to change of the marketing function. This process is iterative, allowing for short marketing experiments, frequent feedback and the ability to react to changing market conditions.

Testing and experimentation are hallmark values at Altitude.

But there are some things – your brand and foundation – to which “agile marketing” principles shouldn’t apply. And, where being agile in marketing can reap great benefits, the benefits won’t be gained until certain things are in place.

To put it another way, agile marketing – without thought given to an overarching strategy – is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. You’re getting stuff out there, but you’re not thinking about the audience. You’re making rash decisions about tactics without thoughtfully examining what may or may not be working. You’re changing things up for the sake of changing things up. It doesn’t work. And it’s rarely sustainable.

A Lesson in Agile Marketing: Speed Kills

I had an eye-opening conversation recently with the CTO of a newly formed software company. The conversation focused on the organic search engine optimization (SEO) tactic he wanted to deploy. He wanted five pages of content created quickly – one addressing each of the top five pains his customers face. That’s all he wanted. Down and dirty. Simple. Quick to implement. Spaghetti on the wall. All of it destined to fail. Why?

In his own words, his new website “sucked.” I asked why. His response was that it was put up quickly, without much thought to user experience, positioning, messaging or brand. Without thinking through what’s next.

To put it another way, agile marketing – without thought given to an overarching strategy – is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

And now, he found himself in the place of just needing to get something done to start to drive leads.

But now, here he was, asking us to do the exact same thing: Throw up four to five new pages quickly without any regard or consideration to the wider ecosystem. He insisted this time, people would magically flow right to the bottom of the sales funnel.

My response? “Not so fast.”

Primary drivers – tactics like social media, public relations and digital advertising that smartly drive prospects to those pages – were off the table. Gathering, digesting and acting on competitive intelligence was “unnecessary.” The company’s branding – visual, positioning, and messaging – was amateur at best but he’d “get to that later.”

“Can’t you just be more agile and do what I’m asking?” he insisted.

What Agile Marketing Is Not

What he was asking us to do is not agile. It’s flawed thinking and delivery. It was spaghetti on the wall. I told him in good conscience I wouldn’t take his money to do what he was asking because I didn’t believe it was in the best interest of his company.

I explained we’d get there, but we first had to shore up his company’s foundation — visual branding, positioning, audience-specific messaging brought to life on a best-practices website. I explained why a solid foundation was essential for success.

I explained that supported by a solid foundation Altitude’s concerted, integrated efforts would help ensure success – and provide an opportunity to be more agile. With a solid foundation, we would test concepts and have variants of the creative for different personas. We’d develop variants for email subject lines and landing pages to optimize conversion. We’d test automated follow ups to see what delivers the best engagement.

He resisted.

“I don’t have time for that,” he barked. “What’s already up and running, we’ll address later. It’s good enough.”

The Agile Marketing Lesson

When it comes to your marketing foundation, don’t be satisfied with a half-assed job. If you are doing things sloppily, rushing to get something – anything – out there, all the growth hacking, agile marketing, experimenting and quick test and fails will likely … fail.

Why?

You can have the best product or service, deploy the neatest tactic out there, but if the brand, message and website user experience fall flat with a prospect, you’ll likely lose them. The competition is too fierce and moving on to the next search result is too easy.

You absolutely should be testing, measuring and taking calculated risks with your marketing. But you only have one chance to make a first impression – and it’s that impression that needs to be developed thoughtfully and strategically. That impression serves as the foundation upon which all agile marketing experiments can be systematically run – while simultaneously keeping you focused on the thing that matters most: driving the right kind of leads to your sales team.