Agile and Web Marketing: A continuing problem for technology

03 September 2014
Juliette Hocquigny
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The role of a marketer today is to react and respond to changes that are happening so quickly that they are not in a position to foresee the needs of a content platform in advance. Under these circumstances where does this leave technology? Unlike for previous clients, we can no longer demand a complete set of needs to develop a platform from. Therefore we must be agile, but we must also push the agile methodology to its extreme.

For website content, here are just a few examples of the sort of tasks we, technologists are being asked to facilitate:

  • A marketer wants to test the suitability of two different layouts and measure the success of each against a set of goals
  • A marketer wants to reposition a promotion within an existing layout in real-time and monitor the traffic to this promotion
  • A marketer wants to offer a voucher to returning customers and measure uptake on the fly 

All of these involve situations where the marketer is reactive, having to take decisions based on data that is flowing from the website, and positioning / formatting content to meet a need that is identified on the fly and may only be valid for short periods. The old responses of “that’s just the way it works” and “you’ll need to develop a new template for this” will just not fly anymore.

Most previous web content management systems and methodologies were incapable of meeting these needs, and we still struggle to meet them now. All platforms have some unwieldy structures, and we are always under pressure to produce “solution architectures” and assure our customers that the project will deliver their needs. We have to recognise that this is a totally backward approach that comes from a previous world of engineering where the needs do not change on the same timescales as modern web marketing. In this world time is precious. Anyone who works in this industry knows how much pressure is placed on time: marketers under pressure to meet an increasing competitive world, and developers under pressure to design and build platforms that can meets these ever-changing needs. Now, it is time to stop chasing our own tails and face the reality that we are always incapable of meeting these needs fully.

In such a situation the only possible approach is to be agile but also grounded, to be ready to move in any different directions at any moment. The Agile Manifesto states the following values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

From this comes ideas like “Minimum Viable Product”, which is a methodology for iterative development of products to enable learning through failure and getting new features to the customer as soon as possible. Such ideas are a step in the right direction – understanding that in the real world a product is never really finished as such, but new features are rolled out in a changing environment where the customers’ needs are shifting continuously.

 It’s a very difficult job, when commercial and management pressures intervene to force some arbitrary delivery dates, or when the agile methodology is squeezed into a fixed price project that fundamentally destroys the basis of collaborative communication that underpins the agile method. My reaction to this is to push the message of agile to its extreme, and continually emphasise the need for better communication from the outset and an honest and open understanding as both developers and marketers of our inability to foresee the changes that any project will undergo in its lifespan. From this starting point only are we poised and positioned to be truly agile, are we able to build the lasting relationships of trust between us and our customers.

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