As a new business with a small team, startups often face the conflict of too many competing priorities. Producing sales collateral, managing campaigns, updating the website, tweeting, pinning, and “liking” vie for our limited time and attention. This endless list of “what else can we do?” often leaves startup marketing teams running in circles. Startup marketing, if not properly conditioned, can burn out easily in purely reacting to the urgency of tasks rather than by their strategic importance.

Successful startup marketing requires agility, stamina and focus. One of the most practical and universally advantageous systems valuing these key elements is aptly named “Agile Marketing.”

What is Agile Marketing?

Borrowed from software developers’ practice of “agile development,” agile marketing cannot be strictly defined as a noun. Instead, “agile marketing” is a process, making it an action verb. The model is fitting for a startup, because the quick forward movement of a new business calls for an equally fast-paced marketing strategy.

Jim Ewel of states the textbook definition of “agile marketing” as the following.

An approach to marketing that values:

  1. Responding to change prioritized over following a plan
  2. Testing and data prioritized over opinions and conventions
  3. Numerous small experiments prioritized over a few large bets
  4. Engagement and transparency prioritized over official posturing
  5. Collaboration prioritized over silos and hierarchy

In laymen’s terms, the agile marketing approach takes a marathon-long list of potential marketing ideas and prioritizes them according to importance, breaking marketing down into manageable portions. Then, instead of running full-speed toward a distant finish line — chasing the constant surprises that appear while the to-do list only gets longer– marketing can work towards a more immediate finish line that occurs every two weeks.

How Agile Marketing Works

Start: Remember that 26-mile-long list of marketing tasks? This is known as your backlog. The marketing backlog includes every idea for a potential campaign, piece of content or other activity you would like to implement at some point. The backlog provides your starting point in agile marketing.

Step 1: Schedule a “sprint planning” meeting with the marketing department. Block off 1-2 hours to sit down and assign tasks to be accomplished over the duration of 2 consecutive weeks. During this meeting, determine which items from the backlog take priority and discuss any recent opportunities requiring immediate attention.  This way, expectations are aligned and important work doesn't get buried by urgent work. Planning two weeks ahead forces you to make tough priority choices and quickly exposes when expanding bandwidth is necessary. When you're regularly adding more to your 'to-do' list than your 'done' list, it's time to hire.

Step 2: Assign roles and delegate tasks for the sprint. One tool we’ve found useful in managing marketing projects is Trello (thanks for the recommendation, Matt Hunckler). Trello allows our marketing team to track progress on various projects and also provides a home for ideas in the backlog.

Step 3: Hold several “stand-up” meetings over the duration of the sprint. A “stand-up” meeting is essentially a verbal progress report. Individual stand-ups are usually no more than 15 minutes in length. During the meeting, each person reports on what they have completed thus far, what they plan to complete next and what obstacles they expect to encounter. This regular “check-point” keeps everyone updated throughout the duration of the sprint.

Step 4: At the finish of the 2 weeks, hold a victory party, or “sprint review” meeting. Discuss what was accomplished, as well as obstacles, surprises and items added to the backlog, before beginning the process again. 

How to Start Sprinting

  1. Prioritize your backlog. Set up a working spreadsheet with items you’d like to accomplish as well as columns for due dates, estimated number of hours required to complete, and to whom the project is assigned.
  2. Select a tool to project manage sprints. Here at Bluebridge, we use Trello, but, Podio and PivotalTracker are also excellent for tracking progress and managing activities between several people. Choose the tool that best fits your needs.
  3. Determine your process. Will your sprints last two weeks? Who will delegate tasks? How often will stand-up meetings take place? Get a plan in place that fits the pace of your business.

Frank Days, VP of marketing for Correlsense advises:

"Build a really basic annual marketing plan (no more than one page) containing your high-level themes and metrics for the year. Then build more detailed plans on a monthly basis (i.e., a sprint plan), and meet at least three times a week to review your planned actions for the month (i.e., scrum meetings). Finally, focus meetings on what you are doing now, not what you did last week or are going to do next week."

By being agile in our marketing, we’ve stopped chasing endless tasks and started sprinting towards achievable goals. How do you manage the marketing workload and competing priorities? What tools do you use to plan/execute/track marketing tasks? Please share your own Agile Marketing approaches in the comments below.