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Methodology: the agile building of marketing automation processes

In an age of perpetual change, large-scale marketing projects that require several months or even years to implement are no longer the solution. New approaches inspired by agile development methodologies offer a better answer.

It is impossible for a CMO, regardless of his skills, to draw up a blueprint of his operational relationship marketing requirements for the next three years. Why? Because you have no idea yet whether you are
building a wooden chalet or a castle. And even if you needed a castle you would not be able to describe your exact requirements as you have never lived in a castle before. We strongly believe that starting small, building as you go and showing results within the first weeks is the right way to set-up your 1-to-1 customercentric processes.

Start small and evolve on-the-go
What do you do when you try to solve a complex problem? You divide the problem into various parts, without losing sight of the final objective. This is much easier. As for the more complex parts, you will progressively tackle them after having solved the easy parts. The right methodology is critical for your survival. If you try to create customer journeys with a blueprint and “elephant” projects from the outset, you might end up with a “mouse” in terms of operability and return. We believe continuous technological agility and progressive building are the way forward for marketers. There are three crucial phases in an agile approach: agile customer journey management, agile building of marketing automation processes and agile marketing orchestration.

Be smart about your data

Are you worried about having to combine all your company databases? This is a frequently made mistake that is fuelled by an IT-perspective on data: the storage of all the customer data in one centralised place. This is actually the worst thing you can do when you want to see quick results from your 1-to-1 marketing strategy. Because at this point you have no idea which data are crucial for understanding your customers and drive sales. Striving for completeness will result in you getting bogged down by the complexity of it all and your first campaign will only leave the building more than a year later. 

Customers have become used to receiving mass communication or segmented communication based on a very small set of data. Some technology vendors try to convince CMOs that they need to instantaneously shift from this situation to a “Matrix-style” world in which every bit of data in the world is combined in the computer’s memory. We believe that there is an in-between approach to data, which we call “smart data”. The “smart data” approach is based on the assumption that 20% of the data you own about your customers explains 80% of your customer’s behaviour and contains 80% of the business leverage effect. The problem of course lies in determining the 20% that matter. Our experience is that, when studying specific industries, the principal vectors of customer behaviour are of the same nature. In some cases, the conclusions may sound counter-intuitive. For instance, we have observed that the weather predictions in the area where the customer lives are one of the most important
factors that influence his decision to buy grocery goods. This is what we call the “BBQ effect”: the content
of shopping baskets on Thursdays is often decided in function of the weather that has been announced for
the weekend. But, more than “recipes” that would be applicable to every domain, marketers need a methodology to select which data are important and which data are irrelevant for their specific business needs and their
specific customers.

Working with pilots
The idea behind the agile development methodology is to work with small cycles called “sprints” (usually fifteen days) so that the project’s evolution can be showcased to the users before development continues. ACTITO has adapted this approach to marketing automation by working with pilots. A pilot takes approximately twelve weeks (longer than a typical “sprint” but much shorter than a traditional marketing project). In this period, various hypotheses about data, which segments, which channels to use and KPIs are developed and applied to a portion of your target base. If these hypotheses prove fruitful, they are applied to the entire customer base and structured into automated processes to achieve a systematic return. Any further enhancements to your automation also
follow the 12-week pilot rule. This obviously reduces the risk that is inherent to ambitious marketing projects.
The added bonus of this approach? It is easier to defend your 1-to-1 vision to your CFO and CEO knowing that you will not spend a whole year’s worth of marketing budget on something that does not work. Assessing best practices and demonstrating ROI always seals the deal when requesting additional investments. As your company’s experience with 1-to-1 grows, you will identify the best practices that help you generate proven ROI at key moments of contact. This is agility at work: build structural processes brick by brick, like a wall. In the end the CMO can be certain that the size of the wall will be proportional to the generated business ROI.