Agile Marketing Journey Continues: State of Agile Marketing 2018

There’s a lot of conjecture flying around about the status of the Agile marketing journey, from approaches and tools to benefits and pitfalls.

Conjecture is all well and good, but we decided it was time to put some data behind the debate.

And so, in partnership with Kapost, our team here at AgileSherpas conducted our first annual State of Agile Marketing survey.

The purpose of this article is to dive deep into both the results and methodology of that study, in the hope that they’ll provide some guidance as marketing makes its way ever further into the wonderful world of true agility.

I can’t wait to get a long-term look into how these responses change from year to year, but in the meantime there’s plenty to be excited about.

Table of Contents:

TL;DR Version

What Agile Marketing Means (in this study)

Where Our Respondents Came From

Demographics of Our Respondents

Where Agile Adoption is Strongest

What’s Important for Marketers in 2018

Agile Marketers are More Satisfied

What’s Driving Agile Marketing Change

Additional Benefits of Agile Marketing

Maturity Levels and Barriers to Further Adoption

Youthful Agile Marketers

Adoption Rates are Increasing

Want to share the data you see here? Download a zip file of some of these charts. You can also get the full report via the form below.

TL;DR Version

For those looking for the highlights, here are some of the most noteworthy takeaways from the 2018 State of Agile Marketing Report:

  • 37% of marketers report using some form of Agile to manage their work. 40% are traditional, planning a lot up front and sticking to their plan. 18% work day-to-day without a well-defined process.
  • Most Agile marketing teams don’t confine themselves to a single methodology. 44% say they use a hybrid methodology.
  • Agile marketing teams are far more likely (81%) to be satisfied with how their department handles work than traditional (44%) or ad hoc (27%) teams.
  • The three most common practices being used by Agile marketing teams are user stories (51%), frequent releases (47%), and retrospectives (43%).
  • Following an Agile transformation, marketing teams enjoy a wide variety of benefits. The three most widely reported were an ability to change gears more quickly (55%), better visibility into project status (52%), and higher quality work (47%).
  • Two barriers stand in the way of more thorough Agile adoption: a lack of training or knowledge about Agile approaches (38%) and a belief that current processes are working well enough (26%).
  • Agile is growing in popularity, as nearly two-third (61%) of traditional marketing teams report plans to start an Agile implementation within the next twelve months.


What Agile Marketing Means (in this study)

We tried very hard to make sure that when we asked if marketers were Agile it was very clear what we meant. Some folks, after all, persist in believing that a never-ending series of pivots makes them Agile.

So, for the purposes of our survey, we did our best to create clarity. We asked respondents to put themselves into one of three categories:

  • Traditional: we plan our work in advance using a lot of detail and try to stick as closely as possible to that plan.
  • Agile: we use at least some part of an Agile marketing approach to manage our work, such as daily standups, a backlog, Sprints, kanban board, etc. We have plans, but they’re flexible and change often.
  • Ad hoc: We don’t make long term plans. We work on what seems right from day to day and don’t have a well-defined process for managing incoming work.

Based on these categories, we got the following responses from 692 marketers:

agile marketing adoption

This worked out to 279 who called themselves traditional, 254 who called themselves Agile, and 127 who called themselves ad hoc. Just under five percent (4.6%) selected “none of the above.”

Where Our Respondents Came From

We worked with the panel experts at SurveyGizmo (also the software we used to create and distribute the survey and analyze our results) to connect with a statistically significant number of marketing professionals.

I once ran the content team at SurveyGizmo, and so have a reasonable amount of expertise myself on how many responses we needed to get. The accepted number to get a representative sample of a group is 400. After that, the results don’t get much more accurate.

Six hundred and ninety-two marketers answered our question about whether they were Traditional, Agile, or Ad hoc, so we feel confident in our 37% adoption level statistic.

We also did our best to ensure that marketers, and only marketers, were answering our questions.

Our first question was what’s known as a disqualifying question, and it asked respondents to tell us about their current or most recent professional role. Here are the marketing-related options and the results we got for each:

  • Marketing Associate: 5% (36 total responses)
  • Marketing Manager: 10.8% (77 total responses)
  • Director: 43% (307 total responses)
  • Vice President/Senior Vice President: 21% (150 total responses)
  • CMO or other executive: 20.2% (144 total responses)

Anyone who selected a non-marketing role was thanked for their time and eliminated as a respondent.

You may also notice that more than 693 people answered that question (714 to be precise), and that’s because a few bailed before getting to the Agile/Traditional/Ad hoc question, and some failed a later disqualifying question designed to ensure that they had marketing expertise.

Demographics of the Marketers We Surveyed

In addition to asking people about their current professional role, we looked more deeply at their company and marketing department.

Here’s an overview of what kinds of marketers shared their thoughts with us:

Which of the following most closely describes the industry you work in?

  • Advanced manufacturing: 7.1%
  • Business services: 22.1%
  • Consumer and retail: 17.3%
  • Financial services: 8.2%
  • Health care and life sciences: 7.2%
  • Information technology:
  • Other: 24.9%

Would you classify your organization as primarily B2B or B2C?

  • B2B: 25.5%
  • B2C: 27.6%
  • Mix of both: 46.9%

How many employees are in your entire company?

  • Less than 100: 50.1%
  • 100-499: 16.7%
  • 500-1,000: 15.3%
  • 1,001-5,000: 10.5%
  • More than 5,000: 7.4%

How many total employees, including freelancers, are in your company’s marketing organization?

  • 10 or fewer: 43.3%
  • 11-20: 12.3%
  • 21-30: 8.8%
  • 31-50: 11.5%
  • 51-70: 6.8%
  • More than 70: 17.3%

Where Agile Adoption is the Strongest

You won't find these data points in the report, but I did some additional digging into the survey results to see which industries and team sizes have made the most progress on their Agile marketing journey. Here's what I discovered.

Two very different industries, IT and financial services, are tied for the highest level of Agile marketing adoption at 56%.

Teams of 21-30 people are the most likely to use Agile, also coming in at 56%. They're closely followed by even larger teams of 31-50; 54% percent of those teams say they're Agile.

Small teams of less than 10 marketers are the least likely to be agile at 20%. The remainder are fairly evenly split among traditional (38%) and ad hoc (34%) ways of managing their work.

When it comes to organization size, larger organizations are far more likely to employ Agile marketing. Fifty-nine percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees are using Agile, while just about half of companies from 100 to 5,000 employees say their marketers are Agile.

Small companies with fewer than 100 employees report only a 20% adoption of Agile marketing.

What’s Important for Marketers in 2018

It’s a challenging time to be a marketer; there are hundreds of ways we could be spending our time on any given day. So we asked our marketing panel to tell us what their top priorities are for 2018.

(We let them pick as many as they felt were applicable, so the numbers don’t add up to 100.)

The top choice? Producing higher quality work at 53.3%.

Second and third place were neck and neck. Prioritizing the most important work earned 44.8% of the responses, and better alignment with organizational goals and objectives came in at 44.4%.

priorities marketing 2018

Once again, when we segment these responses we see a major difference between Agile teams and those using more traditional work management methods.

Agile marketing departments are much more likely to prioritize quality than their traditional and ad hoc counterparts. Producing higher quality work is a priority for:

  • 46.3% of Traditional teams
  • 68.3% of Agile teams
  • 44.6% of Ad hoc teams

Agile Marketers are More Satisfied

It’s no big secret that happier marketers produce better work, so we felt it was important to figure out how satisfied marketers are with their current work management processes.

When we look at the responses as a single group, the results aren’t overly surprising:

  • Very dissatisfied. Our process is the worst: 2.9%
  • Dissatisfied. We don’t manage work well at all: 7.2%
  • Neutral. Could be better, could be worse: 34.6%
  • Satisfied. We have a good handle on our work: 41.2%
  • Very satisfied. We’re a well-oiled marketing machine: 14.1%

But when we segment these responses according to how people label themselves, things get very, very interesting. It turns out that teams on an Agile marketing journey are far more likely to feel satisfied with how their teams manage work.

Percentage of marketers who are either satisfied or very satisfied with their work management approach:

  • Agile marketers: 80.9%
  • Traditional marketers: 44.2%
  • Ad hoc marketers: 27%

agile marketers more satisfied

What’s Driving Agile Marketing Change

While we’d like to imagine that Agile transformation originates in a desire to make marketers happier, it’s not just their satisfaction that’s driving change.

We asked teams that have already gone Agile what made them switch, and they had a wide variety of reasons (again, multiple choices were allowed so final results don’t add up to 100%):

  • Improve productivity: 64.3%
  • Increase innovation: 48.4%
  • Enhance ability to manage changing priorities: 48.4%
  • Improve alignment with other teams/business objectives: 46%
  • Accelerate delivery of campaigns: 44.4%
  • Improve team morale: 36.5%
  • Improve project visibility: 35.7%
  • Enhance predictability of campaign delivery: 26.2%
  • Better manage distributed teams: 23.8%

For me, one of the most interesting data points here is that being faster was only the fifth most common choice. Agile marketing is often associated with speed, but teams who have successfully navigated a transformation didn’t do it just to go fast.

They did it to improve productivity, to innovate, to manage changing priorities, and to better align with other groups in the business.

Speed is nice, but it’s not the ultimate driver for going Agile.

Additional Benefits of Agile Marketing

That’s a look at the before picture — the things that are pushing marketing teams to make a change. But what’s on the other side? What benefits do teams actually enjoy after they go Agile?

Once again, we see a huge variety of responses, with speed getting votes from just 42.9% of the respondents.

The top three most commonly reported benefits are:

  1. Ability to change gears quickly and effectively based on feedback: 54.8%
  2. Better visibility into project status: 51.6%
  3. Higher quality work: 46.8%

Additional benefits that fall outside those top slots include faster time to get things released (42.9%), roadblocks and problems are identified sooner (40.5%), better alignment on business objectives (38.9%), more productive teams (37.3%), improved team morale (34.9%), and more effective prioritization of work (31.7%).

benefits of agile marketing

Something that concerns me in these last two groups of stats is the difference in the percentage of marketers who switched to Agile to improve their productivity (64.3%) and those who reported increased productivity as a benefit they’re actually enjoying (37.3%).

My suspicion is that much of this discrepancy is due to the youth of most Agile teams. There’s often an early dip in output while the process takes hold, but over time that loss is recovered and productivity eventually surpasses its pre-Agile levels.

This is definitely something we’ll be keeping an eye on as we collect next year’s data.

Youthful Agile Marketers

Speaking of how early nature of most Agile marketing journeys, let’s look at the details of this particular question:

How long has your marketing department been practicing Agile?

  • Less than a year: 15.9%
  • 1-2 years: 31.7%
  • 3-5 years: 29.8%
  • 5+ years: 16.7%

agile marketing team age

To get some perspective, let's take a look back to 2016 and compare these most recent numbers with those collected by Wrike in their report “How Marketers Get Things Done:”

How long has your team been using an Agile methodology?

  • We have plans to start but haven’t yet: 7.8%
  • We’re just starting now: 22%
  • We started in the last 6 months: 33.1%
  • We started 6-12 months ago: 18.1%
  • We started over a year ago: 11.1%
  • We’ve been using one for more than two years: 4.4%

There’s a fair amount of continuity among these two studies, although certainly we didn’t reach the exact same group of marketers that Wrike surveyed two years ago. Nonetheless, the length of time marketers have been practicing Agile appears to be expanding as we’d expect.

How Marketers are Using Agile

Most interestingly, marketers appear unwilling to declare their allegiance to a particular Agile methodology. The most popular choice among our respondents who have already completed an Agile transformation was a hybrid of multiple Agile methodologies (44%).

Among the more typical options, Agile marketers prefer Scrum by a slim margin (17.9%), followed by Lean and Kanban (both at 12.7%), and Scrumban (10.7%).

We also took a deeper look at the day-to-day practices that marketers are using within their methodologies, and there's quite a long list of techniques in use:

  • User stories: 50.8%
  • Frequent releases: 46.8%
  • Retrospectives: 42.9%
  • Daily standup: 39.7%
  • Short iterations: 34.9%
  • Kanban board: 34.1%
  • Work in Progress (WIP) limits: 32.5%
  • Sprint/iteration planning: 32.5%
  • Planning poker/estimation: 27.8%
  • Sprint/iteration review: 22.2%

Only .8% chose "Other," so we seem to have a fairly comprehensive list here.

Maturity Levels and Barriers to Further Adoption

In addition to asking about the length of time that marketers have been using Agile to manage their work, we also asked them to tell us how they'd categorize their maturity levels.

Among teams who already consider themselves Agile, 44% say they're still maturing. Just under 20% assign themselves a "high level of competency" with Agile practices, and about 8% say Agile practices are now "enabling great adaptability to market conditions."

When it comes to traditional marketing teams, 29.5% are considering an Agile experiment, and 13.7% say they're experimenting with Agile in pockets of their department.

Ad hoc teams are farther away from an Agile transformation, with only 20.3% considering an Agile initiative and just 2.7% experimenting with Agile in some way.

Information and education remain the primary barrier to Agile adoption, with 37.9% of respondents citing "Lack of training or knowledge about Agile approaches" as their biggest hurdle. (If you fall into that category, you might find our online course helpful.)

In second place we find complacency. Twenty-six percent of respondents say they aren't going all in on Agile because they believe their current process is working well enough.

The other options are interesting because of the distribution of responses:

  • No support from management or executives: 5.3%
  • We don't have time to try something new: 6.4%
  • We don't have the right tools to support an Agile approach: 5.3%
  • We're already completely Agile: 2.5%
  • I don't know: 16.7%

Adoption Rates are Increasing

Despite this confusion around impediments, adoption of Agile marketing appears poised to rise dramatically in the future. Nearly two-thirds of traditional marketers, 61.3%, say they're planning to start down the Agile path within a year.

Many of them are right on the cusp; 23.7% say the change is coming within the next month.

When we look at only ad hoc teams, there is (unsurprisingly) less eagerness to go Agile ASAP. Only 27.6% of those teams say Agile is on their horizon in the next twelve months, with a tiny fraction (2.4%) saying it's going to happen next month.

Join the Agile Marketing Revolution

Those adoption numbers are music to my ears as an Agile marketing evangelist and coach, but if you fall into one of the groups that has no plans to go Agile anytime soon, they should make you feel a little nervous.

If you delay Agile adoption and your closest competitor makes the switch this year, they could increase their campaign cadence by a whopping 256%.

Is that a deficit you want to fall into? It's becoming ever more likely that marketing teams will fall into two categories: Agile marketing departments, and those trying to catch them.

Which will you be?


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