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Edmund Lawler Sep 15, 2016

In an anxious bank marketing landscape, the race from fragile to agile

As she picked the brains of leading-edge marketing thinkers, Barre Hardy ran into a lot of edgy, anxious thoughts.

An associate partner with CMG Partners in Durham, N.C., Hardy interviewed 40 senior marketing executives for her firm’s annual thought leadership survey. And for such an auspicious assignment, she kept hearing some common laments: “We’re too slow to market” … “We’re bogged down by complexity and change” … “We’re not sure how to use the new technology tools to connect with our customers.”

Yet Barre had consulted for enough software companies to know that one speed-to-market technique—a favorite among software engineers—could possibly be modified for marketing. It’s called agile software development—and her research turned up just a few examples of marketers borrowing agile techniques that relied on nimble, data-driven, cross-functional teams to launch products into a rapidly changing market.

Hardy wondered whether agile could possibly turbocharge marketing the way it did software development. Turns out her hunch five years ago was on the mark; CMG is now virtually synonymous with agile marketing, a practice Hardy leads with an almost evangelical zeal.

“It’s been a labor of love for me to help organizations create accountable, high-performing teams and enable them with new tools, processes and thinking to help them operate at their highest potential,” she says. “You get really great marketing impact when you put all of that together.”

A former manager for GE Plastics, where she learned how to continuously improve marketing and sales, shared her insights at BAI Beacon.

Q. How is agile marketing different from traditional marketing?

A. Rather than rely on a traditional, long-term marketing plan, agile marketers mobilize small, self-managing teams that think like startups and set aside job titles. They break down projects into smaller increments and deliver work in so-called “sprint windows.” These windows could be one, two or four weeks long. By getting the work out to market more quickly, you can get real-time market feedback. That’s the essence of the methodology that helps break down points of friction within an organization. More important is the agile marketing mindset. It says it’s OK to fail in small ways and learn from your mistakes. It helps transform an organization’s culture into one that’s more efficient, collaborative and customer-focused.

Q. How are things breaking with agile marketing?

A. I spoke earlier this year at a financial services conference on digital marketing and talked to a lot of leaders in the industry. I found one out of three of them are either considering or are implementing agile marketing at their institutions. So I think that speaks to its relevancy.

Q. What’s the most exciting element of agile marketing at the moment?

A. There’s a growing recognition among marketers that what has worked in the past is not going to sustain the future. Marketers have to change to stay relevant. More than that, they have to change to achieve their goals. I’m excited because I believe we are now at a tipping point as the momentum toward agile continues to grow.

Q. What’s the biggest challenge facing the banking industry in terms of agile marketing?

A. It goes back to the points of friction facing any organization as it transitions to agile. Bank marketers rely on external agencies; they must work with legal and compliance to meet regulatory requirements; their new products must be rigorously tested. All those layers of complexity add time to the process. Agile is about trying to reduce the complexity and time to market to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness.

Q. Is it more challenging to implement agile marketing in a bank rather than a non-financial institution?

A. Yes. Privacy laws make it harder for bank marketers to access customer data. So much can be learned with the data, which is at the heart of agile. Organizations must be driven by insights they’ve learned about their customers. The data is not only harder for banks to access. Often, it’s very siloed in a financial institution as well. But with the right support for agile marketing from senior leadership, none of this is insurmountable.

Q. How do you see the financial services changing?

A. Banking is becoming a digital industry. Customers are interacting, in some cases, on a daily basis with their banks. That digital experience is critical for banks to successfully relate to their customers. Those that aren’t nimble enough to evolve will grow more slowly. Those that do evolve will recognize where the value gaps—exist and close them through an agile delivery system. 

Edmund Lawler is a business writer, author of six books and former editor at BtoB Magazine.

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