By its nature, chasing the attention of customers is the pursuit of many moving targets. It is in this pursuit of attention where brands and their marketing teams must be the most flexible. Flexibility is not innate for most marketing teams as campaigns, content calendars, and product launches are typically set in stone and tracked with ridged KPIs. The challenge comes when we try to merry organizational goals with the fluidity of reality.
There are few environments more fluid than social media, which is what makes mastery so challenging. Some of the best examples of social media marketing mastery are really just manifestations of serendipity. But the secret of serendipity is present and agile in a way that beckons its good fortune. This article will show how the top teams in China are implementing Agile Management principles.
Any engineer will tell you that there is a right way to build a bridge. The right way is fixed in mathematics and construction practices refined over thousands of years. Any attempt to deviate from established planning and erection practices will most likely lead to disaster. Managing a brand on social media is nothing like building a bridge. But for some reason, the vast majority of marketing teams use the same management approach as engineers do when building a bridge.
The Roman’ Caravan Bridge is the world’s oldest functioning bridge. The bridge dates from 850 B.C., making it almost 3,000 years old. Friendster is the oldest social network that is still active today. The platform was launched in 2002, making it less than 30 years old.
“Complex” is used to refer to the level of components in a system. If a problem is complex, it means that it has many components. Complexity does not evoke difficulty. On the other hand, complicated refers to a high level of difficulty. Managing social media is complex but not necessarily complicated. The waterfall management methodology was designed for projects that are inherently complicated and must follow an exact sequence without alteration. Communicating on social media demands reactivity, iteration, and tweaking, all of which fall outside the waterfall management approach.
Traditional waterfall management is likely what lead to Dolce & Gabbana’s offensive ‘Eating with Chopsticks’ social media videos. We can imagine the sequence of events going something like this;
- Plan: Create a series of videos that are short, provocative, and juxtapose Chinese and Italian culture to generate awareness on social media for an event.
- Build: Get a famous director to shoot the short video series with a Chinese girl provocatively eating Italian food.
- Deploy: Share the videos everywhere!
If the initial stages of execution are not perfect, the waterfall methodology can doom a project. In the case of D&G, there was likely little input from a team member who was sensitive to the Chinese culture. When the video was being shot at the build stage, the model is quoted saying, “I felt very awkward when asked to eat food like pizza and pasta with chopsticks, ” but the project’s flow was already in descension with no builtin self-checking dynamics. No matter how uncomfortable the videos might have made D&G’s China Team feel, it was too late. The top-down execution made failure inevitable.
The waterfall approach to management visualizes projects as a linear sequence of steps, each distinct, towards the final goal. Feasibility leads to planning and design, and then plans are built and implemented, leading to the outcome. Of course, in reality, things will always go wrong, but in setting up an idealized vision of linear, undisturbed progression, the waterfall theory suffers from an internalized fear of change.
In contrast, Agile theory acknowledges the intrinsic chaos that governs many types of work, embraces it and sets out to tame it. Agile management meshes well with marketing for apparent reasons: Marketing is all about thinking on your feet in a continually shifting environment. It is trial and error, measuring and pivoting, evaluating, and re-evaluating. At its core, marketing is the attempt to anticipate and respond to the needs of the most chaotic variables: the individual consumer.
The hegemon at any given brand often doesn’t know what will resonate with potential customers. This insight gap is simply the fact that leaders of many brands do not represent the target customer, nor do they interact with target customers daily. Why then, are leaders often guiding or approving marketing strategies.
Empiricism is the 18th-century theory that all knowledge is derived from experience. Moreover, decisions should be made on what is known.
The C2M business model is a reaction to the rising importance of Empiricism applied to commerce. The ultimate goal of China’s major e-commerce platforms’ C2M models is to leverage consumer behavior data to cut out product development guesswork, advertising costs, and the need for “brands.” Eliminating brands might seem overly ambitious; however, using data to optimize commerce and reduce waste is more than smart. The massive data sets Chinese e-commerce platforms have given them a strategic advantage over the brands to serve purportedly. The minority report-esk attempt to pre-predict customer’s desires and consumption before it happens is undoubtedly the future at some level. It will likely be lead by e-commerce platforms and not traditional brands.
If primary sales channels, e-commerce platforms, are actively waging war with the brands they serve are utilizing empiricism, brands have no choice but to fight fire with an Agile approach. Agile thinking is underpinned by the logic of empiricism, which says that decision-making should be driven by knowledge. As new information becomes available to the brand, it responds by revisiting its decisions, actions, and plans. That, in turn, may necessitate a change in tactics.
Agile Management assumes that we know the least about anything at the start simply because the requirements and applications are highly dynamic. An Agile approach places a premium on doing, learning, and adapting. Planning becomes iterative and is always informed by real learnings and experience. The first trick is asking the people that are most likely to know the answers. The people who do the work (closest to the results) are most often the best ones to make plans and solve problems.
The entire Agile Management framework can be characterized as simultaneous, iterative, and incremental. This enables a virtuous cycle to emerge more quickly and dynamically—the brand gathers knowledge about the consumer early and often, and in turn, is able to hit a similar rhythm for delivering value to the consumer.
The Agile Framework is also less reliant on hierarchies. This doesn’t necessarily mean an Agile operation is a flat or lacking leadership—but it does mean that people throughout the team are empowered to innovate and take action. In the marketing context, the people who work closest to customers are best-placed to receive feedback and respond quickly to implement tactical tweaks.
The Agile Management structure assumes that bosses do not know how best to manage projects at a granular level. It’s those who are closest to a project and have the most passion for success that should lead. Extreme applications of the Agile can be found in the Perfect Diary’s management of private traffic and KOC marketing initiatives. Empowering self-organizing teams is essential to the formation of private traffic channels. Only brands that learn to give up a degree of control and allow the customer to take aspects of ownership will successfully build sustainable customer communities. And the essence of KOC marketing is allowing customers to become de facto members of the brand’s marketing team. By placing trust in customers and allowing them to invest more deeply in the brand, the Agile Framework can make these retention marketing practices extremely potent.
Agile Management methods allow marketing teams and individual team members to be creative, innovative, and—most importantly—responsive. Customer needs can change regularly, and customer patience is an unpredictable variable. Brands need to be on their toes and ready to turn on a dime. An Agile approach equips them to do just that.
These practices are also beneficial internally. A well-functioning Agile workplace is likely to be staffed by individuals who are more engaged and feel more empowered. In turn, this makes for empowered, motivated teams who will thrive together.
The 10 Agile Management Principles
1. The highest priority is to satisfy the customer.
2. Welcome, change. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s advantage.
3. Everyone must work together to succeed.
4. The most motivated individuals should lead. Then, they should be given the freedom, support, and trust needed to get the job done.
5. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information is face-to-face conversations.
6. Agile processes promote sustainable progress towards goals.
7. Continuous attention to excellence enhances agility and quality of outcomes.
8. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
9. The best plans, requirements, and work emerge from self-organizing teams.
10. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.