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“Big A” or “Little a”: Two Types of Agile Marketing

By Jake Sorofman | February 12, 2014 | 1 Comment

A lot is being asked of marketers these days. Many stand flatfooted at the edge of the precipice, disoriented by what exactly it means to find, engage and convert customers in this new digital dimension.

They’re asked to become data wranglers and marketing technologists.

They’re asked to become brand publishers, social and mobile marketers.

They’re asked to personalize—but to never, ever be creepy.

Against this backdrop is another less heralded challenge: Executing apace with digital.

How do you get work done when the digital afterburners engage? How do you keep pace when planning and execution cycles are compressed from quarters and months to days, hours and—gasp—minutes?

Enter agile, a methodology that practically saved the hide of software development when markets became hypercompetitive and business got wise to the magic of software innovation. I’ve written before about the burgeoning agile marketing movement, which seeks to apply agile principles to our discipline. But now the question becomes:

“Big A” or “little a”?

What sounds like a silly, Dr. Suessian turn of phrase actually raises an important question for aspiring agile marketers: What type of agile marketer do you want to become?

The “big A” variant of agile marketing implies a somewhat strict adherence to the conventions of the methodology. For example, agile often asks you to:

  • Decompose your work into small chunks, executed in short iterations
  • Create backlogs as a dynamic inventory of work (which you “groom” regularly)
  • Focus on use cases and stories instead of detailed requirements documents
  • Assemble cross-functional, nonhierarchical and often self-governing project teams
  • Conduct daily standup meetings to keep work on track and aligned to priorities
  • Display “burn-down” charts to measure progress, Kanban charts to manage workflow
  • Measure continuously and hold post mortems to capture learning for the next iteration

These artifacts of agile software development don’t always translate perfectly to the world of digital marketing, which is why many aspiring agile marketers opt instead for the “little a” variant.

Here, the approach is more philosophical:

  • As much as possible, break work into smaller chunks and execute shorter iterations
  • Test multiple variants before scaling your investments
  • Meet every morning to discuss the work of the day
  • Flatten hierarchy, encourage experimentation and discourage politics
  • Eliminate or substantially reduce paperwork and administrative process
  • Organize cross-functional teams that work outside of silos
  • Measure relentlessly and ask questions that allow for continuous learning

More often than not, agile marketers are disciples of this “little a” variant. They embrace the principles of agile, if not the prescribed process. They cherry-pick, applying just the elements that add value. They look beyond the methodology itself for other creative ways to improve velocity, adaptivity and efficiency.

For example, Zappos is reorganizing around the principles of Holacracy, which seeks to flatten hierarchies and makes work products—not people, titles and politics—the central driver of business. The goal is self-organizing, self-governing teams that adapt dynamically to changing market conditions.

Sound like too much, too soon for your organization? Look to freelance communities like, Skyword and, which aggregate creative talent that brands contract on demand, as an elastic utility. “Talent on tap” is a simple way to throttle up your resource-constrained marketing team. Or, better yet, look for ways to offload work to your customers and audiences by harnessing the wisdom of crowds, cultivating user generated content, and building advocates who amplify your marketing efforts.

 “Big A” or “little a,” the lesson here is that you’ll need to find creative ways to accelerate and scale if you expect to—as Dr. Seuss absolutely never said—meet the daunting demands of the digital dimension.

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1 Comment

  • Richard Fouts says:

    Great post. You certainly captured the demands of today’s marketer, which hopefully won’t terrify them too much. But it’s all true; the demands are extraordinary.

    I especally liked this sentence; marketers that figure this out are way ahead of the pack.

    ………. or better yet, look for ways to offload work to your customers and audiences by harnessing the wisdom of crowds, cultivating user generated content, and building advocates who amplify your marketing efforts