Blog post

Speed vs Agility – What’s the difference in marketing?

By Kirsten Newbold-Knipp | June 24, 2015 | 4 Comments


If you’re coaching a racing sport like track or swimming you want speed but if you’ve got a basketball or hockey team, I’d argue agility will win the day every time. That’s true in sports and in life.

Speed vs AgilityThe Difference Between Speed & Agility

When talking with marketers about how to structure their organizations, we often hear that they want to achieve something faster – often asking us how they can optimize for speed. But when we ask why, the responses typically include things like:

  • To respond to a market shift quickly
  • To support a change in our sales teams’ needs
  • To address customer expectations before our competition.

Achieving those aims to drive differentiation is not about raw speed – it’s about organizational agility and the ability to adapt to the always-on world that’s driving a trend towards two-speed marketing.

Speed is ultimately about doing the same, repetitive things faster and faster. Agility is about how you engage with your environment to sense and respond to stimuli fast enough to drive a result – it’s about seeing the pass and getting to the hoop fast enough to complete a layup – even if that’s not the play you were expecting.  In a recent presentation I shared seven habits of effective marketing teams that are culled right from the Agile playbook – here are the top four habits you can apply today.

7 Habits to Make Marketing Teams More Agile

There are organizations like Cisco, EMC and even Mattel who have implemented Agile Marketing (taking a page out of the book of R&D scrum masters) to become more nimble – but you don’t have to implement ‘Agile’ with a big a to become more agile as a team.

There are seven habits that are hallmarks of successful agile marketing teams that any organization can apply to gain more predictability and transparency around priorities that can create flexibility to respond to new opportunities.

  1. Start With Why: If we don’t know the WHY behind the what and how we are doing something — it can slow us down, reduce motivation and even cause unnecessary friction due to misalignment. Simon Sinek said it best in his TED talk, but I’ll reiterate here that high performing teams are most effective when they are empowered to be creative, make decisions and take action with confidence. For example, if your SEM expert knows your WHY … and your designers know your WHY … they are totally empowered to come up with a better HOW or make a prioritization call to could create flexibility when a new need emerges.
  2. Get Good at Saying No: None of us are as good at this as we’d like. Saying YES all the time is a bad habit that results in distraction from the WHY. Setting clear & transparent priorities removes the need for micro-management and ensures that your own staff as well as other teams have visibility into why you can or cannot support their requests. Most importantly, having clear priorities will create space and agility to say YES to the new opportunities that really matter.
  3. Talk It Out, Often: Daily standups are one of my favorite parts of Agile — these are 10-15 minute meetings held standing that are very focused. The agenda goes something like this: What did you do yesterday … What are you going to commit to doing today … What obstacles do you need help with to accomplish that next step? By keeping these short you don’t waste time and are continuously attuned to the pulse of your organization. Then, if and when you need to pivot, you have a VERY keen sense of what will can shift so you can move quickly and get all the right players on the same page with minimal business disruption.
  4. Embrace Failure: People often repeat JFK’s quote ‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever success greatly’. Unfortunately, too few organizations live that mantra. Exploration, spontaneity and pipelines of innovation only emerge in teams and cultures that know it IS OK to fail, provided they don’t make the same mistake twice.  Erase fears by ensuring people know you have their back and educating them about what ‘size’ fail would hurt the business — as well as what failures you as a leader have had and what lessons you learned. Consider sponsoring a ‘fail fest’ to celebrate those lessons and the subsequent improvements on a regular basis – and watch creativity thrive.

Few of these habits will make your marketing team faster at their individual functions (automation anyone?). But, in concert, embracing Agile best practices can and will give your team the insight, flexibility and confidence to operate with agility in the face of today’s rapidly changing landscape.

What habits do you practice to make your teams more nimble? Have you ever used Agile/Scrum in your marketing – if so, what were the results?

Leave a Comment


  • Roland Smart says:

    Here’s a quote from my forthcoming book that related to what you’ve written here. I have to say that I don’t like to compare speed to agility because they are not on the same spectrum:

    Is Agile Really Faster?
    Yes and no. Fundamentally people can only get so much done in a day. Will Agile help people get more done in a day than Waterfall? No. If, however, you reframe the question as “What does Agile accelerate?”, then you can definitely identify certain types of initiatives that it can speed up. Certainly, Agile gets you to an initial iteration or an initial release faster. In that way, Agile also gets you to feedback faster and typically gets you to a product/market fit faster. This is why Agile is so popular among start-ups. For projects that are highly predictable, the Waterfall approach lets you optimize them more fully. In other words, Waterfall has the potential to be faster as long as the plan doesn’t veer from the final destination. Agile, on the other hand, gives up some speed in exchange for increasing the likelihood that you’ll end up at the right destination; it improves your ability to steer and change course). If Waterfall leads to the wrong outcome, its speed advantage disappears. So Waterfall is riskier in quickly evolving industries.

    • Kirsten Newbold-Knipp says:

      Hi Roland,
      I like that take > and agree that in particular, if you end up at the wrong destination … getting there fast isn’t all that helpful. Looks like you and my friend Jascha worked together. Good luck on SXSW and look me up if you make it (I live in Austin:).

  • This is a great discussion; I’m reading Roland’s book and it explores this topic well. Reminds of a client that was obsessed with speed, and ended up generating bad leads faster.

    Roland’s book has great advice and explains agile marketing, how it advances goals more effectively than more traditional marketing .. and how to integrate it into your longer-term vision. Definitely recommend it for anyone trying to wrap their head around this important topic. Traditional marketing won’t cut it in a rapidly evolving connected economy.

    • Kirsten Newbold-Knipp says:

      Hey Richard – lovely to see you here! Glad to know Roland Smarts’s book is out and good > I’ll have to check it out:)
      Happy holidays,