I recently sat down with Scott Brinker, one of the founders and CTO of Ion Interactive and the author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, which was recently chosen as the “Best Marketing Operations Blog” by the readers of Marketing Sherpa. Scott is one of my blogging heroes, and someone who was instrumental in making me aware of the possibilities of Agile Marketing.

His post, Ideas for an Agile Marketing Manifesto, was one of the first resources I came across when I began researching Agile Marketing, and it is still one of the best blog posts out there on the subject.

Scott and I talked about a number of topics, including how he got started with Agile Marketing, how they use Agile Marketing at Ion Interactive, coordinating Agile across development and marketing, how the processes used to manage Agile might differ between Agile Marketing and Agile Development, and the future of Agile Marketing.  I think you’ll enjoy the conversation.

Scott Brinker Interview Transcript

Jim:                 Hi, this is Jim Ewel and I’m talking today with Scott Brinker. Scott is one of the founders, the president and the chief technology officer of Ion Interactive. Scott is actually one of my heroes. He is one of the people that I’ve been reading for a long time about Agile Marketing and I’ve really enjoyed your blog, Scott.

Scott:              Thanks a lot.

Jim:                 Let me start by just asking you, how did you get involved in this concept of Agile Marketing and the idea of a marketing technologist? How did that come about?

Scott:              Sure, I think these two concepts are closely related. My background is actually as an engineer, so I’ve always been in the role of helping to develop products that typically were for marketers as the audience for that product. It has been fascinating over the past 20 years to watch this evolution of technology being used in the marketing department which I think in the past five years we’ve really seen an exponential growth in just the number of applications and the channels and just everything that marketers are doing these days is so deeply entwined into technology. That has a lot of impact on how marketing as a discipline, as an organization, is evolving. I think that’s sort of what, from my perspective actually, led to thinking about Agile is when you see marketing start to face many of the same challenges that software went through, that IT went through, that technical project management went through. You know, it is not too much of a leap to say, “Well how did these other disciplines be able to get better at dealing with this complexity and these changes and just the way things evolve in a technologically driven field?” I think that’s a… If you look at some of the early people who were first championing Agile Marketing I don’t think it is a coincidence that they were all kind of software people themselves who had moved into marketing positions or were CEOs of companies that, “Hey, could we use this for marketing?”

Jim:                 Yeah, of course. Well, tell me a little bit about how you apply Agile at Ion Interactive. I mean do you practice Agile Marketing there? Just talk to me a little bit about that.

Scott:              Sure. We do, so actually most of my days are spent practicing Agile with the product development team.

Jim:                 Okay.

Scott:              Traditional thing, but my partner Justin Talarico who runs the marketing group has a very straightforward Agile process, you know, it is sort of the basics that I think you’ve outlined very well on your blog of starting with what’s the grand vision and then breaking this down into a backlog, let’s have a sprint, let’s prioritize what we’re doing on this sprint. Let’s have a clarity about where things are progressing, what’s been started, what’s been completed. The framework obviously, Agile project management people have been able to adapt this in a variety of contexts. It is just very valuable and it is also very effective. It just gets people focused on what am I doing today that matters and how do I have some sense of progress tomorrow as to where did this go, what should I do next? It changes the operational tempo of how marketing behaves.

Jim:                 Right. How do you coordinate with the marketing department? I mean is there some coordination, if you’re both applying Agile, you’re both doing sprints, okay? Do you guys end up doing some kind of coordination and if so how?

Scott:              Very light coordination, so they’re essentially running as independent Agile groups. I sometimes think of even in engineering when you look at as engineering groups scale, the way in which they typically scale Agile it’s not like the entire group is locked on the same sprint schedule and become something more than okay, this group is going to subdivide this set of things that they’re working on and they’re now operating on an Agile process for that. This other group is focusing on another. It becomes a very distributed model when it scales. I think maybe you have even met some of the stuff, the folks at Amazon and how they adopted and eventually scaled Agile across their organization, strikes me as a really good example of how does a large organization scale Agile methodologies and it seems to at least for them be based on becoming highly distributed in a variety of independent Agile teams.

Jim:                 Yeah, you know, I haven’t read too much about that. They’re famous for their two-pizza teams. The teams should never become larger than you could feed with two pizzas and so I realized that they must have that kind of independence and only lightly coordinated teams but I’ve never read any of the detail about. I have to get you to point me to that.

I saw a little bit of a discussion on your blog a few weeks, maybe a few months ago now that I thought was really interesting. You had talked about what was going to happen to IT as some of the technologists moved into, for example, the marketing department and that more of the technology function of the organization might move into the individual departments rather than strictly being an IT. There was a guy out here in Seattle, I’m sorry I forget his name, and the two of you had a very interesting conversation about that. I thought it was just fascinating on both sides. I get some good points on both sides. You know, recap that a little bit for me and talk to me about where you see that going in terms of as technologists move into departments like marketing.

Scott:              Sure. Yeah, I think it is definitely an open area of debate and I think it is one of those things that there’s not necessarily one right answer to this. The different organizations depending on the way in which they’re strategically positioned for what they’re doing, their culture, I mean there’s a lot of big factors there, but generally speaking, I think, forget marketing for a moment, IT is a bit of strange set of revolutions going on right now. I think what most people in IT call the “consumerization of IT” the fact that now every employee wants their own devices and they want to do their own things with their own software and then I mean it’s chaos.

Jim:                 Yes. Anathema to IT by the way.

Scott:              Yeah. No, it is, but it’s clearly one of those trends that  the genie is out of the bottle, it’s not coming back so I think you were starting to see more and more IT people saying, “Okay, well if this is the new reality, what can we do to make the organization more effective given that new kind of disperse technology?” I think you’re seeing the same thing with cloud computing. I mean there’s really incredible potential, the economies of it, the application capabilities with those, there’s a lot of great things, but I think you have a lot of people in IT who also are very quick to point out the challenges, the risks, the problems. They have legitimate points with all those things and I think this is a place where now organizations are trying to figure out the new balance of what’s the value proposition, how much risk should we take. All these things, the way in which those decisions had been made five years ago, ten years ago, the landscape has just changed so much that it is requiring sort of a fresh thinking of these things, sort of a fresh reconsideration of, “Okay, how should we manage this now?” I think that’s a very complex situation for IT and what its role should be. Marketing is just one example of that. Now, if I was going to pick one other department aside from IT that’s in this asset state of disruptive innovation, it is marketing, right? All the rules are changing. I mean you know the way we reach our customers, what our mission is. I think it is fascinating that those two revolutions are happening simultaneously, that both IT and marketing are trying to figure out what their new role and their new leadership in this new world is all supposed to be, so lots of opinions.

Jim:                 Yeah, lots of opinions. You know, when I got started in Agile Marketing, one of the first blog posts that I discovered was your blog post about Some Ideas for an Agile Marketing Manifesto. I think that’s what it was called, right? It has been, I don’t know how long, almost a year since you wrote that or more than a year since you wrote that?

Scott:              Yeah.

Jim:                 Anyway it has been a while. From your perspective, what was the reception to that post and then what have you seen happen since then? Is that kind of what you expected? Is it less, is it more? Tell me about that.

Scott:              Yes. Well, I think the original reception could be approximated by the sound of crickets.

Jim:                 (Laughter) Not so much! Okay.

Scott:              Yeah, I don’t think really there was that many people who were really interested in that concept at this point. You know, certainly as you started off by saying you’re in the past six months maybe there’s been this incredible explosion. Part of it is there’s now been enough people who in individual situations have use the phrase “Agile Marketing”. It is starting to get some sort of currency that, I mean you’ve seen this, right? I mean, Travis Arnold did that post of Agile manifestos. Depending on who you ask there’s a slightly different definition of what Agile Marketing is, but that being said there’s been enough people using it in enough context that now the phrase, it is a meme that’s now entered marketing space more consistently.

Jim:                 Right.

Scott:              I think also the need for it is much more salient now than it was two years ago, that if you talked to people who are running marketing organizations at this point, the speed at which things are happening, the demands of how they have to react. There’s a great book by David Meerman Scott who writes a lot about new marketing management and one of his books is Real Time Marketing and PR and okay, how does an organization respond to the real-time environment of social media and all this. He doesn’t really mention Agile directly in that book but if you look at the challenges organizationally and managerially that he’s wrestling with, you know, that is exactly the sort of stuff that this Agile methodology seem really suited to help address.

Jim:                 Yeah. I love David Meerman Scott. I’ve read a number of his books. I taught a course and used one of his books, not the one you mentioned but the one about the New Rules of Marketing and PR. I used that as a textbook for the course and showed a couple of videos of him speaking and stuff like that. He was one of the first to kind of help me get some traffic to my blog. He tweeted about an article I’d written on my blog early on. He’s got such a huge audience that my traffic quintupled on that day, so it was very nice of him to do that. He is a great guy.

What about the future of Agile Marketing? Where do you think it is going? Where do you think you’d like to see it go? Just prognosticate a little bit for the next year or two.

Scott:              I think it is all in flux. I think things like the Sprint Zero event and these meet-ups that I mean you’ve really been instrumental in organizing. I think it is one of the great first steps is that there’s been all these individual pockets of people trying to adapt Agile methodologies into marketing and to finally start to have some communities where these people can gather and share and learn. I think that’s great. I think we are going to see both from the support that gives that community but then also the way that this somewhat infectious solution to a problem that many poor marketers are having, they just don’t know that Agile yet is the solution to it.

Jim:                 Right.

Scott:              I think yeah. You’re at two from now. I mean there’ll be an order in magnitude if not two orders in magnitude of the number of marketers who in some form or another have adopted Agile. One of the interesting things I’m curious to see is, you know there’s been a lot of great discussion around some of these manifestos like the values and the principles. I think you see people starting to converge on, “Okay, you know, exact wording aside, we’re trying to converge here on the same fundamental principles and why are we doing this.” Now sort of the next level beyond that of, “Okay, let’s actually talk about methodology that even in software you still see there’s a lot of evolution happening around what sort of Agile methodologies are best for different kinds of software group.” I think in the marketing space this is a lot of green field that, you know, how we adapt from and how do we adapt some of the actual test driven development. There’s test driven development.

Jim:                 Sure.

Scott:              Is their concept proven in marketing? What does that look like? Is there some entirely new methodology that takes those principles and values that you guys have really articulated and starts to wrap them into a new system of management?

Jim:                 Right. I think you’re absolutely right, Scott. I just wrote a post this morning about the use of story points versus hours and which is more appropriate for Agile Marketing as opposed to Agile development. Of course, that’s a question that Agile developers have debated back and forth and there’s a lot of heat and light about that. (Laughter) Anyway I kind of came down on the side of story points and I actually even prefer T-shirt sizes because I just think they’re simple and people grasp them very easily, so I tend to prefer that. That may be a more personal preference than anything else.

You know, I think you’re right. I think getting down into: what is really different about Agile Marketing and how is that going to change the methodologies and some other things that we do? I don’t think it will apply exactly one-to-one. I think there are going to be some different things and I’m excited to see what those things are. Well, it has been a pleasure. It’s been real fun to talk to you today. Any last minute comments or any other things you wanted to talk about?

Scott:              Looking forward to Sprint One.

Jim:                 Okay. (Laughter) I am too. I think some time in the first quarter of 2013, that’s where we are planning it right now. We also said we are going to try to get it on the East Coast, so maybe it will be a little easier for you to attend this time. Okay?

Scott:              All right.

Jim:                 All right. Take care.

[End of Audio]

Duration: 15 minutes 47 seconds

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Jim Ewel

I love marketing. I think it’s one of the most difficult and one of most exciting jobs in any company. My goal with this blog is to evangelize agile marketing and help marketers increase the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.

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