Razorfish has created a new design practice with the premise that marketing execs should give up on big ideas that produce mostly one-off campaigns. Instead, it’s asking clients to embrace an iterative test-and-learn mindset that gradually refines a website or marketing effort over time. And that goes not only for direct marketers, but big brands as well.
Called Agile, the program is geared mainly toward online projects that require complex application development. It brings together 50 creatives and technologists who engage clients first in a training process before moving into a design phase. Razorfish has practiced the approach since at least last year, but it hasn’t been formalized till now.
The Agile design approach generates repeated rough drafts of a campaign, website, or application, breaking long product cycles into smaller increments. Each of those increments results in working software. Thus a nine-month site development process might see four or more successive versions – each complete, yet in varying stages of refinement.
“Creative people were always willing to let the direct response end of the business be subject to optimization,” said Joe Crump, Razorfish’s group VP of strategy and planning. “That process is moving farther up the food chain, not necessarily in the same way that it operates for direct response advertisers.”
Crump added, “Marketers are getting smarter and more demanding about the effectiveness of the work.”
It’s hard to argue with that. The most recent big campaign to spark a heated debate about ad effectiveness is Old Spice’s “I’m on a Horse” TV and online effort starring Isaiah Mustafa. Time, BNET, Ad Age, and other publications have tried to scrutinize its sales impact, despite the fact that the brand’s celebrated social media blitz happened mere weeks ago.
Razorfish is hoping to capitalize on the new ROI fetish by talking a new generation of CMOs into, in Crump’s words, “not launching a big behemoth of a site, or even a behemoth of a campaign, at the beginning. We try to encourage marketers and our sister agencies to put the consumer at the center of the equation rather than a television spot.”
Among clients to put the Agile principles to work is Bundle.com, a personal finance site that launched early this year. The Bundle and Razorfish teams worked together late last year to quickly develop a beta version in time for a January 2010 launch.
“Without question agile was an important reason why Bundle.com is now flourishing and innovating,” said Jaidev Shergill. “And we continue to take customer feedback in order to constantly improve Bundle.com.”
Selling the approach hasn’t been easy. Some clients have balked at the process, insisting that their contracts specify delivery dates for specific capabilities – for instance, the ability to let users post to Twitter straight from a website.
That fixed approach goes against the whole Agile outlook, said Crump.
“To take an iterative approach you have to believe that list of things that go along with your big idea or your campaign, much of that is wrong and it’s going to change,” he said. “The reality still is there’s a lot of inertia.”