The New Era of Agility in Marketing

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By Michael K. Kalman, Founder and CEO, MediaCrossing  

The concept of agile marketing might not be new, but the societal, cultural, political and economic turmoil precipitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic has cast agile marketing in a newly urgent light. Nimbleness, once viewed as a competitive advantage, is now a fundamental survival skill for today’s brands and agencies.

If marketers have learned one thing in the past seven months, it’s this: It’s not the speed at which you execute your marketing programs that matters; it’s the speed at which you adapt to ever-changing customer needs. The new era of marketing agility has arrived.

How can you begin to unlock new revenue potential via agile marketing? Let’s take a look at what it takes to drive successful outcomes in our new marketing normal.

How the Pandemic Accelerated the Agility Imperative

Perhaps Mike Tyson said it best: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” And indeed, the pandemic punched pretty much every business in the face this year. What’s set the strong businesses apart from the weak ones has been their ability to adapt.

In business, as in nature, adaptation is necessary to avoid extinction—especially in an economy where there are clear winners and losers. Coming out of the pandemic, it’s looking like we’re headed for a K-shaped recovery, in which two segments of businesses—the haves vs. the have-nots—follow completely separate trajectories.

On the top of the K, on a trajectory of rapid recovery, we’ll see well-capitalized businesses with remote-first infrastructures and natural alignment with pandemic-driven trends. These are the “crystal ball businesses” like Zoom, Netflix, DoorDash and others whose models aligned naturally with lockdown and remote-work behaviors. On the bottom of the K, we’ll see a lot of businesses whose models were quite hard to pivot—brands in the travel, live events and other hard-hit spaces.

However, the businesses that rise during the recovery period, as opposed to plummeting, won’t be discerned simply by industry and business model. Even in hard-hit hit industries like retail, we’ve seen brands pivot on a dime in the pandemic to remain category leaders. We saw Gap move quickly to begin selling face masks, going so far as to develop a face mask style guide for this suddenly hot category. Meanwhile, L’Oreal ramped up its digital ad spend, introduced virtual try-ons for make-up and hair color, and provided one-on-one beauty consultations via video chat, effectively boosting e-commerce sales. In other words, these brands were able to demonstrate the true meaning of agility when it mattered most.

Adopting an Agile Framework

Being agile as a business means leveraging data to identify problems and opportunities in real-time, and then being able to test, evaluate, iterate and deploy solutions quickly. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Ultimately, agility requires an organization to revamp its efforts according to the 4 Ps: people, plan, process and platform.

People: Agile teams have well-defined roles and well-defined goals, and they work in a cross-functional capacity. They’re driven by leadership that empowers a company’s best talent to make decisions, to execute with accuracy and speed, and to continuously inject new ideas into a company’s innovation engine.

To truly be agile, brands must collaborate and extend themselves beyond their internal teams with key partners. These partners include creative and media agencies, as well as distribution partners. By facilitating strong collaboration between internal and external stakeholders, agile teams can unlock the power of quick, well-coordinated movement.

Plan: When employing an agile approach, never lose sight of the desired outcome. Successful planning requires organizations to test and learn with a customer-first mindset, focused on enhancing each touchpoint of the journey. Truly agile plans can encompass tailored customer personas, personalized customer messaging, multi-tactic customer acquisition, heavy utilization of customer insights and intelligence, and a deep focus on customer retention and loyalty. Each element feeds into the next, creating a virtuous cycle.

Process: A strong process backbone enables a network of dynamic teams to operate a continuum of testing and learning with speed and accuracy. To establish stability and efficiency, processes must be both tight-knit and well-defined.

Platform: Establishing a strong technology backbone is also key for agility, and this can pose a significant challenge to brands. After all, there are thousands of marketing platforms and technologies on the market today. Ideally, brands can call on agency support to help identify the most effective and relevant platforms for their businesses and to customize them to their needs.

Performance Measurement: Teams need to be authentic and measure performance in real-time or near real-time to best understand optimization requirements that ultimately drive desired outcomes.

This speaks to McKinsey’s philosophy about agility. They view it as the use of data plus analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real-time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating.

By establishing agility across the 5 Ps, marketers can position themselves to adapt to anything—even a pandemic. That’s because they’re no longer just focused on messaging and campaigns. They’re focused on customer needs—and being able to pivot the business alongside sudden shifts in that regard.

An agile framework unlocks new, scalable revenue opportunities through a continuum of testing, learning and innovation. Emerging from the pandemic, when we evaluate how companies diverged along the two paths of the K-shaped recovery, we’ll see that agility was the defining characteristic of those that took the upper trajectory.

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