Digital LeadersMarketing agility needs to be a strategic response

Marketing agility needs to be a strategic response

Enable business growth with an agile strategy that flows through your company culture, decision-making process, and stakeholder alignment

30-second summary:

  • Being agile does not mean being reactive
  • Agility can be a tool that goes beyond marketing and empowers your entire business in uncertain times
  • How do you shift from temporary knee-jerk reactions to strategic responses with marketing agility?
  • CFA Institute’s CMO and Managing Director encapsulates agility and its impact on business growth in a post-pandemic world

Today’s marketing leaders know that agility is no longer a “nice to have”. Marketing agility is essential to a brand’s ability to survive and thrive. The massive transformation spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic made agile marketing more important than ever before.

According to McKinsey, “agile, in the marketing context, means using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real-time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating. At scale, a high-functioning agile marketing organization can run hundreds of campaigns simultaneously and multiple new ideas every week.”

Interestingly, staying agile can be confused with being reactionary. Rather, agility should be thought of as a strategic response. Instead of allowing the change happening around you to dictate how you’ll shift and adapt, you need to take control of preparing for the change that is all but certain to unfold.

Take a company like Ericsson, for example. Once a leader in the communications industry, they didn’t adequately anticipate or incorporate the appropriate technological changes or show flexibility in their response to disruption. The organization’s failure to think and act differently from their pre-conditioned ways cost them their leadership status.

Brands today must manage uncertainties with focus, precision, and become intelligence-driven to not only stay on top but to survive. Keeping pace with the level of continuous change that agile marketing requires does not come without challenges, especially in today’s climate. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Understand barriers to agility

It starts with understanding that an organization’s mindset and culture can be the biggest barriers to agility. They feed off each other. When trapped in a risk-evaluation mindset where you’re trying to predict the returns and outcomes ahead of making decisions, it’s easy to get trapped in a holding pattern of uncertainty. Sometimes you need to take a risk and make a gamble and let things play out. This is not to suggest a “go big or go home” mentality. Rather, by making smaller investments and testing the waters before making the next move, you can stay strategically nimble.

Similarly, it’s important to remember that organizational culture cannot be changed overnight. Think about the changes that can be made in smaller divisions and showcasing successes along the way. It’s okay to fail, so long as you’re learning from it and quickly moving on. Change takes time, however the structural changes that are often required to match the culture can work against agility, so striking a balance is key.

Communicate with transparency

In the midst of transformation, it’s essential to communicate openly and honestly about the decision-making process and rationale behind them. When making new changes at CFA Institute, we ask each other,

“Does this benefit our members?” and “Does this support the outcomes our internal stakeholders seek?”

Informing, consulting, and collaborating are fundamental to our success as marketers. Hosting regular in-person (and now virtual) presentations and meetings for the global marketing team, sending a steady cadence of email communications, and being willing to answer any and all employee questions are some of the ways we have kept the lines of communication open.

Make sure you have the right team

Becoming an agile organization requires having the right people in place that can work together at speed. This means instilling clear lines of:

  • Accountability
  • Identifying gaps in the team — whether cultural or skills-based
  • Making sure the team has the right level of expertise — topically and functionally

In addition, the importance of stakeholder alignment cannot be underestimated. This is a key part of breaking down silos that can hinder a collaborative working environment.

By understanding the potential forces working against your organization’s ability to stay agile in today’s ever-changing ecosystem. This way, you can dodge blind spots and are better equipped to tackle the changes coming around the corner. Thinking about agility as a strategic response can help marketing leaders stay out in front instead of scrambling to catch up. And in doing so, hopefully, emerge in a position of not only readiness but of strength in the marketplace.

Michael Collins is CMO and Managing Director of CFA Institute.

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