How Coronavirus Accelerates Agile Marketing Transformation

There’s a great image floating around social media asking people, “Who led the digital transformation of your company?” Possible answers are: 

  1. CEO 
  2. CTO 
  3. COVID-19

Whether it’s digital transformation or Agile marketing transformation, COVID-19 is accelerating the pace of change at marketing departments everywhere, knocking through long-standing resistance and silos. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, put it perfectly a few days ago on Microsoft’s earnings call saying “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
According to the 3rd Annual State of Agile Marketing Report, 42% of marketers already had an Agile transformation in place. Another 43% said they’re working on one this year. This data was collected in January, before COVID-19 had hit most of the world. There are a few reasons why the Coronavirus pandemic has forced marketers to speed up their plans for Agile adoption. At AgileSherpas we see the most profound change in three areas:

1. People: From Functional Silos to Cross-Functional, Agile Marketing Teams

Enterprise marketing has traditionally operated in functional silos: Digital, Demand, Brand, Corporate Communication, Field, Events etc. While relatively clear, this structure makes it harder for marketing to quickly respond to change; when work has to pass through each silo before it reaches an audience, nothing is getting out the door quickly. 

It also creates too much dependency on technically skilled marketers that can only perform one function, rather than create a collection of more versatile T-Shaped marketers. In the last few years we’ve seen marketing organizations moving from organizing in functional silos to organizing around solutions/products. This is especially true in B2B. While this is a welcomed move, it’s still brand- or product-focused instead of customer-focused.

This is the reason why I was encouraged to see in Gartner’s Marketing Organizational Survey for 2019 that 20% of marketers reported that they run some form of decentralized marketing organization today. 
By the end of 2022, however, a majority — 51% — expect they will have a decentralized structure in place. 

Decentralization allows marketing to embed itself in the business, stay much closer to customers, and adapt quickly. In the last few months, we’ve seen this trend accelerating. There’s clearly more desire to change marketing to fit better with customers’ behavior and preferences, with more and more marketers creating true, persistent, cross-functional Agile marketing teams structured around the customer journey. crossfunctional-teams

2. Process: From Activity-Based to Outcome-Driven Agile Marketing

While re-structuring your marketing org is a great first step, restructuring alone is not enough to build marketing agility. You have to also change the process and how you measure and report on it. According to a NewsCred study, one of the impacts of the pandemic is that “marketers are playing catchup to shifting priorities, plans, and budgets as the result of the coronavirus.”

The pandemic crisis created a host of new challenges for marketing teams as plans quickly change and evolve. In fact, 56% of the Newscred survey participants indicated that managing shifting priorities or strategies is their top challenge. 

Another major challenge faced as the result of the pandemic is providing visibility into fluid plans. Forty-two percent of respondents indicated that their marketing team lacked bandwidth to quickly create new content due to shifting priorities. Another 40%+ indicated that managing realignment of budget and people resources is problematic.

In addition, when it comes to measuring marketing success, marketers are used to reporting on all sorts of activity-based metrics. These metrics include any data points from website visits to content downloads to lead generation.

These are all great leading indicators that your marketing might be working. However, for marketing in a recession, there’s even a greater need to clearly link all your marketing activities to business outcomes. I recently wrote about how best-in-class marketing teams are using OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to align their marketing work with the business, which is an amazing way to prove the value that marketing brings to the bottom line.
Marketers that cannot demonstrate to their CFO, CEO, or even their board how their marketing increases revenue, protects revenue, reduces cost, or avoids cost are going to have a hard time securing further marketing budget and resources moving forward. 

3. Resources: Marketing Agility is The New Growth 

The third area that accelerates Agile marketing transformation concerns resources, or lack thereof. For marketing teams that want to not just survive, but thrive during a recession, Agile offers an alternative path. A study released by Bain & Company last year, shows that most successful companies in a recession restructured costs and practiced financial discipline while making strategic investments. Bain & Company found that successful Agile companies: “Invested substantially in R&D instead of dialing back.

They pointed marketing and sales teams to top priorities among accounts and prospects, as determined by the account’s all-in profitability and potential lifetime value. Then, realigned distribution by rebalancing the mix of current and new locations, or next-generation formats. Also, they maintained marketing while competitors cut back. And they focused on improving the customer experience, making it more simple and personalized through investments in digital capabilities.”


One such company is Google. Their marketing team is using agility as their new growth strategy: “Over the last four weeks, Growth Lab has played an important role in Google’s global response to the unfolding coronavirus pandemic. We’ve had to rapidly change focus, reprioritize, and remain resilient. I know many of you are grappling with the same challenges, and it has not been easy. But the more agile we can be, the better we can address our users’ needs and deliver helpful information and experiences.” (Matthieu Pellerin, Founder & Head of Google’s Growth Lab)

There’s no getting around it: COVID-19 has challenged marketing departments to transform during the pandemic. In some cases, marketing has to make the hard decision whether to cut spend, or to transform and innovate. How marketing responds to marketers’ safety concerns, embraces remote work, aids the community, and adjusts tactics to reflect both empathy and an understanding of how the market is changing will dictate our long-term success.


Modern marketing Summer Camp - Starting June 20th!