The Impact of the Pandemic on Marketing Agility [Backed by Data]


One year into the pandemic, we can now confidently say that a lot of the sweeping statements we’ve heard about marketing in 2019 no longer ring true.

In many ways, the reality of a post-Covid-19 world has upended the marketing playbook.

We must now reevaluate what skills can help us be successful marketers, and which ones we need to scrap if we want to stay afloat.

Marketing agility has begun to make its way to the top of that list of skills, despite previously being dismissed as just another buzzword by many. Once relegated to a potential improvement they could make for processes to become a little more streamlined, agility is now a must-have.

No one expected the pandemic to alter marketers’ consideration of agility so significantly, but its impact was so great that some are now touting agility as the number one marketing skill of 2020.

Based on data collected by a number of diverse reputable sources, including AgileSherpas in collaboration with Forrester, Gartner, and Harvard Business Review within the past year, this article collects the five most pivotal ways in which this pandemic year has impacted marketing agility.

Accelerated Need For Agile Adoption

Without a doubt, if you were a marketing leader who had never considered Agile adoption inside your organization before 2020, you have certainly considered it now.

Findings from Gartner as early as May 2020, just a few months into the pandemic, showed that, already 30% of marketing leaders were feeling the negative impacts of their lack of agility and flexibility in marketing execution during the first wave of the global crisis.

As the chaotic year continued, that lack became an even more detrimental factor in marketing success for this function worldwide, especially in B2B.

By the time we distributed our survey for the 4th Annual State of Agile Marketing Report (January 2021), marketing leaders had begun to take serious action to bring Agile ways of working into their departments.

In fact, we discovered that the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated adoption plans for 38% of our respondents.

The impact of COVID-19 on Agile marketing adoption

This data reflects what we’ve witnessed firsthand with clients at AgileSherpas. Many marketers who’ve long been eyeing agility have jumped on the unprecedented volatility of 2020 as their catalyst for change.

The 17% who report delaying adoption due to COVID-19 are, unfortunately, likely to fall even further behind as their colleagues accelerate their use of Agile in the immediate future. 

Greater Reliance on Project Management Tools

As remote work exploded in 2020, marketers were far more likely to cite project management tools as a valuable component of their adoption of Agile marketing.

This year, 55% of respondents viewed implementing an Agile project management tool as important to the success of their use of Agile ways of working. Compared with just 39% in 2019, this represents a significant shift in the role of digital tools in how (now widely remote) marketing organizations approach their adoption of Agile frameworks.

The most valuable things during an Agile marketing adoption

Of course, using a tool, no matter how awesome, doesn’t make you instantly Agile. True adoption comes from changing mindsets and practices as well as using the right tools. 

For those teams who are ready for the right tools, we've built a few guiding beacons that you can use to build your visual workflows. 

7 Trello Board Examples for Agile Marketing Teams [Templates]

10 Kanban Board Examples for Marketing Teams 

Focus on the Customer as Critical

According to the Harvard Business Review’s latest take on marketing after the pandemic, Covid-19 has placed a new emphasis on relationships with our customers. HBR said it best with these words:

Old truth: Relationships matter.
New truth: Relationships are everything.

Fortunately, marketing is, by default, in the role of conduit between the customer and the business. This puts us in an already advantageous position to build healthy relationships and even greater trust between the audiences we serve and our organizations.

Add Agile ways of working to that lucky positioning in order to encourage teams to keep the customer at the center of everything they do, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

With customer priorities changing every time they listen to the news and global fear levels at a sustained high, marketers need to be prepared to move away from waterfall practices towards more iterative, customer-centric Agile ways of working to stay relevant.

Fewer Objectives with Better Definition

In an unprecedented series of events, right when the pandemic hit in March 2020, Google decided to delay all employee performance reviews and promotions at least for the next 6 months.

In a large part, this was due to the fact that the strategic objectives and key results that had been set at the beginning of the year no longer applied in the new reality.

If you’re not a global behemoth like Google, your organization will probably react with even more drastic measures than delaying internal processes.

Based on changing circumstances, furloughs, and slashed marketing budgets, marketing leaders worldwide were forced to ruthlessly prioritize their departmental efforts in order to create maximum value for customers while maintaining market share. In many cases, even slashing key objectives and decoupling them from compensation wasn’t enough to get the job done.

The realization hit that, in order to survive, many organizations would have to find creative ways to do more with less resources for a chance to hit their goals and financial targets.

That’s when many marketers decided to turn to Agile adoption to improve their productivity.

Second only to enhancing ability to manage changing priorities, 58% of marketers turn to agility to maximize their ability to be productive.

Reasons for adopting Agile marketing in 2021

The need to do more with less pushed leaders to focus on a smaller number of key objectives and adopt Agile to help marketers quickly double down on productivity in those new strategic focuses.

Stronger Links Between Agile and Organizational Resilience

The pandemic has also had an impact on the marketers who were already using Agile practices.

Among Agile marketers, we’ve discovered an even stronger connection between Agile and success in the face of volatility. No doubt, working in an Agile way has proved its worth.

This year’s State of Agile Marketing Report  shows that 84% of those already using Agile found it important or very important in handling the volatility of 2020.

The importance of Agile in responding to uncertain, volatile marketing climate in 2020

At a time when conditions can change from hour to hour, more marketers are beginning to view Agile less like a nice-to-have, more as a necessity. 

Marketing’s Future is Agile

The events of this past year have had numerous effects on marketing agility and its relationship with marketers, Agile or otherwise. 

It’s true that for a small subset of marketing departments, the pandemic has meant stalling out in their Agile adoption efforts.

However, for the overwhelming majority of marketers, this past year has proved that Agile means greater resilience, clarity of goals, and focus on the customer in a time when we really need these things.

Stats show that there is a clear acceleration in Agile adoption among marketers as well as intent to adopt. Ninety-three percent of marketing departments that aren’t Agile yet plan to implement Agile marketing within the next year, with 59% of those making plans for Agile adoption as soon as within the next 6 months.

These findings have us convinced that marketing’s future is, in fact, Agile.

How about you?

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