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How to Maximize the Potential of Marketing Agility

How to Maximize the Potential of Marketing Agility

Kartik Kalaignanam, Kapil R. Tuli, Tarun Kushwaha, Leonard Lee and David Gal

Listen to the authors present their findings (source: October 2020 JM Webinar)

The business press repeatedly emphasizes the importance of creating marketing agility so that organizations can navigate fast-changing, high-uncertainty conditions. Little, however, is known about what marketing agility is, what challenges managers seeking to adopt marketing agility are likely to encounter, and importantly, is marketing agility even desirable for all marketing decisions? To address these questions for a new Journal of Marketing study, we combined the academic research and field interviews with managers to explicate the concept of marketing agility.

Our research team defines marketing agility as the extent to which an entity rapidly iterates between making sense of the market and executing marketing decisions to adapt to the market. Importantly, we argue that not all marketing decisions need to be executed using an agile marketing approach. Our position is that marketing agility is best suited for those marketing decisions where the market response is highly unpredictable, the decision parameters can be broken down into smaller components, and when it is feasible to get quick customer feedback, and when there is less dependence on third parties for executing the marketing activity.

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Managers need to be aware of the multi-faceted challenges they are likely to encounter in the execution of marketing agility. In particular, managers need to be alert to the challenge of scaling marketing agility across the marketing ecosystem. For example, if channel partners and other external agencies are unwilling or unable to transition to an agile marketing approach, agile marketing benefits will be limited. In addition, marketing agility also raises concerns that rapid and frequent marketing experiments could dilute brand meaning in the long-run. Likewise, the quest for rapid marketing experiments using market data could tempt managers to ignore or overlook consumer privacy issues. Finally, to execute marketing agility, firms need marketing leaders with a savviness for integrating technology, analytics, and marketing experiments. In this regard, hiring and retaining marketing leaders with the requisite skills could prove to be challenging.

Our research team then identified factors that enable or inhibit marketing agility at different hierarchical levels. At the organizational level, marketing agility is enabled by marketing technology factors, organization structure, organizational capabilities, organizational culture, and the organization budgeting process. The factors that drive marketing agility at the leadership level are the CMO’s background characteristics, CMO power, and the CMO-CIO interface factors. Similarly, at the team level, marketing agility is contingent on the autonomy available to teams, the diversity of teams in terms of their functional backgrounds and skills, and psychological factors such as superordinate identity and social cohesion. Finally, at the marketing employee level, marketing agility depends on the traits of employees as well as the training to adapt to changing information.

We propose that the product-market and stock market performance outcomes of marketing agility are likely to be nuanced. While marketing agility could shorten the time-to-market in some situations, the impact could be muted in industries where purchase cycles are longer and more complex. Similarly, while marketing agility could be beneficial for brand metrics such as brand differentiation, it could be detrimental for brand relevance. The study exhorts managers to be cautious about executing marketing agility and mindful that marketing agility is not suited for all firms and all marketing actions. 

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From: Kartik Kalaignanam, Kapil Tuli, Tarun Kushwaha, Leonard Lee, and David Gal, “Marketing Agility: The Concept, Antecedents and a Research Agenda,” Journal of Marketing.

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Kartik Kalaignanam is Moore Fellow and Professor of Marketing, University of South Carolina, USA.

Kapil R. Tuli is Associate Professor of Marketing, Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University.

Tarun Kushwaha is Professor of Marketing, George Mason University, USA.

Leonard Lee is Professor of Marketing, NUS Business School and Deputy Director, Lloyd’s Register Foundation Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk, National University of Singapore.

David Gal is Professor of Marketing, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA.