It’s that time of year when we start thinking about big themes for next year. 🙂 What will make marketers successful in 2014 and beyond?

Presuming digital continues to pervade — which it will — the environment will favor marketers who are not only smart and deliberate, but can adapt and pursue serendipitous shifts and opportunities.

Success will depend evermore on agility.

Here are key areas where you should put your organization to the “agility torture test”:

1. Faster insights for fickle audiences – Audience, tastes and trends, and even demographics are shifting more quickly. Are you able to generate, verify, internalize and act on insights quickly enough?

2. More segmentation, more customization – Facebook, Twitter and others are setting a new bar for hyper-targeting and personalization across both content and advertising. The result is not a consumer backlash, but an expectation among consumers that all content and advertising will be more relevant. Can you be the right voice to all the right audiences?

3. Co-optable moments – Networks like Twitter are heralding the era of “moment marketing,” where marketers and publishers remain in a constant state of readiness to co-opt trending online conversations. Think of the “Oreo moment” seeded, packaged and repeated at scale. Are you capable of co-opting quickly, or at all?

4. Unexpected competitive opportunities – Several sources indicated an unusually late surge in holiday advertising promotions this year, even amid a far shorter shopping season, while consumers are spreading out their purchases. That was a market-grab opportunity for advertisers to seize lower advertising rates and a more favorable competitive selling environment. Few marketers were agile enough to take advantage, but the stakes will rise for these sorts of opportunities.

5. Breakout networks – Social networks and turbocharged sharing capabilities have created more spontaneity and volatility in trends and information sharing. And networks themselves show they can rise quickly out of nowhere to command huge memberships. Put aside Pinterest and Instagram and consider some of the new messaging apps, for example. Cycles are compressing, which requires marketers to make smart decisions about when to hop on and off.

6. Emerging cross-device connections – With a multitude of devices through which your company can connect with customers, you can’t stop at desktops, smartphones and tablets. You also have to think about wearable devices like fitness accelerometers, smart watches, cars and appliances, which are not coming — they’re already here! Are you agile enough to be in the right place at the right time, with the right message?

7. New data sets – How quickly can you integrate new data sets and make decisions with them? It’s not just about warehousing, where most spend their time. It’s about acting on data and making decisions quickly. With more, more complex data, the ability to avoid analysis paralysis and act quickly will become even more important.

So far I’ve focused on advertising, channels and insights, but there are other areas that require increasing synchronization with advertising. For example, supply chains and manufacturing are becoming more agile, enabling higher standards of speed, personalization, efficiency and quality. These areas must be in lockstep with advertising, in an intelligent two-way, sense-and-response workflow.

Of course, more sophisticated environments will benefit marketers who make smart decisions and avoid the temptation to simply react and optimize the past — or simply wave like a flag in confused winds. More sophisticated — or chaotic — environments demand deliberate hypotheses about where the market is going, because course corrections can only take place if you’re on a course to begin with.

More sophisticated environments will make already struggling predictions and forecasts less useful. They must head way to flexible scenario-planning methods, where you don’t assume a specific outcome, but prepare for different outcomes, and execute with agility.

If you’re not an agile marketer, you’re a dead marketer.

Which one are you?

This essay also ran in MediaPost. Photo: Linda Tanner.


Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.