“Grit” is the New “Agility” in Online Marketing

I recently learned of a lovely new acronym that aptly describes the world of online marketing. It’s VUCA, which stems from military jargon and stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. I just love a pessimistic acronym. 😉

I credit a recent report published by the Corporate Executive Board with this sweet new acronym as well as the data points I’m including in this post. The title of the study is Driving Marketing Performance in a Volatile Environment: The Surprising Qualities of the Best Marketing Teams. I assumed the report was going say that marketing agility was the solution to all of Marketing’s problems. After all, agile marketing has a good amount of buzz these days – it even has its own manifesto. But, I was totally wrong! It turns out that a another characteristic is key to surviving volatility: grit.

The basic thesis is that, due to market volatility (mostly caused by technology and consumer behavior), marketing ROI is even worse than it was a few years ago. That is scary given all the hard work the Conversion Optimization industry has put in to improve the efficiency of websites and online marketing!

The survey cites a 16% increase in marketing spend wasted between 2006 and 2011 (from 37 to 43%). Ouch. And volatility, or VUCA, is to blame. You don’t think VUCA is real and relevant to the online marketing community? Let’s test it!

Leave a comment if any of this sounds true about the environments we work in every day:

Volatility: Disruptive technologies like the iPhone and tablets, the rise of Pinterest, the Panda Update, the rise of group coupons, Facebook.

Uncertainty: What is the next big thing? Which social network is pure hype? Will Europe outlaw cookies? What will Google change about their algorithms? Is this the year for mCommerce?

Complexity: Everything must be tested, all the time, on all browsers, on all devices. Everything about eCommerce. Multi-channel marketing, data tracking, analysis, and optimization.

Ambiguity: What do customers want? What do they expect? What do they demand? How loyal are they? What does a “bounce” actually mean? What incentives do they need? What does all the chatter out in the social channel amount to?

Now that we know VUCA is the real deal, we can talk about what CEOs and CMOs are doing about it. In times of rapid change, systems, tools, and processes often can’t keep pace. And humans have to rise to the occasion. That is why CXOs should be looking for team members who demonstrate agility, right? Wrong!

It turns out that, while marketing executives are looking for “agile” characteristics in the teams they build, agility is NOT a direct cause of success. Agile characteristics in marketers actually hurt performance (according to Marketing executives surveyed) because the more agile marketers are tempted to act on every new piece of data that comes in, and adopt every “New Shiny Object” [credit to Avinash for that phrase] technology that passes by.

The data from the survey (of 571 marketing managers and executives) shows that “grit” is a better indicator of success. “Grit” is defined in the study as perseverance for higher-order goals despite distractions, adversity, or lack of feedback. While more “agile” marketers are at risk of becoming distracted from strategic, long-term goals, those with “grit” can filter out noise and stay focused on the objectives.

In the survey, those employees who scored high on “agility” weren’t viewed as “high performers.” Those who scored low on agility were actually rated as higher performers.

So perhaps this whole “agile marketing” thing is getting a bit hype-y and losing sight of the more traditional “hard work” traits that help marketing organizations succeed (or at least please their C-level executive). What do you think? As with all survey-based studies, I’m skeptical of the data source to begin with, but I think it raises very interesting observations. Would love some healthy debate and/or controversy via the comments.

Finally, when you think about whether you exhibit “grit” in your marketing job, just ask yourself this question: Would The Duke think you have grit?


4 thoughts on ““Grit” is the New “Agility” in Online Marketing

  1. Thanks Brendan for enlightening us with this new acronym VUCA, I might use it for some of my presentations 😉
    But as you were pointing out in your article, my answer to VUCA would definitively be Agile Marketing.
    Flexibility, simplicity, scalability, transparency, adaptability are all part of an agile methodology and should be a perfect counter-measure to VUCA.
    And I believe that Grit and setting up long term goals (with many short campaigns/tests) can become part of the model without being contradictory.

    • What I like about this post is that it gives parity to the viuroas types of thinking and encourages us to see Agile as part of a wider toolkit, rather than something that we do’ exclusively to the exclusion of all others. In doing this it discourages the tendency towards a dogmatic or ideological application of Agile’ It is all to easy to say to account for things by saying, It’s because we’re [doing] agile’ rather than giving a meaningful explanation forthe thinking behind our actions.One thing I think is missing is that key to the success of Agile is that Agile Thinking finds expression in tangible, pragmatic Agile Methods. To quote John Seddon Management is all about method'[1]Or in the words of Lou Reed Between thought and expression, lies a lifetime'[1] John Seddon: Systems Thinking in the Public Sector, Triachry Press 2008 p181

  2. Pingback: The Agile List - August 2012

  3. There are two very interesting coctepns in your post.Seeing agile thinking as a system rather than a technique inventedby geeks, and borrowing from other disciplines. I myself havelearnt solution to a lot of BA issues from Medical practitioners,civil engineers and professional negotiators from FBI to name afew. The fact that we as software community are not living in avaccum cube is a relalization which we need to achieve to be ableto build our community over the shoulder of other thinkers ratherthan reinventing everything naively. Thanks for the greatinspiration. Very well timed. I am reading a great book named thinking in systems by Donella h. Meadows.a0 I found thecoctepns noted in the book as timeless.

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