Is There Room for Strategic Marketing Planning in an Agile World?

Friday, 01/12/2023

The SEV Center of Excellence in Creative Leadership recently revisited the theme of agility in business during an event entitled “In the Age of Agile, Is There Room for Strategic Marketing Planning?”. In essence this event explored a perennial question: can strategic planning, this time-honored cornerstone of marketing theory and practice seamlessly coexist with the dynamic demands of today's agile and rapidly changing business environment? In an era characterized by constant flux and market volatility, how can companies strike a delicate balance between the essential need for long-term planning and the imperative for innovation and flexibility? Dr. Vasilis Theoharakis enlightened the audience with his research insights, challenging the notion of abandoning marketing planning and advocating instead for cultivating transformational capabilities combining both planning and strategic agility in an ever-shifting business landscape.

The event was opened by Machi Doumoura, Curator of the SEV Center for Excellence, who set the tone for the evening. Following her introduction, Dora Economou, Director of Human Capital Affairs at SEV, took the podium. Her opening remarks carried a personal touch, expressing her deep connection to the topic, having worked in the field of marketing since early on in her career. She portrayed strategy as the broader canvas and planning as the necessary reality check, noting that "Marketing without data is like driving with your eyes closed." Her emphasis on the ever-changing nature of the business landscape and the continual need for planning presaged the illuminating discussions to follow.

Dr. Kostas Axarloglou, Dean of Alba, praised Dr. Theoharakis for his exceptional achievements in balancing academic excellence with entrepreneurial ventures. Axarloglou emphasized some of the paradoxes and conflicting priorities inherent in management and pointed out the leadership imperative in navigating these contradictions, particularly in larger corporations facing the paradox of centralization and autonomy. He highlighted the delicate balance required in times of uncertainty, where flexibility and planning paradoxically coexist.

Following Dr. Axarloglou, Dr. Nikolaos Mylonopoulos, Director of the SEV Center of Excellence, took the stage and started by connecting the evening’s event to the ongoing thread of discussions on agile management organized by the Center of Excellence. Continuing the dialogue on agile management within organizations, he extended the conversation into the realm of strategic planning. He reiterated the central paradox of seeking stability amid a rapidly changing environment while also pursuing adaptability within potentially rigid structures and processes.

Vasilis Theoharakis, Professor of Strategic Marketing and Director of the Center for Strategic Marketing and Sales at Cranfield School of Management, began his presentation by bestowing special praise on Alba's MBA student teams and commending their stellar performance in the European Business Plan of the Year Competition. His presentation focused on a pivotal question: Can we realistically plan in today's VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world? Theoharakis reviewed the Four Values of the Agile Manifesto, with a focus on the last—responding to change over following a plan. Drawing cultural parallels, he highlighted the East's receptivity to opposing views (Yin and Yang) and the West's challenge in embracing such a paradox.

His presentation unfolded with probing questions: Do we possess the foresight to envision the future? What constitutes Marketing Planning Capability, and how can it be measured? Theoharakis skillfully clarified the trap of over-planning leading to organizational rigidity. Drawing on examples from automotive giants like VW and Tesla, he illustrated the critical role of CEOs in foresight and the indispensable need for senior management to ensure clear strategic direction and flexible implementation.

A poignant sports analogy from Brian Clough, who had stated: “We had a good team on paper. Unfortunately, the game was played in the grass,” punctuated Theoharakis' presentation, underscoring the fact that reality often tramples even the best laid plans. The spotlight then turned to dynamic strategic marketing planning as the way to reconcile the importance of planning with the need for agility. The myth of Agile conflicting with Strategic Marketing Planning was debunked, emphasizing their synergistic “dance’ fostering continuous improvement and relevance. Theoharakis noted: “Agile is not in conflict with Strategic Marketing Planning – it only makes it better. Companies need to plan for change, transform and reconfigure. The key role of senior management in strategy implementation is to clarify the goals, align those goals with concrete plans, and establish appropriate metrics.”

The evening culminated in an engaging Q&A session. Dr. Theoharakis offered profound insights into the challenges faced by startups and established companies alike, the necessity of capabilities for both market sensing and responding, and the role of leadership in transforming organizational culture. He closed by giving some words of advice to Greek businesses: “The Greek industry, dominated by SMEs, needs to embrace agility, a startup mindset, and new management approaches, especially with the younger generation rejecting traditional rules. For Greek companies to thrive, there must be a shift from brain drain to brain gain by nurturing a workplace where people can put their creative talents to good use.”


You can watch the event in full below:

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