CMOs held up by short-term thinking: study

A new global survey of CMOs reveals that many top marketers are dealing with conflicting pressures to transform the business and drive product innovation while faced with stagnant budgets and short-term thinking about the marketing function.

Based on a survey of 1,000 marketers, Dentsu Aegis Network’s Make Change Real covers a wide range of issues, from brand purpose and data management, to consumer trust and organizational priorities.

Marketers want to embrace technology while leading business transformation and product innovation. However, they are constricted by a lack of long-term planning and forced to focus on short-term goals like customer growth rather than brand health metrics or digital transformation programs. Almost half of respondents say they have marketing strategies of two years or less.

Most have a very small window to drive change, with the CMO tenure still the shortest of all C-suite positions—about 3.5 years in the U.S., according to recent SpencerStuart research.

The DentsuAegis numbers provide some dimension to the scope of the challenges marketers are dealing with today.

For example, the focus on short term is fuelled in part by the growth of ad-tech, which has led to greater focus on measurable ROI and optimization. Most CMOs (64%) expect to see more pressure on short term results in the next two to three years.

Some of the other key data includes:

High growth = long-term vision: Making the case for long-view brand planning, Dentsu reports that “high-growth companies” tend to have CMOs primarily accountable for mid/long-term brand health, whereas only a quarter of those at companies with falling revenue are looking long-term.

Flat budgets: 41% of CMOs say marketing budgets will be flat or falling over the next year—whereas 64% of respondent companies expect revenue growth in the same period. “If marketing is a key driver of revenue, why is higher investment lacking? Whatever the reason, the reality for many CMOs is having to do more with less,” say the report authors.

Data vs. insights: More than half of CMOs have access to more data than they know what to do with, and lack the people and technology to extract real insight from the data they have: 84% of respondents say data capable of driving real consumer insight is important, but just 49% feel their organization is doing that well. More than half (54%) say they have more consumer data, but it is harder to extract insight. That is better than the 61% of respondents who felt that way in 2018, but still a problem.

Rising consumer expectations: As much as digital has opened new possibilities and opportunities for brands, it has also presented new challenges in terms of how consumers evaluate brands. “Social media has brought scrutiny at scale, while consumer expectations rise and loyalty becomes a quaint concept. Nearly half of CMOs believe that in the next 2-3 years, consumer expectations will reach a point where they struggle to deliver on them.”

Trust: Dentsu Aegis also found that there is a disconnect between CMOs and consumers when it comes to their attitudes towards trust. A survey of 43,000 people across 24 markets revealed that transparency is the most important trust issue for consumers (cited by 55%), whereas most CMOs (63%) believe “the ability to deliver consistently” is the top driver of consumer trust. Another marketing trend was also exposed here: 44% of marketers believe “levels of personalization” drives consumer trust, while only 23% of consumer said personalization matters.

Brand purpose: Successful CMOs are more interested in brand purpose than those that are struggling: 74% of CMOs at high-growth companies believe social purpose will be important for their brands, compared with just 46% of CMOs in high-decline companies. But the report authors also caution that brand purpose is inherently a long-term play. “CMOs have an important role to play educating and engaging C-level peers to formulate coherent social purpose strategies that combine growth potential with the need for a long-term commitment that may not immediately drive profit.”

Agency role: Progress won’t just come from marketer changes, say the authors. Agencies can adapt to help their clients improve their performance and reach their goals. “About a quarter of CMOs believe that the agencies they work with are weak at providing access to world-class services from anywhere in the world—the weakest attribute identified. Less than half (43%) of CMOs believe agencies do a good job of providing fully integrated solutions across all aspects of the marketing mix. And only 36% of CMOs believe that agencies are good at business partnering to drive execution over the long term.”

David Brown