Necessity is the Mother of Intention

Why 432 CMOs rank Brand Strategy as their Top Capability in 2020

Mike Geraci
February 3, 2021

Gartner, the global research and consulting firm, recently made public the results of their 2020 CMO Spend Survey. The survey asked 432 marketing executives in North America, the U.K., France and Germany at companies with $500 million to $20 billion or more in annual revenue what their priorities were for the coming year.

Brand Strategy is rated number one (#1), beating perennial favorites Market Analytics, Marketing Operations, and even Digital Commerce. Such that “Brand Strategy” is more widely open to interpretation than Analytics, Operations, Digital Commerce, is worth noting that Brand Strategy could be construed in a myriad of ways, but ultimately when CMO’s mention strategy what they mean is that they want and need to be more intentional.

Brand Strategy graph.jpeg

Consider some of the trends and current events that are pushing CMOs to feel the need to act with more intent:

  1. The Big Data Hangover Has Hit - When previously rare items are suddenly made freely and widely available, humans tend to over-indulge, like good wine or big data. In the midst of this data downpour, CMO’s have realized that, as with wine, more is not the right answer. They need information, insights, and knowledge. Data tells us a lot, but it does not provide answers to the most important questions. As one CMO said, “I’m measuring everything and I still don’t know why.”  (Yes, take it both ways.)
  2. Technology Is Not Advil  - In order to create order out of the data chaos we have unleashed on ourselves, CMO’s have been investing heavily in technology to manage it all, and the ROI on technology is not materializing. Most tech comes with layers of complexity that take staff time, additional budget, and outside resources to fully integrate and realize.  As the Gartner report notes: “In 2018 marketers reported using an average of 61% of their martech stack’s full capabilities. This fell to only 58% in 2019. In simple fiscal terms, this represents a significant challenge – marketing’s single biggest investment is not delivering against value expectations.”
  3. Post-COVID Planning - CMO’s are wrestling with three crisis dynamics simultaneously: 1) Respond to the immediate impacts of the crisis in order to survive;  2) Evolve models based on medium-term impacts, and; 3) Initiate long-term recovery planning. Long-term recovery planning relies heavily on a brand strategy, as it determines next and correct steps to maintain the vision and value proposition of the brand. While marketing experts advocate staying “on-brand”, it is hard to do if you don’t know and have yet to codify what is “on-brand” and what is not.
  4. The Rapid Digitization of Everything - As one client recently noted, “Any customer lifecycle that is non-digital will not survive.” Brands that had a physical-first relationship with their customers now have to be relatable digitally, which means smaller screens, shorter windows of impression and action, and clear, concise messaging.
  5. Chasing Sales Tails - Digital direct marketing tactics in support of sales initiatives are exhausting (for both the marketer and the customer), but that’s where most of marketing’s focus has been at the expense of brand building. The effectiveness of Buy Now incentives have waned, particularly as consumer sentiment has become far more conservative and dour. In response, brands need to be more intentional in how they consistently appear responsive and responsible.

CMOs are genuinely excited about the innovation taking place in their organizations. Technology is enabling new initiatives and products, but CMOs discover existing marketing paradigms anchor them to cut-throat tactics. In a post-COVID era in which disruption has been accelerated, that tension is what sparks “Brand Strategy” initiatives.

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