Mar 1, 2021

Gartner: 5 strategic priorities for CMOs in 2021

Kate Birch
4 min
Upgrade digital and financial skills, take action on diversity issues, and adopt value segmentation… just a few priorities for CMOs to consider in 2021
Upgrade digital and financial skills, take action on diversity issues, and adopt value segmentation… just a few priorities for CMOs to consider in 202...

Chief Marketing Officers always have big plans to innovate and evolve their organisations, and in 2021, this is no exception. In fact, given the current landscape, of post-pandemic recovery, increasing competition, economic uncertainty and high customer expectations, CMOs are under even more pressure to deliver postive results. 

But what should they focus on? What priorities should they consider? And which strategies can wait and which are more urgent?

Following Gartner’s inaugural CMO Strategic Priorities Survey 2021, to identify marketing trends, and assess marketing priorities and expected challenges, the international analyst firm reveals the five strategic priorities for Chief Marketing Officers this year. 

1. Balance risk aversion with market growth 

CMO Survey 73% of CMOs report that they intend to focus on existing customers in 2021, rather than look to developing new markets. And to fuel growth, introduce new products to those same customers.
Gartner Says… While Gartner concedes that taking a conservative approach to growth is sensible in 2021, they recommend setting appropriate risk parameters to enable CMOs to follow a conservative strategy without stifling emerging opportunities. Gartner recommends adopting value segmentation to keep growth focus in 2021 on the most profitable existing customers and building a balanced portfolio strategy to ensure that safer bets are balanced by more transformative options. “Although growing revenue from existing customers is less costly and risky than winning new ones, low risk also means low reward”, states Gartner. “Instead, reshape your strategic approach to match organisation growth ambitions and ensure that risk aversion isn’t an obstacle to delivering results.

2. Be selective in what you reinvent

CMO Survey Half of CMOs expect to rescale or reinvent 6 out of 11 strategies in 2021, this means the majority are planning to reinvent nearly all strategies impacted by the pandemic, with 25% expecting retail and physical events to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Gartner Says... Reinvent while still executing effectively and remaining agile, so for every strategy that’s rescaled, choose another to reduce or retire, and for every strategy reinvented, return another to a pre-pandemic level. Prioritise efforts most essential in the short term and most aligned with your growth strategies for 2021. Choose those that are “best suited for your organisation’s capabilities and resources, and most responsive to consumer demands for diversity, equity and social justice” and deprioritise those that don’t meet this criteria.

3. Accept budget realities

CMO Survey More than half (56%) of CMOs expect budgets to grow more than 5% in 2021, while around 25% anticipate budget increases of more than 15%.
Gartner Says... Gartner research shows that in 2021 marketing is likely to face some of its largest budget cuts. The answer? Maintain cost optimisation initiatives of 2020 this year. Set realistic budgetary expectations, build scenarios that anticipate different levels of cost cutting, and prioritise investment in key organisational efforts like digital business. “This will prepare you for fresh budgetary pressures that may affect marketing’s fundamental capabilities, including those protected thus far, such as technology and in-house labour costs,” states Gartner. 

4. Upgrade your skills

CMO Survey Less than 40% of CMOs wish to increase their financial acumen and digital know-how, with the majority prioritising a focus on marketing and operations execution capabilities (47%) and strategy and business acumen (45%).
Gartner says… Traditional marketing skill sets may not be well-suited for the digital business initiatives that the CMO is tasked with leading or supporting. Given their expanding role in digital business initiatives, CMOs urgently need digital skills and financial knowledge. Even pre-pandemic, many CMOs reported having a tenuous relationship with the CFO and may not earn the same respect and influence as other C-suite leaders. Digital known-how and financial acumen “will help marketing leaders address economic uncertainty in 2021 and make effective decisions across all types of digital business initiatives”. 

5. Take action on societal issues

CMO Survey 95% of CMOs believe brands should take the lead in finding solutions to major societal and cultural issues. While CMOs say they are key players in their firm’s public stance on societal issues, it’s unclear how many push their brand to align with a cause.
Gartner Says… A key strength of CMOs lie in their ability to lead the company towards making a positive impact on society, and this in turn may solidify CMOs’ influence in the enterprise while also driving growth. CMOs should take a leadership role in taking a stance and implement a process for monitoring and engaging with social issues. They should spearhead efforts to ensure policies and practices reflect the ideals of target consumers, and especially double down on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and take concrete actions such as changing internal or external policies, calling for policy changes, and cancelling media buys or moving events. Such actions “demonstrate a firm commitment to societal change” with subsequent increased customer trust and employee engagement outweighing the risks of taking action.


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Jun 13, 2021

Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl

Kate Birch
5 min
Former CMO for IBM Americas Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl. Maria talks about her new role and her leadership style

Former Chief Marketing Officer for IBM Americas, and an IBM veteran of more than 25 years, Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl.

Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.

With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.

You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?

I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.

We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.

What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?

I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.

The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.

I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?

When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.

What does success look like to you?

I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.

What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?

I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.

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