Gartner: 5 strategic priorities for CMOs in 2021

By Kate Birch
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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