The events of 2020 were unprecedented, so picking over the wreckage and pointing fingers would be unfair.
That said, we’ve seen some businesses fare much better than others within the same sector, largely thanks to the structures and processes they had put in place before the first lockdowns this year began.
Strategy Comes to the Fore
Looking at the results of Gartner’s 2020 CMO Spend Survey, it’s clear to see that marketing leaders have generally taken the right decisions in terms of their teams’ structures and ways of working, to put them in a better position for 2021 and beyond while also trying to achieve short-term objectives.
In fact, we can see that ‘strategy’ has in itself become more of a focal point for marketing leaders. We asked over 400 marketing leaders what capabilities were considered critical over the next 18 months in 2019 and again in 2020, and no response increased in prevalence more than ‘brand strategy’, largely in place of market analytics and customer research, which was thrown off kilter by coronavirus-driven consumer volatility.
Startup Strategy Adopted by Enterprises
Interestingly, marketing leaders have also taken the driver of COVID-19 to accelerate (or begin) larger, strategic shifts that startups have been using for years.
Before joining Gartner, I was the CMO for a small organisation in the UK with relatively-high agency spend and little in-house expertise in the team. From taking over in 2016, I continued to reduce the share of budget going to agencies, while bringing more of those functions in house.
That trend – in-housing spend for digital channels/campaigns – is one we still see enterprises playing catchup on. Last year, over half of businesses in-housed more than 25% of their agency work. Next year, two-thirds expect to do the same.
Partly, this is a matter of control. Especially in a volatile situation like the one we currently face, it makes sense to control as much as possible to master your own destiny. As well, with Black Lives Matters protests and other events heightening consumers’ interest in brands’ values, it has become more important than ever to ensure that campaign managers fully understand and embody these.
But beyond, many digital marketing skills have become less specialist in the past 5 years, as platforms sought to expand their markets by reducing the barriers to joining. There has never been a better time to take on staff and invest in their digital skills to support business goals.
Beyond in-housing, another interesting finding from comparing Gartner’s last two annual CMO Spend Surveys is that marketers’ appetite for “new or risky” tech has increased 8%, year on year.
This again mimics what we had done in my previous organisation, which took a nimble approach to its tech stack, giving us best-in-class platforms in marketing, but also across payroll, ERP and operations.
Learnings for Marketing Leaders at Large Enterprises
Rather than congratulating myself for foresight, it shows how difficult it can be to redirect a massive ship compared to a small row boat – with enterprises often playing catchup to disruptors and more-agile startups.
Consumer shifts driven by COVID-19 mean that the opportunity and costs related to speed are greater, as markets are changing faster. In this dynamic, over-planning and over-scrutinising plans can cost precious time.
Businesses should look to implement agile ways of working across teams, to remove silos and build strategy around a consistent set of KPIs, while also ensuring that successes can be quickly surfaced and cascaded.
In doing so, marketing leaders will put themselves in the strongest possible position for 2021 and beyond – regardless of what the world looks like.