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Shifting Sands Of Marketing: Gartner 2015-2016 CMO Spend Survey

By Simon Yates | October 22, 2015 | 10 Comments


For Marketers, the times — as the Bob Dylan song goes — are a-changin’. Our latest Gartner 2015-2016 CMO Spend Survey reveals some interesting insights into the mindset of today’s marketing leaders – how marketing in a digital world is evolving, where CMOs plan to invest, and what’s drawing more of their attention going into 2016. Needless to say, spending is up, the pressure is on, and expectations continue to rise in the face of ever-increasing competition. There’s plenty of upcoming research from the survey but here are a few of the findings that I personally found the most interesting:

  • Enough of the digital marketing label — its just marketing now. It’s happened in other domains — business and IT, for example — and now it’s Marketing’s turn to drop the “digital” moniker. Marketers no longer make a clear distinction between offline and online marketing disciplines as 98% of marketers say the disciplines are merging. As customers opt for digitally-led experiences, digital marketing stops being a discrete discipline. OK, fine but that doesn’t mean they’ve merged completely or for everyone yet. Only about a third told us that digital marketing techniques are fully incorporated into the overall marketing operation. While it may be time to drop the moniker, marketing teams still have a long way to go.
  • Executive expectations put the focus on innovation.  As you might expect, executive expectations of the role of the marketing team usually reflects the business goals of the company. This year the focus is on driving innovation, having a direct impact on revenue by converting leads into sales and developing the strategic plan to make those two goals happen. 71% of respondents told us that they have discrete funding for innovation and it averages about 10% of the marketing budget. Key areas of innovation include digital marketing hubs, investing in new types of marketing analytics and real-time social/mobile listening centers.
  • Digital commerce is on the rise. The survey points to a clear mandate that ties marketing spend to revenue and makes Marketing more accountable than ever. This new mandate pushed digital commerce to 11% of digital marketing spending, up from 8% last year, as noted in Jennifer Polk’s latest report. Firms recognize that they need more than a commerce platform to sell and today we’re seeing integration between marketing and digital commerce as two parts of a single discipline, where marketers bring everything from content marketing and brand storytelling to advanced analytics and multichannel campaign management to optimize digital commerce across channels. 
  • Customer experience on the decline? — Not so fast! Customer experience may be the new competitive battlefield, but the Gartner 2015-2016 CMO Spend Survey points to a shift in marketers’ priorities and CX teams may need to tweak their strategy in 2016. Only 21% of respondents ranked consistent cross-functional customer experience as one of the top three areas when senior management expectations have risen this year — 8th on the list of 10 possible choices that includes the requisite “other”!  Technology in support of the customer experience dropped from the top-ranked marketing tech investment in last year’s survey to the fourth-ranked this year. Marketing is under pressure to deliver results to the business on a shorter horizon. While exceptional customer experiences increase brand preference, loyalty and advocacy, which drives revenue and profit for the business, these benefits pay out on a relatively long horizon.

What does it all mean? What should you do? Pressure is building on the marketing organization to produce tangible results that drive revenue, while simultaneously uncovering and securing the customer relationships that will sustain business success over the long haul. Our analysts are hard at work publishing the practical advice to help and we think there are a few things you can do today:

  • Drop the “digital” term from your marketing communications.  If you haven’t done so already, begin the process of formally integrating digital and traditional marketing disciplines. It may take a while for the tactical, day-to-day operations of the marketing team to get there, but you can start by communicating the message, creating the common language and identifying opportunities that you can start working on today. The first step is to stop talking about digital marketing as a separate thing.
  • Digital commerce innovation —  three opportunities to consider. The surge in digital commerce investment and the management focus on investing in marketing innovation is no coincidence. Business leaders understand that consumer expectations for fast, informative, convenient and personalized transactions will continue to grow and that staying ahead of the competition is paramount. Three opportunities for digital commerce innovation, according to analyst Kirsten Newbold-Knipp’s latest report, are shoppable media, Internet of Things (IoT), and personalization. As digital commerce marketers, you should involve cross-functional teams in periodic visioning and brainstorming sessions to identify short-term, midterm and long-term innovation opportunities and build an experimentation roadmap to further reinforce and fund ongoing innovation.
  • Bring customer experience into the present day. A new report from Jake Sorofman and I, analyzes the impact of the new data on CX team strategy.  First, as CX leaders you need to deliver clear and measurable value against near-term business goals without sacrificing the importance of CX over the longer term horizon. You need to more effectively link your tactics to the expectations of management and double down on continuous communication with senior executives to articulate the progress of the CX team against the near-term business goals.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the new data and how you plan to adapt your strategy in the coming year. Please leave a comment below!

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • Zeynep says:

    Very interesting – looking forward to learning more from this survey. In addition to the innovation budgeted within marketing spend, it would be interesting to learn if marketers are partnering with others in the organization to foster innovation (e.g. Chief Digital Officers perhaps?)

  • Simon, thanks for sharing these latest insights from your research. You said “Only about a third told us that digital marketing techniques are fully incorporated into the overall marketing operation.”

    As I see it, the huge roadblock to progress is still the digital marketing talent shortage. Most companies have a limited ‘talent puddle’ of skilled practitioners that are able to work on progressive market development strategies. Meanwhile, the majority of their old-school marketers have not attempted to learn the required new skills — so marketing organizations are dominated by staff that view the world through their legacy media-buyer mindset. To them, digital marketing merely means buying Google Ads or advertising placements on Facebook and LinkedIn. What can a CMO do when 80%+ of their current team are not skilled for today’s demands? Clearly, it’s a big ongoing challenge.

    • Simon Yates says:

      Thanks for your comment David. An excellent point and one that is definitely worthy of additional research. One area that we have looked at in terms of the skills gap is analytics. Our data-driven marketing survey showed that by 2017, marketers expect most of their decisions to be data driven, but that existing analytics teams may not be equipped to address the increased demand for data and insights support Two out of three companies plan to grow their analytics teams in response to this shift, which will require hiring managers to identify and cultivate new sources of talent in an already competitive market.

  • The things that you cite as innovation: Digital marketing hubs, investing in new types of marketing analytics and real-time social/mobile listening centers – aren’t really all that innovative. It’s just implementation of software and staffing the analysis or execution. The biggest challenge that CMOs have is that we live in a world where without a rich plan for differentiation, loyalty is fleeting. True innovation really leverages brand assets into unparalleled experience that is difficult to duplicate and sets a company apart from competitors. Also, we’ve found that focusing exclusively on traditional ROI leaves retailers and manufacturers behind the curve. The new digital marketing ROI for innovation extends to earned media, marketplace perception of a company as innovative etc…, such as in the example of Lowe’s Innovation Labs.

    • Simon Yates says:

      Hi Sonia. Thanks for your comment. Digital marketing hubs, analytics and social/mobile listening were areas where survey respondents told us they were investing their innovation resources. Further, I would argue that the application of these technologies in companies that didn’t have them before is definitely innovation for those firms. I’d love to hear more about your ideas about how traditional ROI leaves retailers and manufacturers behind the curve as you put it. If you are interested in discussing, drop me an email at

  • Paul Jackson says:

    Agreed Jake, Simon and equally applicable to Internal Employee Communications and the Digital Workplace.

  • Craig Kallin says:

    Very interesting, Simon. Thank you for sharing! I’m wondering whether the (marketing) shift away from CX priorities may be due to the emergence of new roles, like CXO? So the C-level is still concerned about CX, but they’re now saying to the CMO, “Yes, you’ve convinced us that CX is critical… so much so that we’ve built a team around it. Now you (the CMO) can go back to activities more directly related to driving revenue.” That is, is it more of a shift in role focus/priority vs. an organizational-level shift?

    • Simon Yates says:

      Hi Craig, thanks for your comment. We think there a few things at work here. 89% companies believe that they will compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience, so its definitely not something that we see leaving the hands of the CMO. Having said that, its a much broader initiative now and one that must been operationalized across internal business units and functions — sales, customer care, product development for example. So, CX is more than a marketing-led planning exercise and its possible that investments, focus etc are now diffused more broadly through the company. I will also say that there are a number of topics that rise and fall with alarming speed on a year-to-year basis, returning to prominence again when some kind of market trigger prompts it. I don’t expect CX to stay down long — operationalizing CX is much harder than planning and design. Maybe we’re just moving into a new phase of development.