Gartner: CMOs prioritize brand strategy amid pandemic-related budget cuts

Dive Brief:

  • Chief marketing officers for the first time are prioritizing brand strategy ahead of analytics, personalization and marketing technology as the coronavirus pandemic leads to budget cutbacks, per an announcement that consulting firm Gartner Group shared with Marketing Dive. Thirty-three percent of CMOs rank brand strategy as one of their top three priorities, up from “near the bottom of the list in 2019.”
  • The survey found that pre-pandemic marketing budgets were flat coming into 2020, making up 11% of company revenue. Almost half (44%) of CMOs have seen midyear budget cuts because of the health crisis, with 11% facing decreases of more than 15%, per Gartner.
  • About three quarters (73%) of CMOs expect the pandemic’s effects to be short-lived and have a positive outlook for the next 18 to 24 months. Fifty-nine percent of CMOs predict their marketing budgets will increase in 2021, an outlook that Gartner warns may be too optimistic.

Dive Insight:

CMOs have quickly reordered their priorities to focus on brand strategy as the coronavirus pandemic has led to a significant shift in the way brands communicate with consumers, Gartner’s survey suggests. While analytics, personalization and marketing technology represent longer-term investments for CMOs, they must now focus on strategies to advance their brands amid the disruptions in their sales and marketing channels.

“Brand awareness and relevance in times of strife is more important than ever,” Ewan McIntyre, an analyst for Gartner for Marketers, said in the announcement. “We are seeing successful brands take action that is authentically connected to their brand strategy and value proposition.”

CMOs also may be out of step with other C-suite executives that are preparing for more pessimistic scenarios, per Gartner. CEOs and CFOs are creating plans that include the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19. A resurgence in infections may lead more regions to reinstate lockdowns that would dent consumer spending and negatively affect many industries.

“As we progress into the ‘recover’ and ‘renew’ phases of this pandemic, CFOs will turn their attention to profitability, and marketing has the dubious honor of topping the list of functions where finance will look to trim expenses even further,” McIntyre said. “CMOs should plan for future budgetary pressures now, rather than gamble on budgets bouncing back.”

CMOs should develop plans that separate essential costs from ones that can be eliminated to deliver greater efficiency and return on investment (ROI), he said.

While 28% of CMOs have canceled media buys, they remain confident about the outlook for paid media in the next 12 months. Seventy-four percent of CMOs plan to boost spending on digital advertising and 66% expect to increase spending on paid search as digital media consumption rises. Investments in paid, owned and earned digital channels make up 80% of multichannel budgets, including 22% for digital and search advertising, 11% for social marketing and 10% for websites.

Marketing technology investments make up 26% of budgets this year, little changed from 2019. About two-thirds (68%) of CMOs expect to boost spending on martech in the next 12 months, the survey found. Martech utilization remains a challenge, with CMOs saying they use only 58% of the full capabilities of their martech stack. Martech spending may be cut if it doesn’t deliver expected returns, per Gartner.

The percentage of CMOs who consider analytics a top three priority fell by about 10 percentage points to 27% from a year earlier, the survey found. Only 14% of CMOs consider personalization a priority, leading Gartner to reassert its prediction that 85% of marketers will abandon personalization by 2025 because of poor ROI and concerns about data sharing and privacy.

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