How CMOs are embracing agility for 2021
Succeeding in B2B marketing in 2021 will require reflection, optimism, paranoia and a willingness to roll the dice. Play it too safe and you’ll miss opportunities to gain on cautious competitors. Make too many commitments and your marketing resources will be depleted just when you need them most. As a result, CMOs are embracing agility like short-order cooks, ready to work with any ingredients thrown their way.
“We’re facing too much unpredictability going into 2021 to become attached to long-term planning cycles,” says Katie Risch, CMO of Centro.
Khalid el Khatib, CMO of Stack Overflow, agrees. “Next year, we will revisit our budget—and content and channel strategy as it relates to budget—on an at least quarterly basis (more likely monthly).”
Here are nine other ways CMOs are looking to bake the lessons of 2020 into their 2021 plans.
Make empathy mandatory for leadership
Working from home forced a change of leadership styles. Gone are the days of the “all business” business leader. “There is more tolerance for balancing work and home life, and an acceptance of home interruptions that a year ago would have felt weird,” says Rebecca Stone, CMO at Meraki Cisco.
“The pandemic," says el Khatib, "has made me a more resilient and empathetic leader. It's made me quicker to ask employees how they are doing, more proactive about addressing burnout in tangible ways, and it's made me much more thoughtful about prioritization.”
Take things off your plate
The stress experienced by employees, remote or otherwise, is at dangerous levels. CMOs including Mika Yamamoto of F5 are paying attention to personal wellness for themselves and their teams. “I am going to be more intentional about how I spend my days to insert more physical activity, more connection time with family and friends and I’m going to be more focused on driving processes and operating models at F5 that have us doing fewer things well (vs. being spread too thin).”
Gabi Zijderveld, CMO of Affectiva, says “as a leader and manager I will think more about what I can take off my team’s plate, rather than add to it, out of concern for employee stress and burn out.”
Go global with virtual events
Even if physical events return, CMOs recognize that virtual events are here to stay. “Digital ended up having a silver lining—which was a much broader international reach," says Paige O’Neil, CMO of Sitecore. "Typically, our annual in-person customer event has about 80% US attendance and 20% international. This year’s digital event not only doubled in size from our typical in-person event, but it was also 50% international, 50% US.”
“Our virtual book tour," says Zijderfeld, "was a tremendous success, garnering over 83,000 views, with attendees from over 40 countries, reaching more people that an in-person book tour could have ever done.”
Heat up customer relationships
In the early days of the pandemic, securing customer relationships was seen as a survival strategy, one that involved renegotiating contracts and extending terms. As the year progressed, customer centricity matured into a growth strategy, one that isn’t going away.
“The unusually fast pivot to digital customer experiences wasn't something anyone anticipated at the beginning of the year," says Lynne Capozzi, CMO of Acquia, "but it has allowed organizations to explore new ways to serve their customers and communities. I expect to put more emphasis on engaging customers in activities that are valuable to them, both as customers and as individuals.”
Add spice to content strategy
An absence of physical events created what Isabelle Papoulias, CMO of Mediafly, calls “the ever increasing engagement gap.” To fill the gap, Papoulias is challenging her team to “create some FOMO (fear of missing out) around the Mediafly brand via more compelling and inspiring content.”
Dan Lowden, CMO of White Ops, agrees. His strategy involves “getting closer with my team and working together to completely change the marketing mix to best help customers including the creation of truly useful and compelling content.”
Jell with peers
One irony of 2020 is that CMOs worked closer with peers than before—a trend likely to accelerate even as workers to the office. James Dillon, CMO of Togo Energy, acknowledges that “one of the biggest changes had been to become the Chief Consensus Builder."
“The need to cut over to a 100% virtual world," says Yamamoto, "brought sales and marketing closer together for our GTM approach—the virtual world pushed us further out of our silos and encouraged us to work together to deliver value.”
Put experiments to the test
For many CMOs, 2020 was an opportunity to experiment; the usual approaches were not an option or no longer working. For Chi-Chi Liang, CMO of Alloy.ai and a veteran of startups, this was business as usual, “I'm used to operating in a continuous test and learn mode to make sure our limited resources are focused on the highest impact areas.”
Having taken this experimental approach, Liang feels ready for 2021: “Our core foundations (processes, systems, company/product messaging) will be in place and 2021 is our opportunity to really run!”
Find value in values
“Brand values have come into play in a big way during COVID, and I feel this is a trend that is here to stay,” says O’Neill. “Customers want to understand what brands stand for—that they stand for something.”
Liang, who shares this belief, is “leading an initiative to define our company purpose as part of a broader category design initiative. Defining a purpose statement and how it should become the north star for the company” is a top priority for her leadership team.
Listen like your career depends on it
If agility is the prized capability for 2021, humility is a close runner up. Julie Kaplan, CMO at Versant Health, says “2021 will be the year of the ear,” and that she “plans to listen more generously.” Says Lowden, "I plan to keep listening, testing and learning in 2021.”
By listening, Capozzi observes, “The tone of customer communications changed, forcing more marketers to cut the use of jargon. The focus today is on personalized, succinct, and authentic communications to create durable customer relationships, which is frankly long overdue.”