CMOs Struggle to Acclimate to Changing Landscape

They Tout Importance of Consumer Data, but Few Track Blogs, Consumer Reviews

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Today's CMO is underwater. A flood of data, devices, social-media and media channels, paired with their own worries have many CMOs swamped. They recognize that changes are coming, but many admit they and their organizations are not prepared. In fact, 78% expect more complexity over the next five years, but only 48% are prepared to deal with more complexity.

That's one of the key insights from IBM's first-ever CMO survey conducted as part of its ongoing C-suite research series. The IBM Institute for Business Values held face-to-face one hour or longer interviews with more than 1,700 global CMOs, including 48 from the top 100 brands, as ranked by Interbrand's latest annual list.

They found that across the board, from the most successful international powerhouses to the lowest performing local ventures, many CMOs are struggling. The overwhelming majority of CMOs say they feel unprepared when it comes to the four key issues of data explosion (71%), dealing with social media (68%), the growth of channel and device choices (64.5%), and shifting consumer demographics (64.5%).

"The thing that really popped was how under-prepared they feel for all these market changes," said Carolyn Heller Baird, global director of the study. "But they are also recognizing that maybe they're not doing as much as they could."

For instance, 82% said they plan to increase their company's use of social media, 80% plan to increase mobile applications, and 72% said they will increase tablet applications. However, those company goals seem to contrast with personal ones. In answering the question of what skills you personally need to succeed in the next three to five years, only 25% said they needed to acquire social-media expertise and 28% said tech savviness. Instead, a majority of CMOs said they needed leadership, customer insights and creative thinking.

"We'd argue that those are table stakes. If they really want to break new ground, they have to be in it," Ms. Heller Baird said. "They're almost saying, 'I can hire it or I can build those partnerships to get it.' ... That's all true and necessary, but we do believe to be effective, you need to be personally engaged as well. You don't have to be an expert, just be active."

That wasn't the only contrasting insight the CMOs' answers held. For instance, while they admit consumer data and input are key to their companies' futures, only 26% of CMOs track blogs, 42% track third-party reviews and 48% track consumer reviews and see them as tools in shaping their marketing strategies. Instead, they are still relying on traditional sources such as market research (82%) and competitive benchmarking (80%).

Of course, it could be the sheer depth and breadth of data that has overwhelmed CMOs sticking with the status quo. As one consumer products CMO in Singapore was quoted in the study: "The perfect solution is to serve each consumer individually. The problem? There are 7 billion of them."

Another big problem for CMOs is their lack of influence. Across the four P's -- promotion, products, place and price -- CMOs are only confident of significant influence in promotion, ranking their influence much lower in other categories. IBM concluded that CMOs should strive for more influence in those areas, especially since many also believe that marketing's financial return on investment will become a key marker of success in the next three to five years.

"There's a lot of pressure to be accountable for return on investment. It's a bit of a Catch-22 ; there's so much on their plates now, dealing with empowered customers and market changes, and yet they're supposed to account for a marketing ROI with hard numbers for marketing spending," Ms. Heller Baird said.

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