Chief marketing officers have arguably the toughest job in the C-suite. They need to stay abreast of consumer trends and evolving expectations, advances in technology, and the latest innovations — all while being the voice of the customer to ensure experience is the organization’s top priority.
It can be hard to keep up.
To help, here are six unmistakable trends for CMOs and their teams to consider right now when planning for 2020 and beyond.
1. Cultural Conversations Are Validating Brand Purpose
Smart CMOs recognize the value of listening. By getting to know customers and understanding their lived experiences, needs, and pain points, marketing leaders can deliver brand experiences that address those needs head on.
More specifically, empathetic CMOs with an ear to the ground have been able to give their brands a meaningful voice in cultural conversations and demonstrate leadership in defining their brand’s ethical principles and purpose. While communicating bold stances can sometimes mean standing up to shareholders, brands with purpose have grown twice as fast as their peers over the past 12 years, Forbes reports. In fact, according to the 2017 “Meaningful Brands” report from Havas Group, three-quarters of consumers expect brands to contribute to their well-being and quality of life. What’s more, the “2018 Edelman Earned Brand Report” found that 64 percent of consumers worldwide are belief-driven buyers. Clearly, what’s right for the brand is right for the business, and smart CMOs are taking note.
Having the courage to listen to customers and join big cultural conversations can pay dividends when brands and culture collide. For example, when slow cookers were propelled into the zeitgeist by the award-winning TV drama This Is Us, the creative leaders at Crock-Pot found themselves in a waking nightmare upon learning (spoiler ahead) their product caused the death of a beloved character. Twitter users buzzed, posting that they’d never touch a slow cooker again, but the Crock-Pot brand took command of the conversation by launching the @CrockPotCares handle, acknowledging the episode and touting the brand’s long-standing dedication to safety. The result: brand leaders were able to transform potential damage into a $300,000 bump in sales.
2. Raw Creative Messaging Is Turning Customers into Brand Co‑Creators
Successful CMOs realize the power of establishing strong brand values and letting consumers define experiences and build the brand. Ultimately, brands belong to their customers. Acknowledging this enables brands to be part of the larger culture, communicating and collaborating with consumers across channels, forging relationships that go beyond the transactional.
To partner with consumers in shaping the brand, CMOs use messaging that is as unpolished and messy as life can be, which connects with consumers more personally than glossy advertising. As Stefan Heinrich Henriquez, head of global marketing at the video-based social network TikTok, quoted during a presentation at the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, puts it: “Unpolished makes people happier, because it lowers the bar for yourself. It’s more relatable. It lets you love yourself for yourself.”
3. Sound Is the New Screen
Forward-looking CMOs recognize the growing potential of audio and interactive voice as a dominant medium, elevating the importance of determining smart marketing strategies that can deliver brand messaging without a screen. The number of voice assistants in the U.S. swelled by 40 percent since 2018 to reach 66 million, voicebot.ai reports. As adoption continues, so too will consumers’ expectations for more personalized brand experiences.
CMOs must keep a close eye on e-commerce strategies for winning voice assistant algorithms; when a consumer asks for a top product recommendation, assistants only suggest one brand, creating a winner-take-all scenario.
4. Diversity, Inclusivity, and Accessibility Are Being Championed
Pioneering CMOs intentionally weave inclusivity into their brand fabric. Acknowledgement and consideration of intersectionality — the understanding that a single person may represent many identities (e.g., a transgender woman of color) — recognizes the multiple influences and dimensions behind individual identity. This human-centric approach represents a key shift in mindset for marketers, and a more inclusive journey for their customers.
At the same time, CMOs are moving inclusivity beyond talent casting and audience targeting and into hiring practices, building creative teams that include not just identity diversity, but also a broad range of experience. When it comes to understanding customers, CMOs are finding advantages in enlisting creatives, strategists, and planners with diverse identity, life, and work experiences. Working with that kind of group provides a wealth of diverse insights, which leads to more relatable (and successful) campaigns.
CMOs also work to ensure less-acknowledged market segments, such as age and accessibility, are represented in their marketing efforts. For example, people over age 50 in the U.S. control 70 percent of disposable income, according to a 2015 report from U.S. News & World Report. However, it’s one demographic that is largely underrepresented: although 40 percent of U.S. women are over 50, they appear just 15 percent of the time in popular media, Vogue reported in a supplemental edition published earlier this year in partnership with L’Oréal. Similarly, according to a presentation given by the Geena Davis Institute at the 2019 Cannes Lions, just 0.8 percent of top-grossing Hollywood family films depict a person with a disability (and 95 percent of those characters are depicted by non-disabled actors).
Leading CMOs know to make plays for consumers that brands have long neglected. And by ensuring more diversity within a marketing team, brands can help address consumers more wholly and more accurately.
5. Creativity Can Now Be Quantified
Smart CMOs know their investments in creativity work: Forrester’s “2019 Customer Experience Index” survey of 100,000 customers and around 250 brands supports this notion by recommending that marketers shift spending toward creativity to increase ROI. Specifically, Forrester projects that brands should shift $19 billion from IT investments to agency creativity over the next six years, predicting an ROI increase of 20 percent and a net return increase of $10 billion.
This endorsement upends past trends, which saw escalating tech budgets and insourcing that resulted in underfunded creativity and bland customer experiences. Findings from a 2018 ANA study on in-house agencies show that 78 percent of brand marketers have in-house agencies today, up from 58 percent in 2013. While in-housing is an increasingly popular strategy among brands, the focus should be on better and more consistent creative, rather than building internal teams purely to pinch pennies.
In reality, CMOs should realize that it’s not necessarily the model that determines success, but the quality and investment in creative ideas and thinking that will truly give them the upper hand.
6. Ethics and Honesty Are Driving Customer Trust
CMOs now know that the data they wield is a double-edged sword. Handled with care, it returns actionable customer insights. Handled poorly and, well, customers feel exposed, exploited, and furious.
The public is already naturally wary of how brands use their data. A 2018 Salesforce study found that 54 percent of people in the U.S. don’t believe businesses have their best interests in mind.
CMOs have developed a rightful understanding that combining data with privacy produces the best customer experiences. Consumers want brands to provide curated content — but also to protect their interests. In short, big data is a big responsibility. But when brands commit to honesty, transparency, and authentic communication (where they own up if they mess up), they are far better positioned to secure long-term customer trust.
These trends are highlighted for a reason: brands that have recognized and responded to them are yielding results. CMOs in need of proof can look no further than this year’s Cannes Lions, which showcased example after example of how brands are putting new strategies into action to reach and retain consumers. The CMO playbook is expanding quickly and the time to capitalize is now.
Mish Fletcher is managing director and global head of marketing at Accenture Interactive, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.