2021 CMO Survey: Market Trends, Growth Insights from Fortune 500 Leaders

- Business News

Houston, TX, Feb. 23, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Chief Outsiders, the nation’s largest Chief Marketing Officer firm with more than 80 fractional CMOs with Fortune 500 experience, today released the results of their second annual CMO survey on what to expect this year in market trends and company growth.

“Business performance and challenges—especially amid the global pandemic—were the focus of our 2021 market outlook survey. We polled our group of top CMOs on everything from COVID-19 pivots to digital commerce tactics to the best ways to engage customers,” said Art Saxby, CEO, co-founder and principal of Chief Outsiders. “What we found will help CEOs of small- and mid-level companies to provide value where the pandemic has presented opportunities.”

“One of the most important takeaways in this survey is that COVID-19 created as many, if not more, opportunities for businesses than it eliminated through lockdowns and other measures,” said Pete Hayes, CMO and principal of Chief Outsiders. “And for private equity, one of the biggest challenges—even bigger than the pandemic—will be finding growth-minded executives focused on strategy.”

Key Survey Takeaways:

  • COVID-19 and the Economy
    • 48 percent of CMOs believe economic conditions in 2021 will have a positive or significantly positive impact on business performance (up from 35 percent last year). Meanwhile, 35.6 percent think there will be a negative or significantly negative impact (down from 44 percent in 2020).
    • More than 43 percent say that overall, the pandemic has been an opportunity for companies, while slightly less (38.9 percent) believe it’s been a threat.
    • On the issue of the pandemic’s impact on meeting business performance goals in 2021, 38.9 percent say it’s slightly or significantly positive, while 27.8 percent believe it’s going to be negative for companies. 31.9 percent say it’ll be negligible.
    • On the government’s continued measures to combat the pandemic, 47.2 percent believe it’ll either be slightly positive (41.7 percent) or significantly positive (5.6 percent) for companies, while 15.3 percent say it’ll be negative. 33.3 percent think it won’t have any affect.
  • Marketing Strategy and Budgets
    • 83.3 percent say that the pandemic has significantly (44.4 percent) or somewhat (38.9 percent) affected companies’ marketing strategies. Less than 14 percent think it’s been negligible or no impact at all.
    • 62.5 percent of CMOs think that marketing budgets will either increase somewhat or significantly, while only 16.7 percent think budgets will be cut.
    • 91.6 percent say companies are much more (45.8 percent) or somewhat more prepared (45.8 percent) to strategically pivot in 2021. Less than two percent are less prepared. 5.6 percent remain the same as before the pandemic.
  • CMOs’ Changing Role
    • Top 5 capabilities companies will look for in marketers in 2021:
      1. Strategy development and planning
      2. Sales and marketing alignment
      3. Customer experience and insight
      4. Brand strategy and tactics
      5. Content creation and management
    • Top 5 things CMOs will be expected to manage in 2021:
      1. Company growth strategy
      2. Account based strategies
      3. More of the sales funnel
      4. Digital technology selection
      5. Customer engagement tactics
    • 65.7 percent of CMOs think it’s unlikely or very unlikely that businesses will bring more marketing agency work in-house in 2021. Meantime, 26.9 percent believe that CEOs will cut some marketing outsourcing to reduce costs (down from 35 percent in 2020).
  • Digital
    • Digital advertising is expected to increase in almost 94 percent of businesses in 2021 (up from 80 percent last year).
    • 78.5 percent of CMOs see difficulty in staying ahead of technological advancements (down from 88 pecent a year ago).
    • Top 5 sectors that will see the most direct-to-consumer (DTC) or direct-to-business (DTB) increase in 2021:
      1. Healthcare
      2. Retail
      3. Entertainment
      4. Financial services
      5. Travel and hospitality
    • Top 5 digital content tactics for CMOs in 2021:
      1. Blogging
      2. Video
      3. Case studies
      4. eNewsletters
      5. Webinars and online events
    •  Top 5 Digital Spending Priorities for Companies
      1. Organic search
      2. Content marketing
      3. Email marketing
      4. Paid search
      5. Social media
  • Private Equity
    • Top 5 key growth challenges for private equity portfolio companies in 2021:
      1. Attracting growth minded talent
      2. Adopting sales and marketing technology
      3. Covid lockdowns and other measures
      4. Retaining talent
      5. Unfavorable legislation and trade barriers
    • 75 percent of CMOs see private equity limited partners demanding more growth in 2021 (up from 61 percent last year).
    • 31.7 percent of CMOs think that customers will be 60 percent down the sales pipeline before engaging with the sales team. 16.7 percent think it will be 40 percent down the pipeline.

CMOs Optimistic on Accelerating Economy, Growth Opportunities

In a more than 20 percent shift from last year, the CMOs are much more optimistic about the economy and growth possibilities, even in the midst of COVID-19. Nearly half (48 percent) said economic conditions will be a positive for business performance in 2021, while a little over one-third (35.6 percent) said it would be negative. This positivity is reflected in the fact that a significant majority (62.5 percent) of CMOs think that marketing budgets—which fuel companies’ go-to-market strategies and growth—will be increased over last year.

Pandemic More of an Opportunity Than Threat for Business

The CMOs are divided on the pandemic’s affect on business performance and opportunities, because companies that have gone digital are doing well, while others that can’t adapt as quickly, or simply can’t conduct all their business online, are getting punished by the pandemic.  

As for the government’s attempt to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic through stimulus, the CMOs are again split because different industries will benefit, or be hurt, by the government’s continued action. Nothing federal or state officials do to try and help will be a uniform solution or silver bullet.

Companies Much More Prepared to Strategically Pivot Post-COVID-19

The vast majority of CMOs (91.6 percent) say companies are far more prepared to strategically pivot now, as compared to before the pandemic. COVID-19 essentially forced businesses to reevaluate their go-to-market strategy, supply chain and other key structural processes. Now these companies are much more nimble and able to change course amid a shifting landscape.

Marketing No Longer Just About Solving Problems. It’s About Growth.

Marketing plans and CMOs are a crucial part of every business operation, but they are changing. Marketing is no longer just about solving customer engagement or sales funnel problems. It’s more and more about growth, and CMOs are expected to adapt. CMOs will be collaborating more and more with other organizational entities—R&D, sales, IT, and customer service—to meet growth goals.

Organic Search, Content Marketing, Email Marketing Top Digital Priorities

The CMOs believe most companies’ digital marketing spend in 2021 will be aimed at gaining organic searches, content marketing, and email marketing. They said a big focus will be on digital content like blog posts, videos, and case studies.

They think the most vital capabilities supporting marketing strategy will be creating stronger customer experiences, better market research, and overall more thoughtful marketing tactics. On a similar note, the CMOs said customer engagement tactics cannot be overlooked.

Meanwhile, they think advancements in predictive analytics (AI) will have a broad affect, especially on the following:

  • Customer targeting and segmentation (43.1 percent)
  • Qualification and prioritization of leads (26.1 percent)
  • Predictive modeling of customer behavior (21.5 percent)

Attracting Growth-Minded CEOs Key Growth Challenge Facing PE

The CMOs said that the biggest growth challenge facing private equity portfolio companies in 2021 will be attracting growth minded executives focused on strategy. They view this as a bigger hurdle than even COVID-19. It’s especially important for GPs to get this right because LPs will be even more demanding of growth in 2021 than they were in 2020.

Retailers to Increasingly Use DTC Techniques to Challenge Amazon’s Dominance

In a shift from last year, the CMOs outlook is relatively positive for retailers amid Amazon’s domination of e-commerce, this despite their massive growth over the past 12 months due in part to the pandemic. Only 11.1 percent of CMOs expressed a negative outlook. In regards to how to approach the e-commerce giant’s dominance, they are of the opinion that direct-to-consumer strategies (DTC) are the best way for businesses to thrive. Secondarily, they think companies should focus on more narrowly focused retail platforms, as well as to work within Amazon’s parameters to deliver results.

The entire survey results, including all charts and graphs, can be downloaded here.  

About Chief Outsiders

Chief Outsiders, LLC is a nationwide “Executives-as-a-Service” firm, with more than 80 part-time, or fractional, Chief Marketing Officers/Chief Marketing Outsiders (CMOs) engaged from coast-to-coast. Unlike other strategic marketing and management consulting firms, each CMO has held the position of VP Marketing or higher at one or more operating companies. Chief Outsiders have served on the executive team of over 1,100 client companies to drive growth strategy and execution plans by offering instant access to talent with highly customized and flexible engagements.

Because of its market-based growth plans, quality of leadership, and experienced team, Chief Outsiders has been recognized for the past seven years by Inc. Magazine as one of the 5,000 fastest growing privately held companies in the US, and was recognized in 2019 as a Forbes Small Giant. Chief Outsiders’ CEO Art Saxby and Principal Pete Hayes are the co-authors of “The Growth Gears: Using a Market-Based Framework to Drive Business Success,” an Amazon #1 best-seller for business owners and CEOs. For additional information about the companies who trust Chief Outsiders as their premier source for business growth acceleration, click here.  

Sterling Wilkinson
Chief Outsiders
[email protected]


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