Gartner Keynote: Marketing Will Rely on Four Core Competencies for Recovery and Renewal

December 1, 2020
Contributor: Kelly Blum

Coming off an incredibly challenging year, marketing leaders must prioritize agility and adaptability to position their businesses for growth.

Pivot is the word most marketing leaders would use to best describe how they handled the challenges that came with the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. And unlike past economic recessions, the COVID-19 economic fallout affected nearly everyone, across all industries and markets, in nearly every country.

“The real challenge now is understanding what the impacts of 2020 mean to your customers, your team, your business and your markets,” said Rick DeLisi, VP, Advisory, Gartner, during the opening keynote at the virtual Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo® 2020. “To be more adaptive and agile for the year ahead, marketers must home in on long-valued core competencies with a fresh perspective and renewed focus.”

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Recent Gartner research reveals the wide-ranging impact of the pandemic on consumers, brands and resources:

  • According to recent findings from the Gartner COVID-19 Concerns Tracker, consumers are most worried about the state of the economy, their family getting sick and people not acting in the best interest of the community. 

  • In the inaugural Gartner CMO Strategic Priorities Survey 2020, more than one-third of marketing leaders stated that their customers expect their brands to solve issues relating to the environment, gender equality, racism and public health. 

  • Nine out of 10 marketing leaders have experienced a budget cut — many of which have been severe — this year, according to the Gartner Cost Optimization Survey 2020.

“For marketing leaders, it’s never been more important to anticipate their customers’ concerns and reflect back to them how their brand helps solve those issues,” said Cassandra Nordlund, Director, Advisory, Gartner. “This is a tall order even with a full marketing budget in hand, but now marketing leaders need to do this operating under more resource limits than before. This truly requires marketers to turn adversity into adventure.” 

To be more agile and adaptive in the year ahead, marketing leaders must prioritize four core competencies with a renewed focus that accounts for the unprecedented changes of 2020. The core competencies that will help marketing to survive and thrive in 2021 include customer understanding, adaptive planning, data-driven decision making and strategic cost optimization.

Customer understanding

According to Gartner, building meaningful brands in uncertain times requires a sense of what the brand actually means to your customers and stakeholders and where marketers sit in the prevailing cultural context. In fact, the Gartner CMO Spend Survey 2020 shows that brand strategy is now one of the most important capabilities in 2020.

Marketers must keep in mind that consumer values shift over time as they move through different life stages. For example, throughout 2020, things evolved quickly as the pandemic unfolded, the Black Lives Matter movement and other social protests gained momentum, and political tension built around the U.S. election. This illustrates that a simple set-it-and-forget-it approach to segmentation and messaging will no longer suffice. The brands that will succeed in 2021 will build an intimate understanding of the needs and values of customers.

Learn MoreThe Annual CMO Spend Survey

Adaptive planning

Gartner defines adaptive planning as evolving from an organization that does agile to one that is agile — able to respond, at speed, to both emerging opportunities and threats. 

The Gartner Marketing Organization Survey 2020 reveals that many marketing organizations are doing agile marketing. However, that same research shows that agile is more about project management methodology than a planning mindset. To succeed in 2021 and beyond, marketing leaders need to make a decisive move to agile, adaptive planning so that they can respond and react to future shocks and ongoing business changes.

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Data-driven decision making

Despite continued investment and strategic focus in years past, marketing data and analytics is now under the microscope, as marketers are increasingly unimpressed by the results from analytics. The Gartner Marketing Data and Analytics Survey 2020 shows that analytics influences only 54% of marketing decisions. Poor data quality, inactionable results and nebulous recommendations are among the top reasons for this. 

Still, for marketing to build truly adaptive, customer-orientated strategies, a renewed focus on data is critical. Marketing leaders must identify the handful of data points that allow them to course-correct strategy, optimize operational plans and tactical execution. This requires investments in skill development on the analytics team, increased automation of manual tasks that will free up valuable resources and time, and a fresh mandate for analytics as a key influencer of the marketing leadership team and overall strategy.

“Marketers will need to continue to adapt, becoming more agile, digitally oriented and leaner than ever before”

Strategic cost optimization

Marketing is operating in a time of needs vs. wants, and budgets will likely continue to be constrained for some time to come. Marketers must think beyond the inevitable cost cutting and defining costs to strategic cost optimization. A program of strategic cost optimization focuses on the returns marketing investments deliver to the enterprise. This allows marketers to better defend the most important costs and maximize the value of strategically important investments. 

Marketing leaders should consider marketing’s costs as bundles of resources —- for example, the sum of investments in media, agency and labor that fuel a campaign or project. The next step is to build a forward-looking view of the returns that flow from each bundle of resources. The goal is to shift from reactionary and one-time budgetary efforts to an ongoing approach. 

“As we look to the future, the challenges marketing leaders have faced in 2020 will continue to impact marketing in new and different ways in 2021,” said DeLisi. “Marketers will need to continue to adapt, becoming more agile, digitally oriented and leaner than ever before.”

Download Now: Marketing Cost Optimization Framework

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