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STAMFORD, Conn., January 19, 2021

Gartner Survey Shows 73% of CMOs Will Fall Back on Low Risk, Low Return Strategies for 2021

New Research Reveals Dichotomy Between CMOs Low Risk Go-to-Market Approach and Desire to Rescale Strategies from 2020

Seventy-three percent of chief marketing officers (CMOs) report they will rely on existing customers to fuel growth in 2021, rather than looking to develop new markets, according to Gartner, Inc. The inaugural Gartner CMO Strategic Priorities Survey 2021 shows that 39% of CMOs plan to increase sales of existing products to existing customers, while 34% will introduce new products to existing customers in 2021 (see Figure 1).

However, this low-risk approach, while warranted given the tumultuous year of 2020, is at odds with CMOs desire to reinvent and rescale key strategies developed over the course of the last year.

“Focusing on existing customers has a number of benefits for CMOs, namely being low cost and low risk. But low risk is matched by relatively low return,” said Jay Wilson, vice president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice. “At the same time, we see CMOs being overly ambitious in terms of the change they expect to bring to how their organizations interact with customers. With the scale of recent change organizations have experienced as a result of COVID-19, CMOs must take care to ensure their own strategic approach is matched to the enterprise’s aspirations.” 

Figure 1. Primary Strategy to Fuel Growth Into 2021

Source: Gartner (January 2021)

In a survey of 381 marketers from September through October 2020, Gartner explored 11 key marketing strategies that would be either rescaled to accelerate new growth, reinvented to be better positioned post-pandemic, returned to pre-pandemic levels, reduced lower than pre-pandemic levels, or retired because they are no longer sustainable. Half of the respondents reported they intend to rescale or reinvent six of the 11 strategies, while nearly one-third (31.8%) plan to rescale or reinvent eight of the 11 strategies.

“CMOs cannot reinvent and rescale everything while still executing effectively and remaining agile in a year that promises more challenges. Those who attempt to reinvent too much simultaneously risk failing to do any one thing right while overburdening their teams,” said Augie Ray, vice president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice. “CMOs must try to avoid reinventing the wheel in 2021 and remember: For every strategy you rescale, you must choose another to reduce or retire. For every strategy you try to reinvent, another must return to pre-pandemic levels and approach.”

To realize the greatest returns in 2021, CMOs should consider the following:

  • Be Selective – CMOs must prioritize what they choose to reinvent, rescale, reduce, retire or merely return to pre-pandemic levels. They should focus on the efforts that are most essential in the short-term, most aligned with their growth strategies for 2021, and best suited for their organization’s capabilities and resources. The rest should be delayed, deprioritized or delegated.
  • Document Decisions – Make sure that every decision to reinvent, rescale, reduce, retire or return to pre-pandemic levels are properly documented for other stakeholders. This will ensure the rest of management that marketing’s priorities are focused on the highest returning initiatives. 
  • Scenario Plan – While CMOs should make tough trade-offs today, they should also institute formal scenario planning to support a constant cycle of iterative adjustments as 2021 economic conditions warrant. 

Additional details are available to Gartner for Marketers clients in the report CMO Strategic Priorities Survey 2020-2021: Ambitions Threatened by Capacity, Capital and Capability.

About the Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo

Gartner analysts will discuss the key issues facing CMOs during the Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo, taking place virtually August 17-19. This conference provides marketing leaders actionable advice about the trends, tools and emerging technologies they need to deliver business results. Gartner analysts address the biggest opportunities, challenges and priorities marketers face today, including data and analytics, customer experience, content marketing, customer insight, marketing technology (martech) and multichannel marketing. Follow news and updates for the event on Twitter at #GartnerMKTG.

About Gartner for Marketers

Gartner for Marketers provides the objective, expert advice, and proven tools that CMOs and other marketing leaders need to seize the right opportunities with clarity and confidence, and to stay ahead of the trends that matter. With in-depth research and analysis, Gartner for Marketers helps you focus on the opportunities with the greatest potential to deliver results. More information on Gartner for Marketers is available online at www.gartner.com/marketing. Follow news and updates from the Gartner Marketing practice on Twitter and LinkedIn using #GartnerMKTG.

About Gartner

Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) delivers actionable, objective insight to executives and their teams. Our expert guidance and tools enable faster, smarter decisions and stronger performance on an organization’s most critical priorities. To learn more, visit gartner.com.

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