2021 CMO survey: trends and growth insights from Fortune 500 leaders
1. March 2021 | News, Retail Marketing, Visions of Retail

Market trends, accelerating economy, opportunities for growth

Chief Outsiders, a Chief Marketing Officer firm with more than 80 fractional CMOs with Fortune 500 experience, 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.”

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.

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:

Top 5 things CMOs will be expected to manage in 2021:

  • Company growth strategy
  • Account based strategies
  • More of the sales funnel
  • Digital technology selection
  • Customer engagement tactics


Digital advertising is expected to increase in almost 94 percent of businesses in 2021 (up from 80 percent last year).

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

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.

Source: Chief Outsiders, LL

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