CMOs basking in potentially misplaced optimism, Gartner study finds

Sunny disposition: Mary Pickford (right) as title character in Pollyanna (1920)
Sunny disposition: Mary Pickford (right) as title character in Pollyanna (1920)

Survey found three-quarters of CMOs are expecting negative impact of pandemic to be short-lived.

Chief marketing officers are adopting a sunny disposition that places them at odds with their colleagues in the C-suite, according to Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey 2020.

Gartner surveyed 432 top marketers across Canada, France, Germany, the UK and the US, 84% of whom came from organisations with annual revenue of at least $1bn. The research took place between March and May, meaning the views of CMOs may have changed.

It found that while close to half (44%) were facing mid-year budget cuts this year as a result of the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, there was a highly positive outlook for the next 18 to 24 months.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of respondents said that over this timeframe, they expected the economic and business climate to have a positive impact on their company’s ability to meet business performance goals, with half of these (37% of the total) predicting a highly positive impact. Just 5% overall expected a significantly negative impact. 

Broken down by sector, the proportion of marketers foreseeing a highly positive impact ranged from 22% in travel and hospitality – an industry that in many countries has been completely shut down in recent months and faces continued major disruption for some time – to a huge 55% in retail, another badly hit sector that has partly mitigated physical store closures with a boom for ecommerce sales.

But this level of positivity could put CMOs out of step with their chief executives and chief financial officers, other data shows. A Gartner poll of CFOs found that almost 60% were building scenario plans that include a second wave of coronavirus – a possibility if government moves such as "test and trace" schemes and localised lockdowns do not prove to be effective. A World Economic Forum survey in April, meanwhile, found that 60% of CEOs were expecting a "U-shaped" recession (with a drawn-out recovery) and 22% predicted a double-dip recession.

"Marketers remain stoic in the face of adversity and are significantly out of step with other members of the C-suite," Ewan McIntyre, vice-president analyst for Gartner for Marketers, said. "As we progress into the ‘recover’ and ‘renew’ phases of this pandemic, CFOs will turn their attention to profitability, and marketing has the dubious honour of topping the list of functions where finance will look to trim expenses even further.

"Therefore, CMOs should plan for future budgetary pressures now, rather than gamble on budgets bouncing back. The brands that succeed in uncertain times are those that recognise the change around them and adjust to it, rather than wait for things to go back to normal. CMOs need to build a plan that sets out the costs that can be eliminated, the essential costs that must be shielded and the costs where greater efficiency and ROI can be delivered."

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