thought leadership

No one could have predicted the events of 2020. As the first quarter of the year was ending, the UK was thrown into chaos. We know how the story goes.

While the last few months have seen some businesses getting back to a kind or normality – with staff returning to work and retail sales hitting the best growth since the start of the pandemic – the current situation does however feel worryingly familiar.

As COVID-19 cases continue to grow once more and new restrictions are set to be implemented amidst fears of an autumn/winter second wave, businesses continue to face uncertainty. In this ongoing uncertainty CMOs are at a critical juncture. How you respond is fundamental for the future of your organisation.

CMOs are facing ongoing challenges  

In our recent CMO Report – Into the Unknown, 1,350 CMOs were surveyed across 12 markets in May 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. But what is the position at home? And how are UK CMOs specifically responding to the ongoing threats faced by businesses on our shores?

Currently we can see that 5% of UK CMOs feel that COVID-19 is an existential threat to their organisation, while 63% have seen their businesses somewhat or severely affected by the pandemic. While for just over 1 in 5 (22%) there has been minimal disruption, on the flipside just shy of 1 in 10 (9%) have actually benefitted from the current climate.

Challenges many of us are facing include decreasing marketing budgets, disruptions to the supply chain and the ensuing inability to fulfil demand, declining consumer spending, and managing changes to the workforce.

As we make our way into perhaps the most critical of final quarters in decades, the disruption for many is set to grow. Successful Black Friday and Cyber Monday strategies will likely be pivotal for retailers. 

Consumers and consumer trends remain unpredictable  

But the biggest challenge we’re currently seeing facing UK CMOs is the unpredictable consumer. While consumer demand and expectation has grown exponentially in recent years in terms of the desired customer experience, brand signalling and value alignment, this has truly accelerated in the last six months.

As retail sales continue to be dominated by online, the online customer experience must be slick, intuitive and personalised. And as the spotlight on how brands navigate this uncertainty becomes more precise, there is little margin for error.

Unsurprisingly in the UK, 41% of CMOs cite changing customer sentiment and the difficulty in understanding which consumer behaviours are temporary shifts or permanent changes, as the biggest challenges in the current climate. This is supplemented by the additional issue of aligning brands with their changing customer sentiment – a challenge for one in three UK CMOs (31%).

CMOs’ roles continue to evolve  

So, how do you respond? Are you a Frontier CMO or a Follower CMO?

From our data we can see that one in five (19%) UK CMOs would place themselves firmly in the frontier category. They are adopting completely new strategies to respond to the ongoing issues caused by the pandemic. Worryingly on the other hand at least 16% are sitting exclusively in the follower camp by only pursuing strategies utilised during previous recessions.

But what about the grey area in between?

The remaining 65% have a foot in each camp, some more either way. Completely new strategies may be fraught with difficulties, yet 

old strategies will lack the desired agility. So, how can you innovate when presented with such uncertainty?

We know that frontier CMOs have key qualities. Let’s focus here on the first. Hyper-empathy. This is the ability to understand existing and new consumers more deeply and to update that knowledge in real-time. This is done through the likes of first-party customer data, ecommerce & direct-to-consumer strategies and increased investment in CRM.

Specifically it requires a deep fundamental shift from selling products and services to creating helpful experiences and ubiquitous utility, rooted in superior consumer intelligence and design thinking.

As ever the answers begin with data. Obtaining the right data to make timely decisions is a key challenge for just 1 in 4 UK CMOs (25%), suggesting that the data is available in the most part. It is how you use it that will make a difference.

Data-driven, ideas-led, & technology enabled

If you can be data-driven, ideas-led and tech-enabled you have the potential to create a position of leadership amidst the uncertainty. It is the bedrock of the frontier CMO.

So what does this look like?

Data-driven: Question whether you are mature and integrated in your use of data. Are you listening to what people want and responding to their shifts? Is the data you have being used to inform and assist the customer.

Ideas-led: In uncertain times, strong ideas, executed consistently over time will have a gravitational pull. Whether to make an emotional connection or solve continuing consumer problems, brand building is essential.

Technology-enabled: Efficiency is crucial. How can you assist your customers as quickly and efficiently as possible, then let them go on with other important things in their lives? Being enabled by the right technology is key. 

As we brace ourselves for further disruption throughout autumn and winter, the time has come for our UK frontier CMOs to establish themselves and innovate in the face of uncertainty.

Download the full CMO survey 2020 report here.