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CMOs falling back on ‘low risk, low return’ strategies


By John Glenday | Reporter

January 20, 2021 | 5 min read

A new survey of chief marketing officers conducted by Gartner has found that 73% intend to pursue low risk, low return strategies for 2021 – falling back on existing customers to tide them through a lean period.


CMOs falling back on ‘low risk, low return’ strategies

The CMO Strategic Priorities Survey 2021 highlights the dichotomy between a desire to reinvent marketing strategies to scale up businesses versus a need to reinforce the existing customer base.

What are CMOs prioritising in 2021?

  • A difficult year will see 73% of marketers fall back on a safety-first approach, sacrificing returns in favour of lower-risk at a time of heightened volatility.

  • This stance places growth hopes fully on the shoulders of existing customers rather than attempt to break into new markets to power growth for the year.

  • The survey of 381 marketers was conducted between September and October, focussing on 11 marketing strategies and asked whether they would be repurposed, retained as is or fully retired as no longer sustainable in a post-pandemic world.

  • In all half of respondents said they would reinvent six of the 11 strategies with 31.8% intending to reinvent eight of these core approaches.

  • The data also showed that 39% of marketers intend to increase sales from current customers while 34% plan on enticing new buyers with the offer of fresh products.

  • This pronounced absence of ambition, akin to tinkering around the edges, concerns the report authors, who warn that such strategies contradict a desire among CMOs to 'reinvent and rescale strategies' in response to current challenges.

Why it matters

  • A flight from risk flies in the face of more bullish pronouncements made by CMOs last year during the early days of the pandemic to reinvent themselves across the board.

  • Warning that a low-risk strategy carries dangers of its own Jay Wilson, vice president analyst at Gartner Marketing, said: “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.

  • “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.”

  • Cautioning that marketers stated goals and the strategy chosen to attain them does not add up Wilson concludes: “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.”

  • Outlining a more aggressive solution Augie Ray, vice president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice, adds: “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 ensure the greatest likelihood of success in 2021 Gartner recommends that marketers be more selective in what strategies they elect to reinvent, rescale, reduce or retire.

  • Marketers are also encouraged to document their decision-making process to reassure fellow management that decisions are guided by the highest possible return.

  • Lastly, CMOs are encouraged to draft a formal scenario plan to guide recurring adjustments to their approach in the face of unfolding events.

Modern Marketing Gartner CMO

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