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Brand Strategy Marketing Predictions

5 of the top CMO priorities today, from AI & cookieless personalization to funnel collapse


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

March 8, 2024 | 12 min read

CMOs from Walmart, Airbnb, and more weigh in on the forces shaping brand marketing in 2024.

Creativity illustration

CMOs have an abundance of considerations to juggle in 2024 / Adobe Stock

On Thursday, we hosted an exclusive event at The Drum Labs in London, where our editors brought attendees key insights on the trends guiding the direction of brands’ marketing decision-making today.

Here are five of the breakthrough trends shaping CMO priorities in 2024.

Assessing AI investments

Amid a proliferation of AI development since the debut of OpenAI’s uber-popular ChatGPT in November of 2022, marketers are exploring and discovering a variety of applications for these burgeoning technologies.

This year, 80% of CMOs plan to increase their organization’s spending on AI and data – up from 57% the previous year, according to recent research from Accenture. Generative AI is expected to account for a significant amount of this investment, as marketers look to tools like Sora, Midjourney, DALL-E, ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion and more to spark ideas and augment the creative production process.

However, operations and process-focused applications will also prove important to brand leaders this year, as they attempt to unlock new efficiencies across the board.

“It’s very important for marketers to prepare themselves for these tectonic changes that are happening all around us,” Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar told The Drum in January. Today’s brand marketers “cannot just be creative specialists who are sitting in their corners or just be performance marketers who are running on the treadmill nonstop,” Rajamannar went on. “They need to understand these new technologies – they need to invest time and effort to educate themselves.”

The credit card brand, for its part, is “jumping with both our feet in” to AI, he said, while maintaining a focus on safety and ethics. “This is something which is going to be truly game-changing, even for our company.

Achieving personalization amid widespread signal loss

In the years since programmatic media buying was born in the mid-90s, advertisers have discovered incredible advancements in achieving personalization at scale, using granular user-level data to target the right audiences with the right messages at the right time.

But a growing data privacy movement is upending the status quo for the advertising industry, with increasing signal loss on the open web creating new hurdles to ad targeting and measurement. Google Chrome’s decision to sunset third-party cookies is now well underway, with the tracking technology disappearing for 1% of all global users in early January.

Today’s CMOs are seeking solutions to the problem of restricted targeting and measurement capabilities. They’re doing so by building out their first-party data strategies, investing in contextual targeting, assessing a swath of new interoperable privacy-safe ID solutions and looking to partner with networks that have an abundance of anonymized audience data.

Of course, the advancement of AI is likely to play a key role in personalized brand experiences and dynamically relevant content moving forward.

Speaking with The Drum’s editor-in-chief Gordon Young and other brand execs at the World Economic Forum in Davos this January, IBM Consulting’s managing partner for generative AI Matthew Candy shared an example of this idea in practice. IBM, he said, began using AI to generate highlight reels for the US Open and Wimbledon about three years ago. Then, last year, IBM began overlaying spoken commentary in English and Spanish to pair with the videos. But as generative AI capabilities advance, new opportunities for personalization are emerging.

“Where this will go is the ability to get commentary on all of the non-show courts, which you don’t have at the moment. If I’m Japanese or Thai, I can now have commentary in a spoken language and engage in a way that I couldn’t before,” he says. “But also, I could start to follow my favorite players. If I’ve got 90 minutes, maybe I want to be able to create a custom [cut] of the best bit of the day, and then have John McEnroe or somebody narrate over the top of that. Marketing is going to be pushing those things out there … and doing what marketing does best, which is [develop] the creative ideas that power these things.”

The collapse of the funnel and the resurgence of creativity

The traditional marketing funnel is being reimagined by CMOs, who are finding new value in unifying what were once thought of as disparate elements of the customer journey. They’re bringing the bottom of the funnel up and keeping the top-of-funnel brand focus top-of-mind throughout the journey.

“The problem isn’t the funnel – it’s how it has been used – treating ‘commerce’ as something that only happens at the bottom and brand-building something that only happens at the top,” says William White, senior vice-president and CMO at Walmart US. “As we look to 2024 and beyond, at Walmart, we're focused on embedding commerce across the marketing funnel to close the distance between where consumers are inspired and where they transact, unlocking unprecedented business growth, and fueling game-changing creativity.”

Meanwhile, some brand marketers have found value in flipping their traditional model entirely on its head. A prime example of this strategy is found at Airbnb. Pre-pandemic, the brand allocated a large portion of its marketing spend to digital ads and performance marketing. But when Covid decimated the travel and hospitality industries in early 2020, the brand knew it needed to make a drastic change.

“The problem was that Airbnb wasn’t able to put its own message out into people’s minds and out into the market, so the messages were being driven by reactive PR and comms and basically what the world and what social media was talking about. Airbnb kind of lost control of the brand a little bit – and of the message and the narrative,” CMO Hiroki Asai told The Drum in August.

To regain control of the narrative, Airbnb shifted its dollars from performance buys to big, bold brand campaigns. And the approach worked: chief executive officer Brian Chesky confirmed that Airbnb’s traffic levels returned to 95% of what they were in 2019, and he vowed to “never” again spend such a high percentage on performance marketing.

In varying degrees, this approach is translating across marketing – even into B2B, a historically dry, performance-focused space. Some of the best brand campaigns of 2023 – by the metrics of The Drum Marketing Awards, for example – came from B2B brands like LinkedIn and Workday.

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Unlocking the value of emerging media opportunities

In 2024, brand marketing leaders are keenly interested in exploring new emergent media opportunities across new channels and ad formats.

Key areas of focus include retail media, social commerce, immersive CTV and streaming formats and in-game ads. Across these and other areas, advertisers are finding valuable opportunities to reach target audiences in privacy-safe ways and create new kinds of engagement.

“Exploring new media avenues allows us to reach audiences where they are, with messages that resonate,” says DeLu Jackson, executive vice-president and CMO of security systems company ADT. “It's an opportunity to showcase our innovative security solutions within the daily lives of our customers.”

To assess countless media opportunities and allocate budgets effectively, CMOs are increasingly turning to trusted partners to help.

Luckily, many media agencies and adtech partners are thinking along the same lines. “Our agency traditionally has been very heavy into Google and Facebook advertising, which are very busy channels with higher costs and more competition,” Jason Rosen, a digital advertising manager at Adpearance, told The Drum in September. “Expanding our reach into other placements, whether it be CTV or display, really helped us be an omnichannel agency overnight, helping us access new inventory and new placements that previously have been completely untapped.”

And with 80% of CMOs expecting an increase in budget this year, per Forrester data, CMOs will be better equipped than they were in 2023 to make investments across new media spaces.

Driving broader organizational success

The CMO role is evolving into a dynamic force within the C-suite, as traditional lines between executive roles become more amorphous and leaders are increasingly expected to demonstrate literacy across disciplines. Today’s CMOs are capitalizing on opportunities to establish themselves as innovators, strategists and catalysts for growth within the walls of their organizations.

As it stands, only 54% of CMOs strongly agree that the value of marketing is understood by key decision-makers, according to recent data from PricewaterhouseCoopers. As such, in 2024, CMOs are making an effort to collaborate more deeply across functions in the C-suite. While they once saw CEOs and CFOs as their closest partners, CMOs are increasingly working with CTOs and CIOs, evangelizing the value of marketing, advising on emerging tech investments and advocating for more robust martech stacks that prioritize functional consolidation over vendor consolidation.

The increasing integration of data and technology skills into the CMO role was summarized clearly by CMO and ex-Google marketer Arjan Dijk, who spoke with The Drum in October: “People need to be good with numbers. [If you’re not,] you need to only work as a brand VP or as a brand manager. You cannot work as a chief marketing officer.”

Dijk also argued that brand marketers must have a broader focus – in short, he said, all marketing efforts need to be supported by a broader business case. “The key thing still in marketing is that it needs to drive the business growth of your company,” he said. “A lot of marketers still need to make that pivot. You must really think through whether your product ready, is your price okay, and is your distribution good? And then you need to add a layer a level of marketing on top and a piece of advertising, and then it all falls together.”

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