How marketers will need to adapt to consumer needs

How CMOs must adapt to consumer needs

Recent years have seen chief marketing officers (CMO) of the big consumer brands, achieve phenomenal success. The best have pioneered masterful brand building – and built titan reputations as they did so – achieving the marketing holy grail of embedding their brands at the center of their consumers’ everyday lives.

But could this legacy of success ultimately be their downfall? Accenture’s new research shows CMOs of consumer brands are still excelling in their traditional marketing functions. But that’s now happening at the expense of generating new growth for the business – many CMOs are spending less time driving disruptive growth than they were two years ago.

In one sense, that’s understandable. It is a demanding environment for marketers. Matching a rapidly accelerating pace of change needs exceptional ingenuity, innovation, and insight. So it’s no wonder CMOs are falling back on tried and tested marketing methods. In fact, three in every four CMOs say the top way they look to achieve strategic marketing objectives is by reapplying solutions that worked in the past.

Looking beyond the marketing basics

But being brilliant at the basics won’t be enough in the long run. Pivoting to the new, and supporting an agile, responsive “living business”, needs a different approach from the CMO.

And corporate leaders increasingly expect more from the marketing function. Accenture’s research shows 52% of consumer goods CEOs now hold their CMOs responsible for driving disruptive growth.

So CMOs must find a way to free themselves from their organizational shackles and devote more of their time to creating new relevance at scale to drive value and growth for the business. They have vital skillsets which will help ensure their organizations can continuously adapt to evolving customer needs, providing “hyper-relevant” experiences that deliver just what the consumer needs, just when they need it.

As the need for personalized experience and tailored marketing becomes ever more pressing, those ecosystem relationships become much more than a nice idea – they become a core part of competitive advantage to drive digital content and experience, as a key means of building consumer relationships for the long haul.

Look at how the craft brewing sector is cleverly infusing “relevance” into its products. Intelligent Brewing Company is a great example. This innovative brand invites consumers to weigh in on beer flavors and carbonation levels via its website. This crowdsourced insight is then fed back into the brand’s algorithm to produce continuously refined and personalized beer recipes at scale, with the resulting brews shipped monthly to subscribers. That’s consumer relevance on a whole new scale.

Updating the marketing toolbelt

To achieve this kind of responsiveness, CMOs will need to bring new and enhanced strategies into play – platform thinking, silo busting, cutting-edge AI and analytics. These are the tools that leaders will use to build the titan reputations of tomorrow.

But many CMOs today are still being held back by legacy systems and processes – significantly more so than in other industries. Six out of 10 told Accenture they weren’t able to develop the more agile, dynamic organizations and operating models required in today’s fast-changing environment. And two-thirds of CMOs at large consumer brands cited a lack of critical technology and tools as a top barrier to improving performance.

These figures were notably higher in consumer goods than in other industries. Moreover, when new technologies are explored, they often get stuck in “pilot paralysis”. One in five CMOs said they struggle to pilot new technologies and processes and then scale up the solutions across the business.

Focus on getting to growth

Transforming an entire marketing organization is no easy task. But by focusing on a few key areas, CMOs can prepare their teams – and their companies – to thrive in the new.

First, they need to help center the entire business around growth, ensuring the organization can adapt and respond, not to where its customers are today, but to where they’ll be tomorrow. That means working across organizational boundaries to upgrade operating models and shape a far more customer-centric culture.

Second, they need to be prepared to let go of their traditional and familiar technologies and embrace the new wholesale. Modern, adaptable backend systems will deliver the agility that smaller, newer competitors are already enjoying. And technologies like AI, analytics, and the IoT will open up new operating models and create different and much more personalized product and service innovation to serve consumers across a variety of channels.

Third, CMOs must be ready to reimagine roles and ways of working. They should take inspiration from leaders who are moving away from vertical static structures to more flexible groups of multidisciplinary “pods” – small teams brought together to solve specific problems. And they need to be planning for entirely different kinds of skillsets: “immersive experience designers”, “storytellers”, “growth hackers”, and “futurologists” were just some of the new types of talent CMOs said they expect to need in the years to come.

Finding the freedom to reinvent

The reality is, there’s no longer any part of the business that isn’t impacted by marketing in some way. And the expectations on consumer goods CMOs are growing significantly as a result.

CMOs must therefore ensure they give themselves the freedom to take on this expanded role, balancing the need to deliver the marketing basics brilliantly and cost-effectively with the need to help the whole business drive real growth. It’s a complex challenge, for sure. But doing something different, something innovative, something better, always is.

Laura Gurski is senior managing director, global lead of consumer goods and services at Accenture.

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