Balancing Optimism and Caution: CMO Barometer 2024 Results

Around 800 CMOs from 11 countries shared their industry forecasts for 2024 in a joint survey by Serviceplan Group and the University of St.Gallen. Although the outlook for the upcoming year is mixed and cautious, there is a definitive positive tendency.

What will be the defining trend in marketing in 2024? Will budgets face drastic cuts, or can we anticipate a slight increase? What skills will become indispensable in 2024’s landscape?  For its annual study, the Serviceplan Group partnered with prominent Swiss academic institution, the University of St.Gallen, to gather exclusive insights from international brand and marketing managers.

This year, the study expanded to include eleven countries, extending beyond Europe. On the list are Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. The foundation of the study1  conducted in September 2023 is an online survey followed by an analysis of data from 767 international CMOs and marketing decision-makers.

Key learnings from the CMOs responses:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI), Emotional Branding and Content Creation will dominate the agenda for CMOs in 2024.
  • Despite a focus on tech, belief in emotionally resonant brands remains strong. Successful marketing in 2024 will merge artificial with emotional intelligence.
  • CMOs will tackle significant challenges simultaneously, which require superhero-like skills: openness to trends and ideas, interconnected thinking and agility.
  • The perception of agencies as mere idea factories for advertising is evolving. CMOs now seek partners with a challenger mindset and a ‘can do – will do’ attitude, who offer proactive strategies and innovative ideas that lead to impact.

Balancing budgets and expectations: marketing’s economic landscape

While a significant 46% of participants anticipate no major industry changes from an economic perspective, a hopeful 36% foresee moderate to significant economic improvement for marketing teams.

The trend towards optimism extends to marketing budgets. Over a third of respondents predict at least a slight increase in their 2024 marketing budget, with nearly a quarter expecting a minimum rise of 5%. However, for every third participant, uncertainty about the 2024 financial year is mirrored in their planned marketing budgets: investments and expenditures are set to remain the same.

Serviceplan Group CEO Florian Haller interprets this learning from the agency viewpoint: “Although the results of this year’s CMO Barometer still show caution when it comes to the economic situation and investments, the trend is clearly pointing to optimism. That gives me confidence that we will face these challenges together and grow with them. At our side, we have an exciting new tool: if used correctly, AI can make our daily work easier, provide solutions to complex problems and take innovation to a whole new level.”

AI and EQ as the success blend for 2024

AI, machine learning, and marketing automation are set to continue their industry dominance, with 83% of CMOs identifying this as the biggest tendency for 2024. This trend has dramatically ascended from fifth place to first compared to last year results (an increase of approximately 20%), nudging sustainability from the top spot to fourth.

Content Creation and Emotional Branding share the second and third spots in the rating, with both trends garnering 82% of votes. This suggests that the synergy between AI and emotionally-targeted brand building will be the predominant trend of next year. Concurrently, the professionalization of marketing practices, including content creation and omnichannel marketing will remain highly relevant.

Simon Philip Rost, Chief Marketing Officer at GE Healthcare Solutions for Enterprise Imaging, summarises the tent poles for successful communication in 2024: “Hyper-personalisation, advanced analytics and generative AI. And always in the context of strengthening brand purpose, sustainability and social responsibility.”

While AI is generally accepted as a prevailing trend, there are significant variations when comparing its adoption across countries. The UK and the Netherlands prioritize aligning with the most suitable formats and achieving higher relevance, rather than establishing new processes and structures. The Belux region leans towards data-driven and omnichannel marketing as their primary tools. France, conversely, exhibits a notably low interest in these tools, opting instead for ‘Pricing’ and ‘E-Commerce/Social Commerce’. Unlike other countries, France also displays a distinct lack of interest in the AI trend, showing a preference for ‘Content Creation’ and ‘Emotional Branding’.

One topic that has not made it to the CMOs’ top agenda yet is NFTs and Metaverse, with 24% of votes. A new subject gaining attention this year is cultural marketing, encompassing gaming and pop culture – 42% of respondents agree that this area holds potential.

Beyond tech skills: the rise of open-mindedness

AI and tech skills brought to life in a strategic and creative way – this is a successful combination according to the survey results. ‘Analytical & technical skills’, followed by ‘Strategic Thinking’ and ‘Creativity and Innovation’ formed the top three skills needed for a marketing team to thrive in 2023.

Alongside ramping up AI capacities and giving firepower to innovations development, soft skills, such as keeping an open mind become critically important in the industry. Open-mindedness is the leading skill CMOs chose as a focus for themselves and their teams in 2024 (29%). It is followed by ‘Flexibility, Adaptability and Agility’ (26%) and ‘Developing Leadership and Empathy’ (21%).

“CMOs generally need to be jack-of-all-trades who can be both a creative right-brain thinker as well as an analytical left-brain thinker. The ability to bring together art and science in the business is not a skill that everyone has, especially when stepping into conversations in the boardroom.” comments Ahmed El Gamal​, Senior Marketing Director, Jumeirah Hotels, AE.

Kerstin Köder, Head of Marketing EMEA at SAP, describes the required superpower of CMOs as follows: “Be the connector and orchestrator of the end-to-end customer journey, even if we don’t own all the touch points ourselves. Who else ensures that customers experience an exciting journey? CMOs juggle external market data, internal process knowledge and employee management, are always close to the customer and close to stakeholders, always combining the necessary technical know-how with creativity.”

Agencies must adapt and innovate amid growing in-house expertise

As in-house expertise continues to grow, agencies face heightened expectations. In 2024, agencies are tasked not only to inspire, but also to adapt to an ever-changing environment and implement ideas as effective, equal partners.

Creativity, innovation, and vision are the top attributes 33% of CMOs expect from their agencies. Moreover, agencies should demonstrate adaptability, agility, and execution abilities to ensure future success. ‘Adaptability’ leads the skill ranking, garnering 10% of votes, followed by ‘Creativity and Innovation’, and ‘Market/Business Knowledge’.

“I expect agencies to even carry out tasks that are unexpected of them. To do this, they need to be able to transform data into useful insights and generate compelling storytelling.” adds Francesco Cordani, Head of MarCom, Samsung Italy​.

“For CMOs, agencies as challengers are crucial. The clear expectation is to accurately assess new trends and developments, present concrete opportunities and generate real impact through intelligent implementation strategies.” sums up Felix Bartels​, CMO Serviceplan Group​.

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