Futuristic image of a marketing executive looking at screens
Opinion9 Challenges for CMOs in 2024
Tuesday, January 2, 2024

With the rise of GenAI and all the hoopla around it, it’s hard for marketers to see the forest from the trees. We're poised for more turbulence and disruption than ever before.

AI is going to change so much about how we do what we do, but there are constants:

  • Audiences will remain human beings (at least for now) and their attitudes, perceptions and behaviors will still be influenced by marketing and advertising.
  • Great ideas will be generated and executed in new ways, but it will still take talent and experience to recognize a great idea and bring it to life.
  • Marketing departments will still be challenged to do more with less, but will now have tools to deliver it.
  • And the marketing technology landscape will continue to be as cluttered, complex and confusing as it’s ever been.

All of this will take place during a sure-to-be-crazy year—elections and wars are both things that make the economy uncertain, and markets hate uncertainty. The frenzy around getting AI right is only to make waters more choppy.

So, let’s start there.

Challenge #1: Picking the Right AI

According to theresanaiforthat.com, there are currently 10,861 AIs for 9,962 tasks and 4,847 jobs in their database. There are an estimated 57,000+ AI companies in the world today with at least 15,000 of them in the United States

No matter which way you cut it, that’s a lot.

But not all AIs are created equal. One of the biggest obstacles to AI adoption will be choice. Picking the best tools for the right use cases and using them in the right ways to get the best output is an opportunity for competitive advantage for savvy brands. While the pace of innovation means that what’s best today may not be best in a week.

Take a look at the output for the exact same prompt in MidJourney and Adobe Firefly and you’ll get dramatically different results.

Woman generated by MidJourney
Woman generated by Adobe Firefly

ChatGPT is great at writing emails or blog posts, but Pi.ai has a more natural human voice, Perplexity.ai offers sources to validate its responses, and Jasper.ai allows you to export copy for dozens of marketing formats at once.

CMOs should create a disciplined approach to identifying the most meaningful use cases, evaluating tools, documenting workflows, training teams to use them, driving adoption of best practices among teams, and monitoring emerging innovations to continue to optimize performance.

Challenge #2: New Lenses for Brand and Performance

Today's CMO sits between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, performance marketing has gotten harder. The majority of marketers are seeing declining efficiency. Facebook's removal of targeting capabilities, Apple's IDFA changes, and the impending cookie apocalypse have all contributed to this. Marketers addicted to predictive analytics and guaranteed ROI are trembling with withdrawal shakes.

The obvious implication is a shift in focus on brand. But media consumption has fractured the mass market into a million omnidirectional screens of glass. Opportunities to achieve the scale we used to reach through TV are few and far between.

This impacts companies across every industry. In a recent survey by BtoB Marketing, 80% said they are highly focused on growth marketing while 76% said they are on CX.

The formula for competitive advantage and sustainable growth in this environment is to bring together performance and brand into a meaningful and measurable approach. That means thinking about them in different ways. Instead of performance and brand, we’ll see greater emphasis on “growth marketing” and “customer experience.”

Successful CMOs need an empathy-driven approach that bridges the gap between them—and they need to have their data and technology in order to measure success.

Challenge #3: The Mar-Tech Reckoning

The average enterprise spends $15 million per year on mar-tech. For many large brands, that figure soars into many tens of millions. In 2023, it accounted for 30% of marketing budgets in 2022 and has been climbing at about 15% per year.

However, there has been a precipitous drop in brands actually using the martech they’ve been throwing money at. When asked what percentage of martech capabilities they actually use, CMOs in 2023 said 33%—down from 58% in 2020.

In 2023, CMOs said they actually use 33% of mar-tech capabilities—down from 58% in 2020

This is a major source of vulnerability for CMOs who struggle to articulate the ROI on those investments—or explain why they aren’t even using most of their capabilities.

Image of man using burning money to light a cigar

Much of this waste comes from redundant platforms gathered over time. In a recent martech audit for one of our clients at Traction, we uncovered $3.5M in potential annual savings by consolidating vendors.

Another reason is that people either don’t know how to use the capabilities they have or don’t want to. In a conversation over drinks with a senior marketing director at a large brand, she shared with me. “We paid all this money for all this tech and no one uses it because it’s a pain in the ass.”

At a time when “do more with less” is a challenge facing the majority of marketers, identifying millions of dollars of wasted money will be a challenge worthy of taking on.

Relieving tech debt is only the tip of the iceberg. CMOs will need to clean and organize their data to take advantage of AI, navigate consumer privacy regulation, develop strategies for a post-cookie world, and clearly tying marketing measurement to business outcomes will all be challenges related to mar-tech that CMOs need to address.

Or risk losing control of it…

Challenge #4 - Rebranding Marketing for the C-Suite

Etsy. UPS. Anheuser-Busch. In the final days of 2023, we saw a stream of headlines about CMOs being let go—and not being replaced.

Marketing needs a rebrand. According to Gartner, 55% of leaders feel marketing has an inflated view of its importance. That’s reflected not only in the elimination of a handful of CMO roles, but in a shift of responsibilities from marketing to IT. In 2023 alone, there was a 27% decrease in the ownership of new mar-tech by CMOs.

in 2023, there was a 27% decrease in the ownership of new mar-tech by CMOs.

For sure, shifting ownership of mar-tech to IT isn’t going to make your marketing better.

Many of these CMO jobs are being replaced by Chief Operating Officers, Chief Commercial Officers, Chief Growth Officers and Chief Business Officers. Maybe that’s ok—sometimes a rebrand calls for a name change—but the implication is often that marketing simply won’t get done.

Last week, I spoke to one marketer at a multi-billion dollar company who had put all of their marketing under a “growth” leadership umbrella. They saw their budget plummet and get such scrutiny over what’s left that they don’t even use it. “It’s not worth the hassle to put together a program,” they told me.

Marketers need to clearly demonstrate their value to the business. This means making sure marketing orgs are aligned around the company’s business goals, and that your team is hitting them.

Many CEOs believe in the power of marketing, even if they havent been marketers before. CMO tenure is notoriously short—but that is in large part because the successful ones are being promoted to operator roles.

The role of marketing is more important than ever. As more and more of commerce and media is driven by digital, marketing doesn’t just drive squishy (in the eyes of a CEO or CFO) metrics like awareness or purchase intent. It drives revenue directly. And as marketers know, those squishy metrics are a critical step in the journey to that revenue.

Maybe marketing does need a name change, maybe it doesn’t. But it certainly needs a rebrand to reshape the attitudes and perceptions of what “marketing” means.

Challenge #5 - Reshaping the Marketing Org

One foundational step in that marketing rebrand will be a marketing reorg. There have already been fundamental changes in how and where work gets done. Obviously, AI is about to reshape how content gets developed, how ideas are generated, how research is conducted, and how documentation is written.

In a meeting of the Futureproof Project back in February, Amit Shah, the CEO if Instalily.ai (and former president and CMO of 1-800-flowers) warned attendees, “AI won’t take your job. But a person using AI will.”

Well, according to a Gartner poll later in the year, CMOs say they will replace 22% of their staff with AI in the next 18 months.

CMOs say they will replace 22% of their staff with AI in the next 18 months.

That’s both ambitious and terrifying, but despite reduced headcounts, there will continue to be a war for talent.

The nature of how marketing gets done is changing. As an industry, we’re scraping the surface of leveraging the mar-tech we already have, let alone what we’re going to buy to avoid “getting left behind.” Media and measurement will continue to be as messy a landscape as ever. Digital experiences will need to be better. Creative ideas will need to rise above the landscape that will be more cluttered than ever.

Business leaders are going to need to think hard about how they structure organizations to woo talent. Traction has adopted a fully remote, Liquid Workforce model that enables us to provide top quality talent for all the things that brands need to drive growth today. It’s been successful because that is we’re seeing a lot of talent wants out of a workplace.

Will your team be remote, offsite or hybrid? What work will be done internally, by a consultant or with an agency? How will you train them? What can AI really do for you? how will you build ops around it?

There are a lot of questions that CMOs will need to address, but “is the status quo good enough?” will not be one of them.

Challenge #6 - Building DTC to take on RMNs

A couple of months ago, I found myself drinking wine around a firepit with a group of CMOs right after attending a Retail Media conference. They were astounded that the RMNs seemed to think that the money flooding into that space would come from new budgets, not existing ones.

Every retailer on the planet has seemingly started an RMN, but most are undifferentiated and commoditized in their offerings. Amazon is going to be to RMNs what Meta was to performance marketing for much of the past decade. The vast majority of RMN budgets will go to them. Others will consolidate to achieve scale and have a chance to compete.

But retail media will become a ubiquitous cost of doing e-commerce. Unless you own the relationship with your customers.

Essentially, there are two metrics that ultimately matter—lifetime value and customer acquisition cost. Brands are going to invest in strategies to build DTC relationships that they can own without paying a retail media “tax” that destroys their margins. Acquisition costs still exist, so savvy marketers will place an increased focus on LTV as a metric.

Lifetime is a long-term kind of thing. To be successful, brands will need to provide better experiences and more value to consumers. They will need to give people clear reasons to do business with them directly and create more engagement to keep customers close. And they'll need to measure in a way that clearly validates their impact on the business.

Challenge #7 - TikTok as a performance channel

Many marketers have struggled to maintain performance over the past few years. Privacy regulations and Meta’s voluntary changes to limit targeting have been the primary culprits.

One CMO said to me not too long ago, “We had a good thing going with Facebook. I can’t believe they’re walking away from it.”

Meta was the 90 pound gorilla in performance marketing. It still weighs about 75 pounds, despite the targeting issues because their scale is so great and their algorithm so effective. But they’re no longer the only game in town.

TikTok is rapidly growing in sophistication as a performance marketing channel. They claim that 65% of TikTok users have followed or made a purchase from a brand they found through TikTok.

And they are doing something that Meta has never done—telling marketers how to be successful with their algorithm. This is going to accelerate the adoption of their technology as marketers will be able to more quickly achieve success on the platform.

(If you've got an hour to kill, check this out)

Other emerging channels will also play a greater role. Amazon Prime just announced that they are adding ads to their streaming app unless you pay an extra three bucks a month. Video ads are inherently more measurable than traditional TV and as inventory scales, it will unlock more opportunity for advertisers to re-engage audiences at the top of the funnel.

CMOs will need to take a fresh look at their approach to media and creative to ensure they are optimizing their advertising investment.

Challenge #8 - Understanding Gen Z’s Sense of Humor

Pop-Tarts broke the internet on New Year’s Day with their stunt at the Pop-Tart Bowl where the winning team ate the mascot after he plummeted into a giant toaster.

Devouring brand mascots is a bit dark—perhaps darker than many marketers might have been comfortable with in the past. It’s also hilarious.

Gen Z ate it up.

If CMOs haven’t watched The Eric Andre Show or I Think You Should Leave, you’re missing a critical opportunity to understand young customers today. You may find yourself asking, “Why is this maniac destroying his set? Why are all these people screaming? Why is this funny?”

The Eric Andre Show animate gif

This generation has a sense of humor that is bombastic and over the top. That should be no shocker given that they’ve been the first generation that grew up with iPads in their cribs and have come of age in the Donald Trump era.

When Millennials started to enter the workforce, marketers recognized that there was a fundamental difference between their perspective on the world and that of previous generations.

Gen Z takes that to a whole new level.

Understanding this is a great opportunity for your brand. Those that are able to capture the right brand voice will be able to create powerful affinity with your customers! It will help you evaluate creative ideas that perhaps seem off putting to you, but that might be incredibly effective with your audience.

Challenge #9 - Navigating Polarization

Election years always provide for high-drama, but this one promises to be the most polarizing in history. Lightning rod issues—abortion, immigration, transgender rights, the war in Israel and Palestine—will set the stage for Americans to lose their minds.

78% of people agree companies should take action to address the important issues facing society. But that’s no simple task. Touching lightning will absolutely give you a shock.

When I wrote a blog post a few years back about our Days of Action policy at Traction giving employees two days off to participate in democracy however they saw fit, it went viral and we found ourselves on the front page of Breitbart being shown as evidence that “liberals really are paid to protest.”

Traction on the cover of Breitbart

We got a tsunami of social media taunts—I’m talking tens of thousands of tweets and comments. I even got death threats.

At Traction, we just pulled out a surfboard and rode that Big Kahuna. The trolling actually drew tons of positive attention and accolades. The net impact was great for business.

For some, the math will work out. Taking a stand on abortion rights may endear you to half the country and cause the other half to boycott you—but if most of the boycotters weren’t customers anyway and you gain more customers on the other side of the aisle, it may be worth the risk.

Large, public companies don't always have the luxury of taking a stand — the VP of marketing for a $15 billion retailer confided in me that her brand wouldn’t touch controversy with a 10-foot pole. The likelihood of alienating 50% of their customers—and employees—was far too daunting.

But brands can still do what's right (and gain the benefit of taking a stand) without insulting and alienating customers who have different views. Taking a stand simply has to become sustainable.

Can you do that? Should you? The answer is not the same for every brand, but it will most certainly be a challenge to navigate in 2024.

About the author
Adam Kleinberg

Adam Kleinberg is CEO and founding partner of Traction. He has written over 75 articles in publications like to AdAge, Adweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Mashable and Digiday.

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