What a CEO Needs to Know About Marketing to Succeed in 2021

What a CEO Needs to Know About Marketing to Succeed in 2021

Like most things, marketing is continually evolving, and, courtesy of technology, is now changing more quickly than ever before. Crucially, this isn’t just in terms of the scheduling tool you use for your Twitter posts. It extends to the highest echelons of marketing leadership - the fundamentals of how strategy is created, executed and managed, and how it integrates within the company as a whole. Marketing leaders, organisations, and CEOs can benefit from a more scalable and flexible result with resilient communications processes.  

Recommendations for marketing leadership in 2021 

A survey of over 400 marketing leaders, run by analytical experts at Gartner, noted four key points when looking at the current processes, wants, needs, gaps and trajectories in businesses and the way they operate: 

  • Functional marketing organisation structures are the most common of all structural alignment types. Industry-, brand- and channel-specific designs are used less frequently. Still, the tide is turning as functional structures grew by 4% year-on-year from 2019 (working well with agile, agency-style operations, which are becoming an increasingly common marketing operating model) and industry-focused designs grew just 2%. Brand, channel and geocentric models decreased by as much as 5%.  
  • Two-thirds of marketers have centralised structures. Marketing leaders seek efficiencies of scale, improved responsiveness to internal needs and more concentrated skill levels in specific disciplines.  
  • Half of the marketing organisations (49%) use shared services or marketing centre of excellence (COE) structures, especially in marketing operations, content creation and analytics. 
  • Agile project management approaches were perceived to be as much as 25% more effective than traditional project management across multiple dimensions.  

The result is a recommendation that CEOs and marketing leaders look at how they approach marketing to make sure they are taking advantage of the best models available for reaching customers in 2021. Key suggestions include: 

  • Evaluate existing structures and their effectiveness; 
  • Consider the pros and cons of a centralised approach, including the limitations it brings for responding to regional or divisional needs;  
  • Experiment with shared services and service providers under the organisation of strategic leaders;  
  • Challenge your organisation’s thinking about more agile marketing, invite marketing experts and marketing leaders to educate your team on the possibilities it offers, and consider how they could be adapted to suit your business's specific needs. 

Businesses break if they are too brittle to withstand change 

Agility has been the buzzword around marketing for a long time, but in 2020 the real meaning and power of that term took on a visceral reality. Creating genuinely effective marketing strategies and implementing them is a complicated, dynamic, measurable and responsive task that requires a company to act fast. The vast majority of individuals, let alone businesses, cannot do that with a clear head. It is not enough to merely change direction - companies have to do it without panic to be effective.  

The fact of the matter is, that even if a global pandemic is well beyond the scope of normality, change is not. So, organisations need to have an infrastructure built to adapt. Marketing leaders who embrace different operating models under the direction of strategic expertise, such as fractional chief marketing officers, are proving to be the most effective and successful. Those that adopt a more agile approach are:  

  • 25% more effective than traditional project management at sensing and responding to changes in the business context as they happen  
  • 21% more effective at executing projects at or under the projected timeline  
  • 18% more effective at achieving at or under their expected budget   

To centralise or decentralise, that is the question 

There’s a common and ongoing tension within many marketing organisations around centralising or decentralising resources. On balance, organisations and marketing leaders prefer a centralised approach, especially if they have multiple regional outposts, as it helps to maintain control of the brand. However, marketing experts are aware that this approach has its limitations. In this situation, having a fractional chief marketing officer's regional expertise, for example, can allow for a centralised approach with a local understanding of the market to make it most useful. 

Marketing leaders should take advantage of shared services  

Following on from the previous point, by balancing a centralised approach but taking advantage of fractional leadership opportunities and shared services, businesses have the chance to have the best of both worlds. It’s also more cost-effective and allows for greater flexibility to change your approach if the market or circumstances change. This means using external providers from a marketing centre of excellence - a group focusing on particular expertise, skillset or function that can be leveraged by different groups within your organisation's marketing parts and directed to educate and develop their capabilities in others as required. 

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