Gartner: Digital isn't enough of a superpower for CMOs anymore

Analyst firm highlights two strategic skillsets that are critical for marketing leaders to continue to pursue sustainable growth

Digital is no longer for the differentiator for marketing. Instead, it’s the combination of scaled judgment and empathetic influence that will provide CMOs with the superpowers required to deliver sustainable enterprise growth.

That’s the view of a trio of Gartner senior advisors, who spoke at last week’s Gartner Symposium/Xpo on the ongoing nature of the chief marketing officer role and what it’s going to take to continue to exhibit influential impact in the enterprise.

In a keynote discussion, Gartner senior director advisory, Michael McCune; director advisory, Dean Vitté; and senior director advisory, Kristina LaRocca-Cerrone, agreed most marketers have now crossed the digital threshold.

“Maybe you feel you have just crossed it, and maybe it’s your business is not as digital as you’d like, but we’re not having the same conversations about digital business that we were even just three years ago,” LaRocca-Cerrone said.

Yet even CMOs that have made the most progress commonly face endless executional tasks. The work is also getting more complex, with the marketing remit creeping into sales, IT and customer service, Vitté said.

“Despite all the work, it feels rather transactional – obtaining an additional data point, comply with cookie regulation, and program another automated campaign,” he said. “There is this genuine feeling they aren’t making significant progress on strategic investments and brand for future market growth.”

McCune said the ruthless focus on investing in digital capabilities was absolutely necessary. “You had to build out a martech stack, enable digital commerce, lean into managing and investing into customer data. They yielded quick wins but were quickly exhausted. It’s the curse of diminishing returns,” he said.

“What Gartner research is beginning to show is sole fixation on digital doesn’t pay off. In fact, it’s damaging marketing’s strategic credibility.”

Take customer data as an example: Almost half of digital leaders say the more they invest in collecting customer data, the less incremental benefit it brings (45 per cent). “But two-thirds have already invested so much in integrating data, they have to see it through to completion,” McCune continued.

“That’s not just a marketing problem… every function is putting pressure on itself to continue to justify digital spend. The concern is sunk costs – they’re in too deep, they can’t cut losses and they have to see it through to the end.”

On top of this, marketing still commonly gets brought in at last minute to fix a business problem, do a low-value job to help a business partner, or accomplish all the things that might fit under ‘CX’. So how do CMOs break out the execution rut?

“Digital is no longer the differentiator for marketing. The key to balancing tactics and strategy is breathing new life into capabilities CMOs have had all along,” LaRocca-Cerrone said. “We call them ‘superpowers’ – scaled judgment and empathetic influence – that can be evolved for modern marketing. If you point these in new directions, they’ll help not only determine where to you are your strategic sights, they will help you bring people along with your vision.”

Exercising scaled judgment and empathetic influence

According to Gartner, scaled judgment is marketing’s ability to use data-driven insights to help the enterprise identify and act on market signals. Empathetic influence, meanwhile, is marketing’s ability to motivate others to take action on the solutions that drive positive change.

The research firm found marketing teams who pursued these two were 11 per cent more likely to report organisational revenue growth in 2021. But harnessing both requires rethinking what capabilities will take marketing from being successful today to five years from now, McCune said.

For example, in exploring the concept of scaled judgment versus capturing customer insights, McCune said martech investment has enabled marketing to automate sense and response mechanism and insights. But customers don’t sit still.

“Marketers historically assessed signals to determine course. But all the data generated today is creating so much noise and marketers are so busy attending to it, they’re missing the signals,” he argued. “The ability to distinguish the signals amid noise of data requires marketing looks and acts beyond the immediate discrete known touchpoints their organisation has immediate control of.

“Scaled judgment is marketing’s ability to use data-driven insights to help the enterprise identify and act on market signals.”

The reason marketing is well-positioned to identify signals of change in markets and customers isn’t because they have specialisation of data or access to data no one else has. It’s more about breadth of data, LaRocca-Cerrone said.

“Marketers have a unique vantage point. They have opportunity to take inference form inside outside and across the organisation and connect those inputs together,” she said.

CMOs thriving in this context lean into the complexity of data that either unlocks high-value impact or improves decision quality across the enterprise, McCune continued. “Marketers applying principles of scaled judgment get smart faster because they’re highly intentional about what signals to pay attention to and how rigorously they learn about their value. And they focus only on those that impact at an enterprise level.”  

To illustrate the point, LaRocca-Cerrone highlighted Clorox Corporation, which uses brand analysis to show how different attitudes and behaviours aligned with different degrees of product consumption. The key is marketing learning from that tool in different ways.

“Clorox is not just tracking customer behaviours but targeting experiments at them, then incrementally lifting the value of customers being targeted,” she said. “The enterprise is still getting near-term results from attitudinal tracking and can run rapid experiments, but also getting scale from existing brand analysis and are able to point that at new problems and opportunities.

“It’s a redeployment to digital marketing, but more importantly, Clorox is creating high-fidelity signals for the behaviours it’s interested in, then building space to intervene and respond to those signals, then determine if experimentation is worth it.”

Helping those outside marketing make better use of data is critical in this mix. “The enterprise is making decisions using customer data all the time. It’s an entirely different challenge to improve the judgment of business leaders biased by their siloed views,” McCune said.

“The superpower marketers have changes how they operate to equip decision makers with best-fit guidance in a way that fosters higher quality data-driven decision making in the enterprise.  It’s enabling data-driven decisions, not controlling them.”

LaRocca-Cerrone also advised CMOs to ask themselves: Do we need new data? Or can we reuse and build on what we have? And how can we connect decision makers to build on one another’s knowledge, so we call get faster, stronger and more adept?

“Taking this approach means when you do need new research, you’re researching for the right way and for the right reasons in a way that will have big impact on problems you’re trying to solve,” she added.  

Taking advantage of opportunity means changing current enterprise behaviours. And that’s where the second CMO superpower, empathetic influence comes in. This is marketing’s ability to motivate others to take action on the solutions that drive positive change.

“Pointed outwards, this looks a lot like identifying and meeting customer needs or creating pathways for customers to reflect in a way that gets them to do something different than they planned to – buying from you versus a competitor or purchase more,” McCune. “In other words, marketing.”  

But despite recognising the importance of behaviour change, only 30 per cent of marketers surveyed by Gartner believe they are good at changing internal and external audience behaviours. And with businesses, markets and socio-political environments get more complex and fraught every day, it’s clear this ability to affect change continues to be paramount.

What’s key here is bringing deep audience understanding at early-stage product development and exposing other functions to those customer needs to win true commitment. As complexities or executions inevitable arise and priorities start to shift, marketing needs to wield empathetic influence to keep cross-functional teams engaged.

“Focus on making it easier for stakeholders to participate in customer’s experience without having to become marketing or IT experts. Find way to expose the organisation to customer needs in a manner where the empathy engendered allows the organisation to accelerate and align decisions and investments,” McCune advised. “When we remove those blinders, marketing can help create experience across audience touchpoints that contribute to sustained growth.”

Or as Vitté put it, apply empathetic influence to motivate others to tackle hard challenges. “Then peel back layers of customer problems to get to core needs and tear down assumptions other functional leaders have around customers or products to ensure all processes and touchpoints reflect core needs of the customer,” he said.  

It’s this combination of scaled judgment and empathetic influence that will provide the pathway forward to becoming the CMO of tomorrow, the trio agreed.

“Marketers who are highly effective in embracing scaled judgment are expanding the scope of marketing. They’re demonstrating value and scoring higher on key objectives and getting year-on-year revenue and profit growth. And importantly, getting credit for doing so,” McCune said.

“Marketers who embrace empathetic influence are better able to deliver cohesive brand experience considered not only authentic but dependable for customers,” LaRocca-Cerrone added. “But it’s more than that. Marketers who combine the two powers are 11 per cent more likely to report organisational revenue growth.”

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