CMOs and marketing leaders face many, varied challenges, and they’re constantly evolving. The macro-economy has had a major impact on marketing budgets for many CMOs in 2023. Emerging technologies like AI have transformed the marketing landscape in massive ways that may not be understood fully for years to come. The end of third-party cookies has made acquiring first-party data a top priority.
And that's just some of the newer challenges from this year alone. There's still the usual stuff many CMOs have been grappling with for some time: digital transformation, balancing long-term brand creation and management, understanding rapidly changing customer behavior, building and leading teams in remote and hybrid setups... The list goes on.
In this article, we’ve pulled together some of the biggest CMO challenges 2023 has presented to our community. We've also added some quick advice on how to overcome them if you’re in a similar circumstance.
Editor's note: Some quotes have been edited for clarity and length.
Balancing short-term and long-term marketing goals
“Finding the right balance between top-of-funnel efforts and conversion-driving activations. Simultaneously, we're A/B testing/measuring everything, optimizing and amplifying what works, and pivoting if necessary, which is extremely challenging.
"The digital ecosystem is crowded with brands competing for consumers' attention, making it cost-prohibitive for some to keep customer acquisition efforts going long-term.” - Ewelina Aiossa, Co-founder & CMO of Clinical Skin
Maintaining a flexible marketing strategy requires an agile approach. It needs to allow for pivoting based on real-time analytics and consumer feedback. A dedicated team or tool in your techstack for monitoring digital channels and consumer behavior can provide you with the up-to-date information you need. You can then capitalize on opportunities and cut back on what isn't working.
“Staying in the long-term marketing and brand game and not falling into the short-term performance marketing motion. Also, having a holistic approach to marketing. Revenue comes from both new and existing business, but existing business often gets deprioritized or not measured properly.” - Sanja Gabler, CMO at Trapets AB
Your long-term and short-term marketing activities' metrics need to be clear and aligned with your business goals. They must be regularly reviewed and aligned with the company's overarching objectives and ensure they're driving revenue. This way you can hopefully ensure that both are in harmony.
“We work under pressure to deliver short-term results, but we also need to focus on long-term brand building and customer loyalty. It's a balancing act that requires careful planning and execution. Today's customers expect a personalized, seamless, and consistent experience across all touchpoints. We need to ensure that the brand delivers on this promise and creates a positive customer experience.” - Pedro Wald
Agile methodologies in planning stages will allow for adapting to short-term changes. This can allow you to pivot and capitalize without losing sight of the brand's long-term vision.
“Orchestrating functional activities between multiple teams, and sometimes making the non-marketing leadership team understand the long-term contribution of marketing and getting marketing function the right priority.” - SaiKrishna Yallapu, Head of Marketing at Brio Technologies
Marketing teams must keep non-marketing leadership up to date on the contributions and long-term impacts of marketing. You have to really show the value you and your team are providing to the business. Evidence from case studies and past campaigns can be extremely useful in driving the point home.
Resource management and budget constraints
“The biggest challenge right now is delineating between what to build and what to buy. We have an extensive portfolio of marketing programs, and we choose to keep many things in-house. While we retain total control over the projects, we sometimes stretch ourselves thin.
"Judicious external investments can go a long way to helping to meet our marketing goals while keeping our internal team engaged. How do I make that case for each new venture? It's a tough field to navigate.” - Amy Dickson, Director of MarCom at Dockyard
Regular ROI analyses are important when analyzing the benefits of external investments. Provide case studies or examples where external resources outperformed in-house efforts (or vice-versa) to strengthen your case.
“My biggest challenge is prioritizing resources and allocating them most effectively. Resources primarily being people's time and budgets. There are so many changes happening in marketing and the economy that require flexibility and reprioritization on a fairly regular basis. I'm trying to stay agile to remain open to reallocating resources on the fly.” - Brady Cohen, Fractional CMO
By tying resource allocation to strategic goals, you can create strategies allowing for quick decision-making during changes. This is especially important when collaborating with other departments, like sales or RevOps.
“Prioritization of campaigns and leveraging limited budget to yield maximum results. In a time of economic slowdown, we're all suffering the consequences. So, as a marketing team, we've had to find our very specific focus.
"We're finding ways to convert target audiences into definitive prospects using low-cost/no-cost Brand Awareness campaigns. It's a challenging but extremely exciting task to overcome.” - Josh Shulman, Head of Marketing Growth at Innovecs
You can do community-building and guerrilla marketing as creative and organic marketing strategies at a low cost. They can yield significant results with minimal financial outlay.
Evolving marketing landscapes and adapting to change
“Managing new inputs derived from rapid iteration of things like positioning, messaging, or customer insights. Building upon incomplete, yet strong signals is an art rather than a science during the early stages of growth. This can be a challenge.” - Ben Virdee-Chapman, VP of Marketing at Gig Wage
It's important to keep your team and the rest of the business up to date in circumstances like these. Regular training, workshops, or brainstorming sessions can help your team in getting to grips with incomplete signals. Use this as a foundation to turn them into actionable strategies.
“The biggest challenge in my role right now is the ever-evolving landscape we operate in. Adapting and pivoting constantly can be daunting. But it's also the spicy sauce that keeps me on my toes and fuels my passion for growth!” - Jonny Winkler, CMO of Filtersafe Automatic Screen Filtration
Staying updated with industry news, trends, and emerging platforms is essential for a marketing leader. The landscape is constantly evolving, and you need to be able to stay ahead of your competition.
Content development and continuity
“One of my biggest challenges is developing content, so thought pieces, white papers, opinion pieces, etc.
"Fresh content is critical for us as a data privacy consultancy. The marketing team uses it to attract new prospects and move them down our marketing funnel. Our content writers are client-facing delivery teams and when they get as busy as they are currently, we struggle to get fresh content produced.” - Ruth Parkinson, Head of Marketing at Securys Limited
Consider outsourcing or collaborating with industry experts for content during peak times. Guest posts or partnerships can also fill the content void and bring a fresh perspective. For the actual content, focus on pieces that can easily be adapted and repurposed into multiple forms of content. For example, a white paper can be used as the basis for articles, videos, and social posts.
“Currently, we're testing out new-to-them paid media channels as part of our mix to help a client enter a new industry segment. It's exciting because we're seeing good lead quality from one of the channels. But we have no historical data to predict if our lead nurturing will turn them into prospects, or how long it will take.
“For other industries, we're seeing poor conversion and having to pivot our plan mid-year which doesn't help with our overall annual lead goals but will be a good context for what works and what doesn't for that audience.” - Trisha Gallagher, VP of Marketing at Marketri
When testing new channels, always allocate a portion of the budget for contingency. If one channel doesn't perform as expected, you have funds to pivot and explore another avenue.
Growth strategy and execution
“I think there isn't just one challenge for marketing executives today, but the good news is that they can be integrated and addressed. Issues like efficient and effective growth, keeping your GTM teams focused on in-market accounts instead of panic prospecting, keep customers happy, and providing quality pipeline. Strong alignment, good data bias for action go a long way.” - Amy Vosko, Vice President of Revenue Marketing at PathFactory
Collaborative tools and platforms are essential for collaboration in marketing teams. Emphasize the importance of data-driven decisions, ensuring all teams are on the same page regarding growth objectives.
“I think the biggest challenge is trying to have touchpoints across every area of our marketing strategy, but not having the resource to hit them all at once. For me, it's currently about prioritizing what areas are going to be most impactful for our type of business.
“What is going to bring you the biggest ROI and establish your brand as the leader in its field? Everything else will come with more time and more resources, but it's better to do a few things really well, than everything poorly. Growth is a journey, not a race, and the way we grow in our roles, grow our teams, and grow our business is by making strategic moves over time rather than all at once.” - Charlotte Biggs, Marketing & Communications Manager at Vianet Group PLC
It's likely you'll need to initially prioritize areas with the most immediate impact on ROI, even if you need to neglect more long-term strategies. Wins should bring more resources, with which you can expand your strategy incrementally, ensuring quality over quantity.
Team management and work-life balance
“Here at Wellics, we're a diverse team of both young and experienced individuals, from all around the world. We work hard and play hard, but we also work well together. We want to create an inclusive workplace where everyone is heard, feels safe, and is supported. Our team members are the pillars supporting our company and its goals.
“We're managing workload, and burnout - mainly from previous positions. I'm also encouraging collaboration and communication, supporting career development, and navigating remote or hybrid work models. These are just some of the challenges I face daily. Prioritizing mental health, career development, and work-life balance is mandatory to build a healthy, engaged, high-performing marketing team.” - Soti Vayena, CMO at Wellics
Mental health initiatives and fostering an open communication environment are important for diversity, equity, and inclusivity. We're big fans of flexible working hours or mental health days for team members, ensuring they feel valued and supported to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Lead nurturing and sales conversion
“One of the significant challenges I face is the extended sales cycle. Nurturing leads requires an extended period before conversion. This process can be particularly challenging when potential customers are locked into existing contracts. It requires patience and a long-term perspective to maintain relationships until a conversion opportunity arises.” - Temitope Adeosun, Head of Product Marketing at Talisman Tech
CRM systems are essential for tracking potential customers, even during their contract lock-ins. Setting up automated reminders can help identify opportune moments, ensuring you remain top of mind when it's time for conversion.
This is just a snapshot of the challenges facing CMOs and marketing leaders currently. It’s clear their responsibilities are extremely broad, so it’s likely we’re only scratching the surface. If you’re looking for advice on any of the above challenges, or something we might have missed, the CMO Alliance Slack Community is the perfect place. It’s also great if you’ve got advice to share, and are looking to position yourself as a thoughtleader in the marketing space.
Many of these challenges require you to be an expert at navigating the C-Suite. Our C-Suite Masterclass can help you become a master of making your mark at the executive level.