Gartner is urging CMOs to get real with their plans for 2021, warning the budget cuts of 2020 will not be as temporary as they had hoped because directors already have marketing earmarked for further cuts.

The analysts polled 381 large organisation CMOs on their experiences last year and their plans for 2021 for the latest CMO Strategic Priorities Survey 2020-2021 report.

The results suggest marketing leaders’ budget expectations are out of step with the plans of their higher-ups – based on responses in Gartner’s separate 2020 Board of Directors Survey – and CMOs will need to make more tough decisions this year.

Bounce back

More marketing departments had less to work with as the pandemic worsened throughout last year, culminating in 65 per cent reporting significant budget decreases by October.

But most expect the money will be back this year and have ambitious plans to expand digital capabilities and rescale many of the strategies that worked in 2020.

Budget cuts progressively worsened for marketing departments last year. Source: CMO Strategic Priorities Survey 2020-2021.

However, Gartner is concerned their ambitions could be out of step with the realities of a pandemic which gives no regard to business planning.

“Although this budgetary optimism may fuel this long list of documented ambitions,” Gartner analysts write in the report, “it is deeply concerning, not the least because it places marketing out of sync with the expectations of the board of directors and the CFO.”

According to the analysts, which conducted a similar survey of board of directors, “Marketing has been clearly identified as a function earmarked for cuts.”

Further cuts will be even more challenging for marketing departments in 2021, Gartner says, with many having already shed “easy” options, like spending on events, offline media and brand sponsorships.

More budget pressure this year is more likely to put marketing technology and labour in the crosshairs, according to to the report, which makes CMO plans to rescale and reinvent what worked last year tough.

Marketing executives need to develop their own skills to address the capacity and capital challenges they will face again this year. However, Gartner notes, in response to questions on improving personal skills, marketing leaders have digital know-how and financial acumen lowest on the list of their own skills priorities.

Two critical skills for marketing leaders remain low priorities. Source: CMO Strategic Priorities Survey 2020-2021.

Gartner analysts write more financial acumen will allow CMOs to better defend their priorities and strengthen a usually “tenous” relationship with the CFO. Digital skills meanwhile are necessary for CMOs’ confidence in improving the c-suite’s digital understanding.

“These two skillsets, financial acumen and digital know-how, should be priorities for CMOs to address 2021’s economic uncertainty and to help the business make effective decisions across all types of digital business initiatives.”

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