Gartner Survey Shows 73% of CMOs Will Fall Back on Low Risk, Low Return Strategies for 2021

Seventy-three percent of chief marketing officers (CMOs) report they will rely on existing customers to fuel growth in 2021, rather than looking to develop new markets, according to Gartner, Inc. The inaugural Gartner CMO Strategic Priorities Survey 2021 shows that 39% of CMOs plan to increase sales of existing products to existing customers, while 34% will introduce new products to existing customers in 2021.


However, this low-risk approach, while warranted given the tumultuous year of 2020, is at odds with CMOs desire to reinvent and rescale key strategies developed over the course of the last year.


“Focusing on existing customers has a number of benefits for CMOs, namely being low cost and low risk. But low risk is matched by relatively low return,” said Jay Wilson, vice president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice. “At the same time, we see CMOs being overly ambitious in terms of the change they expect to bring to how their organizations interact with customers. With the scale of recent change organizations have experienced as a result of COVID-19, CMOs must take care to ensure their own strategic approach is matched to the enterprise’s aspirations.”


In a survey of 381 marketers from September through October 2020, Gartner explored 11 key marketing strategies that would be either rescaled to accelerate new growth, reinvented to be better positioned post-pandemic, returned to pre-pandemic levels, reduced lower than pre-pandemic levels, or retired because they are no longer sustainable. Half of the respondents reported they intend to rescale or reinvent six of the 11 strategies, while nearly one-third (31.8%) plan to rescale or reinvent eight of the 11 strategies.


“CMOs cannot reinvent and rescale everything while still executing effectively and remaining agile in a year that promises more challenges. Those who attempt to reinvent too much simultaneously risk failing to do any one thing right while overburdening their teams,” said Augie Ray, vice president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice. “CMOs must try to avoid reinventing the wheel in 2021 and remember: For every strategy you rescale, you must choose another to reduce or retire. For every strategy you try to reinvent, another must return to pre-pandemic levels and approach.”


To realize the greatest returns in 2021, CMOs should consider the following:


  1. Be Selective – CMOs must prioritize what they choose to reinvent, rescale, reduce, retire or merely return to pre-pandemic levels. They should focus on the efforts that are most essential in the short-term, most aligned with their growth strategies for 2021, and best suited for their organization’s capabilities and resources. The rest should be delayed, deprioritized or delegated.

  2. Document Decisions – Make sure that every decision to reinvent, rescale, reduce, retire or return to pre-pandemic levels are properly documented for other stakeholders. This will ensure the rest of management that marketing’s priorities are focused on the highest returning initiatives.

  3. Scenario Plan – While CMOs should make tough trade-offs today, they should also institute formal scenario planning to support a constant cycle of iterative adjustments as 2021 economic conditions warrant.