Picture: 123RF/rawpixel
Picture: 123RF/rawpixel

Is marketing about to take its place at the boardroom table after years of complaint that it has only Cinderella status among the directors?

In the first of a new series of surveys of the role of chief marketing officers (CMOs) in SA, the VML SA advertising agency has found that 40% of respondents now handle annual budgets of more than R50m. This, according to experts, is a 15%-20% increase over the past five years.

VML CEO Jarred Cinman says: "We talked to the marketing heads of some of SA’s largest companies. The scale of their budgets is indicative of the value marketing brings to organisations and brands.

"It also shows how marketers have evolved from managing the three Ps (price, place and promotion) to doing much more. Today they’re responsible for increasing sales, improving omnichannel customer experiences and reinventing the customer relationship through digital innovation."

A leading fast-moving consumer goods marketing head concurs: "I think for the first time bean counters are valuing the contribution we make to the success of the business.

"We’re no longer seen as a nice-to-have when times are good, but as an integral part of the success of any organisation, particularly in tough periods. The challenge for our community now is to prove our mettle and make sure we have the right people coming into the discipline."

The series of surveys will become quarterly studies of the state of marketing in SA.

At this stage VML considers the survey a dipstick, but as it grows it will become the definitive research into the role of CMOs across all sectors.

One of the more noteworthy findings shows that 40% of respondents are spending the largest portion of their budget on digital and social media projects. The same percentage of respondents report gaining their greatest return on investment (ROI) from such projects. Only 13% continue to see returns from traditional channels like print and broadcast media and public relations.

Though a large number of respondents say they spend the most, and gain the greatest returns, from digital channels, data analytics receives the least ROI.

A third (33%) of respondents say their primary focus for this year is to make better use of existing data. All respondents would be investing in training their teams in data analysis and related digital skills.

Some marketers say they have too much data to distil. Cinman says: "It seems clear that getting to grips with the huge amount of data now available to marketers is going to be where the biggest advantage lies for the canniest of SA’s marketing leaders."

Aside from data-related issues, respondents face the challenges of increased competition and consumer intolerance to advertising (each rated at 20%, equally with data). This means marketers have to work harder to find new ways to engage with consumers, hence more than 25% said their primary focus will be on creating customer experiences.

All respondents are also using three or more agencies to support their marketing efforts, with a third of them using more than five external agencies.

Cinman asks: "Is this an indication that marketers still feel they need specialists for each discipline?

"Are these rosters shrinking, or growing?"