Picture: 123RF / RAWPIXEL
Picture: 123RF / RAWPIXEL

Marketing leaders worldwide are shifting rapidly to make digital transformation real in their businesses. But are their SA counterparts doing the same?

Eight out of 10 chief marketing officers (CMOs) in the latest global survey highlight "a growing challenge for marketing leaders as they seek to move beyond optimisation and drive business transformation through digital".

The 2019 survey of 1,000 CMOs and senior marketers was done by global marketing and ad agency group Dentsu Aegis Network. Most of those polled say they recognise the imperative to transform their business in the face of digital disruption, and are taking more responsibility for product and service innovation over the next two to three years.

But CMOs are finding it difficult to make this shift: business transformation and disruptive innovation are bottom of the list of functional priorities for the second year running.

One leading fast-moving consumer goods marketing head in SA tells the FM: "Most of us recognise the importance of digital transformation, but I’m not sure that we are embracing the potential to its full capacity. It’s partly a lack of courage, bandwidth is an issue and there’s the perennial lack of skills debate. My worry is that mega-brands face the possibility of being outmanoeuvred by smaller and more nimble operations."

Across a spectrum of marketing capabilities, CMOs were asked what they believe to be important to future success versus their current ability to execute. The data shows a significant gap emerging between the two: 85% believe creativity is critical to future business success; 54% believe they are delivering well against their current strategy; and 83% identify the importance of seamless customer experience and commerce across channels, yet only 60% believe they are developing this capability well.

But the gap, it seems, is starkest in data management and analytics, where 84% identify these capabilities as important to future success, where only 49% are confident in these capabilities today. Dentsu’s study also reveals that an inability to secure long-term investment is cited as the most significant barrier to delivering on marketing strategy — rated as a top-three concern by 50% of all CMOs — ahead of both access to talent and competing boardroom agendas.

What’s more, two-thirds expect to come under more pressure to show tangible short-term results, while nearly half have a marketing strategy that plans ahead for two years or less, reflecting a business focus on near-term goals.

Softening spend is worsening these pressures. Globally, the outlook for the next 12 months is mixed, with 41% of CMOs reporting budgets as flat or declining. CMOs now have to balance optimisation, transformation and brand building with smaller budgets.

An SA marketing director concurs: "With business confidence flat and growth strangled, we’re having to do much more with far less. We are putting huge pressure on our agency partners who are battling to meet our needs. What we need is for us and them to have a better understanding of data analytics."

Dentsu’s client solutions chief, Will Swayne, says: "Much has been written about the optimal mix between performance and longer-term brand investment, but that is no longer enough. The new challenge for CMOs is to balance those pressures with the existential need to put the marketing function at the heart of customer-led business transformation."