Be the best CMO you can in 2023

In an ever-evolving world, be it new business trends or macro-economic fluctuations, Chief Marketing Officers need to be agile and internally reflective if they are to become more successful leaders.

The past three years have been unforgiving for brands that didn’t, or weren’t able to, adapt in the face of massive challenges. These events have heightened the reality that more than ever Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are executive leaders operating in complex, fast-moving, and unpredictable environments. While we all hope 2023 does not bring more major disruption it would naïve to bet on a settled year. 

If you’re a CMO, or marketing leader, there are a host of challenges and trends for you to keep your eye on as the year rolls on. You will best serve your people, brand/s, and organisation if you see yourself as a strategic leader more than senior marketer. 

These trends are amongst those you should have a view on and a plan for.

More of a reality than a trend is increasing VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). In recent times VUCA has characterised the world and the context organisations operate in. Even as the pandemic wanes, global issues such as the Ukraine war, climate change associated disruption, and economic realities, are VUCA.

To help mitigate VUCA, CMOs and their people need to be agile and responsive to changing circumstances. One strategy is building high-performing teams. Teams exist to produce results and do so by connecting individual effort and organisational goals. High-performing teams are diverse, agile, focused, and resilient. They are an invaluable resource for leaders because they are capable of sustaining delivery in the face of change and challenge.

Customer demand and buying behaviours are a major consideration for marketers in 2023. While New Zealand’s journey back to productive inflation levels may have begun, inflation is unlikely to return to the magic 1-3 percent zone in 2023. 

This will leave marketers trying to determine the most cost-efficient ways to maintain or increase brand awareness and loyalty so they are seen as ‘keepers’, not cut from their customer’s budgets. With their own budgets limited more than normal by uncertain earnings, marketers will need to be strategic and creative.

An embedded challenge for CMOs is the talent shortage. As well as being in short supply, talent is becoming more expensive. Like Aotearoa, six of the big, rich G7 economies also have near record employment levels. While employment rates are forecast to dip, the market will take time to change and it will remain difficult to retain and attract talent for much of the year. 

In the revenue-challenging times ahead paying more, let alone more
than the market, is a risk. To counter the talent shortage, marketing leaders need to be proactive in building their employment brand by developing talent pipelines and providing non-pay opportunities such as professional development or job flexibility to build talent tenure.

Another challenge comes on the back of the adage ‘great digital is great data’. Great data enables deep relevance – an idea that’s been around as long as marketing. Aside from achieving relevance by capturing and expressing a creative idea that appeals to most of a target audience, relevant digital marketing is built on data. 

However, changes to data privacy policies and regulations continue to impact digital analytics. International moves to phase out third-party cookies are an example. According to Salesforce’s recent ‘State of Marketing’ report, 68 percent of marketers indicated that they have a defined strategy to shift to first-party data.
Do you?

The blurring, even merging, of marketing and customer experience is another mountain to climb. Marketers get value from two groups: new customers and existing customers. As prospects and customers increasingly demand truly relevant and personalised experiences, marketers need to ensure that their strategies are aligned with the overall customer experience, and that the customer experience delivers on the promise of the marketing. 

This comes down to internal relationships. Gaps between marketing and operations and customer teams often hinder the smooth integration and personalised experiences that customers want. In order to succeed, marketers must collaborate and integrate with other departments better than before.

While the prospect is not new, since ChatGPT’s public launch in November 2022 AI has started to dramatically disrupt content creation and is a fast-moving challenge in 2023. While AI-powered tools are maturing quickly and seem destined to pick up much of the leg work of content development, they also get some things wrong. 

It may be tempting to put AI in the ‘later’ basket while this maturing process takes place but marketers need to learn quickly and to leverage AI effectively, or risk being left behind by more forward-looking competitors. 

On a different plane, the identity of New Zealanders is evolving as our society becomes increasingly multicultural, particularly with the rise and rise of Te Ao Māori. This presents a unique challenge for Kiwi marketers, who need to ensure that their marketing strategies are not only culturally sensitive but genuinely connect with the diverse backgrounds of their target audiences. In order to successfully lead teams that create marketing that engages with diverse customers, CMOs must nurture in their teams a genuine understanding of the cultural norms and values of their target audiences.

As well as facing these and other as yet unknown external factors that will shape 2023, all leaders need to look internally to be their best. There is much insight and best-practice available about ‘leading yourself’ well so that you can lead others effectively. 

The past three years have sped up our understanding of the dynamics of pressure lifting performance but
stress reducing it and harming wellbeing. We value resilience more and leaders should continue to learn how to balance empathy and the
drive for results.

One powerful self-leadership practice in a challenging world, or day, is deliberately seeking solitude. Time when you can simply think, allowing your mind to sort through things and gain clarity. It’s nice if solitude can be on a beautiful, remote beach or a mountainside but it is also possible to find solitude and space to think on a bus, driving home, or sitting looking out the office window.

Managing is organising resources. In challenging times, it is easy to be drawn into managing. Leading is seeing the bigger picture, developing visions and strategies, and empowering others to make them real. 2023 is ripe for leadership. 

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About Tony Gardner

Tony Gardner is a leadership development specialist and leadership team coach, a former CEO, and has an international advertising and marketing background.

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