Business of Marketing

An Inside Look at How Digital Marketing is Changing for Major Brands

November 21, 2023
Michaella Toledo
Research Strategist

On the water’s edge of New York City, AdAge hosted marketing leaders challenging the industry while adapting to changes during their Business of Brands conference. With top AdAge journalists facilitating discussion, panelists came together to tackle how digital marketing is changing for major brands. The floor-to-ceiling windows of City Winery framed the bustling city like a portrait on the wall as we heard from the creative minds behind some of our most beloved brands.

In between coffee refills and popping sponsored mints, several concepts were reiterated throughout the conference that sparked discussion during networking sessions. Here, we’ll cover the major takeaways reshaping digital marketing for major brands.

  • CMOs are evaluated differently throughout the industry, and the role is facing an identity crisis
  • Marketing teams with already sparse resources and limited power are expected to do more; especially internally
  • Brands are finding new ways to collaborate with their agencies and AI

The CMO role has a branding problem

In a twist of irony, the role of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has a branding problem. Defining the exact responsibilities of a CMO is not a straightforward task as each company tends to set its unique expectations for what this key position should achieve to demonstrate its value. 

Adding to the complexity is the inconsistency within the title itself; Chief Growth Officer, Chief Revenue Officer, and Chief Strategy Officer are all alternative labels for the Chief Marketing Officer. Some companies choose to smash titles together, creating a sort of alphabet soup with names like Chief Experience and Marketing Officer (CXMO) or Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer (CRMO) to encapsulate the multifaceted nature of the position.

What is clear is that the CMO role has a much more direct impact on a company’s income than it did previously. In today's dynamic business landscape, CMOs are not only entrusted with traditional marketing responsibilities but are increasingly viewed as pivotal contributors to overall revenue growth, requiring them to navigate and influence diverse aspects of the company's strategic vision and execution.

Digital Marketing is Changing: Marketers are expected to do more (with less)

Although responsibilities vary between companies and titles, there is an emerging trend of more CMOs being expected to drive internal change through the brand. Company culture, digital transformation, and change management are all derivatives of brand values, mission, and purpose, thus placing the CMO at the center of it all. This is at a time when 75% of CMOs report experiencing greater demands to achieve profitable growth with limited resources, making the expectation that much more daunting.

Additionally, CMOs have lost a certain amount of power within their organizations. With industry reports and customer metrics more accessible than ever, the marketing team is no longer the gatekeeper to data. Every department has its own set of data, thus opening the floodgates to opinions on what to make of it. It is up to the CMO to collect and synthesize an overwhelming amount of data to find actionable insights without being the owner of much of it. 

The marketing teams, on the other hand, are expected to be agile and creative when working within the limitations of a tight budget. Some brands, like canned water company Liquid Death, have pivoted towards providing customers with entertainment instead of competing with traditional advertising. Liquid Death’s VP of Creative at Liquid Death Mountain Water, Andy Pearson, put it this way: “We want to be the best thing you see on the Internet that day.” This mindset resulted in hilarious content that will stick with customers and facilitate sharing and online buzz.

Marketing Teams Look Different Now Than They Did Before

The pendulum between in-house teams and external experts like agencies swings in favor of one over the other every few years. It seems, that heading into 2024, the pendulum is swinging from brands depending on agencies to internal teams carrying the weight of marketing initiatives. 

Some brands are choosing to invest in the professional development of their marketing teams, which means that the brunt of ideation and strategy is coming from inside the house. Some brands are finding that by upskilling their employees, their marketers are outpacing agencies in terms of keeping up with new technologies, frameworks, and trends.

But that doesn’t mean agencies are obsolete. Many brands harness the power of agencies to execute ambitious marketing strategies by leveraging the wide variety of disciplines that in-house teams cannot emulate without significant shifts in the overhead of their organization. By doing so, brands can build on top of the foundations set by their marketing teams through diverse practitioner perspectives to create stronger, well-rounded strategies.

Agencies are natural partners for CMOs to lay the groundwork for an actionable plan for both brand and business growth with CEOs. Agencies can facilitate collaboration by identifying and achieving KPIs that CEOs are more likely to be receptive to while supporting CMOs in their vision for their brand.

Agencies and internal marketers have always had a seat at the table. In 2023, there is a new player on the team: artificial intelligence (AI). Until more brands (and agencies for that matter) adopt AI, it is unclear how deeply it should be involved in day-to-day operations, what role it plays in marketing strategy, and when it can be useful in identifying opportunities. However, one thing is for certain: brands and agencies need to spend the same amount of time training AI as they do training their team.

Let’s wrap this up…

In the dynamic landscape of digital marketing, the Business of Brands conference provided a revealing glimpse into the evolving strategies of major brands. The ambiguous nature of the Chief Marketing Officer role emerged as a significant challenge, reflecting the broader trend of marketers being tasked with driving internal change while grappling with varied and sometimes shifting expectations. The demand for CMOs to achieve more with fewer resources is on the rise, placing them at the nexus of company culture, digital transformation, and change management. In this era of transformation, the future of marketing for major brands lies in a delicate balance between human expertise and the potential of emerging technologies.

Thanks for reading.
Michaella Toledo
Research Strategist
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