2021 CEO Priorities: Digital Marketing or Bust

2021 yearly planner.

Despite the events of 2020, CEOs are focused on growth in 2021. And, despite continuing uncertainty as we head into 2021, CEOs are confident about the business environment 12 months from now. But many CEOs — 40% — believe growth will be slow going.

To achieve the growth necessary to survive and to be confident about what their business will look like by the close of 2021, CEOs need to figure out how they are going to achieve that.

And they may be at odds with what the CMO wants. According to Gartner research, the majority of CMOs believe recovery is going to be quick and sharp and are more likely to preserve the status quo in the meantime.

Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Headed

What we’ve learned in this past year is that the way we do business has changed forever. From a critical shift in how we work, learn, live, and search, businesses had to get creative and aggressive to stay relevant in what will now be the most important arena to do business: online.

The status quo is simply not an option for most businesses moving forward. As such, CEOs need to understand that they have no choice but to embrace digital marketing tighter than ever.

Here’s the thing about making sound investments in digital advertising and SEO: Together, these two strategies support any long-term and short-term business goal you are pursuing. The combination keeps you relevant and visible online despite current events. And it allows you to be a reliable presence for your target audience.

Companies like Google have a lot planned in 2021 (the page experience update is just one of many). Without the skills necessary to navigate their own plans and changes to the search engines, websites will forever be lost — relegated to Page 2 and beyond of the search results (what we in the industry refer to as the best place to hide a dead body).

Budgets in Focus

As businesses pivot, digital channels are set to benefit from marketing budgets in the coming year more than offline investments.

According to Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey 2020-2021, digital advertising will be the beneficiary of the most dollars.

Digital dominates the channel mix per Gartner survey.

It’s nice to see that SEO makes the top five priorities. The survey found that 69% said they would increase their investment in SEO, and 78% said the same for digital advertising.

B2C 2021 marketing budget outlook per Gartner survey.

Winning 2021

If CEOs don’t win in early 2021, they may find their company’s future at risk. The risk to business leaders is so high that many will pay whatever it takes for the highest probability of success. That means hiring the best and brightest experts who live and breathe the digital marketing channel you want to win.

According to Gartner though, in response to the pandemic, 32% of companies have shifted work from agency services to in-house employees. Yet Gartner recognizes that “this shift from working with agencies to bringing work in-house is a long-term investment and involves more financial risk than relying on a contracted partner.

Make no mistake: Not hiring the best means leaders will probably fail to compete, and they will be held accountable for failures by an increasingly knowledgeable board of directors. The motivated business competition is going to have quick-moving, aggressive digital marketers, and any businesses not in the race early will be left behind.

Understand that your competition will pull ahead if you hesitate for one moment. If you are afraid to enter the game now, by April, you will likely face a competitor that started in January. Do you want to be that person who delayed the process? Does your job depend upon success? Does your business depend on it?

Let us know if you’d like to discuss your situation. Contact us to get a free quote for digital marketing services from BCI.

FAQ: What challenges do CEOs face when aligning with CMOs’ views on growth and marketing strategies?

The synergy between CEOs and CMOs is pivotal for a company’s success. However, achieving alignment on growth and marketing strategies can be complex and challenging. One major hurdle lies in differing perspectives stemming from the inherent distinctiveness of their roles. CEOs prioritize overarching business goals, often leaning towards immediate results, while CMOs focus on long-term brand building and customer engagement. This divide can result in conflicting priorities and hinder cohesive strategy development.

Another critical challenge is effective communication. CEOs and CMOs may use disparate metrics to evaluate success. While CEOs tend to emphasize revenue and profit margins, CMOs often gauge effectiveness through metrics like customer engagement, brand reach, and ROI on marketing campaigns. Bridging this gap requires transparent communication, mutual understanding, and agreement on shared KPIs reflecting short-term gains and long-term brand equity.

The rapidly evolving digital landscape adds further complexity. CMOs must keep abreast of the latest marketing technologies and channels, adjusting their strategies to remain ahead of the curve. CEOs must weigh the risks and benefits associated with any emerging new technologies. Striking the right balance necessitates mutual respect for expertise and open discussions on embracing innovation while safeguarding the company’s financial stability.

Amid these challenges, fostering a culture of collaboration and trust is paramount. CEOs and CMOs bring unique insights to the table, and recognizing each other’s expertise is essential. Regular cross-functional meetings and joint strategy sessions provide platforms for constructively aligning goals and resolving differences. Additionally, encouraging rotational programs or job swaps between departments can offer valuable firsthand experience, promoting empathy and deepening collaboration.

Achieving alignment between CEOs and CMOs regarding growth and marketing strategies demands a multi-faceted approach. By acknowledging the divergence in perspectives, promoting transparent communication, embracing digital transformations, and nurturing a collaborative environment, organizations can overcome these challenges and pave the way for a harmonious and effective partnership.

Step-by-Step Procedure: Navigating CEO-CMO Alignment

  1. Acknowledge Divergent Roles: Recognize the inherent differences in priorities and responsibilities between CEOs and CMOs.
  2. Define Shared Objectives: Identify common goals that bridge short-term financial gains and long-term brand development.
  3. Establish Clear Communication Channels: Implement regular communication platforms to discuss strategies, expectations, and concerns.
  4. Agree on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Define metrics that reflect financial success and marketing effectiveness.
  5. Embrace Cross-Functional Meetings: Schedule joint strategy sessions to align views and address discrepancies.
  6. Promote Open Dialogue: Encourage transparent conversations about marketing innovations, risks, and potential rewards.
  7. Cultivate Mutual Respect: Foster an environment where each party values the other’s expertise and insights.
  8. Stay Abreast of Industry Trends: CMOs should continuously update themselves on emerging marketing technologies and trends.
  9. Balance Innovation and Stability: CEOs and CMOs must find an equilibrium between investing in new strategies and maintaining financial stability.
  10. Consider Rotational Programs: Implement job rotations between departments to enhance understanding and collaboration.
  11. Create Shared Vision: Develop a unified growth strategy aligning short-term revenue goals and long-term brand building.
  12. Prioritize Customer-Centric Approaches: Center strategies around understanding and addressing customer needs and preferences.
  13. Measure ROI Holistically: Evaluate marketing campaigns on revenue, brand reach, engagement, and customer satisfaction.
  14. Leverage Data Insights: Utilize data analytics to inform decisions, refine strategies, and predict market trends.
  15. Adapt to Changing Dynamics: Be open to adjusting strategies based on market shifts, customer behavior, and technological advancements.
  16. Encourage Innovation Culture: Instill a culture that values experimentation, learning from failures, and embracing change.
  17. Align Incentives: Design compensation and reward systems that promote collaborative success between CEOs and CMOs.
  18. Review and Reflect: Regularly assess alignment progress, identify bottlenecks, and refine collaboration strategies.
  19. Celebrate Wins Together: Recognize and celebrate joint successes to strengthen the partnership.
  20. Evolve Together: Continuously evolve strategies, processes, and collaboration methods to adapt to evolving market dynamics.

By meticulously following these steps, organizations can navigate the complex landscape of CEO-CMO alignment, ultimately fostering a cohesive approach to growth and marketing strategies.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the BruceClay.com website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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6 Replies to “2021 CEO Priorities: Digital Marketing or Bust”

It was really very interesting to learn about your journey in the SEO field. 25 years is a very long time. I think all of your articles speak about your experience in the industry.
Thank you for sharing this we learn more from these blogs.

Digital marketing is the act of promoting and selling products and services by leveraging online marketing tactics such as social media marketing, search marketing, and email marketing. The main advantage of digital marketing is that a targeted audience can be reached in a cost-effective and measurable way.

Learning the ins and outs of digital marketing can be easy if you have the time and initiative to do so. Unfortunately, when you’re running a business, time isn’t something we always have. Taking to an online platform also increases the number of companies you’re competing with. The pressure to be on top may push us to make mistakes that will cost us in the long run. Here are 5 digital marketing mistakes you should avoid.

1) Skipping research & testing
2) Improper focus and positioning
3) Not implementing personalised communication
4) Focusing on paid advertisements
5) Failing to capture repeat customers

I had one doubt in those graphs. It says the budget for digital marketing was around 13% and Social, SEO was 11.3%, 9.9% respectively. When we say digital marketing everything including paid search, social media, and SEO comes under it right?. What is that meaning in a separate budget for digital marketing?. does it means brands spend only 13% on digital and spend the remaining 80% on non-digital?. Quite unbelievable if that is the case.

Great read and not shocked with the push for Digital Marketing being the top. Already 1st week in 2021 we have dabbled with YouTube ads. More of a construction feel or gitty production of the ads but focused on local Philadelphia companies.


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