69% CMOs agree brands have forgotten how to sell owing to too much focus on purpose: Dentsu survey

Using data from a survey of 700 CMOs and senior marketers across the globe, the 2023 Global CMO report, 'Creativity at a Crossroads' report has identified eight key themes which show that despite being an industry at a crossroads, it is one empowered by creativity and technology

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69% CMOs agree brands have forgotten how to sell owing to too much focus on purpose: Dentsu survey

Dentsu Creative’s 2023 Global CMO Report, ‘Creativity at a Crossroads’, revealed optimism from today’s marketing decision-makers in the face of change and challenge.

Using data from a survey of 700 CMOs and senior marketers in the US, UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Italy, and Spain, the report has identified eight key themes which show that despite being an industry at a crossroads, it is one empowered by creativity and technology. 

The report:

Written in collaboration with leaders across the Dentsu Creative global network, the report’s eight themes allow CMOs to benchmark their areas of focus against their peers, such as whether their investments in technologies and platforms are keeping pace with the industry, and whether they hold similar views on the fundamentals of marketing in 2023 and beyond.                       

  • Winning the audience            

In an era where social platforms, retailers, and technology partners are siphoning audience attention away from brands, and when consumer-brand interactions have become increasingly demanding and sophisticated, the single biggest concern for CMOs now and in the future is owning and connecting with a rapidly evolving audience. For 30% of respondents ‘owning the customer relationship’ has been their focus for 2023 and will continue to be as they look forward to 2030. Engaging with changing audiences, responding to changing consumer behavior, representing more diverse audiences, and understanding, and keeping up with new technology were a focus of 28% of CMOs respectively, with understanding Gen Z audiences still a challenge for nearly a quarter of respondents.     

  • Augmented humanity

Today’s CMOs demand experiences that connect technology and humanity, 87% agree that brands today are built through experiences, and 88% agree that it is essential that the customer experience matches up to the brand promise. To achieve this, they are embracing new interfaces from voice to gesture, AR to AI, blurring the boundaries between on and offline, content and commerce, and enabling ideas that are distinctive, delightful, and disarmingly human. 

  • Cultural capital                      

CMOs agree entertainment will be a key component of brand building and are looking to build their brands in the spaces and places that matter most, investing in platforms from podcasts to programming to engage audiences that are harder than ever to interrupt. 79% of CMOs agree with the statement, ‘In a world where advertising is easier to ignore’ and 80% agree that technologies such as live streaming are blurring the boundaries between content and commerce as never before. We also see that humour is making a comeback with 58% of marketers looking to create moments of joy during current difficult times and agreeing that today’s advertising today isn’t entertaining enough in a crowded sea of bold and bullish promotional messaging. 

  • Purpose gets real                    

The way marketers are approaching Purpose is shifting. 69% of those surveyed agreed that we have been so focused on purpose that we have forgotten how to sell. Moving beyond “purpose washing” campaigns it is felt that Purpose must evolve from a side project to an integral element of business strategy as there is no longer any disconnect between what is good for society and what is good for business, 78% of marketers believe that in a world where economic volatility is accelerated and exacerbated by climate volatility, renewed innovation and infrastructure is badly needed and only through the power of emotion can we impact this and affect lasting behavioural change.   

  • Funding fears

Signifying a deepening awareness of the industry's responsibility to balance purpose and profit, CMOs are concerned over the polarised, sometimes toxic, media landscape brands could be funding with their investments. 62% of CMOs are worried about the potential adverse consequences of their campaigns and investments on the environment and society, while 64% expressed concerns that their media spending may inadvertently contribute to political polarisation, raising questions about advertising’s role in shaping public discourse. In defiance, marketers remain convinced that advertising can be a force for good and 81% agree that brands can use their budgets to amplify independent and diverse voices.

  • AI: Frenemy at the gate                     

AI is cause for cautious excitement and 87% agree that it represents the future of advertising and marketing. CMOs welcome the efficiencies it allows and are keen to experiment, but doubt AI-generated content will ever truly move their customers, and 81% of respondents agree that customers will be prepared to pay a premium for human-created content. Despite over half of respondents questioning if Generative AI could take their jobs in the future, 75% believe that Generative AI will never fully replace the essence of human creativity.

  • Connected people                                           

CMOs now demand flexibility and diversity from the people they work with. 86% want their agencies and partners to connect the right talent at the right moment, wherever it sits inside the network or beyond. 83% believe brands benefit from consolidating their efforts with one agency holding company, acknowledging the power of the network in a data and technology-driven world. However, 85% do value the diversity of thought that comes from partnering with multiple agencies, calling out the flexibility and agility of local partners. As such, the perfect team for today’s fast-changing and volatile world does not exist, and CMOs want the ease of one agency, with the power of many.  The businesses and brands that can connect the right talent at the right moment, or introduce unique perspectives to unlock new outcomes are those that will thrive. 

  • Thriving in a connected world

Responding to audiences with a heightened expectation of brand integrity and customer experience, and an increased tendency to completely avoid content that fails to engage or entertain, CMOs remain committed to the transformative power of creativity, and 85% view creativity as a catalyst for economic growth. Unlocking the creativity needed to thrive in today’s connected world sits firmly at the intersection of brand, experience, and culture and sweet spots are emerging for brands and businesses to connect with modern customers in the spaces and places that matter most. 

“Creativity at a Crossroads dives deep into the hearts and minds of marketers today. From embracing the ‘Frenemy at the Gate’ that is AI, to their resolute belief that advertising can be a force for good, this report shows that CMOs remain both optimistic about the future and committed to the transformative power of creativity, with 85% believing that creativity is a catalyst for economic growth, rising to 94% in the US,” said Julie Scelzo, Global Clients Chief Creative Officer

Amidst the volatility of the modern world, such as climate change, inflation, and geopolitical instability, CMOs are focusing on the things they can control. Their number one concern for 2023, and as they look ahead to 2030, is owning and connecting with their audience in a world where third parties often seem to hold the cards. 

Patricia McDonald, Dentsu Creative’s Chief Strategy Officer and lead author on the report observed, “To own the audience, we need to connect in the spaces and places that matter most to them. The challenge is that audiences are changing: they have new expectations, new behaviours, and new values shaped by a deeply connected world. Their expectations have soared while their attention has polarised-they can dive deeper than ever into the things they love and find it easier than ever to ignore the things they don’t. So, brands must be built in new ways through experiences, through culture, and through action. The choice is simple: engage or be ignored.”

Amit Wadhwa, CEO, Dentsu Creative India, added, “Today's landscape demands that brands navigate a complex web of audience attention, technology advancements, and societal shifts. In the midst of these challenges, where change and challenge intersect, the 'Creativity at a Crossroads' report delves into marketing leaders who emphasize the integration of creativity and technology. Now, in a world where AI threatens to steal the spotlight from human creativity, it is reassuring to see that a massive 73% of India's marketers firmly believe that Generative AI will never outshine the boundless brilliance of the human imagination. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more. The report underscores this crucial juncture where creativity, technology, and strategic insights blend - setting the stage for an exciting future in the world of marketing.”

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