Forrester’s 2020 predictions – CMOs in ‘desperate fight for relevance’, agencies to ‘upgrade or fade away’ 

The year 2020 will mark the beginning of “a final, desperate fight for CMO relevance”, according to a blogpost from Forrester’s VP and research director Keith Johnston. In his summary of Forrester’s prediction report FOR 2020 on CMOs, he said: “The title may disappear and the role may end up subsumed into something greater. Perhaps it’s time?”

The existential crisis facing CMOs was first called out by Forrester in 2018 when it predicted the decline if not the extinction of the CMO role. Johnston said: “We are 20 years into the digital era that transformed the CMO role from a long-term brand-building growth captain to a quarter-disciplined and data-focused operator. This transition has caused some of the world’s biggest brands to disrupt or wholly eliminate marketing’s most coveted title.”

The title itself had become problematic given the inability of CMOs to navigate the transition and inability to differentiate their products and brands in an era of technology-led commoditisation. Johnston said: “CMOs are being levelled up or out of the C-suite while their customers and new direct-to-consumer (DTC) concepts continue to write the new rules — ironically, based on a brand ethos.”

According to Johnston, to survive this shift CMOs would have to:  

Establish a span of control: Johnston argued that the CMO needed to have a remit that extended beyond marketing. He said: “You can’t build, express, sell, communicate, connect, or service today’s brands without continuity in the budget or authority. That continuity is essential to ensuring that the company demonstrates its brand promise consistently.” 

Make customer experience essential to the mix: Johnston said that “CMOs will become story-makers, placing customers at the centre of their company values, experiences, and processes. Businesses with any amount of disconnect or fragmentation in the brand will find growth elusive, feeling the brunt of disruption in this age of customer control.”

 Creative and media agencies were not set to fare much better in 2020. Forrester believed agencies of all sizes risked falling further into irrelevance if they did not deconstruct and reassemble their model. 

Forrester principal analyst Jay Pattisall said: “In 2020, anticipate that agencies, under the guidance of new, operational-minded leaders, will reshape their processes and capabilities around centralised structures that can deliver services in a coordinated manner.”

Forrester’s predictions for the agency business in 2020 include:

Automation reshaping the agency workforce and the creative process: Pattisall said: “Automating tasks will collapse responsibilities and foster new, hybrid roles across disciplines. For example, anticipate agencies to incorporate data-driven approaches into their creative toolkits.”

In-house agencies expanding their media remit: Forrester pointed to in housing of media growing 5% this year. Pattisall said: “In 2020, we predict that a third of in-house agencies will include media operations that control substantial portions of the paid media budget. CMOs and their C-suite colleagues are asking themselves and Forrester, ‘Should we do the same as our competitors?’ In-house leaders will respond by diverting major portions of their paid budgets.”

Forrester acknowledged the steps taken by agency groups such as project based engagement and adding customer experience and consulting practice layers as being “important” but deemed them “reactionary and too slow to build real change”. 

Pattisall concluded: “The speed of the 2020 agency transformation will determine the viability of agencies’ futures. Every employee must embrace the rapid value upgrade that agencies bring to clients. Otherwise, they will fade further into irrelevance.”

Forrester’s 2020 predictions on CMOs and the agency business can be found here and here.


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