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CMO Strategy Series: 5 Key Learnings from 2020

From great challenges, come great opportunities – and 2020 brought more than enough challenges across every spectrum of our lives. 

This year was full of more strategic pivots than any other. But every one of those pivots was an opportunity to learn and grow. Marketers learned to adapt to new obstacles in their path and overcome them. 

Here are five key learnings to carry into your 2021 marketing strategy. 

1. Buyer’s needs should be at the centre of every touchpoint

Elissa Fink

CMO Adviser & Mentor, Former CMO at Tableau Software

Now more that ever, we hear that prospects want self-service buyer journeys. But it’s not really about self-service – we should be talking about buyer-controlled journeys.

We should be leveraging every tool in our arsenal to deliver an optimal buyer-controlled journey that helps your prospects make the right choices for them. It will not be about spending on old-fashioned company-centered campaigns. It’s about investing in initiatives that put your buyer and their needs at the centre of every touchpoint and beyond – literally everything you do. 

2. Focus on what’s working and keep looking for new opportunities

Heidi Bullock

CMO at Tealium

This year has been interesting for sure – there have been a lot of unexpected changes and hard conditions for many people. As a leader, it’s even more important to be flexible and supportive of your teams. 

Many folks are under more stress, so I have tried to do two things: internally, being very focused on a small set of important things – doubling down on what works. Externally, it’s critical to ‘read the room’. We have tried to be helpful with our messaging and content to strike the right balance for our audience. 

Lastly, whenever there are challenging times – search for opportunities- they are there. For example, we have moved some of our field events to virtual experiences and this has worked in some cases BETTER.

3. Lead with empathy and understanding before your product

Julia Stead

CMO at Allocadia

The hardest, and most important part of marketing is nailing the person and the message: the hook, your story, and sparking an emotional reaction. 

We have a tendency in B2B to talk far too much about our companies, our products, our features. And that’s not what people want to hear. Don’t forget that in B2B you’re marketing to a person. Yes, it’s a person who’s making a business decision but they still want understanding, personal empathy, a joke; they want to have a bit of fun and surprise in their day. 

Lead with that first, then bring your product into the conversation later. I’m focused on supporting my team through that mindset and prioritizing the resources to do it well. Otherwise, that B2B instinct to spend most of our time and attention on channels, tactics, and just churning out ‘more’ takes over. 

4. You can’t have all the answers so be competent at pivoting

Kathleen Schaub

Strategist – Marketing Management & Organizations, Former IDC VP CMO Advisory and Customer Experience Practice

Value responding to change over following a plan. This is the fourth value of the Agile Manifesto. 2020 dramatized uncertainty and the danger of depending too heavily on a plan. 

I’m a big planner and I’ve found that the most useful part of planning isn’t the plan itself, it’s the process. Working through the knots. Thinking through scenarios. Definitely plan. But hold plans loosely because you can’t possibly have all the answers. And become competent at pivoting.

Big things can happen fast when they must. It took only a few months to make huge supply-chain shifts, for enterprises of all sizes to reinvent their business models, for most of the population to thoroughly rearrange their lives, to generate hundreds of medical interventions – some of which will be world-altering, to securely drive a tough election in the middle of a pandemic. People showed up with their best selves to make these things (and more) happen. Really incredible. It will make me think twice anytime I hear the word “can’t”.

5. Trust the ingenuity and passion of your team

René Bonvanie

Executive in Residence at Battery Ventures and CMO Emeritus at Palo Alto Networks

What our team members produce matters rather than how and from where they produce it. 2020 is the year of breaking through our organizational fears and putting trust in the ingenuity and passion of our teams in getting things done. 

And more than ever, getting close to our customers matters. 2020 is the year of customer empathy and putting ourselves in their shoes. So to me, 2020 will be remembered as the year we did away with lots of conventional “wisdom” as CMO’s.