Marketing chiefs are refusing to let the challenges of the modern world knock them from their path to success, with most still unwaveringly optimistic about the future and committed to the power of creative advertising – not only as a catalyst for economic growth but as a force for good.
So says Dentsu Creative’s 2023 Global CMO Report, ‘Creativity at a Crossroads’, which quizzed 700 CMOs and senior marketers in the US, UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Italy, and Spain, and identifies eight key themes.
As consumers and businesses alike are engulfed in global issues 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.
Of course this will be no easy feat as 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, the report maintains.
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:
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 behaviour, 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.
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.
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.
Nearly four-fifths (79%) of CMOs agree with the statement, “In a world where advertising is easier to ignore” and a similar proportion (80%) agree that technologies such as live streaming are blurring the boundaries between content and commerce as never before. Humour is also making a comeback, with 58% of marketers looking to create moments of joy during current difficult times and agreeing that today’s advertising 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. Over two-thirds (69%) agreed that they have been so focused on purpose that they 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.
More than three-quarters (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 they impact this and affect lasting behavioural change.
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.
Nearly two-thirds (62%) are worried about the potential adverse consequences of their campaigns and investments on the environment and society, while even more (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 four-fifths (81%) agree that brands can use their budgets to amplify independent and diverse voices.
AI the frenemy at the gate
Artificial intelligence is cause for cautious excitement, with a resounding 87% agreeing that the tech 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% 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, three-quarters (75%) believe the technology will never fully replace the essence of human creativity.
CMOs now demand flexibility and diversity from the people they work with. The vast majority (86%) want their agencies and partners to connect the right talent at the right moment, wherever it sits inside the network or beyond.
A similar proportion (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.
Dentsu Creative APAC chief executive Cheuk Chiang said: “Creativity matters. It’s a powerful economic multiplier that, when done well, is a competitive advantage, allowing brands to better connect in a marketplace with multiple choice and multiple connection points.
“We believe that great ideas can live anywhere and the power of horizontal creativity, and working hand in glove with media and loyalty platforms can deliver seamless connected solutions that become the oxygen for growth.
“This study further proves the interconnected world brands need to play in and the new and innovative approaches CMOs recognise they need to take to thrive.”
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