December 19, 2019

The Big CMO Shift in 2020

by Renegade

On November 12, 2019, over a hundred CMOs gathered in New York City for The CMO Club’s 7th annual CMO Awards. Forty winners were celebrated while Anne Finucane, Vice Chairman of Bank of America, was inducted into the CMO Hall of Fame. Though taking a couple of hours to revel in past accomplishments was a welcome break, many of these highly driven individuals already had their sights on 2020 and the challenges that lay ahead. 

Catching up with twelve of the award winners afterward, it is interesting to note that not one of them spoke of a looming recession and the related need to hunker down. While some see the upcoming election as force to be reckoned with, most believe that marketers’ success will be directly linked to internal strategic decisions and the quality of their execution as opposed to externalities beyond their control. Read on for some tips and trends that just might get you on the podium next November (FYI, this post first appeared in my column on

Stand for Something

With political advertisers projected to spend anywhere from $6 billion to $10 billion in 2020, CMOs anticipate that gloom and divisiveness will permeate the airwaves. In the face of this negativity, big brands don’t just see opportunity, they see responsibility. Explains, Alicia Tillman, CMO of SAP, “Marketers will need to be focused on communicating the purpose and authentic value their brands stand for to bring comfort and hope to consumers.” Andrea Brimmer, CMO of Ally, adds, “Particularly in an election year, more than ever consumers will be looking to align with brands that reflect their personal belief system, are doing right in this world, and taking on important cultural issues.”  

Brand or Bust

Nerissa Sardi, VP, Marketing, Galileo Learning, expects “more companies discovering and reporting on ROI tied to word-of-mouth and reputation,” while acknowledging “these elements have been traditionally hard to quantify and difficult to reverse if not actively managed.” Taking this sentiment a bit further, Emeka Ofodile, VP Sports Marketing, ESPN, warns that “the day you forget about brand is the day your brand dies overnight,” and suggests that marketers “always be thinking long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results.”

Project Your Purpose

David Gitter, CMO of the World Poker Tour, encouraged his fellow CMOs to be bold in 2020 or risk losing a seat the table. “It’s not enough to tick the boxes,” deals Gitter. “CEOs, Boards, and consumers expect brands to have a clear vision and purpose and to break through the clutter.” Cindy Donohue, EVP and CMO at Highmark Health, ups the ante, suggesting that CMOs “start a movement by being the purpose-driven leader who helps employees personally connect to what your brand stands for and to find fulfillment.”  

Bring your B2C Best to B2B

Karen M. Jones, EVP & CMO for Ryder System, anticipates “the continued evolution of deep digital experiences and data insights used to surprise and delight.” Noticing that Ryder’s “B2B customers clamor for B2C-like digital experiences,” Jones believes her customers “want to engage with brands that can provide value-added content and services to help them navigate the complexities of their job and industry.” If she’s right, 2020 could be punishing for those B2B brands who fail to keep up.   

Ignite Innovation Inside

Lawrence Schwartz, SVP and CMO at Aspen Technology, believes all CMOs need to “empower innovation from your grassroots” to find success in 2020. Noting that “new ideas need nurturing otherwise they can easily get pushed aside with the million other things to do today,” Schwartz created a Shark Tank-like team “for everyone to pitch projects and secure additional funding from an “innovation” budget.” Concludes Schwartz, “By supporting an employee-driven framework and just letting the team get on with it, we have ignited a ‘can do, will do’ attitude in all.” Leanne Marshall, CMO of Yoti, concurs. “Sometimes you’ve just got to let your team try things out!”

Get Personal, Not Pushy

Fred Neil, Global Head of Engagement at Amazon Music, anticipates a “continued focus on personalization, both from a content and channel perspective.” At the same time, Hope Frank, CMO of Mocana, sees brands walking a tightrope in search of their digital Goldilocks “just right” experience. Explains Frank, brands need to be “data- driven enough to deliver an excellent customer experience, yet not so data-savvy to abuse privacy; make ecommerce easy enough to shop on a click, yet not so easy to be a prime target for cyberattacks or hacks.”  

Astound with And (not Or)

Douwe Bergsma, most recently the CMO of Georgia Pacific, sees a 2020 in which “the most successful businesses will renew their focus on nurturing the tree AND picking the fruits!” He explains,  “They will nurture the tree by focusing on long-term brand building through purpose-driven innovation and experiences that emphasize the societal and emotional benefits; and they will pick the fruits by simultaneously focusing on short-term brand activation through data & tech-driven personalized digital experiences that emphasize the functional benefits and offers.”