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Can CMOs Harness the Covid-19 Chaos to Drive Business Growth?

David Paul



A new whitepaper indicates that despite its short-term negative impact, the coronavirus pandemic could create long-term gains for marketers.

The world of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) had changed significantly in the wake of Covid-19.

Changes in consumer habits, such as the move from high street shopping to online, means that legacy marketing techniques, such as billboards or adverts, have had to take a back seat to digital marketing instead.

Research conducted by LinkedIn revealed that marketers expect their roles will continue to change over the coming year, with 58% believing they will have to dedicate more of their time to things like employer branding, internal communications and learning and development as priorities change.

Gideon Wellins from marketing firm Lemon Pulse said that the coronavirus has taught marketers that there is more of a need to “be prepared for the unknown”. The virus has caused ‘chaos’ for many, but chaos does not have to mean destruction.

A new whitepaper released by Clear Strategy believes that from ‘chaos’, marketers can create long-terms gains.

The paper compiled responses from 700 CEOs, CMOs and senior marketers from the USA, the UK, Germany, Singapore and China to gain a better understanding of how a marketer can harness chaos and use it to transform business.

Worldwide CEO at Clear M&C Saatchi, Damian Symons, said that the findings are “significant” and that the evidence in the report reveals “both the fundamental drivers of chaos and identifies strategies and frameworks to help bring clarity around where to focus and how to unlock opportunity”.

Symons said: “Chaos is a problem we can’t overstate. Within organisations, it can manifest as initiative overload where little meaningful value is created by huge amounts of effort and inertia where action is most urgently needed.

“It’s the single barrier that stops organisations moving forward coherently. It’s the threat that undermines competitive advantage and leaves organisations behind.

“But if chaos is the villain of the moment, clarity is the antidote.

“Chaos isn’t something to fear. In fact, when it is harnessed and managed properly, it has the potential to create transformative new sources of growth.”

Growing marketing influence

Clear’s study predicts the dawn of a ‘golden age’ for marketing. According to the report, 51% of survey respondents (and 59% of CEOs) said that the influence of marketing is increasing inside their organisations, with only 5% indicating a decrease. Many CEOs said that marketing is seen as a “strategic growth driver” for their business.

This indicates that, despite the impact of the pandemic, marketers remain an important commodity and hold a “significant role” in driving growth.

CMOs also said they “personally feel their influence is growing” and have some input in the future of their organisation. Marketing narrowly trails finance as the most influential function, with 89% of CMOs reporting to have at least “a lot of control and input” in shaping business objectives.

“It feels like a moment in time for CMOs,” said Pete Markey, CMO at UK pharmacy chain Boots in an interview with website MarketingDive. “For me, every CMO should view this as an opportunity to come out stronger and function as a growth lever for businesses as they enter the next stage,” he added.

Data also shows building confidence within marketing departments, with 72% of respondents and 83% of CMOs saying that their business objectives “are translated into clear objectives for marketing”.

CMOs report that they and their teams have the right capabilities to deliver against their KPIs with 95% of marketers stating they are “personally confident” in their ability to deliver and a significant 99% “confident in their team’s ability to do the same”.

Not all rosy for marketers

Despite this, the chaos of the last year has had a draining effect on marketers, and Clear’s data show that growth has been undermined, a big driver of which is a disparity between CEO’s and CMO’s on business priorities.

CEOs tend to focus on long-term growth, looking at the safety of innovation, data infrastructure or driving long term sustainable growth for their business. However, CMOs look more towards the short-term, such as getting the most out of media spend, demonstrating ROI and “navigating the post-Covid-19 landscape”.

Whether CMOs like it or not, they cannot just focus on the short-term over the long-term; they need to consider both. “The challenge for CMOs is balancing how they’re fulfilling demand with getting ahead of the market and staying in a futureproof mindset,” said Rhonda Hiatt, CSO, Clear M&C Saatchi. “There’s a job for the here and now but a need to also have an eye to the future.”


A report by Gartner released in January this year indicated that marketers intend to remain cautious with growth strategies in 2021, relying on existing customers to drive growth. The research revealed that 73% of CMOs will look to existing customers to fuel growth this year.

Vice president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice, Augie Ray, said that marketers risk “failing to do any one thing right” if they attempt to reinvent too much simultaneously and risk “overburdening their teams”.

She said: “CMOs must try to avoid reinventing the wheel in 2021 and remember: For every strategy you rescale, you must choose another to reduce or retire. For every strategy you try to reinvent, another must return to pre-pandemic levels and approach.”

Harnessing the chaos

Clears’ research says that marketers must harness the chaos created by the virus to build an effective growth strategy.

To do this, a CMO must first look to “define” the shape of their chaos. In the report, Clear says that an important practice for marketers is “understanding which forces are impacting your business from an internal and external perspective,” and understanding that this is “the first critical step in defining the path to growth.”

To enable this growth within their business, marketers should look to engage, mobilise and operationalise, setting out clear goals, equipping staff with the requires skills and organisation and setting up the correct infrastructure to carry out the strategy.

As well as this, CMOs must learn to be agile. Clear says this is the most critical part of the process. “With billions of data points being generated every moment,” the paper says. “strategy will never again be static”.

Marketers must “focus on continuous improvement and optimisation,” empower employees within the organisation and “act as lookouts to spot the signals of change and the cues for transformation”.

Commenting on the need to remain agile, David Bruce, SVP Brand & Marketing, Major League Soccer said: “Remaining nimble at all times has been so key to everything we do… Now more than ever brands have to be alive to the world around them. We’ve got to read the room.

“I tell my team and marketing leads that if there’s one thing you’ve got to do, it is read the room like you’ve never read the room before.”

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David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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