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CMO Summit 2023: What We Heard from Top Marketers

June 2023

Spencer Stuart convened an intimate gathering of chief marketing officers for our 21st CMO Summit in New York. The two-hour roundtable discussion — among top marketers representing companies ranging from large publicly traded companies to well-established founder-led organizations across many industries — touched on a wide range of the most pressing topics marketers are contending with today.

Below is a glimpse at of some of the most substantial issues we discussed around the table in New York.

Although AI isn’t new, and many CMOs are already well versed on how to use AI within their respective organizations, the topic has rapidly become a CEO- and board-level issue over the past year. Our panelists swapped stories about other leaders seeking to take advantage of everything AI has to offer as quickly as possible — even at those same companies where AI has been in use for years.

Heard at the CMO Summit:

How many people have CEOs who are now incredibly fascinated by AI and only want to talk about that? We are spending a significant amount of time on that topic. And we view it as a true transformation opportunity. Now, the marketing teams and the [business teams] at our company have actually been using AI for a long period of time. But the conversation has changed. There’s consumerism on top of it now. It’s the kind of thing where now the entire leadership team is responsible for understanding AI and finding the opportunities.”

Participants shared a frank discussion about how the political climate in the United States has impacted the CMO role and the marketing function. Despite lingering fear over the consequences of taking a stance on a controversial issue, there was a general consensus that the CMO plays a key part in helping the company stay committed to its purpose.

Heard at the CMO Summit:

I tell my CEO, you brought me to do this job, this is our voice on the matter, and I need to your support to stand my ground on this. There is a role for marketers today to stand up and help companies figure that out.”

How to quantify the value marketing brings to the business is an age-old question. New marketing analytics tools have helped immensely by opening up a sea of data to marketers and their partners, yet in many ways this information can complicate efforts if it isn’t presented to business partners (particularly those in finance) with language and data that resonates with them.

Heard at the CMO Summit:

It starts with changing the conversation internally. Our conversations used to be all brand, brand, brand, and people found it kind of squishy. Now we’re having conversations about the customer base as an asset that we can monetize in totally different ways. That is resonating much more with people like the CFO.”

More than three years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders across the spectrum are still struggling to define exactly what “return to office” means. Is it finding the right mix of remote and in-person work? Is it a return to “business as usual” with a full return to the office? Based on our discussion, the “correct” solution varies by organization. But there was a general consensus that the pandemic had forced leaders to take a closer look at what work could be done remotely vs. in-person, and at how employees want those plans to be incorporated.

Similarly, marketers around the table shared a commitment to holding on to the lessons from the pandemic — in particular, the agility and innovativeness that they were forced to tap into. One retail CMO commented on how after more than a year of minimal progress on curbside pickup, the pandemic had forced them to find a solution within three days.

Heard at the CMO Summit:

During Covid it was so rewarding to see how, for people from all over the world, because we broke down the barrier of true physical proximity, it leveled the playing field from a hierarchical standpoint pretty dramatically.”