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CMO’s five key learnings from 2021

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CMO's five key learnings from 2021


30-second summary:

  • The only thing we can be sure of for 2022 is change – and lots of it
  • Marketing leaders will be expected to strike an all-important balance between leading to accomplish a mission and leading to foster team growth
  • Michael Collins, CMO and Managing Director at CFA Institute shares five lessons he’ll be carrying into the new year

Marketers are constantly evolving as the world changes around us. If 2021 was about reacting to pandemic-related transformation my prediction is that 2022 is going to be all about regaining your footing to thrive in a customer-centric landscape.

As we move into 2022, marketers will need to remain agile and flexible to handle additional changes. There are several things marketers should proactively think about to be successful, even in a shifting market. Here are five lessons I’ve learned being CMO this year.

1. Embrace change

It seems like the only thing that was constant in 2021 was change. As the future is increasingly shrouded in uncertainty, today’s brand leaders must keep their teams engaged, motivated, and able to cope with change. Leaders must strike an all-important balance between leading to accomplish a mission and focusing on individuals to foster team growth and development.

Effective leaders guide the process from start to finish, using change to ignite new ways of working and thinking. Instead of avoiding change or working around it, successful leaders embrace it to spur innovation. Marketing leaders have a real opportunity to be business growth drivers moving forward into 2022. Instead of simply focusing on more traditional responsibilities like website development and campaigns, marketers can and should take a more active role in defining the pathways to organizational success including demand generation, advancing digital delivery platforms, and focusing on creating exceptional customer experiences.

2. Know your customer needs

To succeed brands, need to understand the full spectrum of their target audiences’ needs and desires— inside and out. At every touchpoint throughout the funnel, you need to ask yourself, “What does the customer want here? What are they looking for?” Once you can answer those questions, you’ll be able to craft a clear persona that reflects a deep understanding of these needs and then access additional personalized data points like geography, career level, and other factors to customize your messaging.

Marketing leaders need to scrap their traditional hierarchies, funnels, and models. They must look at the world from the perspective of a customer—not a brand. This includes breaking down silos between departments to form a unified view of the customer.  The ability to do this will help marketing leaders not only understand their customers’ behaviors but will be able to deliver more personal and relevant experiences by putting the customer first. These seamless and personalized customer experiences are no longer negotiable.

3. Personalization is key

Building on the above thought, in order to do personalization justice, brands need to identify the biggest moments of receptivity for their story. In other words, how are you able to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time via the right channel? To achieve this, you must ensure that these “rights” add up to meaningful engagement that matters to the unique person you’re targeting.

Personalization in marketing can mean the difference between long-term business success and failure. When you keep personalization at the core of your marketing efforts, you’re signaling to your customers that they are your first priority. Otherwise, customers may be tempted to look to a competitor to meet their needs. At that point, all your hard work in trying to build customer relationships will be for naught.

I posted an article in October about putting the “personal” in personalization which solidifies the importance of personalization in building long-standing customer relationships. While data is essential, the keys to building authentic connections and unlocking optimal results lie with empathy, understanding, and personalization. This was crucial within 2021 and will become even more important as we enter 2022.

4. Digital marketing will dominate into 2022

In 2021, digital marketing and social media proved the ability to find new audiences for companies and re-engage with customers from earlier times. The importance of digital marketing for businesses became evident and will only continue to be of the utmost importance into 2022. The brands that understand and effectively implement digital strategies will be well-positioned for success as we enter the new year. These strategies will allow brands to stand out and cut through the noise to remain connected and engaged with their customers for ongoing success.

With many of us still working from home or hybrid, it’s clear that ecommerce, video conferencing, and online socialization are here to stay and the online connection will be more important than ever. Traditional person-to-person B2B models like financial services, legal services, human resources, and more have embraced various online options, and this is expected to continue to accommodate future business needs.

5. Content is still king

Content marketing will remain at the heart of customer engagement efforts, even with the changes in the B2B marketing landscape this past year. According to Hubspot’s ‘State of Marketing Report 2021’, 82 percent of marketers report actively using content marketing within 2021, up 70 percent from last year. This year showed us that purpose is key and brands are going to need to challenge themselves to embrace new channels for content marketing into the new year.

In 2021 video, live chat, and virtual events emerged as breakout stars on the B2B scene, especially as in-person meetings and related sales activities decreased significantly. I strongly believe that content marketing via existing and new channels will only take on increasing importance as part of the marketing mix in 2022.

In conclusion

With 2022 around the corner, it’s natural to turn the marketing gaze to the future to anticipate what changes and habits are here to stay and which ones are still developing. Like many marketers, I’ve learned a great deal about agility and transformation in a relatively short amount of time.

The future of marketing will inevitably continue to evolve in the months and years ahead. To keep up with the constant state of flux, marketers must remain nimble and open to new approaches. However, even amidst great change, the thread that ties everything together is the customer. By keeping customers at the center of the decision-making process, I am confident that today’s marketers can help ensure that their brand is one that their customers relate and connect to for the long haul.


Michael Collins is CMO and Managing Director of CFA Institute.

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