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Where next, CMO? The top 10 marketing challenges today

The one thing marketers know for sure about change is that it’s constant. Interconnected shifts in the technological landscape and consumer behaviour are challenging businesses the world over. It’s the job of CMOs to navigate this ever-changing marketing environment. But what are the top challenges facing marketing teams today?

We've scoured the research for you and compiled a list of the top marketing challenges. Read on for a quick overview of topics like digital transformation, automation, cyber security and tightening budgets. For those looking for an easy-to-digest infographic, we’ve got you covered. And if you'd like more information, we take a deeper look at each challenge after the infographic.

Top 10 Marketing Challenges of Today

1. Driving digital transformation

Technology is fundamentally transforming the way we live our lives. For brands, the digitisation of society means the end of the traditional business playbook. Newcomers have a tremendous opportunity to capture market share. And poor old incumbents need to reinvent themselves for this new era. Fortunately, management recognises the importance of digital transformation. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), just 33% of executives said their CEO was “a champion for digital” in 2007. Today, that number stands at 68%.

Which executive is leading the digital transformation initiative?

Our rapid digital evolution makes it hard to keep your head above the surface of the deep digital ocean. Adaptability is vital for staying afloat. If you don’t build a team that can adapt, competitors will leapfrog you. Adaptability isn’t only important for humans, but the technology we use as well. Quick turnaround times, fewer bottlenecks, automation and integration are mandatory.


  • According to Gartner, you should ask “What is 'digital' for us? What kind of growth do we seek? What's the No. 1 metric and which KPIs must change?”
  • According to HBR companies that “realize that the fate of their IT investments and business goals are intertwined will be most ready to face the challenges of tomorrow — and the next decade.”
  • Scalability of marketing tasks is only possible through integration and automation. Plan technology investment accordingly. Here are some best practices for building multilingual websites.
  • Brands who understand and leverage new models have an advantage. Think platforms, the crowd economy, and decentralised blockchain technology.

2. Improving customer experience

The customer remains at the centre of what we do as marketers. But the more we do, the higher expectations rise. So, are we delivering enough? That depends on who you ask. According to Accenture, only 7% of brands feel they offer a digital customer experience that exceeds expectations. On the other hand, 25% feel they are behind, and 67% think their customer experience is good enough.

Fortunately, CMOs recognise that continually improving the customer experience keeps brands competitive. According to Gartner, “by 2018, more than 50 percent of organizations will implement significant business model changes in their efforts to improve customer experience.”

The good news is that we are moving along the marketing technology hype cycle. Technologies that improve customer experiences are available, and marketing teams are utilising them en masse. One powerful concept of this new age is Omnichannel marketing. We can now deliver the right content, in the right language, at the right time, to the right person.

The challenge for marketing teams is the acquisition of usable data. According to the former Microsoft Windows CMO Thom Gruhler, getting ahead requires data about “who’s on my basket, who’s on my stream or page, and how can I re-adjust what we’re putting in front of customers in to give them the best experience in the moment?”


  • According to HBR, “successful companies prioritise user experience specialists and creating better customer experience through their digital initiatives.”
  • Remember: your brand is what people experience, not what you think it is.
  • Don’t try and be everything to all people, that’s impossible. Focus on segments, personas and, ideally, personalisation.
  • As with a sales representative not speaking the local language, it’s not a good idea to try and cover multiple locales with one language.

3. Delivering personalisation

Modern marketers understand that relevance is hugely important. Why? Because when content is tailored to you, you’re more likely to pay attention to it. The decision of whether or not to engage with content only takes a couple of seconds. In fact, people now have shorter attention spans than goldfish.

Personalisation provides the answer to this marketing challenge. According to McKinsey “Personalization can reduce acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent, lift revenues by 5 to 15 percent, and increase the efficiency of marketing spend by 10 to 30 percent.”

But, how do you offer highly personalised experiences at scale? This is the crux of the challenge. Spotify offers personalisation with their “Discover Weekly” and “Your Daily Mix” features. Facebook has the now infamous filter bubble. And there are numerous other examples for personalisation inspiration.

The technology needed to deliver personal experiences is often complex and requires a steep learning curve. It’s therefore important to hire the right team with the knowledge necessary to capture data and use it to drive experiences. And once you have your team, give them space to learn and develop their knowledge.


  • Take it one step at a time. Start with a few behaviourally based segments and work towards 1:1 personalisation from there.
  • Don’t work ad-hoc. When writing marketing copy, for example, build a library of messages that can be used for varying situations.
  • Streamlining workflows, intelligent content management and automation are imperative for delivering personalised content at scale.

4. Leveraging AI

We are in the midst of a war. Behemoths like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are battling to win the artificial intelligence arms race. This relentless march towards automation will make some jobs obsolete.

This challenge also offers a massive opportunity. Brands that harness the power of AI today stand to be the winners of tomorrow. According to former Microsoft Windows CMO Thom Gruhler, all brands should focus on “what you can pragmatically do with AI and machine learning to positively impact your customer experience and marketing.”

Personalization can reduce acquisition costs
"55 percent of CMOs expect Al to have a greater impact on marketing and communications than social media ever had"

AI-Ready or Not: Artificial Intelligence Here We Come! – Weber Shandwick.

AI is no longer a dream of the future. Brands are already making use of its potential. The Associated Press uses Wordsmith to create routine stories about corporate earnings. Boomtrain helps brands send highly-personalised content to users. Google is continually expanding Google Translate. And chatbots are helping brands communicate in the right place at the right time, utilising AI to answer questions via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. In the long-run, every single brand will make use of AI.


  • Embrace AI as a necessary part the future. If you haven’t already, look at current solutions which can improve your marketing efforts.
  • Make use of professionals to automate simple tasks. For example, using freelancers to create chatbots.
  • LanguageWire on machine translation: “(it) won’t replace professional translators anytime soon, but does have useful applications for translation tasks where quantity and speed is more important than quality.”

5. Identifying the right technology

A common theme in many of the challenges facing marketing teams is technology. Namely, the need for marketers to understand and adapt to technological trends and developments. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task. The marketing technology (MarTech) landscape is extraordinarily complex. Scott Brinker of now has over 5,381 solutions on his popular marketing landscape infographic.

Marketing technology landscape supergraphic

Marketing technology landscape supergraphic development 2011 – 2017. Source:

Compared to 20 years ago, technological change has evolved marketing into an unrecognisable beast. An important skill for the CMO is to understand the solutions available and identify the right partners to solve these technology-related challenges.


  • Once again, agility is vital. Marketing teams need to be more responsive.
  • Keep in mind, that change is difficult. It will need proper support to avoid chaos and burnout.
  • Recognise the move away from classic marketing management. In many cases, modern marketers require the skills of software professionals.

Bonus: Check out these 3 tips for building a multilingual website. A site that supports multiple languages will help you reach more people, get more traffic, provide a better experience and increase conversion.

6. Building successful APIs

With the proliferation of digital technology and the internet of things, the benefits of connectivity are stronger than ever. APIs are vital for harvesting big data and breaking down information silos. Connecting systems, such as your CMS and a translation platform, makes everything go faster. And by externalising functionalities, you create new possibilities.

Today, firms without APIs are at a distinct disadvantage. ProgrammableWeb, a leading news source on APIs, has over 18,000 APIs in its directory. And with good cause. According to research by HBR, “ generates 50% of its revenue through APIs, generates 90%, and eBay, 60%.” It pays to incorporate APIs into your growth strategy.


  • Many businesses see APIs as something for IT services. This isn’t forward thinking enough. Plan for marketing support as you would with other essential products.
  • You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You can always turn to third-party API developers.
  • Go cloud-based when choosing software vendors. You receive instant version upgrades, and therefore APIs remain up-to-date.
  • Use software from large or established brands. They will have better API support.

7. Managing organisational change

It’s a challenge for marketing departments to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change, let alone entire organisations. Scott Brinker of calls this conundrum Martec’s law “Organizations change at a logarithmic rate — much slower than exponential technological change.”

Martecs Law

Martec’s Law –

The exponential change of technology is generally accepted. Moore’s law is the most famous observation of this. The slower rate of organisational change, on the other hand, isn’t as deeply ingrained in the collective psyche. It's quite easy to forget that people take time to alter their thinking and behaviour. We like structure, set processes and certainty. According to Brinker “Martec’s Law encapsulates the greatest management challenge of the 21st century.”


  • Prioritise changes that match your strategy, and don’t try change too many things simultaneously.
  • Stay agile, practice lean marketing, design for change, employ design thinking – whatever you do, remember change will happen, and it needs to be built into your organisation.
  • Change isn't easy, if you don't support it properly, it won't last. Provide time and resources to help changes permeate throughout your organisation.

8. Speeding up time-to-market

The rapid pace of innovation has led to shorter product lifecycles, more markets to address, and a lot of hair-pulling. Process optimisation is necessary for achieving time-to-market goals. CMOs need to do more with less and simultaneously re-think their go-to-market strategy. The risk of delay is too high. It can result in loss of market share and brand damage.

One way to speed up time-to-market is through automation of manual tasks.

Agility is paramount in an age of instant change. Improving your team’s ability to react to new market conditions will improve your chances of success. Part of this is removing as many roadblocks as possible and automating tasks. In the case of creating multilingual content, when your team can order translations from within your CMS or PIM, you will save about 20mins per page of content. The time you save adds up, giving you the ability to focus on other valuable tasks.


  • Better workflow management. The more you can automate business processes and eliminate manual tasks, the more bandwidth your team has for creating value.
  • More efficient collaboration with suppliers and partners through integration.
  • Translation is an important part of the content creation process. Speed it up by integrating translation with your digital platform.

9. Data privacy and security regulations

There are two kinds of enterprises in the world; those that have been hacked and those who don’t know it yet. That’s how the saying goes at least. What’s clear is that your data has value and that people will attack your business to try to get it.

But malicous hackers compromising data is only half of the story. Businesses must prepare for new data privacy and security regulations. The big one being the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The new law has been adopted and will be enforced from May 2018. All businesses that process data of EU citizens are affected.

87% of surveyed CIOs believe their current policies and procedures leave them exposed to risk under the GDPR
"87% of surveyed CIOs believe their current policies and procedures leave them exposed to risk under the GDPR"

Are you ready for GDPR? – Commvault,

Ross Mason, founder of MuleSoft, has a great analogy for the problems brands face: “Imagine a house with many closed doors and windows that represent access to enterprise data. Over the years, people have likely opened up most of the windows, the back door and even dug tunnels to gain access. With all these visible and hidden points of entry, it's tough to lock down the data, understand who uses it, where they use it and where it goes when it leaves the four walls of the enterprise."


  • Make data privacy a part of everything you do. And clearly display to customers the standards you follow to ensure the security of their data.
  • With greater control over technology investments, marketing needs to increase cooperation with IT.
  • Can you track customers’ personal data? And can you erase it if a customer asks you to do so? These are important questions that need an answer, yesterday.

10. Proving the ROI of activities

As you may have already recognised, extra resources would help solve many of the challenges CMOs face. Digital transformation, rapid technological change, data security, organisational change, and attaining a shorter time-to-market all put strains on your budget and team. The year-on-year challenge is to show ROI so you can optimise how you invest. Proving the ROI of your activities isn't only helpful for taking decisions, but it is vital for maintaining a functioning marketing team.

Method of calculating marketing ROI

A method for calculating marketing ROI. Source: HBR

According to McKinsey, we need to stop looking at marketing as a spend, and justify it as the “the investment it really is.” This shift to proving marketing ROI makes sense. Being able to objectively compare investments aids the decision-making process. When requesting budget, being able to say "every euro we put in gives 1.2 in return" is a strong argument.


  • According to McKinsey, CMOs need to identify “all of the critical buckets of consumer communications spending, even if they are not in the marketing function's domain.”
  • It's also important to use KPIs that "align spending on an ‘apples-to-apples' basis across brands and countries."
  • Finally, in McKinsey's opinion, it's important to "isolate the most important drivers across brands and track the drivers' impact across segments and media channels."
  • Taking tasks like translation from a cost centre to a profit centre is one of the many benefits of thinking in terms of ROI.

See the recorded webinar from 24 October 2017 to find out what those big challenges are and how you can ensure a successful future for your business.