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Phoebe Jackson

Business Director, MOI Global

Gartner’s Top 10 Challenges for Marketers

August 19th 2021


4 min read

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It will come as no surprise to anyone that marketers are saying the biggest challenges for organisations last year came from disruptive external forces. It’s a given. But a Gartner survey of 350 marketing executives, conducted in November and December 2020 revealed that 35% of digital marketing leaders believe their biggest challenges in 2021 will come from within. 

In fact, top priority for digital marketing leaders, according to the study, will be building and nurturing cross-functional partnerships in the organisation. 

There’s a recurrent theme across the business landscape that much of what was forced on us during the pandemic – broken down silos, flexible working, collaboration across teams and more streamlined business processes – is not only here to stay, but will have a whole new precedence. 

Gartner’s Noah Elkin commented that in 2021 “digital marketing leaders must think and act multidimensionally, bringing an equal measure of strategic, tactical and relation-building skills to the marketing team and the organization as a whole.” 

Gartner’s top ten challenges for digital marketing leaders in 2021. 

How far do marketers agree with Gartner? 

To be fair, there’s quite an even weighting across all of Gartner’s top ten post-pandemic priorities, with only a 15% gap between top and tenth place, so it’s reasonable to assume that opinions still differ and discussions are still rife. So we sought the views of some internal and client-side experts. 

MOI Business Director, Phoebe Jackson says “in my view, it’s more about coordinating a unified customer experience strategy across the organisation vs. communicating digital marketing vision. The challenge marketers often face is that top management champion a customer-centric approach, but their legacy business is organised around solutions – making it hard to create a truly unified view of their customers. I see this with some of our biggest clients today. Cross-team coordination of CX efforts, robust governance, the right people in the right roles as well as a clear data management strategy are all critical for the businesses who want to get this right and see improvement to their bottom line”. 

Monica Vaz, Demand Generation & Marketing Operations Director at Proofpoint adds: “I remember reading a 2020 article from McKinsey, ‘ Innovation in a crisis: Why it is more critical than ever’ that talked about how even though most executives agreed at the time that the pandemic brought a big opportunity for growth, most also felt apprehensive about how prepared businesses are to capture on these new growth opportunities. So that’s where the big difference is now – businesses can no longer dismiss the need for cross-functional collaboration to capture and maximise on the new opportunities.” 

For Monica, the need for cross-functional collaboration is inextricably linked to the digital transformation conversation. “We have now a new digital customer, we’ve seen significant changes in buying behaviours, we have a greater need for speed of response and convenience. And you may say none of those are truly new items in the digital transformation agenda, and you are probably right. Nonetheless, what we know now is that they are back on the top of business imperatives, and on ‘steroids’. And to answer that, you need cross-functional collaboration and coordination.” 

What about technology? 

Coming a close second in the survey’s top ten challenges this year is boosting the role played by digital marketing technologies and data. Again, this is unsurprising, given that technology has been the lifeline that has enabled so many businesses to continue to operate. But it has also allowed many to flourish, and Phoebe Jackson agrees. 

“Having the right technological backbone in place has been and will continue to be paramount to delivering the relevant data for desired metrics and actions” she says. “It’s fair to say that many organisations made knee-jerk changes to their digital marketing technologies when COVID-19 hit and so now they are looking at their infrastructure in a more measured way, ensuring that their existing stack is optimised and that any new investments are justified – making it quicker and easier for audiences to access information they need in a way that is increasingly respectful of privacy. And in preparation for a post-cookie world, digital marketers have a real chance to come out stronger with a robust first party data management strategy that knows and grows their audiences.” 

Client-side practices back this up. According to Monica Vaz, “like most companies, we’ve continued to embrace the opportunity to harness the power of digital to drive innovation throughout the sales and marketing funnel by maximising ‘first-data’ approaches, as well as innovation across multichannel, integrated programs. And that was as much as embracing new trends as it was about accelerating existing ones.” 

And going forward? “Legacy systems, significant data challenges and workflow issues continue to be the main barriers to customer excellence, and all of these that require financial commitment and buy-in are now pivotal to businesses success”. 

For this, and many reasons, Monica has no doubt about Marketing’s place at the top table: “Marketing has a pivotal position in guiding that innovation and digital evolution through a martech infrastructure and data strategy that transforms corporate tenets, imperatives, vision, products and go-to-market strategies. So no doubt marketing needs to have a seat at the board as the agenda in hand is significant.” 

What else should be on Gartner’s list? 

The more we discussed the challenges, the more there seemed to be to discuss. So what else would we add? 

Phoebe says “In the case of B2B technology, I would add a challenge around acquiring new customers through predominantly digital activities, where they may be more inclined to stay with their incumbent. Digital marketers will need to smartly articulate their value at every stage of the customer journey and should consider investing more in retention and expansion marketing where the financial reward may be higher.” 

And for Monica? 

“Not entirely sure who first introduced the concept of the 70:20:10 rule of marketing focus*, but for me it’s no longer that simple. My addition to the list of challenges is to make sure your 70:20:10 rule of marketing doesn’t go back to ‘old habits’ and instead continues to drive the right equation so the innovation agenda is pushed forward. “ 

Whatever your personal post-pandemic priority, it seems that there’s one big unifying theme: there’s no going back. As Monica points out: 

“There’s an observation in Adobe’s 2021 Digital Trends report that for me summarises perfectly the biggest challenge at hand… ‘When businesspeople were sent home in 2020, they found a new freedom to innovate, simplify processes, and communicate better within their teams and beyond them. Productivity was stable or improved at most companies. Necessity in the moment was part of the equation, but a return to normality should not mean a return to the standard practices and internal silos that slowed marketers down.’ ” 

We couldn’t agree more. 

* Google’s marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik explains the 70:20:10 rule of marketing focus as:  

  • 70% relates to focus on things that we know that are very core to our business 
  • 20% is where you to push the boundaries. You get into the known and unknown dynamics 
  • 10% is where you try to figure out how to do some of those less comfortable things that you are going to fail at more than we will succeed at.

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