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Survey says: CEOs getting back to basics in marketing

Boathouse Group’s 2024 survey on CEO attitudes on CMOs and marketing reveals four key findings.

4 min read

MarketingMarketing Strategy

Boathouse Group’s 2024 survey on CEO attitudes on CMOs and marketing reveals four key findings. Pictured: A woman in a suit jacket standing, holding a cup of coffee in an office, looking out a window

Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

What are CEOs thinking when they contemplate marketing and their chief marketing officer? What are their dominant business concerns? Do they trust their CMOs? Are they invested in CMO longevity? Do they see them as critical to driving business outcomes? What are they thinking about AI? 

Boathouse Group’s Third Annual CEO Study on Marketing and the CMO answered these questions, yielding some surprises and flagging some back-to-basics trends. The survey, with 150 respondents from mid-to-large enterprises, making it one of the largest of its kind, showed some interesting new outcomes. 

4 findings from study on CEOs and CMOs

A return to basics

The top five issues of increasing importance identified by CEOs this year are directly linked to financial performance. DEI, CSR, ESG and employee concerns, all important issues in prior years, slid substantially to the middle of the pack. Was the re-ordering a reflection of pressures to perform in a world looking to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind it? Or have CEOs abandoned their commitment to social good and employee relations? 

These are questions of critical importance as organizations look to meet key constituents where they are – particularly in a world where social media empowers these groups to shape an organization’s narrative and perception and lightning speed. And in the case of social good and social justice, customers, partners and investors have demonstrated a sustained commitment to organizations that reflect these values. So while CEOs are moving back toward the numbers, it’s critical they find proper equilibrium with social impact considerations.

Trust is vital

CEOs think their CMOs have great trust across the organization, they don’t trust them in large numbers, themselves. Eight in 10 perceive that CMOs would “take a bullet” for them. Moreover, 94% of CEOs said their CMOs attend board meetings. 

This kind of trust is essential in a world where CMOs are tasked with executing the go-to-market vision and delivering growth that the CEO is tasked with delivering. Interestingly, the survey revealed that CEOs view shorter CMO tenure not as a signal of weakness, but as an affirmation that CMOs are getting their job done more efficiently and in shorter time frames. 

Yet the assertion that CMOs are getting the job done more quickly would seem to fly in the face of another key finding that…

CEOs are a long way from delivering on vision/strategy

Only 11% of CEOs surveyed report achieving their vision/strategy for the organization. How does that line up with their claim that CMOs are getting the job done more quickly and, thus, require less tenure? And how, also, does it align with 87% of CEOs reporting that their CMOs understand their vision and take action to execute it? 

Given some seeming disconnects, it would augur well for CEOs and CMOs to find proper balance around trust, communication and execution. In fact, their respective successes would seem intrinsically intertwined, arguing for closer working relationships, deeper trust and longer tenures.

AI is a dominant consideration

In fact, 76% of CEOs report bringing AI into the organization, with marketing AI at the tip of the spear. How CMOs integrate AI – retaining the proper balance between accelerating performance and maintaining quality control — will determine a lot in the near future. Performance AI, focused on assessing large data sets and leveraging findings to drive outcomes would seem vital to achieving organizational goals. Generative AI, with its focus on replacing human interaction, would seem to run counter to forging and maintaining relationships. 

CEOs and CMOs will need to assess the integration and implications of AI greatly in the coming years. 

Ultimately this year’s survey offers a lot to chew on. As 2024 unfolds, finding the proper balance of trust, execution, technology/AI and issues management (e.g., DEI, ESG) remain a central consideration. At the same time, it’s clear that economic performance is as important as ever and that the evolving relationship between CEOs and CMOs will shape these outcomes.



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