CMOs want more strategic thinking from their agency partners. Why aren’t they getting it?

In a 2017 survey of CMOs conducted by the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), marketing managers revealed that one of their greatest concerns is “the inability of their agency partners to provide good, long-term strategic thinking”.

They’re right to be concerned. A concurrent DMA study surveyed agencies nationwide and made a surprising discovery:

Nearly one-third of them openly admit that they have difficulty thinking strategically.

That bears repeating: One in three marketing agencies confess that they can’t provide the strategic thinking CMOs are looking for from their agency partners.
(And those are just the agencies who are willing to admit it. How many more lack that strategic bench strength but won’t say so?)

The ability to think strategically is at the very core of data-driven marketing. Strategy connects data to message, message to tactics. It identifies market opportunities. Matches products to personas. And links marketing goals to business objectives. It is the overarching blueprint that brings together a wide array of multichannel tactics.

In short, strategic thinking is what CMOs hire agency partners to provide. So why do so many of agencies struggle to provide it?

Three factors contribute to this strategic deficit:

  1. Tactical tunnel vision. Today’s marketing agencies have abdicated strategic leadership in favor of tactical specialization. Web design shops. Content agencies. Programmatic media buyers. Direct marketing specialists. Social media experts. The list goes on and on. As a result of this tactical tunnel vision, more than 60% of surveyed CMOs state that they are unable to effectively orchestrate cross-channel marketing strategies. So who’s providing the strategic thinking needed to develop a cohesive, multichannel strategy?
  2. Data-deficient decision making. When it comes to utilizing data to make strategic decisions, most agencies talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.  In fact, 3 out of 4 agencies confess that they don’t use data to make marketing decisions. Hard to believe that agencies in this day and age can get away with that. But agencies aren’t alone: CMOs admit that 70% of their marketing decisions aren’t based on data-driven insights.
  3. Absence of accountability. Seventy percent of CEOs believe that revenue generation is the #1 goal of marketing. And yet, today’s agencies are not holding themselves accountable for results that impact business goals. They depend on “soft” metrics to measure program success, rather than tying their marketing efforts to revenue generation. Is it any wonder that 31% of marketing managers believe that their campaigns have absolutely no impact on the company’s business goals?