How 2019 re-shaped the CMO agenda

The marketing agenda always moves forward – and analysing the content that CMOs consume shows where it’s headed

December 17, 2019

How 2019 re-shaped the CMO agenda

The marketing agenda constantly moves forward – and there’s no better indicator of the direction it’s moving in than the content consuming the attention of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs).

At the start of 2019, we launched LinkedIn Content Intelligence, our quarterly analysis of content trends on our platform, by looking in detail at the content captivating CMOs. We examined the topics driving greatest engagement among this audience and the posts shaping thinking on each subject. This revealed CMOs’ mixed feelings about AI and personalisation, balanced between interest in new tools and tactics – and concern about threats to creativity. It showed their inherently competitive instincts (revealed in the popularity of rankings and lists), their admiration for Nike’s bold Colin Kaepernick campaign, and their determination to get to grip with blockchain.

Now, as 2019 draws to a close, we’re taking another look at content engagement among CMOs. We wanted to know how 2019 has re-shaped their agenda. Are the technologies that seemed so important at the start of the year still a priority heading into 2020? Have attitudes to the key marketing issues shifted? Are new concerns elbowing their way into CMOs’ thinking?

Just as we did at around this time last year, we’re analysing CMOs’ engagement with content using the LinkedIn Engagement Index. This ranks topics and posts by how much more likely CMOs are to engage with them than the average LinkedIn member. The Engagement Index reveals the content that matters to CMOs because they are CMOs.

We’ve analysed CMOs’ engagement with content throughout 2019 to reveal the Top Ten Topics that are now dominating their thinking. By comparing this to last year’s Top Ten we get a clear view of the issues that are growing and declining in importance – the climbers and fallers in this pop chart of marketing subject matter. When we look in more detail at the posts driving engagement for each topic, we also get an insight into how sentiment around these issues is changing. After all, the fact that CMOs are still thinking about a marketing topic doesn’t necessarily mean that they are still thinking about it in the same way.

Here are the Top Ten – the issues dominating the CMO agenda at the end of 2019:

The Top Ten Topics for CMOs

1. B2B Marketing

The Christmas Number One, thanks to CMOs clicking on B2B-specific thought leadership almost 20% more often than they did a year ago.

2. Demand Generation

It’s been knocked off top spot by B2B marketing, but demand generation still occupies a huge slice of CMOs’ attention as they focus in on tactics and techniques, read about others’ strategies, and ponder the all-important question of what demand generation means today.

3. Search Engine Optimisation

A huge climber in the year-end chart: SEO is up from five to three after growing its total number of CMO engagements by a staggering 44%.

4. Marketing

The Marketing topic captures big-picture thinking about the role that our discipline plays in business, life, the universe, and everything in between. It focuses on key issues such as ROI and the challenge of proving the value of marketing to the rest of the C-suite. It’s jumped up from 12 in our ranking to Number Four, as CMOs engage with content pondering how they and their discipline fit into the wider business picture.

5. Advertising Agency

Sliding down two places from Number Three is arguably the most gossipy and glamorous topic in marketing – the goings-on at advertising agencies.

6. Positioning

Positioning smashes its way into the Top Ten from all the way down at 15 on last year’s chart. In truth, it’s always a popular topic among CMOs, who see adjustments to a brand’s position as one of the most important forms of value they can add – and devour content from newly appointed CMOs describing their vision for a business.

7. Personalisation

Roaring up from Number 13 last year, personalisation is setting the CMO agenda alight with a 123% rise in engagement among this specific audience. They’re hungrier than ever for guidance on how to integrate tech into marketing strategy, opinion pieces on new trends, and acquisitions and start-ups that promise to disrupt their space.

8. Brand Loyalty

Up one place on the back of an 8% rise in engagement, Brand Loyalty’s place in the Top Ten testifies to the enduring importance of CRM and customer lifetime value.

9. Advertising Strategies

Advertising Strategies place in the Top Ten reflects CMOs’ continued passion for great creative work, and proves their attention isn’t totally dominated by technology and targeting options. Content around admired campaigns increased engagement by over 4x during the year.

10. Digital Marketing

Rounding out our Top Ten is Digital Marketing, with its position as a top priority reflecting the continued growth in digital advertising’s share of budgets.

Our analysis: The Big Climbers

What does the new Top Ten mean for marketing? What does it tell us about the way that CMOs’ thinking is developing? Looking at the factors driving the rise of the biggest climbers in our ranking provides some valuable clues.

B2B Marketing grabbed the Christmas Number One spot for a number of reasons. With LinkedIn established as the most important global B2B marketing platform, it’s natural that a lot of content covers B2B – and a lot of B2B marketing leaders engage with it. However, the topic’s rise to the top of the rankings also reflects the growing quality of B2B thought leadership – and its capacity to drive engagement at scale. This is powerfully demonstrated by the success of in-depth posts such as Marketo founder and Engagio CEO Jon Miller discussing future B2B trends, and SiriusDecisions’ 2019 Global CMO Study. It’s also true that coverage of B2B is broadening, with more posts from the likes of Forbes, Reuters, marketing trade magazines and influencers like Gary Vaynerchuk. And last but not least, trends in tech and digital marketing mean that B2B brands are increasingly playing the role of pioneers. They’re adopting new techniques for personalisation and making practical use of automation and AI in ways that B2C CMOs are envious of – and pay close attention to.

The second highly significant climber in our list is SEO – and again, there’s a very good reason for this. In SEO, change is a constant, and senior marketers have been trained to respond quickly whenever a search engine updates its algorithm. News of changes to Google (whether to the layout, to lead forms or to the way account management works) always drive significant spikes in engagement. Credible experts like Moz generate ongoing traffic around guides to SEO that respond to these changes. However, in 2019, there was a new type of shift focusing CMOs’ attention: the rise of voice search. The top-performing post on SEO (from Neil Patel) led with the need to update search strategies in response to people speaking their queries rather than typing them into search engine boxes. Expect more CMO attention on this issue next year.

When posts start to question whether the CMO role has a future, it’s hardly surprising that CMOs pay close attention. The topic of Marketing rose to number four in our chart on the back of strong engagement around posts asking these existential questions. Mainstream business news outlets like CNBC are flagging the disappearance of CMO roles from major brands as a key trend. However, the concerns that CMOs seems be showing over their own roles is balanced by the surge up the rankings of another topic: Positioning. The posts driving engagement for this subject reflect chief marketers’ continuing conviction that they can make a difference. They have an appetite for news of new CMO appointments, and are eager to hear about how brands are adjusting their strategy.

Personalisation’s rapid rise show how the ability to translate technology into customer experience and customer value is now one of the top priorities for CMOs. They remain hungry for practical advice from credible sources, as shown by the popularity of Gartner’s Essential Guide to Personalisation, Deloitte’s summary of key trends in customer experience, and McKinsey’s future-facing content on where personalisation is going next. They’re also keen to understand the moves that others are making (whether that’s Foot Locker’s shift to experience-driven commerce, as reported by Adobe, or McDonald’s acquiring a tech company that promises more data-driven customer journeys). One notable change from a year ago is less engagement with content that focuses on concerns around the use of data. It seems that CMOs are feeling more comfortable in their ability to integrate tech into their strategy without impinging on creativity – or falling foul of GDPR.

Our analysis: The Big Fallers

Within the Top Ten, the biggest drop in CMO engagement involved Advertising Agency news, which might reflect growing concerns about the traditional agency model – and increasing evidence of consumers’ resistance to advertising. That was certainly the tone of a piece in The New York Times that warned, The Advertising Industry Has a Problem: People Hate Ads. However, the evidence of other strongly performing posts for this subject suggests that CMOs aren’t so easily swayed. Top performers included The Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman’s hilarious take-down of trend-obsessed ad tech and marketing executives at the Cannes Lions festival, and Forbes’ warning of the dangers of cutting ad budgets, as epitomised by the troubles of Kraft Heinz.

The subjects that are dropping most dramatically down the CMO agenda don’t make the Top Ten at all. Startup and Venture Capital-related posts saw engagement among CMOs drop 29% and 24% respectively, as some of the gloss came off the model of unicorn businesses disrupting sectors and then delivering spectacular IPOs. Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, some of the fastest-growing topics in last year’s analysis, barely register this time around. It seems to be a case of intense buzz failing to translate into practical marketing value – for the time being at least.

Our Analysis: The Big Non-Mover

Amid all the movers and fallers, there’s one topic that retains its appeal to CMOs: the value that comes from courage and creativity. Advertising Strategy remained at Number Nine in our list, and did so on the back of a 4x rise in engagement from CMOs. It’s a handy reminder that, above all else, marketing leaders aspire to be associated with great work. A year on, Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign still accounts for several of the top-performing posts in this category, including coverage of the ad landing an Emmy and helping the brand to beat Wall Street’s expectations of financial performance. There’s similar CMO enthusiasm for the story of Burger King’s bold Whopper Detour campaign. On the other hand, chief marketers are quick to consume content that confirms the risks of jumping onto marketing bandwagons, and forgetting the value of creativity. The story of an Instagram influencer who failed to sell 36 T-shirts to her 2.6 million followers proved particularly popular. CMOs don’t just admire creativity – they understand that it’s a more effective driver of ROI than many must-have new platforms and marketing trends.

What will be Marketing’s big movers in 2020?

As we head into the New Year, CMOs continue to face battles defining their role and clarifying the value that marketing delivers to the business bottom line. However, they have growing confidence in their ability to master the new trends and technologies that are a part of that role and the key to delivering that value. As chief marketers become more confident in their use of data and personalisation, they’re able to focus more of their attention and energy on creative thinking and brand strategy. At least until the next disruptive new technology, trend or platform comes along. It will be fascinating to see which of these elbows its way onto the CMO agenda in 2020.