CMO Survey: Marketers turn to digital, social to retain customers

Marketers see 9% job loss, but firms temporarily boost budgets to push through pandemic

June 16, 2020

The role of marketing has become increasingly important to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new results from The CMO Survey.

The twice yearly survey of U.S. marketing leaders focused specifically on COVID-19 for a special report in June.

About 62% of marketing chiefs said the importance of the marketing function in business has grown during the pandemic. At the same time, marketing leaders’ general optimism about the economy has declined about 13 points to a rating of 51 out of 100, and marketing leaders are coping with overall job losses of 9%, the survey found.

“The job losses are dramatic,” said Christine Moorman, marketing professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and director of the survey. “Many marketers are doing a lot more with less headcount,” although, she added, there were some winners and some losers -- 62% of firms indicated they didn’t lose any positions. She detailed the findings in a presentation on LinkedIn Live (see video).

Despite reported losses in revenues (down 18%) and profits (down 15%), marketing budgets have increased an average of 5% as firms pivot during the pandemic, according to the nearly 300 survey participants.

The move to digital
As online sales reach 19% of total sales – the highest since the survey launched in 2008 -- marketers are shifting resources to build better customer-facing digital interfaces (61%), transforming their business models (56%), expanding into new offerings (42%) and building partnerships (41%), the survey found.

Marketers suggest customers are placing increasing value on digital experiences and believe these changes will last beyond the pandemic.

“Marketers think consumers won’t ever go back to the way things were -- instead, this will be sticky,” Moorman said. “And there’s no reason to think that if consumers were doing a lot of learning and engagement during the pandemic, that they wouldn’t then continue.”

Social media shows its value
Becoming more entrenched in the digital space includes expanded use of social media, which saw a 74% increase in spending since the previous survey in February, the data showed.

Firms used social media to advance two consumer-focused goals as the pandemic hit. They sought to build brand value that connect with customers (84%) and retain current customers (54%), the survey found.

“This was a key way they could reach their customers, and it appears to have paid off,” Moorman said. “Social media clearly increased in its contributions to overall company performance. The goals were modest, in the sense of building a brand and retaining customers, but this is impressive given this is the first real increase in social media’s contribution to performance that we have witnessed over the last five years.”

A detailed analysis, including trends across industries, is available at

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