CMOs Aren’t Innovating Because They’re Too Busy Being Busy

By Ginger Conlon

The number one obstacle CMOs say is stalling their efforts to innovate? Day-to-day operations and firefighting, according to EnergizeGrowth’s fifth annual “CMO Innovation Trends” study.

One CMO surveyed said, “Keeping up with our workload leaves little time for innovation.” Another bemoaned her inbox: “On average, I receive 100 voicemails and emails [from vendors] each day. So, what do I do? I delete all the messages…. We’re suffering from innovation fatigue.”

Tough as it may be to find time to innovate, maintaining the status quo is not an option. Upstart and innovative competitors, demanding customers, and market momentum will leave complacent companies in the dust.

“CMOs have to invest the money to learn and grow,” says Lisa Nirell, chief energy officer of EnergizeGrowth. “If you’re too busy firefighting and checking emails, you’re not taking the time you need to learn and innovate.”

Beyond the crammed calendars

Overscheduling and overflowing inboxes aren’t the only challenges stalling marketing innovation—and marketing success overall. Three of the biggest obstacles to success the CMOs polled observe among their peers include a lack of alignment (52%), the inability to stay current with technology (51%), and a lack of sufficient resources to invest in innovation (47%).

“The lack of budget isn’t a surprise,” Nirell says. “If you’re too busy being busy, you’re not going to get the ear of the CFO.”

Those challenges echo the obstacles the CMOs say they face in achieving personal success today. Their top three issues are a lack of funding (61%), a lack of alignment (50%), and a lack of skilled employees (37%).

Technology is not the answer

In some cases, CMOs are looking to technologies that can support their efforts to innovate. Doing so is important, but it’s no panacea. According to Nirell, the study found no correlation between efficacy and the amount of technology available to CMO and their teams. “Despite all their technology investments,” she says, “technology isn’t doing enough to help them anticipate and identify customer needs.”

Worse, Nirell says, martech can become “a huge time suck.”

“Martech is not saving the world,” she asserts. “In fact, it’s causing more confusion than anything else. CMOs need to refine their marketing stack by getting rid of unnecessary tools and keeping only those that help meet their strategic goals.”

So, what are CMOs doing to drive and support innovation? Nearly half are hiring people who they consider to be curious and innovative. Additionally, 44% of the CMOs polled are rewarding innovative ideas and learning from failures, and 43% are attending outside events and “unplugging.”

CMOs are also taking steps to address their other obstacles to marketing success. These include investing more funds into marketing operations (39%), revising their content management strategies (20%), and reorganizing their teams (19%).

Get to know customers—and yourself

These are positive steps forward, but not enough, Nirell asserts. “Despite all the technology, the AI, CMOs and their teams still can’t identify unmet customer needs,” she says. “The reason is simple: CMOs aren’t spending enough time with customers. Until they do, they’re not going to achieve anything meaningful or innovate in ways that create customer value.”

Nirell also recommends that CMOs increase their self-awareness. “Ask, ‘What are my strengths and how do they map to this moment in history and this company?’” she says. “If you’re a firefighter, go find a job that fits that strength; where it’s OK to not have a strategic seat at the table—somewhere that needs blocking and tackling and basic digital. Not every chief marketer needs a seat at the C-suite table; some companies just need to get the fundamentals in place. If you’re a strategic person, hire people to do the blocking and tackling.”

Finally, Nirell suggests that CMOs rethink their habits and workdays to increase productivity, create alignment, and build collaboration. And, that they eliminate schedule-sucking distractions such as “zombie projects” that make no impact on marketing performance.

Ultimately, CMOs need to make time to innovate, not make excuses for why they can’t—no matter how valid those reasons may be.


(The full study, which includes information on changes over the course of the five years of the study, is available here, and requires registration.)

About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.