Just one-third of marketers say brand strategies address climate change: The CMO Survey

Investments in marketing, digital marketing grow; most climate-related actions see two-year decline

Published: May 10, 2022 02:17:28 PM IST
Updated: May 10, 2022 02:35:42 PM IST

Since February 2020, the likelihood firms will take actions to protect the environment – particularly through efforts such as changing their products or services or changing the partners they work with – has steadily declined. Image: Shutterstock

Marketing budgets and investments in digital marketing have expanded over the past year, but the latest data from The CMO Survey also reveals an unexpected blind spot: just one-third of marketers say their firms’ brand strategies include goals to address climate change.

The survey included responses from 320 top marketers at for-profit U.S. firms and was sponsored by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics, Deloitte LLP and the American Marketing Association.

Although almost half (47%) of marketers in the semi-annual survey believe their companies are willing to make short-term sacrifices to reduce the negative impacts of marketing-related activities, about 40% say their companies are taking no actions to reduce the risks of climate change.

“The truth is, climate change is an important issue,” said Fuqua marketing professor Christine Moorman, who is also the founder and director of The CMO Survey. “Stakeholders are putting a lot more pressure on companies to do these things. With all of the work going on with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, it’s pretty striking to see there’s so little being done to incorporate these goals into brand strategy.”

Since February 2020, the likelihood firms will take actions to protect the environment – particularly through efforts such as changing their products or services or changing the partners they work with – has steadily declined.

The most common changes companies are making to reduce the environmental impact of their marketing strategies is reducing the climate impact of products and services (33%), increasing reuse, resale, and recycling levels within companies (31%), and increasing investments in innovations that allow them to offer more environmentally friendly products and services (27%).

Smaller percentages said their companies were reducing climate change risk by changing packaging (25%), participating in projects to offset the company’s ecological impacts (21%) or adopting specific climate-related metrics (19%), the data showed.

“These are all things that are eminently doable, but it looks like perhaps there’s not much will to do it,” Moorman said. Although consumers have increasingly called upon companies to address climate change, she said, just 34% of companies said they thought customers or partners would reward the company for reducing its climate impact.

Digital marketing expands

Almost 70% of marketing leaders say their roles have only grown in importance over the past year, and they are also more strongly aligned with the finance leaders at their organizations.

Overall, marketing has grown to comprise almost 12% of firms’ overall budgets, which is consistent with levels prior to the pandemic, the survey showed.

“Marketing does seem to be continuing to benefit from the digital transformation, and a lot of companies’ budgets are up, teams are growing – it’s a good time to be a marketer,” Moorman said.

At the onset of the pandemic, many firms were looking at how to establish a digital presence, just setting up basic infrastructure, Moorman noted. New survey results show marketers have now deepened investments in digital marketing, with spending on data analytics increasing by almost 40% compared to a year earlier.

“One of the key findings that we report is that marketers are moving beyond basic infrastructure and are now saying, let’s run the numbers and use our data to drive decisions,” Moorman said. “Earlier in the pandemic, the focus was on optimizing websites, so we’re finally now moving beyond these table stakes.”

Consumer data privacy and other findings

Survey data indicates that firms are also taking action around consumer data privacy, with about 18% of marketing leaders indicating they expect their firms’ use of third-party data to decline over the next two years.

But marketers may not be as concerned as some might expect, Moorman said.

“Marketers are saying that first, they don’t think consumers are reading these privacy disclosures, and that they also don’t really think consumers are going to use them as a basis for making decisions,” she said. “You might have expected that privacy policies would become one way firms might compete, but that’s not what is happening – only 38% of marketers believe customers are willing to switch brands because of privacy protections.”

About 45% of marketers believe that sharing privacy notices with customers improves how their brands are viewed, but nearly all marketers in the survey also believe consumers do not read privacy policies carefully and don’t understand them, the survey showed.

Other notable findings:

  1. Companies reported an 11% increase in their marketing spending on diversity, equity and inclusion over the past year, an increase from about 9% a year earlier
  2. Nearly a quarter of marketers say their companies have taken no actions in the past year related to diversity, equity and inclusion
  3. Although smartphone ownership continues to rise, only about a quarter of marketers say their firms have an app
  4. Despite changing economic conditions, companies report a 12% increase in marketing jobs over the past year, led by growth in education and banking, finance and insurance
  5. Across all sectors, marketers attributed one-third of voluntary resignations to the Great Resignation, which refers to a record number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs in 2021
A detailed analysis, including longitudinal trends and insights across industries, is available at cmosurvey.org/results.

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[This article has been reproduced with permission from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. This piece originally appeared on Duke Fuqua Insights]

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