Words at work

– 13 min read

Planning for uncertainty

What leading CMOs are cutting, keeping, and transforming in 2023

Michelle Newblom

Michelle Newblom

If the first few months of 2023 indicate how the rest of the year will be, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

With tech giants making drastic cuts to their workforces, CMOs are under extra scrutiny to justify headcount and budgets. The job of shaping a marketing strategy is more stressful than ever.

How does a marketing leader steer the metaphorical ship and explore new horizons in choppy waters? Like good captains, CMOs must consider what surplus cargo is weighing them down, what elements are essential to their team’s safety, survival, and growth, and how to refit their marketing strategy for a perilous voyage.

Writer’s CEO and co-founder May Habib recently moderated a webinar addressing these uncertainties with CMOs at leading brands. The following lineup of panelists shared how they’re planning to adapt their processes in 2023:

  • Lynn Teo, CMO at Northwestern Mutual
  • Clare Carr, VP of enterprise marketing at Chief
  • Annette Cardwell, VP of corporate marketing at Lattice
  • Jamie Barnett, advisor and investor at Writer
Lynn Teo, Annette Cardwell, Clare Carr, Jamie Barnett

The discussion is a treasure trove of practical marketing insights. During the session, CMOs at fast-growing startups and established corporations alike discuss what’s working for them, what they’re cutting, and what they’re refining to better achieve their goals.

We’ve collected the most valuable lessons so you can apply similar techniques to your own marketing planning efforts. You can also watch the full webinar recording on demand.

Summarized by Writer

  • CMOs are examining the data behind long-standing programs that aren’t working.
  • Be willing to cut programs that aren’t delivering results so you can redirect those resources.
  • Identify your “non-essentials” by asking yourself if it’s adding value to your business or your customers’ goals.
  • In 2023, CMOs are keeping and investing in the integrity of their brand, their time and their teams.
  • Scale your content production by using AI to grow more by doing less.
  • The end-goal matters most, so don’t be afraid to take (safe) risks in these uncertain times.
Summarized by Writer

What leading CMOs are cutting

CMOs are taking a step back to examine the data behind what isn’t working, and cutting those programs so they can invest their more limited resources into areas that are giving results.

Clare Carr (VP of enterprise marketing, Chief) shared an excellent example of how to eliminate programs that seem advantageous at first, but fail to produce the desired results. Carr and her team designed a newsletter to be shared with the companies she works with. This seemed to be the most efficient way to communicate without having any other channels.

Clare Carr

“One of my my team members reported back that even just opened rates on the newsletter were dismal,” said Carr. “So I just said, ‘Stop doing it. Just take it out. Clearly, no one’s gonna miss it. Right?’”

“Stop doing it. Just take it out.
Clearly, no one’s gonna miss it. Right?”

Clare Carr
VP of enterprise marketing of Chief

Instead, Carr encouraged her team to look at what the impact of the newsletter was supposed to be, and explore what other channels could produce similar results in a more effective way.

It’s perfectly okay to admit when something isn’t going as planned. Rather than sinking more resources into a doomed endeavor, take a step back and consider other ways to achieve your goal.

Cardwell is in agreement when it comes to using data-driven decisions to take a big swing.

Annette Cardwell

“We’ve been really ruthless about looking at things we’re doing just because we’ve always done them and making sure, do we need to do this ebook series that we’ve done every year? A lot of these things add up over years and years and it becomes this institutional thing and people feel they are sacred cows and they’re worried about touching them,” said Cardwell. “The things that are not returning their investment, we’re really being ruthless and cutting those as well.”

Your “just because” programs need to have a “because.” If you can’t rationalize their purpose, it’s time to show them the door. But, don’t start letting go of everything, Barnett cautions, especially things you might bring back later.

“Obviously, if something is not working, cut it. But a lot of times, when you cut something and then six months later you bring it back, you’re almost worse than starting from scratch,” said Barnett. “Try to build optionality into everything you do.”

Jamie Barnett
“Try to build optionality into everything you do.”
Jamie Barnett
Advisor and investor of Writer


Key lessons: how to decide what to cut

CMOs should remember that although cutting certain programs may be difficult, it’s a necessary and strategic step to achieving long-term success. Not everything needs to be on the chopping block — scaling back can be just as effective at times.

Consider these lessons when you’re deciding what to cut:

  • Don’t hold on to certain processes just because you’ve always done them. Be willing to cut marketing programs that aren’t delivering results so you can redirect those resources to more effective areas.
    Carr put it best: Cut what isn’t working and identify other, more effective ways to meet your goal.
  • Identify your “non-essentials” by asking yourself if 1) Is it adding value to our business or our customers? 2) Is it helping us reach our goals and aligning with our mission?
    Non-essentials might look like a newsletter you’ve been doing forever that isn’t garnering any leads, a monthly webinar with low attendance, or aimless social media posting.
  • Keep A/B testing to determine what programs are worth keeping and what programs need to be cut.
    Decisions should be data-driven, and proper A/B testing can help you in all areas: blog post titles, emails, CTAs, etc.
  • Before you cut, consider the long-term impact. It might be better to scale back and build optionality into your strategies so you can adapt to changes more easily in the future.

Remember: if you don’t take on too much, you won’t have to cut much in the future



What leading CMOs are keeping

In 2023, CMOs are keeping the integrity of their brand, their time and their teams. If they want to see success in every area, it’s even more crucial to be intentional about time and ensuring all workforce initiatives build on one another to reach the company’s mission and goals.

Teo says leaning into marketing orchestration will help marketers get the most out of their marketing dollars by being intentional at each step in the marketing journey, by optimizing cross-channel interactions, and by passing the baton efficiently from one team to the next.

Lynn Teo

“I think this group of marketing leaders is paving the way for how critical it is for us to be fiscally responsible, and I think that’s going to be a theme moving forward,” said Teo. “For Northwestern Mutual, that means in marketing, improving our orchestration activities. I think about all the teams who go off in disperate workstreams, and I think there’s more of a call now to bring teams together, to be planful, and to be intentional.”

Speaking of bringing teams together, don’t forget the inherent value of your team, Barnett says. They’re the ones behind every successful program, and keeping them is of utmost importance if companies want to see long-term success.

“Assuming that your team is doing a great job, really try to keep the team because that’s where things fall apart. And it’s a great opportunity to take‌ a long-term view on mentoring them. It protects them because it makes them more valuable to you and to the company. But it also helps them for their own future,” said Barnett.

Your team is valuable, and so is your time. Leave room for the unexpected and leave room for your mind to brainstorm.

“Really try to keep the team because that’s where things fall apart. And it’s a great opportunity to take‌ a long-term view on mentoring them.”

Jamie Barnett
Advisor and investor of Writer

“Always have slack in the system. I tell my team to try to keep 10 to 15 percent of your time and your mental space,” said Barnett. “At the very least, […] maybe you use it to go for a walk or have an extra dinner with your husband or whatever. But one thing that it does is it is it lets you open your mind to new ideas.”

When Carr decides what to keep, she puts it through a filter of ‘What’s the mission? How is this leveling up to the mission? What are the company values?’ Plus, how can they be more efficient?

“How do we work more efficiently so that we can get our brand out there in a faster and more efficient way through using AI, and focus on some of those bigger picture goals? Thinking about it through that lens is the thing that I think is most helpful to then go to leadership and say, ‘This is why we’re keeping it and this is why we’re making the investment.’”

Key lessons on how to decide what to keep

It’s a no-brainer that your time and how you choose to invest it is one of the most important things to consider when planning for 2023. Keep things that ultimately give back to your team and your company.

Consider these lessons as you’re deciding what to keep:

  • Look at your existing tools and workflows to see how you can make them work better together.
    Consider what APIs are available in your current tech stack to help power marketing orchestration.
  • Filter activities and investments through the mission and company values to decide what to keep.
    Alva’s brand is built on four pillars: being aspirational, progressive, essential, and approachable. They chose Writer as a marketing investment that would help them produce copy reflecting those brand values.
  • Retaining and mentoring the team is essential to long-term success.
    Ellevest uses Writer to train their team to be able to work on different projects so that everyone is empowered to write copy representing their brand.
  • Utilize technology like AI to work more efficiently and reach goals faster.
    Scale your content production by using AI to grow more by doing less. Identify which stages of the process you can hand over to AI and which elements still need a human touch.
  • Having slack in the system helps open the mind to new ideas.
    Surprises can lead to transformation and new approaches to campaigns.

Remember: When you think about “keeping” things, take into account your team and your time, not just specific processes and programs.



What leading CMOs are transforming

Not everything has to be lumped into a “cut” or “keep” category. CMOs are building upon the things they’ve seen benefits from to deliver even more, as well as transforming the not-so-successful programs into different ideas that can drive better results or better understand their audiences.

Cardwell spoke on her B2B company’s investment in community. Lattice built a Slack community for HR professionals that’s hit 19k members. Now, they’re transforming the community they’ve grown into a huge marketing resource.

“We want to take that massive community and see what we can do with the great stories and the great people that are there and the connections that are being made,” Cardwell said. “How do we mine that community for more insights? How do we actually put that in front of our prospects and our customers as learnings, as thought leadership, as ideas, as inspiration?”

While Cardwell will be working to transform their online community into a strategic goldmine, she’s also re-shaping her team’s approach to planning Lattice’s virtual conference. Although the event gets 30,000 to 40,000 signups, Cardwell says it makes more financial sense for their team to narrow their focus on audiences that are ready to convert and build events around them.

Community and customers are the backbone of any organization’s success. Jamie Barnett recognizes this and talks about the need to continually transform processes so they’re still reaching their target audience.

“I think as marketers, and as humans, we think about ourselves as the center of everything. We don’t think about how — even if we are selling the exact same product to people — they see it differently depending on how things in their universe have changed. Their goals might be the same, but their challenges may have changed and their universe has shifted,” Carr said. “We’re making sure when we think about things like brand to demand that the brand that we’re thinking about still makes sense in the universe that they’re living in. So I’m really thinking about how we can transform some of that.”

“I think as marketers, and as humans, we think about ourselves as the center of everything. We don’t think about how — even if we are selling the exact same product to people — they see it differently depending on how things in their universe have changed.”

Jamie Barnett
Advisor, investor, and board member of Writer

Key lessons on how to decide what to transform

Whether scaling up or scaling down, transformation is a key tool CMOs are deploying to get the most out of their marketing efforts.

Consider these lessons when you’re deciding what to transform in 2023:

  • Lead with empathy: be aware of how your target audience’s world may have changed, and transform their messaging accordingly.
  • Turn top-of-funnel touchpoints like brand communities into idea engines for thought leadership and bottom-of-funnel content.
  • Reimagine your most expensive and expansive marketing efforts with a tighter focus on faster conversions.
    • Just because you’ve always done it one way doesn’t mean you can’t do it in a smarter way.

Remember: You can transform certain processes that aren’t working rather than throwing them out.

Final words for marketers who are still feeling uncertain

Across the board, marketers are expected to achieve more with less in 2023. This is an achievable feat when you optimize your processes by cutting unnecessary tasks, keeping what’s important, and transforming what isn’t working.

It’s crucial to focus on the marketing metrics that truly matter and remember that tools like generative AI should serve as means to achieve your goals, not as an end in themselves. The end-goal matters most, so don’t be afraid to take (safe) risks in these uncertain times.

“When you only have so many resources, trying to prove something is working means you’re always playing catch-up,” said Carr. “Part of my planning has been how can we really focus on building that story and context. If I have to sacrifice the exact metrics to do that, that’s a bet I’m willing to take this year.”

To hear all the valuable insights our panelists had to offer, watch the full webinar recording.