CMO Barometer: Unpicking the brand agenda for 2023

Written by Natalia Bus | December 2022

Get under the skin of what makes CMOs tick

As the year draws to a close, those tasked with orchestrating the strategy for brands will be on the lookout for insights to determine their planning for 2023. To that end, UNLIMITED in partnership with Serviceplan conducted the CMO Barometer, a pan-European survey of CMOs, Senior Marketing and Comms leaders on their future-forward priorities and motivations.

To delve into the ‘why’ behind the findings, we invited top brand marketing minds to share their thoughts in a panel discussion. Check out the broad range of perspectives that TMW UNLIMITED’s Chris Mellish, Vodafone’s Natalie Sylvester, WW’s Tony Miller, and Barratt Developments’ Jeremy Hipkiss brought to the table.


It’s no surprise that “digital” is high on the agenda, but what does the ubiquitous term actually mean?

Jeremy: Most of our customer journey is digital, up to the point of purchase. So, driving our capabilities in this area has been crucial. There may come a point in the future where people choose to buy homes online and so we’re building towards and preparing for that.

Natalie: We want to encourage customers to self-serve as we do a lot of cross-selling, upselling and retention so we need people using the app and the e-care platform. It’s cost effective for us if customers acquire additional licenses online, meaning that our focus lies in improving the customer journey.

Our challenge is that we have a lot of older customers who need to buy in to digital. Many still want to go through the standard retail formats while we’re trying to do a better job of showing them that the online process is simple.

Tony: Digital can be a kind of catch-all for a multitude of sins. Performance, CRM, analytics – you name it. But for us, it’s about performance marketing and how we use digital channels to increase sign ups at the right cost for the right audience to ensure they stay with our programme the longest.

It’s a channel that’s agile enough for us to quickly react and respond to based on real-time results. If we’re looking at all the areas of digital, in terms of the data that feeds into it, the automation that drives it, we’re really talking about maximising efficiencies.


Are we still gaining ground in terms of making marketing more efficient with automation?

Natalie: We deal with millions of customers who all vary in profile and having that automation piece means that we know if someone is at the end of their contract and we can serve them X or Y. It makes for a much smoother process, where we’re able to hit all the right customers at the right time. On top of that, it helps with the bottom line. I think there’s still loads more we can be doing with automation – we haven’t reached the final furlong yet.

Tony: The way in which we use automation helps us to be agile with test and learn and optimisation. We really understand what messages and offers resonate with certain audience groups, which you can only do at scale when you’re using automation techniques.

Jeremy: We do have to be careful to not get totally fixated on automation and tech to drive ROI. After all, something must go into the automation in terms of content, and that is difficult to capture in a truly automated way and needs as much emphasis. It’s the content and messaging that will prompt a reaction from the consumer and impact what your objectives are.


How important is the notion of creativity in terms of generating ROI?

Jeremy: As all digital channels evolve, we need to continually build our understanding of how people respond to the channel and the content within it, and how to optimise that from a creative perspective.

For example, a key factor in someone buying a house is imagery, namely how people respond emotionally to one image versus another. I don’t think you can do enough when it comes to examining that and measuring the success of something like short form video or infographics. The insight around that is critical as the automation piece will become less effective if you’re lacking the appropriate calibre of content. It’s not an either or – the two go hand in hand.

Tony: I would echo that. Creativity is what is going to unlock that emotional connection and bring people in. Once you’ve captured attention, you can lay out the benefits of your product or service and get those people to stay. So, investing in creative and the right imagery and messaging, as well as test and learn, is vital.

It’s never going to be one message that works all the time, it’ll change as seasons, economics, and people’s ideas change. Insight is a key driver in developing creativity, but I would argue that creativity can deliver strong ROI if you’ve got the right tools in place to measure it.


Are research sciences just a nice-to-have?

Natalie: Neuroscience or implicit Reaction Time Testing are important techniques that I don’t think brands tap into enough. That may be because the value isn’t as tangible to see. If you were to run a promo, you see the impact almost instantly, but finessing the language of a communication is not necessarily something that you’ll see the effects of in an obvious way. You’d have to measure the impact over a longer period. But we’ve had great success with this – using implicit testing to build some really strong creative that drove powerful results.

Jeremy: To reiterate what I’ve said before, content is crucial and if we’re not really getting under the skin of what’s motivating our customers to take the next step or action, then how on earth are we going to improve the return on all the other things we’re investing in?


Why do you think that sustainability was so low on the pecking order of CMO priorities?

Natalie: I’ll be honest, the issue does vary for our customers. When we’ve done surveys ourselves, certain customer profiles will say sustainability is important but not a top priority, especially if price is a factor.

I don’t think people are at the stage where it’s a be-all and end-all, but customers do want to see it. In fact, it’s become almost a hygiene factor for brands to show that they’re doing something around it. But I wouldn’t say it’s something that will make customers choose another brand at the moment.

Jeremy: I honestly believe that a vast majority of customers are looking for sustainable products and this is increasing in importance every day. If you measure even five years ago versus now, you’ll see that consumers are more onboard. I’m slightly surprised about the survey results because it seems that CMOs are not asking their customers the right questions and aren’t caught up on the attitudes to sustainability.


Is there anything you’re going to deprioritise going into next year?

Tony: I don’t want to deprioritise anything – it’s always a case of needing to do everything, just for less money! But I’ll probably be putting the bucket of innovation on the back burner. Things like that will need to go to keep the balancing act of long-term investment and short-term performance as refined as possible. So, for us the nice-to-haves are around innovation and experimentation.

Natalie: It’s not exactly about deprioritising but doing less and better. We send out numerous communications and I think to flip your question, the priority is to focus on what’s been working well and what we should be culling to drive efficiency and effectiveness.


Curious to know more?

This year’s CMO Barometer outcomes are sure to shape many a marketing strategy. You can revisit the insight-rich discussion or share it with your teams here. For any questions, get in touch with our host Chris Mellish, at

If our webinar whets your appetite to get further under the skin of the UK’s CMO community, you can get your hands on the full research report here.