For the last few years, Econsultancy’s Future of Marketing survey has painted a picture of an industry where any thoughts about the future were obscured by what was happening in a marketer’s ‘right now’, from the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath in 2020 and 2021 to the economic concerns that dominated the 2022 edition of the report.

This year, though, marketers are realistic about current challenges – in the economy, the media landscape and the state of measurement – but also focused on the future.

“I think people have been in a really uncertain and depressing place in recent years. There’s an opportunity for marketers to offer more hope, more certainty,” said Philip Almond, Executive Director Fundraising & Marketing, Cancer Research UK, when interviewed for the report.

Similarly, Peter Wright, Chief Marketing Officer at Specsavers, said, “The next few years should be a tremendous opportunity for marketers.”

“We’re going through tough economic times with lots of changing consumer behaviours,” he continued. “This means that if you can truly understand what consumers are thinking about and show that you’re driving the growth in the targeted areas, and you can get your whole business behind it, then this should be the time when marketers shine.”

The next few years should be a tremendous opportunity for marketers

The fifth edition of the Future of Marketing survey brings together results from more than 800 marketing professionals and interviews with industry experts to examine the trends shaping the industry over the next two years.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the key findings in the report. You can also register to join our Future of Marketing webinar on September 21st. The full report is available to members here.

Key takeaways

  • Despite the crises which have characterised the last few years, the vast majority (76%) of marketers are optimistic about the future of the industry.
  • Three quarters (75%) of marketers say their organisations are already using or actively considering the rollout of generative AI tools.
  • Over the next two years, the majority of marketers (76%) predict that there will be either a small increase in marketing budgets or that budgets will stay the same. Data and insight capability, technology and infrastructure, and strategic initiatives are seen as the top investment priorities.
  • Data continues to be an increasing focus, with 75% of marketers predicting it will become more important over the next two years.
  • Despite Google’s sunsetting of third-party cookies being less than a year away, just under a third of marketers (30%) consider their organisation prepared.

A glass (mostly) half full: 76% of marketers are optimistic

Despite the past few years having been characterised by uncertainty, crisis and rapid change, the majority (76%) of marketers are optimistic about the future (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How optimistic do you feel about the future of marketing?

Source: Econsultancy’s Future of Marketing survey | Sample: 690

A consistent theme across the years Econsultancy has been publishing this report is the optimism of marketers. This is equally true this year, as Alun Williams, Global Ecommerce Director at Hotelbeds, succinctly puts it: “Marketing is the drumbeat of an organisation and those organisations that clearly champion the customer will be the ones that succeed.”

Of growing importance: new tech, data and measurement, and agility

This year, adding to that sense of optimism are the opportunities presented by innovation and new technologies – seen by 80% of marketers to be of growing importance for the next two years (Figure 2).

Figure 2: How do you expect the importance of the following to change in the next two years for your organisation?

Source: Econsultancy’s Future of Marketing survey | Sample: 611

Though ‘data, analytics and measurement’ lost its top spot this year (falling from first in 2022 to second in 2023), it is still seen as increasingly important for competitive fitness, with 75% of marketers predicting it will become only more important over the coming two years. It’s easy to see why, when less than a third of marketers (30%) responding to the survey consider their organisation either fully or mostly prepared for the loss of third-party cookies, and less than half (49%) say their organisation offers a clear value exchange in return for customers sharing their data.

More broadly, marketers evidently foresee no slowing in the pace of change or disruption at their organisations, as ‘agility and adaptability’ is third most selected as of growing importance (73%) while ‘long-term planning’ maintained its position from 2022 at the bottom of the list.

Seeing the greatest fall in predicted importance since last year is ‘social impact and environmental sustainability’. During a summer beset by climate change related extreme weather, and a slowdown in the rate of social progress, this is a worrying direction of travel.

75% of marketers say their organisations are already using or actively considering the rollout of generative AI tools

Throughout this year’s survey there was one consistent theme – AI. Specifically, marketers’ concerns and excitement around generative AI.

Thirty two percent of marketers said they are currently using the technology, with 43% considering its use.

As to where the value of GenAI will come from, marketers identified increased speed of campaign production (64%), increased experimentation and optimisation (55%), internal cost/resource saving (47%) and improved personalisation (46%) as the primary benefits of AI over the next two years. In other words, the ability to do more with less.

However, almost half (47%) said a lack of clear strategy for using these technologies was one of the top three challenges in their use of generative AI.

Only 5% of marketers describe their tech stack as completely fit for purpose

Despite the excitement over new technologies, and AI specifically, there is still considerable work needed to support these emerging opportunities as only 5% of marketers describe their technology stack as being completely fit for purpose (Figure 3). This is even lower than last year, where 9% of marketers were fully satisfied with their tech setup.

Figure 3: To what extent is your current martech stack fit for purpose?

Source: Econsultancy’s Future of Marketing survey | Sample: 390

Economic pressures keep marketing budgets steady, with data and insight capability a priority

The squeeze on consumer spending seen across 2022 is likely to persist into 2024 and potentially beyond, making the job of the marketer not only more challenging, but more essential.

As Alexandra Willis, Director of Digital Media & Audience Development for The Premier League, puts it: “It’s not just competition for attention anymore, it’s competition for your bank balance.”

The current economic environment is not only having an impact on household spend but on marketing budgets as well. This year only 10% of marketers predict a significant increase in budgets over the next two years versus 17% in 2022. Though marketers may not be predicting significant budget increases, it is not all bad news as significant cuts are seen as even less likely (5%) (Figure 4).

The vast majority of marketers predict instead that either their budgets will remain the same (27%) or increase slightly (39%).

Figure 4: How do you expect marketing budgets to change over the next two years?

Source: Econsultancy’s Future of Marketing survey | Sample: 574

For Dom Boyd, Managing Director at Kantar, the current context may have advantages for savvy marketers: “If you think about it, the current moment is a really exciting place for marketers to be. We are experiencing a period where the strongest brands will excel and become even stronger because they’re set up in the right way and are focused on the right things. This is a glorious opportunity for the best marketers to shine more brightly.”

Where those budgets are set to be spent mirrors marketers’ priorities. ‘Data and insight capability’ is the number one budgeting priority for marketers over the next two years, with over half (57%) of marketers expecting spend in that area to increase. This is followed by ‘technology and infrastructure spending’ (55%) and ‘strategic initiatives’ (53%), suggesting marketers’ recognise that a strong foundation across people, processes, data and technology is vital for success in 2023 and beyond.

Register now to attend our Future of Marketing webinar, September 21st.