CMO's five key learnings from 2021

30 second summary:

  • For 2022, only change is certain – and a lot
  • Marketing leaders are expected to find an extremely important balance between leading a mission and fueling team growth
  • Michael Collins, CMO and Managing Director of the CFA Institute, shares five lessons he will take with him into the new year

Marketers are constantly evolving as the world around us changes. If in 2021 it was a matter of reacting to the pandemic-induced transformation, I assume that in 2022 it will be a matter of gaining a foothold again in order to be successful in a customer-oriented landscape.

On the way to 2022, marketers need to remain agile and flexible in order to be able to deal with additional changes. There are several things marketers should be proactive in thinking about in order to thrive, even in a changing market. Here are five lessons I learned this year as a CMO.

1. Accept changes

It seems like the only thing that has been constant in 2021 is change. As the future becomes increasingly uncertain, today’s brand leaders need to keep their teams engaged, motivated, and able to cope with change. Leaders need to strike an extremely important balance between leading the way to accomplish a mission and focusing on individuals to fuel the team’s growth and development.

Effective leaders lead the process from start to finish and use change to ignite new ways of working and new ways of thinking. Rather than avoiding or circumventing change, successful leaders adopt them to encourage innovation. Marketing directors have a real chance to be growth drivers well into 2022. Rather than simply focusing on more traditional tasks like website development and campaigning, marketers can and should take a more active role in defining the paths to business success, including demand generation, advancing digital delivery platforms, and focusing on creating exceptional customer experiences.

2. Know your customer needs

To be successful, brands need to understand the full spectrum of needs and desires of their target groups – inside and out. At every touchpoint in the entire funnel, you have to ask yourself: “What does the customer want here? What are they looking for? ”Once you’ve answered these questions, you can create a clear persona that reflects a deep understanding of those needs and then access additional personalized data points like geography, career level, and other factors to customize your messages.

Marketing leaders have to abandon their traditional hierarchies, funnels and models. You need to look at the world from the perspective of a customer – not a brand. This includes breaking down silos between departments to create a unified view of the customer. The ability to do this will help marketing leaders not only understand their customers’ behavior, but also be able to deliver more personal and relevant experiences by putting the customer first. These seamless and personalized customer experiences are no longer negotiable.

3. Personalization is key

Building on the above thought, in order to do justice to personalization, brands must identify the greatest moments of receptivity to their story. In other words, how do you get the right message across to the right person at the right time through the right channel? To do this, you need to ensure that these “rights” translate into meaningful engagement that matters to the unique person you are addressing.

Personalization in marketing can mean the difference between long-term business success and failure. Keeping personalization the focus of your marketing efforts will signal your customers that they are your top priority. Otherwise, customers might be tempted to reach out to a competitor for their needs. At this point, all of your hard work trying to build customer relationships is in vain.

In October, I published an article on the topic of integrating the “personal” into personalization, which underscores the importance of personalization in building long-term customer relationships. While data is essential, the keys to building authentic connections and achieving the best results are in empathy, understanding, and personalization. This was crucial in 2021 and will become even more important as 2022 enters.

4. Digital marketing will dominate until 2022

In 2021, digital marketing and social media demonstrated the ability to find new audiences for companies and to appeal to customers from earlier times. The importance of digital marketing to businesses has been demonstrated and will continue to be of paramount importance in 2022. The brands that understand digital strategies and implement them effectively will be well positioned to be successful by the start of the new year. These strategies will allow brands to stand out and penetrate the noise to stay connected with their customers and interact for continued success.

With many of us still working from home or hybrid, it is clear that e-commerce, video conferencing, and online socialization will stay and connectivity online will be more important than ever. Traditional person-to-person B2B models such as financial services, legal services, human resources, and more have included various online options and are expected to continue to meet future business needs.

5. Content is still king

Content marketing will remain the focus of customer loyalty efforts even with the changes in the B2B marketing landscape over the past year. According to Hubspot’s “State of Marketing Report 2021”, 82 percent of marketers state that they will be actively using content marketing in 2021, 70 percent more than in the previous year. This year has shown us that purpose is key and brands need to challenge themselves to find new channels for content marketing in the New Year.

In 2021, video, live chat and virtual events emerged as breakout stars in the B2B scene, especially as face-to-face meetings and related sales activities declined significantly. I am firmly convinced that content marketing via existing and new channels will only gain in importance in the marketing mix in 2022.


With 2022 just around the corner, it makes sense to look to the future in marketing in order to anticipate which changes and habits will persist and which will still develop. Like many marketers, I learned a lot about agility and transformation in a relatively short period of time.

The future of marketing will inevitably evolve over the coming months and years. To keep pace with constant change, marketers need to remain agile and open to new approaches. But even in times of great change, the common thread that holds everything together is the customer. I’m confident that today’s marketers can help their brand connect with their customers over the long term by putting the customer at the center of the decision-making process.

Michael Collins is the CMO and Managing Director of the CFA Institute.

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