Study: CMOs are Overlooking Key Opportunities to Drive Growth Through Search Engine Marketing


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Adthena’s 2019 survey of CMOs uncovered marketing executives’ perceptions towards search engine marketing (SEM) and the opportunities they may be overlooking

Today’s CMOs are spending millions of dollars a year on SEM. In fact, this channel now makes up the largest digital marketing budget line for CMOs and accounts for nearly half of digital advertising spend globally. Yet despite the continued investment in SEM, CMOs have conflicting views on how this channel should be used and its value as a digital marketing function.

To gain a better understanding of these perceptions, Adthena surveyed 151 marketing decision makers across the US and UK. Here’s what we found:

Where does SEM rank against other marketing functions?

SEM received high marks from CMOs in terms of the value it brings to their digital marketing programs. Notably, 72% of survey respondents ranked SEM within their top three most-valued marketing functions compared to tactics such as programmatic, video and native/display advertising.

In looking at the business goals this channel contributes to, 95% of CMOs are in agreement that this channel can support customer acquisition and help drive sales. But when it comes to more long-term strategic functions, CMOs are torn. 

CMOs are Overlooking the Strategic Value of SEM

Despite being a tried-and-true marketing function, SEM has historically operated more as a tactical element of digital marketing programs. However, our survey found that92% of CMOs do believe that SEM can help them make more strategic business decisions. Of these, 60% believe that SEM plays a strategic role by gaining a competitive advantage (58.9%) and identifying new market opportunities (58.2%).

On the other hand, there are a few key areas where CMOs are missing opportunities to take full advantage of the strategic value of SEM. Only 23% of respondents noted that SEM plays a strategic role in partner and affiliate management, while less than 40% believe it can help protect their brand from competition. Additionally, less than half (43%) agree that SEM can aid in streamlining customer journeys.

CMOs are Facing an Uphill Battle When it Comes to Proving ROI

More and more, CMOs are feeling pressure to drive revenue for the enterprise. In fact, demonstrating their impact on financial outcomes and proving ROI across the C-Suite has been noted as the number one priority of CMOs in the coming year. But as CMOs continue to face data overload, reporting on success often proves a challenge. 

While more than half (61%) of CMOs are presented with SEM metrics either weekly or daily, only 35% report these metrics to fellow senior leadership. Though a promising 64% of marketing executives note that they use search metrics to guide or optimize future strategy, the lack of communication of these key insights across the C-Suite could be causing a disconnect in overall business strategy.

For those who do report their search metrics up and across, over half of respondents answered that conversion rates (52.9%) and click-through rates (51.6%) best proved ROI. But as these performance metrics continue to decline industry-wide, CMOs may need to begin looking to other measures for success.

Competitor Insights Remain a Missed Opportunity for CMOs

Monitoring competitor performance can provide a valuable benchmark for CMOs in measuring their own success. Take the highly competitive automotive industry for instance – when Volvo was making a play for the hybrid cars market, examining their competitors’ SEM performance provided insight into their performance that standard ROI metrics could not. Notably, it allowed them to more closely examine the customer journey of those looking to purchase a hybrid vehicle and how they could better optimize their SEM campaigns to ensure their messaging was resonating over their competition. These strategic measures are becoming increasingly important for CMOs.

The survey confirms that CMOs understand this shift and the role SEM plays in gaining a competitive advantage; however, only 41% have ever tracked how their company is performing against their competition. This indicates another missed opportunity for CMOs in terms identifying new market opportunities, optimizing performance, and protecting mindshare as competition continues to rise.

Search Intelligence: The New Imperative

Based on these results, our survey reveals that while CMOs recognize the strategic value of SEM, they are missing some key opportunities to learn from their own performance and competitive search landscape. With global investment in SEM is expected to reach nearly $110 billion by the end of 2020, CMOs should look to search intelligence to help their marketing dollars go farther and inform business decisions.

“While SEM has the power to check all the boxes, CMOs are sitting on untapped market and competitor knowledge that could help guide the activities that most affect their bottom line,” said Ashley Fletcher, VP of Marketing, Adthena. “To stay on top of increasing competition, CMOs must continuously monitor their search performance to determine how, when and where they can optimize efforts across touchpoints. More important still, they must begin to see and understand SEM as a strategic imperative for driving company growth.”

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