CMO Survey Shows Organizational Gap in Digital Marketing

Hal Conick
American Marketing Association
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Key Takeaways

What? The 17th CMO Survey found that there’s a large organizational gap in digital marketing capabilities.

So what? Marketers have predicted an increase in spending for social, digital strategy and mobile marketing for years, but there has been an inability to prove effectiveness of the tools.

Now what? As marketing becomes more specialized in areas like analytics and digital strategy, filling the gaps in any organization means getting the right people into the right roles. 

​There’s a large gap between actual digital marketing capabilities and expectations on the team level, according to the most recent CMO Survey.

The 17th CMO Survey, with 427 U.S. marketer respondents, reports digital marketing capabilities—such as digital strategy, social media and mobile marketing activities—were reported as the top organizational gap. At the same time, digital was ranked as the third most important marketing capability to the same organizations.

CMO Survey director Christine Moorman calls this a “real opportunity” for marketers to figure out how that gap can be filled.


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The gap explains in part why spending has not reached the level it should, she says, as the expected increase in marketing budget is 7.2% in August 2016, down from the February 2015 spike of 8.7%. Digital spending is expected to be 9.9% of the budget after spiking at 14.7% in February 2015.

“Part of it is getting the measurement right, but even more importantly getting the right people,” Moorman says. “Getting the right human capital on board—making sure people can do this work—that’s a big gap in a lot of these area. Companies have had to build these capabilities so quickly. It’s been a quick ramp up for companies over the last five to 10 years. Most companies still don’t feel like they have the right people in place to do this work.” 

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Putting the right people in place or training current employees may be the “missing link” toward closing the digital gap, Moorman says. Currently, the marketing leader retention rate is 6.6 years in a top role, an all-time high. However, Moorman says this does not mean the right workers are in the right roles under these marketing leaders. 

SEE ALSO: Marketers Report Big Increases in Social Media Spending With Little to Show in Return

“I can’t say for sure what’s happening in the ranks, but the marketing leader has to drive the human capital too,” she says. “You can hire it, you can buy it on the open market from a consulting company or agency, or you can create an alliance. Even more importantly for a lot of these companies, they can do an acquisition. …[Marketers can] form a strategic partnership to help learn how to do this.”

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Solving Social

Marketers may be having the most trouble with social media, which is currently 11.7% of the marketing budget and expected to be 22.2% of the budget in five years. Even with social media’s rise, it has disappointed expectations time and again. Past reports predicted companies would be allocating 17.5% of their budget to social media by this time. 

Download full report: CMO Survey

One issue may be that companies simply cannot prove that social media is effective. While 20.3% of respondents say they have quantitatively proven social media’s significance, 44.1% say they have not been able to show its effectiveness and 35.7% say they have a “good sense” of what it does, but no quantitative numbers behind it.

In addition, social seems to be moving away from the marketing department. In the current CMO Survey, 76.3% say the marketing department controls social media, but that’s down from 83.9% in February.

“Unless something changes, we’ll probably see more of the same,” Moorman says of social media. “It will continue to grow but it won’t be growing at the rate they expect it to be growing.” 

Role of Marketing Expanding

Although many marketers seem troubled by digital marketing, Moorman says the broadening of marketing’s role in an organization has been an “impressive result.” In fact, fewer than 7% of CMO Survey respondents say the department is narrowing, 12.4% say it’s staying and 11.2% say it is “significantly broadening.” The rest believe the department is expanding on some level.

“It’s marketing’s big moment,” she says. “As these tools have become more deeply adopted by organizations, it’s become marketing’s moment to really shine.”

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Author Bio:
Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @HalConick.

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