New results from The CMO Survey are in and they ain’t pretty. Two key findings reflecting top marketers’ views about the economy stand out. First, Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) expressed doubt about the outlook for the U.S. economy. On a 100-point scale where 0 is least optimistic and 100 is most optimistic, ratings dropped from a post-recession high of 63.4 in February 2012 to a score of 58.4 in August 2012. Figure 1 shows this trajectory over time. The greatest pessimism lies among business-to-business companies which dropped from an overall optimism score in February 2012 of 60.2 to a low of 53.6 in August. Business-to-consumer companies also decreased, but only from 63.8 to 61.5.
When asked if they were more or less optimistic about the overall U.S. economy compared to last quarter, just 29% of all CMOs expressed optimism, down 34.3 percentage points from the previous survey in February 2012. The percent of CMOs who answered they were less optimistic shot up from 8.5% in February to 35.8% in the most recent survey. Companies with $10 billion dollars in sales were the least optimistic (50.0%) compared to companies with less than $25 million in sales (33.8%), $26-$99 million (33.3%), $100-$499 (45.8%), $500-$999 (22.7), and $1-9.9 billion (36.2%). The group rating the future of the economy as “no change” increased from 28.3% in February to 35.2%.
This is not just a macroeconomic swing based on interest rates or unexpected international events. Instead, CMOs expect key customer metrics to decrease in the next 12 months, including purchase volume, purchase of related products and services, retention, and new customers entering the market. Customers are expected to be more focused on price, thereby exerting pressure on companies to drive down the prices of products and services. To make matters worse, CMOs expect competition to increase, including a larger number and more rivalry among competitors. Softer interest from customers and more intense competition for these customer dollars are the likely causes of this pessimism.
Second, for the first time in the history of The CMO Survey, pessimists, optimists, and the ‘no change’ group are nearly equal, indicating a great deal of uncertainty and no strong consensus about the direction of the economy. Figure 2 depicts this rare convergence. Looking at past surveys, we see a pattern of a majority of CMOs swinging in the pessimism or optimism direction. The present results, however, show no dominant sentiment. There may be winners and losers occurring within this pattern (winners are presumably more optimistic). However, the lack of clear signal in the recovery is more likely to mean that companies and customers will hunker down a bit longer.
Figure 2. CMO Optimism for U.S. Economy Compared to Last Quarter
A total of 528 top marketers responded to The CMO Survey, which was conducted between July 17 and August 3, 2012. A complete set of results from The CMO Survey can be found at www.cmosurvey.org/results/