February 1, 2024|Kim's Blog|
International Marketing Benchmark 2024 from Meridian West – AI dominates agendas

At the end of January, I attended a PM Forum (with Icon and Managing Partners Forum) webinar where Alastair Beddow | LinkedIn of Meridian West presented the latest international benchmark results. In its 12th year – it obtains the opinions of around 100 CMOs from professional service firms. The panel discussion that followed commented on: huge pockets of difference in sentiment, lots of unknowns across the board, the need for martech to be used beyond the MBD team, the need for everyone to skill up and the need for a cross-functional approach to AI during the ideation and experimentation phases. International Marketing Benchmark 2024 from Meridian West – AI dominates the agenda.

Key findings of the International Marketing Benchmark 2024

Unsurprisingly, there is generally much greater business confidence. And Gen AI appears to dominate both management and MBD agendas.

1. Sentiment and outlook has improved on 2023

24% expect the economic outlook to improve (6% in 2023)

31% expect professional service sector to improve (13% in 2023)

57% expect their firm to improve (40% in 2023)

Although most anticipate a flat year for the economy and professional services

This highlights increased confidence and optimism. Yet expectations for improvement in specific firms far exceeds that for the economy and the sector generally – is this wishful thinking?

 2. Skills and talent have risen up the list of growth constraints for 2024

The ranked top three constraints for growth for your firm in 2024:

  1. Poor economic outlook (51%)
  2. Lack of skills or talent (50%)
  3. Fee pressures (48%)
  4. Margin erosion (31%)
  5. Political uncertainty (27%)
  6. Financial health of clients (25%)
  7. Employee turnover (23%)
  8. Lack of client instructions (12%)
  9. Regulatory pressures (10%)
  10. Remote/hybrid working (9%)

Demand for training and development should therefore increase. And efforts to increase differentiation – perhaps through brand initiatives and service/client experience improvement (to counteract fee pressures and margin erosion) – should also increase in response. 

3. Use of technology will dominate management agenda in 2024

The ranked top three management priorities for firms in 2024

  1. Increase operational efficiency (50%)
  2. Increase use of technology (46% – an increase of 18% since last year)
  3. Differentiate the brand (39%)
  4. Develop people’s skills and capabilities (39%)
  5. Develop a clear purpose and strategy (35%)
  6. Develop people’s commerciality (28%)
  7. Increase profile through thought leadership (21%)
  8. Develop new services (20%)
  9. Exploit niche opportunities (13%)
  10. Alter your firm’s business model (9%)

I wonder to what extent the priority to increase efficiency extends beyond the current focus on AI to other uses of technology such as automation, martech, salestech. I was surprised to see the development of new services ranked so low. The list feels a little inward looking. 

4. CX (Client Experience) remains the clear focus for CMOs and BD leaders 

Priorities for the marketing and BD team

  1. Making improvements to client service/experience (50%)
  2. Obtaining feedback from clients (39%)
  3. Providing training and support for fee-earners (33%)
  4. Improving/establishing account management (30%)
  5. Relaunching or refreshing the firm’s brand (25%)
  6. Creating thought leadership and insight campaigns (24%)
  7. Marketing via social and digital channels (24%)
  8. Investing in automation and AI (20%)
  9. Research in growth markets and client segments (19%)
  10. Launching new products and services (11%)
  11. Improving project managing on client engagements (4%)

It’s encouraging to see a more client-centric focus on client research and experience at the top of the priorities for MBS. This seems at odds with the general business environment highlighted by Accenture’s research (see below).

5. Marketing and BD budget as a percentage of revenue continues to fall

Firm’s total MBD budget as a percentage of its total revenue

2020           2.15%

2021           2.92%

2022           3.35%

2023           2.88%

2024           2.40%

34% see an increase for 2024, 59% see it staying the same and 6% see a decrease.

So MBD is expected to achieve more with less as usual. This suggests that automation will have to play a bigger role to play in the future. Or that MBD will be considered to be making less of a contribution in the future.

Firms anticipate an average 8.3% increase in marketing budget

6. CMOs are positive about the role of Gen AI for marketing and BD

But 43% do not think they are well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities it presents.

68% think Gen AI will transform the way that MBD professionals work for the better

43% think their firms lack the right capabilities to take advantage of Gen AI

42% think their firm’s leadership is fully on top of the strategic implications of Gen AI

Less than 10% of firms are “highly confident” they are investing enough in Gen AI today

MBD functions risk being squeezed out of the Gen AI conversation

Four in 10 firms have a Gen AI usage policy – this is expected to double this year

Half have used Gen AI tools to summarise and write marketing copy 

  • 50% Summarising large amount of text
  • 50% Writing marketing copy
  • 39% Writing original content
  • 33% Writing emails or client communications
  • 25% Producing content for bids and client pitches
  • 31% In the course of delivering fee-earning work
  • 20% Improving SEO performance
  • 20% Research client organization
  • 20% Researching competitors
  • 18% Generating imagery
  • 15% Chatbots/conversational AI for client interactions
  • 12% Generating video
  • 10% Sentiment analysis of client feedback
  • 20% None of the above

This result makes my heart sink. We are already awash with anodyne and generic recycled copy. And I suspect that increased use of Gen AI for copy and content will exacerbate the trend. For professionals whose business-in-trade is words this is concerning. Their personalities and differences may be hidden further behind AI generated content.

Strategic adoption of AI

With regards to AI, I was really impressed by a webinar I attended last year in the not-for-profit sector.  It advocated a more strategic and fundamental approach to AI adoption throughout an organisation with the following steps.

  • Develop our understanding
  • Skills
  • Ambition and purpose
  • People and productivity
  • Services
  • Marketing, communications, fundraising
  • Accountability
  • Data
  • Governance
  • Inclusion

The speakers shared several examples where AI had had a profound impact on marketing and communications and beyond. For example:

  • Providing improved access to information and services for service users
  • Tackling misinformation on large web sites
  • Detecting the use of AI in recruitment applications
  • Client research and risk assessments information taken into AI powered conversations
  • Translating technical information in clinical documents into a more conversational style
  • Using AI on helplines when humans aren’t available
  • Virtual agents providing empathy, tailored and natural language messages through DMs on social media

Further details are here: AI checklist for charity trustees and leaders – Zoe Amar Digital

Accenture Life Trends research

The latest Accenture Life Trends 2024 report Life Trends 2024: Emerging Trends in Business | Accenture was published in October 2023. Key points:

  • The harmony between people, tech and business is showing tensions and society is in flux
  • Five trends explored:
    • the decline of customer obsession
    • the influence of generative AI
    • the stagnation of creativity
    • the balance of tech benefits and burden
    • people’s new life goals

In short, the reduction of client-centricity in business is leading to less brand loyalty. This should be a major concern to marketers.

On 18th January 2024, the Next conference reported on the 16th edition of the Life Trends report on the midterm future of business, technology and design Keeping up with the pace of change – Accenture Life Trends 2024 | LinkedIn

  1. Where’s the love? Brands need more authenticity and communication
  2. The great interface shift. Using Gen AI, the conversation moves from transactional to personal
  3. Meh-diocrity. Creative risks can tip the scale
  4. Error 429: Human request limit reached. Care needed in how technology adoption fits the lives of individuals
  5. Decade of deconstruction. Long-held assumptions about education, careers and family are being challenged

 Previous updates

Annual International Marketing Benchmark – PM Forum and Meridian West (kimtasso.com) 2023

Meridian West’s Marketing Leaders Benchmark 2022 (kimtasso.com) 2022

Nine Marketing and Business Development trends in 2021 (kimtasso.com) 2021