CMO Survey Finds CMOs Still Stumped on How to Track Social ROI

The survey also finds CMOs’ optimism about the U.S. economy has dipped

Businesses are investing more than ever in social media, though they still struggle to prove its benefit, according to the August 2018 edition of the CMO Survey.

CMO Survey founder and director Christine Moorman shared that finding and other results from the survey, which was produced in partnership with the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Deloitte and the American Marketing Association at an AMA Chicago event on Wednesday.

Social Media Surged More in 2018 Than Any Year Prior

CMOs reported that spending on social media increased more in the past year than in any prior survey year, up from 9.8% to 13.8%. Social spend has trended upward since August 2009, and has seen uninterrupted increases in growth in the past year.

Social media spend as a percent of marketing budgets is expected to rise to 16.3% in the coming year and to 22.9% in the next five years.

Social spending varied by sector, size of the business and level of e-commerce. Though the majority of CMOs identified themselves as working in B-to-B firms with low e-commerce sales, it is interesting to note that the CMOs who identified as working in B-to-C firms reported higher social media spending, which is tied to higher e-commerce sales. B-to-C companies also rated their digital marketing capabilities significantly higher than B-to-B companies.

Source: The CMO Survey

Despite increase in spending, social media contributions to performance have remained relatively flat. On a scale from one (does not affect at all) to seven (very highly affects), the figure has only increased from 3.2 to 3.4 since February 2016.

The same can be said of mobile, where percent of marketing budget leaped from 6% to 9.4% in the last year, but the rating of contributions to performance grew from 2.4 to 2.9 on a scale from one to seven since February 2016.

Mobile and social ROI continues to stump marketers. Moorman cautioned against large marketing efforts on these platforms. “Think about using small experiments to make tighter inferences about what you want to do,” she said.

Source: The CMO Survey

Economic Outlook Dips

The survey found CMOs’ optimism in the overall economy dipped slightly to 66.8 on a 100-point scale, down from 68.9 in February. But since February 2009, optimism about the economy has trended upward, remaining above 58 since the summer of 2012.

When asked if they were more optimistic, less or the same as last quarter, about one-third of CMOs reported themselves in each category. Different sectors tended to report different levels of optimism.

Source: The CMO Survey

Growth Strategies Shift Toward Product/Service Development

Though spending on existing markets and offerings continue to dominate growth strategies, Moorman noted a subtle shift away from spending on market development and toward product/service development, saying it was something to watch.

B-to-B and B-to-C CMOs reported different budget priorities:

  • Those working in B-to-C services dedicated the largest percentage of budget to market penetration. They also reported the largest commitment to diversification.
  • CMOs from B-to-B product firms devote more budget to product development than any other sector.
  • B-to-B services CMOs prioritize market development more than any other sector.
Source: The CMO Survey

Respondents reported that talent was the biggest factor driving the future of organic growth — beating out the second-biggest factor, stakeholder alignment, by 11%.

E-commerce Has Yet to Take Off

The report found internet sales remain modest at 12.2% of total sales. CMOs cited various reasons for the low number, including:

  • Their business requires more human interaction (55.9%).
  • E-commerce would require new business model would be required (49.3%).
  • Product or service is too complex to sell over the internet (46.3%).
  • The business requires more customer experience (39%).

Marketing Spend

Marketing budgets have also trended upward since February 2009, though they have begun a descent since February 2017. CMOs anticipate a 7.5% increase in their budgets in the next 12 months.

Source: The CMO Survey

The most common expenses cited by respondents include:

  • Direct expenses of marketing activities (reported by 92% of respondents).
  • Social media (reported by 82%).
  • Marketing employees (reported by 74%).
  • Marketing analytics (reported by 73%).

Spend on traditional advertising is expected to drop 1.2% in the coming year, compared with digital marketing spend, which CMOs report will increase 12.3%. Traditional ad spend is expected to decrease in all sectors, particularly in the B-to-C sectors (-4.8%).

Source: The CMO Survey

Spending Changes by Type of Marketing

Source: The CMO Survey

Privacy Concerns Remain Low While Use of Data Rises

CMOs report their use of third-party data is expected to decrease while the use of online data in general is expected to grow. Despite this growth, marketers report being not very worried about the use of data raising privacy concerns.

Marketers at the event raised concerns about murky regulations around customer data and whether customers should expect their data will be collected if they visit a company’s website. Moorman says the topic was ripe with opportunity for marketers to guide the conversation.

Use of Analytics Is Inconsistent

B-to-C CMOs report the greatest use of marketing analytics tools, but the budget invested in analytics and the times analytics influence decision-making continue to fluctuate.

Source: The CMO Survey

Survey Composition

The survey, completed between July 17 and Aug. 7, included responses from 324 top marketers at U.S. for-profit companies.

About two-thirds of the survey’s respondents report that they work in B-to-B product or services, and the remaining respondents reported working in B-to-C products or services.

More than a quarter of the respondents work for firms generating less than $25 million in sales revenue. Two percent of respondents work for companies earning more than $100 billion.

The top three industry sectors that were less optimistic than last quarter included transportation, manufacturing and service consulting/consumer services.


The CMO Survey collects and disseminates the opinions of top marketers in order to predict the future of markets, track marketing excellence, and improve the value of marketing in firms and in society. Founded in 2008, it is the longest running non-commercial survey for and about the field of marketing.