How CMOs are marketing in a turbulent economy

Marketers at top companies are staying flexible and figuring out how to demonstrate returns on their marketing investments when the economic outlook worsens, executives said at a meeting of the Wall Street Journal’s CMO network on Tuesday.

“Right now there is no such thing as a firm forecast,” said Sophie Kelly, senior vice president of whiskeys at

Diageo

North America, adding that her organization is trying to reduce marketing spend in some parts of its portfolio and accelerate it in others. “We make quarterly forecasts and as a result, spending shifts.”

One of the responsibilities of marketers today is to prove the value of marketing investments, Ms. Kelly said.

“As CMOs, our job is to continue to increase the value we get from spend, and the only way to do that is to really understand the business and have a business conversation about the value we’re getting we spend and put back what it will do,” she said.

CVS Health corp

has not yet backed down on marketing, according to its chief marketing officer, Norman de Greve. But there is a growing concern about possible shrinking advertising budgets, he added.

“We have a number of scenarios but nobody really knows [what’s coming],” he said. “We all have advisors and we ask them all what’s happening … but it’s really hard to figure out where we’re going.”

And while marketers have to grapple with how to strike the right tone with consumers in less fortunate times, they also have to maintain a degree of consistency with their brand.

“We’re not going to solve the world’s problems if you buy M&Ms,” said Anton Vincent, president of Mars Wrigley North America, part of Mars Inc. “We’re dealing with difficult things here, unprecedented things…So want we offer them a break from all that when they come to interact with our brands.”

CVS, which agreed in September to acquire home healthcare company Signify Health, also has no plans to move marketing away from a focus on consumer health equity, Mr de Greve said. The company launched a new campaign last month highlighting, for example, its commitment to women’s health. That includes reducing the cost of its own-brand menstrual products by 25% and paying the period products tax on behalf of customers in 12 states.

“It’s even more valuable for customers in recession. When you do that, you’re doing something meaningful and useful for them, and that can generate more volume, which translates into higher revenue,” said Mr. de Greve.

The Twitter Enigma

Executives also talked about how they’ve been approaching Twitter as a marketing platform since then

Elon Musk

took possession and Some marketers began to flee.

Mars’ Mr Vincent said his company halted activity on Twitter “before any of this happened,” citing discourse on the platform which the company deemed inconsistent with its own principles.

“So we decided to stay paused,” he said. “There are some specific things that need to happen for us to get back on the platform. We’ve been in direct discussions with Elon, we’ve had a meeting with a lot of big advertisers, what we wanted and what we expected, and we expect decisive action from him and his team.”

Diageo’s Ms Kelly said the company has used Twitter to conduct conversations about its activities in the past, but said the platform has not historically been a big factor in return on investment. The company did not conduct any marketing on Twitter last quarter but will continue to evaluate it, she said.

CVS’ Mr. de Greve similarly said that even before Mr. Musk’s acquisition, the platform was not a significant marketing tool for the company.

“Two things can be true at once: it needed evolution, and maybe the ‘how’ isn’t exactly the ‘how’ that most of us would like to do,” he said. “For us, it remains to be seen if that’s a place we want to go.”

Write to Megan Graham at megan.graham@wsj.com and Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

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