CMOs are bad at predicting how much they’re going to spend on social media

Back in 2013 I was planning for our social team.

A key bit of this planning was predicting how much chief marketing officers would spend on social. How big was our market?

So I turned to the CMO survey. Run by Duke University, it surveys around 400 senior marketers twice a year on a wide range of issues, including how much they spend, and plan to spend, on social.

It had this reassuring graph:

Social media was going to grow 50% in a year, and 157% over the next five years – an average of 21% per year.

I came back to this figure recently – after all we’re now three years later – expecting to see them spending 14.9% on social.

Instead they’ve spent 10.6% on social. Dramatically lower than they predicted.

I decided to dig in a little further – and compare what CMOs have predicted with what they did.

And it turns out that the reality is a little different. This graph compares what CMOs have predicted, with what they have done each year (the red line):

In every year:

  • CMOs predicted dramatically more medium term spending – consistently around 20% per year growth.
  • CMOs increased actual spending by around 12% per year.
  • The CMO Survey would note plans to dramatically increase spending on social.

This is no disaster. A market growing at 12% a year is still extremely healthy.

But it reminds us that even the best intentioned, honest people are fairly bad at predicting their future behaviour. Let alone other people’s behaviours.

It’s why I admire my friends James Whatley and Marshall Manson. ​Every year their trends deck starts with them confessing their mistakes from the previous year​. This year it was the prediction that marketing’s obsession with ‘millenials’ would collapse.

So as we all plan for 2017, it would be a good discipline for all of us to look back and honestly admit what we got wrong. I’m making a little list.

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