The Top 7 Challenges Marketing Leaders Expect to Face in 2023 & How You Can Solve For Them [Expert Insights & Data]

If there‘s one thing marketers have learned in recent years, it‘s to expect the unexpected. From a global pandemic to the rise of AI to the death of third-party cookies, disruption has become the norm. And according to the latest data, more turbulence is on the horizon.

A staggering 91% of marketers believe their role will become more challenging in the next year, per HubSpot‘s 2023 Marketing Industry Trends Report. Economic uncertainty, increased competition, and rapid technological change are just a few of the major obstacles looming ahead.

But here‘s the good news: With the right strategies, skills, and mindset, these challenges can become massive opportunities to innovate, differentiate, and grow. To help you chart the path forward, we‘ve compiled exclusive insights from marketing leaders at Microsoft, ZoomInfo, Sprout Social, and more on the biggest barriers they anticipate in 2023 — and how you can start preparing now to overcome them.

Challenge #1: Proving Marketing ROI in an Economic Downturn

When the economy tightens, marketing is often first on the chopping block. With a potential recession on the horizon, over 60% of CMOs expect moderate to significant budget cuts in the next 12 months, according to Gartner.

To avoid the axe, marketers will need to get laser-focused on efficiently driving revenue and clearly communicating marketing‘s value to the business. "In 2023, it won‘t be enough to report on leads and MQLs," says Nelly Molina, Head of Marketing Success at ZoomInfo. "You‘ll need to show how marketing directly impacts the bottom line through every stage of the funnel."

How to Solve It:

  • Adopt a revenue-focused metrics framework. Go beyond vanity metrics and align on a set of KPIs that tie directly to business outcomes, such as marketing-sourced pipeline, closed-won deals, and customer lifetime value. Use tools like multi-touch attribution to measure marketing‘s impact across the entire buyer‘s journey.

  • Prioritize high-ROI channels and tactics. Double down on the activities that generate the most bang for your buck, such as SEO, email marketing, and conversion rate optimization. Ruthlessly cut or pause underperforming programs and reallocate those resources to proven winners.

  • Collaborate closely with sales and finance. Work with sales to define shared goals, targets, and processes for lead qualification and handoff. Partner with finance to build predictable marketing forecasts and budgets aligned to revenue targets. Regularly report on progress and make adjustments together as needed.

Challenge #2: Breaking Through the Digital Noise

In the battle for consumer attention, the odds are increasingly stacked against marketers. The average person now sees up to 10,000 ads per day across all channels. At the same time, over 70% of internet users say they‘re tired of being repeatedly shown the same ads, according to a survey by Kantar.

"With so much content bombarding consumers from every direction, it‘s harder than ever to stand out," says Candace Widdoes, Director of Product Marketing at Sprout Social. "Marketers need to find new ways to create genuine connections and experiences that truly resonate with their audience."

How to Solve It:

  • Invest in original, high-quality content. Differentiate your brand by creating content that educates, entertains, or inspires your target buyers, rather than just selling to them. Experiment with fresh formats like interactive tools, podcasts, or documentaries that go deeper than the typical blog post or social update.

  • Leverage user-generated content (UGC). Authenticity is key to cutting through the clutter. Encourage customers to create and share their own content about your brand, such as reviews, social posts, or video testimonials. UGC is viewed as 2.4x more authentic than brand-created content.

  • Personalize across the customer journey. Use customer data and AI-powered tools to deliver individualized content, offers, and experiences at every touchpoint. For example, automatically tailoring your website content and CTAs based on each visitor‘s demographics, behavior, and stage in the funnel.

Challenge #3: Navigating Data Disruption & Privacy Concerns

The impending demise of third-party cookies, along with stricter global privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA, have thrown a wrench in marketers‘ ability to track, target, and engage consumers online. In fact, 41% of marketers say the loss of third-party cookies will be their biggest challenge to personalization, according to HubSpot research.

At the same time, data breaches and scandals have heightened consumer anxiety around how their personal information is collected and used. 86% of U.S. consumers say data privacy is a growing concern for them, up from 52% in 2019, per a KPMG survey.

"Marketers are facing a privacy paradox," says Ray Wang, Founder and Principal Analyst at Constellation Research. "Customers expect you to know them and personalize every interaction, but they also want complete control over their data. Threading that needle will require a fundamental rethink of your data strategy."

How to Solve It:

  • Prioritize first-party and zero-party data. Focus on collecting data directly from your customers, with their explicit consent, through channels you own like your website, app, or loyalty programs. Progressively profile customers over time by offering value in exchange for preference data, quizzes, and feedback.

  • Implement a consent management platform. Give customers granular control over what types of data they share, how it‘s used, and which channels they want to hear from you on. Ensure your consent practices are clear, easy to access and update, and consistent across regions and touchpoints.

  • Explore privacy-safe data collaboration. Partner with publishers, retailers, or other brands to securely pool your first-party data in a clean room for advanced insights and targeting, without exposing raw customer data. Tools like InfoSum and Habu enable privacy-safe data matching and analysis.

Challenge #4: Adapting to the AI Revolution

No technology is set to transform marketing quite like artificial intelligence. The global AI market is forecast to grow from $387 billion in 2022 to over $1.3 trillion by 2029, with marketing as one of the top use cases.

From content creation to predictive lead scoring to dynamic pricing, the potential applications of AI in marketing are vast. But so are the challenges, from data quality issues to algorithmic bias to the risk of appearing inauthentic.

"AI is both an incredible opportunity and a minefield for marketers," says Paul Roetzer, Founder & CEO of Marketing AI Institute. "Those who figure out how to harness its power while maintaining empathy, creativity, and ethics will have a massive competitive advantage. But it won‘t happen overnight — it requires a fundamental shift in skills, processes, and culture."

How to Solve It:

  • Build a centralized data foundation. AI is only as good as the data that feeds it. Invest in a robust customer data platform (CDP) to unify, clean, and standardize your data across touchpoints. Ensure you have strong governance processes in place to maintain data quality and security.

  • Identify high-impact use cases. Start by pinpointing the areas where AI can have the biggest impact on efficiency and results, such as lead scoring, content optimization, or churn prediction. Prioritize projects that align with your core business goals and have clear success metrics.

  • Cultivate human-machine collaboration. Rather than trying to fully automate every task, focus on using AI to augment human capabilities. For example, using AI to generate content ideas or analyze sentiment, while relying on humans to provide creative direction and apply strategic judgment. Provide training to upskill marketers on working effectively with AI.

Challenge #5: Delivering Omnichannel Customer Experiences

Today‘s consumers expect seamless, personalized experiences across every touchpoint, from social media to email to in-store. Yet only 14% of organizations say they‘re currently running coordinated marketing campaigns across all channels, according to Gartner.

The challenge is only getting steeper as the number of channels and devices continues to proliferate. Over 40% of marketers say delivering a cohesive customer journey across channels and devices is their top challenge, per a survey by The Harris Poll.

"Consumers don‘t think in terms of channels anymore — they just want a consistent, frictionless experience wherever and whenever they interact with your brand," says Katherine Scarrow, General Manager of E-Commerce at Delta Air Lines. "Marketers need to break down internal silos and put the customer at the center of every decision."

How to Solve It:

  • Map the end-to-end customer journey. Understand how customers move between channels and devices at each stage of the lifecycle, from awareness to purchase to advocacy. Use tools like Google Analytics and Thunderhead to visualize the paths customers take and identify points of friction or drop-off.

  • Implement a customer data platform (CDP). A CDP can help you unify customer data across channels into a single, 360-degree view. This enables you to coordinate messaging, offers, and experiences based on each individual‘s full context and history with your brand.

  • Adopt an agile, cross-functional operating model. Break down barriers between marketing, sales, service, and product teams. Establish shared goals, KPIs, and processes across the customer lifecycle. Use tools like Slack and Asana to enable real-time collaboration and closed-loop reporting.

Challenge #6: Competing for Top Marketing Talent

As the demand for digital skills soars, marketing leaders are locked in a fierce battle for talent. Over 80% of global CMOs say labor shortages and acquiring new skills are major concerns for 2023, per the latest Gartner CMO Spend Survey.

The rise of remote work has only intensified the competition, as marketers can now tap into a global talent pool. At the same time, many organizations are struggling to retain top performers amid the "Great Resignation." Nearly 1 in 3 marketers say they plan to look for a new job within the next year, according to a survey by Blind.

"Attracting and retaining world-class marketing talent will be a defining challenge for the next decade," says Susan Lee, Chief People Officer at Microsoft. "It‘s not just about offering competitive pay and perks, but creating a culture of belonging, growth, and impact that inspires people to do the best work of their careers."

How to Solve It:

  • Rethink your hiring criteria. Prioritize skills and potential over traditional pedigrees. Look for candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences who can bring fresh perspectives and ideas. Use tools like Pymetrics and HackerRank to assess skills objectively and reduce bias.

  • Invest in learning and development. Provide continuous opportunities for marketers to upskill and reskill on the latest tools, tactics, and trends. Offer a mix of on-demand courses, workshops, mentorship, and stretch assignments. Consider partnering with boot camps or universities to build talent pipelines.

  • Build an inclusive, purpose-driven culture. Foster a culture where every marketer feels valued, supported, and inspired to do their best work. Clearly articulate your brand‘s mission and values, and empower marketers to drive meaningful change. Celebrate diverse voices and create allyship and employee resource groups.

Challenge #7: Balancing Automation & Authenticity

Marketing technology has become both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, 58% of marketers say martech is critical to their success and enables them to measure impact more effectively, per HubSpot‘s 2023 Marketing Industry Trends Report.

On the other hand, an overreliance on automation can make brands appear robotic and impersonal. Over 65% of global consumers say they‘ve cut ties with a brand because the experience felt "transactional and detached," according to PwC‘s 2022 Global Customer Insights Survey.

"In the rush to automate everything, many marketers have lost sight of the human element," says Seth Godin, Author and Founder of altMBA. "The most successful brands of the future will be those that use technology to enable more meaningful, personal connections — not replace them."

How to Solve It:

  • Put empathy at the heart of your automation strategy. Before automating any touchpoint, deeply understand the customer‘s context, needs, and emotions at that moment. Use persona research, journey mapping, and voice of customer data to inform your approach. Aim to automate tasks, not relationships.

  • Balance efficiency with creativity. Use automation to streamline repetitive, low-value tasks like data entry, freeing up time for higher-impact work. But don‘t automate at the expense of creativity and originality. For example, use AI to generate copy ideas, but rely on human judgment to refine the final product.

  • Infuse personality into your brand voice. Develop a distinct, authentic brand personality that shines through across all your automated touchpoints, from chatbots to email nurtures. Use conversational, relatable language, and don‘t be afraid to show vulnerability or humor when appropriate.

Riding the Waves of Change

The marketing landscape is transforming at a dizzying pace, and the challenges ahead are complex and interconnected. But within every challenge lies an opportunity to rethink old assumptions, elevate the customer experience, and drive real business impact.

The key is to stay anchored in timeless principles — putting customers first, investing in talent, and harnessing data and technology with purpose — while also staying agile and open to new possibilities.

As Beth Comstock, Former CMO & Vice Chair of GE, puts it: "The best marketers are the ones who can see around corners, anticipate change, and lead their organizations fearlessly into the future. It‘s about having the courage to take risks, the humility to learn from failure, and the vision to inspire others to come along for the ride."

So buckle up, stay curious, and get ready to turn the challenges of 2023 into your biggest opportunities yet. The future of marketing belongs to the bold.