That is according to the February 2019 CMO Survey, which has been collecting the opinions of top marketers to predict the future of the industry since 2008.
Some 323 marketing executives took part in the latest survey, with 97% of them at VP level or above, and the findings confirmed a growing sense of despondency.
Christine Moorman, director of the CMO Survey and a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, outlined their concerns in a blog post.
On a scale of one to 100, their average rate of optimism reached just 57, down from 68.9 for the same period in 2018 and representing the lowest level of optimism since August 2011.
And whereas last year 11.8% were less optimistic than in 2017, now 56.2% of senior marketers feel less optimistic than in 2018.
In addition, just 20.1% reported being more optimistic at the end of 2018 heading into 2019, compared with 51.2% who felt the same at the end of 2017 going into 2018.
“Optimism has dropped across all economic sectors, with an incredible 80% of CMOs at B2C product companies feeling less optimistic,” Professor Moorman wrote.
“Marketers at B2C companies have presided over years of product innovation and have recently been driving up prices. They know that may soon change,” she added.
Uncertainty about the economy accounts for some of the gloom and it appears marketers have been influenced by a pessimistic mood among chief financial officers in the US.
For example, a separate Duke University study from December 2018 found that around half (48.6%) of US CFOs thought there will be a recession by the end of 2019, while 82% believed a recession will have begun by the end of 2020.
But marketers also expect customer priorities to change this year as they place greater emphasis on price (up 48%) and trusted relationships (up 44%) rather than innovation.
The survey further revealed that the downbeat sentiment is likely to make itself felt when it comes to recruitment, with new hires dropping from 7.3% in 2018 to 5.1% this year.
“While no one can say when the next recession will hit, it seems that the C-Suite is increasingly united in the desire to prepare proactively for major marketplace changes,” Moorman concluded.
“One point of difference may emerge in that CMOs report their top challenge lies in driving growth – a challenge that will be harder to meet if markets tighten. It will be essential for marketing leaders to get closer to their customers and to continue to build marketing capabilities.”
Sourced from CMO Survey; additional content by WARC staff