Marketers have always been at the forefront of change. A few months ago, the focus was on trying to innovate and stay ahead in a new decade where every industry, region, and customer experience is being disrupted. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), along with increased customer expectations, presented both incredible opportunities and hefty challenges.
And now marketers face even bigger changes stemming from a global pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis forces them to rethink everything – in a socially-distanced world.
Released today, the sixth edition of the State of Marketing report presents the insights of nearly 7,000 marketing leaders across the globe. Our research highlights the strategic priorities, challenges, and technologies that transform the profession. These are especially important to consider as businesses navigate from crisis mode to back-to-work to growth.
Here are four key takeaways from the report.
1. Innovation is the number one priority
Our research found the expectations for how marketers interact with customers continue to rise. A related study of consumers and business buyers found 84% percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. This is up from 80% in 2018.
Marketers are taking a real-time approach to customer experience because customers demand it. According to our third State of the Connected Customer report, 71% of customers have used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction. Customers now expect dynamic interactions – where the content they see on one channel is tailored based on their actions from a previous channel. For the first time, more than half (51%) of marketers describe their cross-channel content as dynamic – up from less than a third (31%) in 2018.
However, there is still room for improvement. Real-time customer engagement is the number one challenge for marketers. Sixty-nine percent say traditional marketing roles limit customer engagement. There is also a disconnect between two divisions that are key to customer engagement success: marketing and IT. Seventy-two percent of marketers say they are aligned with their IT organisations, yet a separate study of IT leaders ranks insufficient business unit alignment as a top challenge.
Solving these issues was critical even before the pandemic hit. Marketing leaders ranked innovation as their number one priority, followed by real-time engagement. Those two things are now more crucial than ever, with digital transformation being a critical part of business success in the years ahead. Marketing innovators are seeking to engage customers in new ways across digital touchpoints. Since 2018, for example, marketers report a 34% increase in their use of mobile apps and a 21% increase in their use of video.
2. Marketers’ use of AI has skyrocketed
Once a hyped-up buzzword, artificial intelligence is now making a real-world impact. Eighty-four percent of marketers report using AI, which is up from 29% in 2018. This is an eye-popping 186% increase in adoption in two years.
With the world in crisis, the use of customer data for empathetic marketing has come to the forefront. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of customer needs as they evolve. AI helps marketers achieve this type of personalisation at scale by distilling insights from data and taking action.
Most marketers are on board with this tactic – 78% of them describe their customer engagement as data-driven. They are turning to a myriad of customer data sources (median number: 12), with the top three being transactional data, declared interests/preferences, and known digital identities.
As the amount of available data has grown, so has the number of platforms to manage it. Marketers now use an average of six data management tools, compared with three in 2018. This explains why marketers cite data unification and activation among their top five challenges.
These trends have an impact around the world. For example, marketers in Singapore project to use 50% more data sources to power their programs in 2021 than the global average. And in the technology industry globally, marketers plan to use 60% more data this year than the overall industry average.
3. Account-based marketing (ABM) is a cornerstone in B2B
B2B customers now expect the same type of empathy and engagement as their B2C counterparts. Data and AI are helping B2B marketers accomplish this through account-based marketing (ABM). Marketers use ABM to build multiple, highly-personalised campaigns that connect with the accounts that are most important to them. It also increases the lifetime value of their customer relationships.
Ninety-two percent of B2B marketers now have an ABM program. The rise of ABM programs is pretty recent – 64% were started within the past five years. But these programs have grown more sophisticated, as 68% of them use automation.
4. A new set of emerging technologies will guide an uncertain future
What’s next for marketing? No one can truly predict what will happen next week, let alone next year. But the good news is the COVID-19 crisis has forced businesses to figure out how to better connect with customers and deliver what they need, when they need it. It has pushed ahead many of the ideas that we have been talking about for years. Marketers can be at the forefront of this innovation – 79% of them say they lead customer experience initiatives across their organisations.
Marketers expect the next 10 years to bring even greater impacts from new technologies and societal developments. These include online access to more of the global population, the implementation of 5G networks, and virtual reality becoming mainstream. Sixty percent of marketing leaders believe 5G will have a major impact on marketing in the decade ahead. Faster speeds mean other innovations, such as virtual reality, can become a greater part of the customer experience. Sixty percent of marketing leaders also see opportunities with millions of people in the digital darkness expected to get online access over the next ten years.
As we lead through change and figure out how to get businesses back to full speed, a combination of next-gen tech and sound strategy will help push us into growth mode.