The sixth annual State of Marketing Report, just released and based on a survey of nearly 7,000 marketers around the world, reveals that the trends driving marketing are set by the customer – no great shock for those marketers who lead both innovation efforts and customer experience initiatives across their businesses. The trends themselves represent a great shift for marketers, however. Here, we recap the four top findings of the State of Marketing report.

Marketers innovate. They lead disruption within their businesses and industries. When our research team consulted nearly 7,000 marketers for the latest State of Marketing report, the focus was on continuing to innovate and stay ahead as every industry, region and customer experience encountered disruption. Technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) along with increased customer expectations presented both incredible opportunities and hefty challenges. 

Now though, marketers face different and greater changes, with the COVID-19 crisis forcing them to rethink strategies, tactics, audiences, tools and forecasts.

Released today, the sixth edition of the State of Marketing report presents insights from those nearly 7,000 marketing leaders across the globe. It highlights the strategic priorities, challenges and technologies transforming the profession as marketers and their organisations navigate from crisis, through back-to-work, and to growth. 

 

1. Customer engagement limited by roles and siloes


We know marketers’ context – customers’ expectations of marketing interactions continue to rise. Our previous research with consumers and business buyers found that 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services, up from 80% in 2018. 

Dynamic content across channels is chief among these expectations – 71% have used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction, and they expect the content they see on one channel to be tailored based on their actions from a previous channel. 

Now 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. 

This is a positive development for both marketers and the customers they serve, but there is still room for improvement. 

We’re seeing more marketers taking a real-time approach to customer experience because customers are demanding it, but it is not simple – real-time customer engagement is still the number one challenge for marketers, limited by traditional views of the marketers’ role and by business unit silos. 

In fact, 69% of marketers say the limitations of traditional marketing roles are impacting their ability to improve customer engagement, and there is also a disconnect between two divisions that are key to customer engagement success: marketing and IT. While 72% of marketers say they are aligned with their IT organisations, a separate study of IT leaders ranks insufficient business unit alignment as a top challenge.

Solving these issues was critical before the pandemic and marketing leaders recognised this, ranking innovation and real-time engagement their top two priorities. Both are now more crucial than ever, with digital transformation key to 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. As AI use and data platforms boom, unification becomes a top challenge 


AI is making a real-world impact, with 84% of marketers reporting using it, up from 29% in 2018.

Now, empathetic marketing based on data insights has come to the forefront. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of customer needs as they evolve and they are now evolving at pace. AI helps marketers achieve this type of personalisation at speed and scale by distilling insights from data and taking action.

Most marketers are on board with this tactic – 78% describe their customer engagement as data-driven. They are turning to myriad customer data sources (median: 12), with the top three being transactional data, declared interests/preferences and known digital identities. 

As the number of data sources and amount of available data have grown, so has the number of platforms to manage it. Marketers now use an average of six data management tools, twice what they used in 2018, and cite data unification and activation among the top five challenges. 


 

3. Sophisticated ABM proliferates to satisfy the convergence of B2B and B2C expectations 


When buying for businesses, customers now expect the same type of empathy and engagement as they do when buying for themselves – B2B and B2C marketers must meet the same high standards. 

Data and AI are helping B2B and B2B2C 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, with the goal of increasing the lifetime value of those customer relationships. 

The vast majority of B2B marketers – 92% – now have an ABM program, and 68% of them use automation, representing a high level of sophistication despite more than half of ABM programs being started in the past five years.



 

4. The impact of 5G and transformation through to 2030


No one can confidently predict what will happen next week, let alone next year. But businesses and marketers have been forced to figure out how to better connect with customers and deliver what they need, when they need it. 

Crisis has pushed ahead many of the ideas that we have been talking about for years and, with 79% of marketers leading CX initiatives across their organisations, the function as a whole is set to lead a likely period of innovation, with great impact expected from new technologies and societal developments. 

Sixty per cent of marketing leaders believe 5G will have a major impact on marketing in the decade ahead, and marketers in Australia and New Zealand expect that augmented reality, virtual reality and the expanded online population will bring transformational impacts by 2030. 

As we lead through this current period of change and figure out the next steps for businesses and societies, a combination of next-gen tech and sound strategy will help push us into growth mode.

Take a peek inside the strategies, tactics and tools of almost 7,000 marketers globally – download the State of Marketing report.