As companies around the globe race to institute social distancing measures, adapt to remote workforces, meet increasing customer expectations and keep up with the rise of AI, marketers are being challenged to predict what the ‘Next Normal’ might look like. But when the world’s seemingly changing from minute to minute, how can marketers keep pace with it, let alone get ahead?

In the sixth edition of the State of Marketing report, we’ll present insights from nearly 7,000 marketing leaders from around the world, including 200 from South Africa, to help give a clearer picture of what challenges the current climate is presenting, and what the future of the industry might look like.

As businesses look to pivot from crisis mode to growth mode, information is more important than ever. Here are a few of the most actionable insights from the report.


For marketers in South Africa, innovation is paramount

Engaging with the customer has never been more critical than in this competitive environment. According to our research, customer expectations are higher than ever. Our study recently found that 84% of customers state that the experience a company offers is just as important as its products and services. In this day and age, businesses that provide mediocre customer journeys may get left in the dust of an old, impersonal world.

To keep up with their customers, marketers are turning to real-time engagement. According to our State of the Connected Customer report, 71% of customers have used more than one channel to start and complete a transaction. Dynamic interactions – those interactions where content on one channel is tailored to customers based on their actions on another – are now the norm around the globe. But, crucially, only 37% of marketers in South Africa say that their interactions are dynamic, meaning that there’s still plenty of work to be done in this area – and a sizable competitive advantage to be gained.

The list of challenges for marketers in South Africa also includes unifying disparate customer data, complying with privacy regulations, and keeping up with innovation. There’s also a perception that traditional marketing roles aren’t evolving with the times, as 73% of respondents stated that these roles are limiting customer engagement. Even more surprising is the disconnect in perception between marketing and IT departments, as 61% of marketers in South Africa say that they’re well-aligned with their IT organisations, but a separate study of IT leaders reveals that poor alignment of business units is one of their top challenges.

Even before the pandemic re-shaped the business landscape, innovation was a top priority, but now it’s absolutely critical.


AI is re-drawing the marketing landscape

We’ve been waiting for artificial intelligence for years, and now it’s here: not in the form of hyper-intelligent robots, but in mobile phones, voice assistants and digital platforms. It’s no longer the stuff of sci-fi dreams, it’s making an impact in the real world.

Currently, marketers’ top use for AI is in personalising experiences within individual channels, and in a time when crafting empathetic and personal communications is essential, AI can distill insights from data to present a clearer view of the customer.

Data is more important than ever to marketers in South Africa, as 79% of them are using data to drive their customer engagement. And not only are they turning to data, they’re utilising a myriad of sources (median number: 4), with the top three sources being interests and preferences, transactional data, and digital identities. 

The number of platforms used to manage data has also increased significantly. Marketers now use an average of six different data management tools, which is double the number they used in 2018.


B2B is getting a boost from account-based marketing (ABM)

It’s not just B2C customers that have come to expect empathetic and personal engagement, it’s B2B customers as well. In order to meet these new B2B needs, marketers have leaned on account-based marketing (ABM) programs to construct highly personalised campaigns. Not only can ABM programs help marketers better communicate in the moment, they can add value to lifetime relationships.

The rise of ABM programs has been fast and furious, as 92% of B2B marketers use an ABM program, and 64% of programs were adopted in the last five years. These programs are also becoming increasingly smarter, as 68% of them now use automation.


Technology will deliver a future we can’t even dream of

The COVID-19 crisis upended life as we knew it, and transformed some business practices for good. It forced companies to innovate and think in new ways, and sent customers on journeys to new places. Workforces were pushed apart, but many grew stronger and more resilient. In the end, it ushered in ideas that we have been talking about for years, and maybe our better, brighter future has already started.

So what can marketers expect to see galloping over the next horizon? What might the new dawn bring? The adoption of 5G is expected to change everything: more connections, better connections – that world promises exciting innovations in VR and augmented reality, as well as customer journeys that are truly three-dimensional.

For now, marketers stand on the precipice of the future, keeping their eyes peeled, listening for the clarion call of the new, so that they can report back to us and let us know what tomorrow might bring.

To see more insights from marketing leaders around the world, and to find out what other challenges businesses are facing, download our State of Marketing report today.