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New Salesforce Report: AI is Marketers’ Top Priority – And Biggest Headache

Marketers are prioritizing AI implementation over all other initiatives this year, according to new Salesforce research in the ninth State of Marketing report. The problem? Getting it right is also their toughest challenge. 

Why it matters: With customer standards for personalization continuing to rise year after year and marketing technologies constantly evolving, marketers need to act fast to keep up. Many see AI as a hack to do just that: a go-to for sharper personalization and efficiency, and now, creativity at scale with generative AI. Yet data challenges — from unification, integration, and security — are slowing marketing teams down.  

With insights from over 4,800 marketers across 29 countries, the State of Marketing report highlights how top-performing marketers are outdoing their competition by embracing AI and other new opportunities while mitigating these data, trust, and security challenges.

Marketers pursue more tailored engagement amid rising customer expectations

Increasingly, marketers aim for more customized experiences based on detailed data like individual behaviors, preferences, interactions, or other specific indicators. And they are looking to AI to deliver more insights, predictions, automated workflows, and content. As a result, marketers consider having a data and AI strategy of utmost importance. On average, today’s marketers are able to fully personalize across five channels, with high-performers tailoring six channels and underperformers managing to fully personalize across only three. 

Over half of marketers are able to fully personalize across mobile messaging (57%), email marketing (54%), or social media channels (52%).

Channels where content is easy to test and iterate on the fly, like mobile messaging, email marketing, and social media, see the most advanced personalization efforts. On the other hand, channels demanding more production time and planning like audio, organic search, and TV/OTT have the most work to do with 43%, 42%, and 41% seeing full personalization, respectively. 

Marketers rev up AI adoption, but underperformers stall out in the evaluation stage

Marketers are pulled in many directions, and are focused on improving AI adoption. However, they’re struggling to actually implement AI and create cohesive journeys, among other difficulties. 

Ironically, AI could be one tool to help teams overcome such challenges. Salesforce Chief Marketing Officer Ariel Kelman highlights how companies are entering “a new era of AI, catalyzed by the generative gold rush,” and that the technology is being embraced by marketing organizations. As he sees it, “marketers are leading the charge by embracing rapid advancements in the technology to better connect with customers and prospects.” 

Marketers are eager to implement AI into their own work streams: 75% are either experimenting with or have fully implemented AI in their operations. A closer look reveals that the embrace of the technology varies by performance level. 

The majority of high- and moderate-performing teams are already rigorously testing, tweaking, and incorporating AI into their operations. Still, more than one-third of underperformers have yet to graduate from the consideration phase. In fact, high-performing marketing teams are 2.5x more likely than underperformers to have fully integrated AI into their operations. Until underperformers pivot from passive planning to hands-on action, AI’s advantages will continue to elude them. 

Marketers embrace AI to predict, create, and integrate at scale

So, what types of AI are marketers using — and how? Sixty-three percent of marketers leveraging AI say they use generative while just over half (54%) are using predictive. And despite its relative novelty, generative AI use cases already rank among marketers’ favorites alongside predictive applications. As a result, teams are harnessing both types of AI for critical use cases like automating customer interactions and generating content — activities that will augment creativity and accelerate productivity.

Despite AI enthusiasm, concerns about trusted data remain

Compared to their peers in other departments, marketers are especially concerned about falling behind on generative AI adoption. Eighty-eight percent of marketers worry about missing out on generative AI’s benefits, compared to 78% of sales and 73% of service colleagues.

Even so, senior marketers remain cautious, citing concerns such as data and job security. Compared to their peers further up the corporate ladder, on-the-ground team leads are particularly wary about job stability. One in four team leads are worried AI will replace their job, compared to one in five executives. For their part, CMOs are most concerned with data leaks, with 41% citing data exposure as their top concern compared to 29% of VPs and 32% of team leads.

While data leaks are marketers’ #1 generative AI concern, not having enough of the right data falls at #2. To capture enough valuable information, marketers are primarily leveraging customer service data and transaction data, showing an effort to partner with colleagues across sales and commerce departments to accomplish this. However, unification of that and other data — such as unstructured data from emails, NFTs, and more — remains a challenge.

In fact, only 31% of marketers are fully satisfied with their ability to unify customer data sources. What’s more, only approximately half of marketers say their systems automatically and regularly update with data from other departments. 

Without fully integrated data, marketers’ ability to derive sharp insights is blunted, leaving core activities like analyzing performance, suppressing audiences, and building campaigns powered by out-of-date or incomplete information. It even jeopardizes marketers’ top priority: effectively leveraging AI. 

A closer look at the survey results shows that fully integrated data is more common among high-performing marketing teams, suggesting that investing in unification can give marketers an edge. As Kelman explains, “a strong data foundation will be critical to AI success for marketers as they work to bring together and unify customer data for real-time activation.” 

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Data in this report are from a double-anonymous survey conducted from February 5 to March 12, 2024. The survey generated 4,850 responses from marketing decision makers across North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. 

Performance levels referenced in the report were determined as follows: high performers reported complete satisfaction with the overall outcomes of their marketing investments. Moderate performers reported high satisfaction with the overall outcomes of their marketing investments. Underperformers reported moderate or less satisfaction with the overall outcomes of their marketing investments.

For more demographic information, please refer to the report.


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