If there’s one thing that set the best marketers apart in 2019, it’s the way they use data to make every customer feel like the only customer.

That’s the clear finding from our fifth State of Marketing report, which surveyed more than 4,100 marketing leaders around the world. 

Increasingly, marketing is the glue that allows an organisation to create a seamless, end-to-end experience – allowing the customer to feel like they’re dealing with one company, not a jumble of different departments. And more than that, to feel like the company really understands them too.

Marketers are driving that change. The report shows 55% now collaborate directly with service teams, while the proportion sharing goals with sales colleagues has leapt by 87% in a single year.

It’s not a moment too soon. For a customer, there’s a long, long road from first contact to loyal advocate. Any step along the way can make or break the relationship, and expectations are rising fast. 

84% of consumers (and 83% of business buyers) say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important if you want their business. 52% will switch if you don’t personalise their experience.  

High-performing marketers (the ones who are completely satisfied with their marketing performance and the outcomes of their investments) get that. They’re more than seven times more likely to use data to create more relevant experiences, compared to underperforming counterparts. And they’re nearly ten times more likely to create personalised omni-channel experiences.

To make it happen, they’re using every tool in the box. All the data, all the channels… with a little help from AI.

Here’s what the report tells us.


Taming your data is key, and your DMP may be the answer

The median number of data sources used by marketers is now 15. That’s a jump of 25% year on year. Second-party data – where organisations like brands and publishers share their data – is growing particularly fast. In the UK, almost two-thirds of marketing teams use it.

There’s a wealth of data, and that’s great. It helps marketers improve targeting and reach new audiences. Importantly for personalisation, it can also give you a high-definition picture of your customer and what they want.

But it also makes it that much harder to solve for identity – that is, to focus all the many data trails each customer leaves behind, to get a single picture of one person and their needs, preferences and behaviour.

So it’s not surprising that less than half of all marketers (47% to be exact) say they have a completely unified view of customer data. 

There’s no one technology that marketers are using to address the issue – the report shows no fewer than seven common solutions. Some use their email service provider (ESP), while others use a database or CRM system – potentially ceding control of the customer view to sales or IT. In fact, most marketers need three different technologies to get the job done.

But one popular response is perhaps surprising. A growing number of marketers are using their data management platform (DMP) to solve for customer identity. It’s now the most common answer after databases, CRM and ESP.

It’s part of a growing trend that sees marketers harnessing the capabilities of their DMP outside of their traditional uses in advertising, content personalisation and media buying. 

Significant numbers are now planning to use their DMP for audience insights and segmentation, while identity resolution and management is the third most popular new use case. 

Here in the UK, marketers are even further ahead of the curve – solving identity is the second most common use for a DMP.


Using AI to anticipate customer needs is an opportunity

Applying AI to customer data could well be today’s biggest opportunity for marketers to gain a competitive advantage through personalisation.

Marketing adoption of AI has grown by 44% in two years – but still less than a third of organisations are using it. 

Today, addressing a customer by their name no longer counts as a personalised experience. 62% now expect companies to proactively anticipate their needs, and 88% are happy to share their data in return for relevant, personalised offers. Even in B2B settings, 69% of business buyers want an “Amazon-like” experience, with personalised recommendations.

Delivering this one-to-one experience at scale is a tonne of work – pretty much unachievable by hand. But for the 29% of marketers who use AI, it’s relatively easy to achieve outcomes like sending tailored email offers based on web browsing behaviour. 

Others use AI to calculate what marketing should do next for each customer, to create the experience that leads to a sale – and, beyond that, to brand loyalty.

That gives a clear advantage over the 71% who have yet to implement AI. It’s maybe no surprise that the proportion of AI users among high-performing marketers is 2.7 times higher than for underperformers.


Deliver across all channels, in real time

You’ve unified your data into a single view of the customer. And you’ve used AI to tell you what that person needs you to do next. Now all you need is to make it happen – the right message, through the right channel, at exactly the right time.

If that doesn’t sound easy, don’t worry – you’re far from alone. Across the board, real-time engagement is marketers’ top-ranked priority, and their top challenge.

Marketers are moving away from broadcasting the same message across multiple channels to a dynamic approach, where the messages on each channel evolve based on customer actions. For many, though, this is still an aspiration: fewer than a third of UK respondents currently deliver messages in this way.

That means personalising engagement in real time is an opportunity to stand out. Implementing it successfully depends on having a platform that connects the data and AI to your customer-facing systems.


Personalisation is the new marketing battleground

With such a wide gap between the best-performing marketers and the rest, this is a good moment to use data and AI to give customers the personalised, end-to-end marketing experiences they expect. 

But setting yourself apart from the competition doesn’t need to be difficult. If you can align your marketing and service systems so you don’t send messages to potentially unhappy customers with an open service issue, you’ll be ahead of 68% of other organisations. 

Likewise, if you can combine data, AI, marketing execution and sales/service alignment within a single platform, it’ll enable you to spend less time plumbing systems together, and more time creating personalised experiences your customers will love.

The research shows it’s only a matter of time before these tactics become commonplace. Even those that aren’t widely adopted yet are growing quickly year-on-year. Sooner or later, your marketing will be personal – so let’s seize the initiative and make it sooner.


The State of Marketing 2019

See how the world’s marketers create experiences through data, alignment, and AI. Read the fifth State of Marketing report now.