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6 Critical Trends Redefining Marketing in a Digital-First World

What separates the top performers from everyone else? Leading organizations are aligning marketing around a customer journey strategy, leveraging data analytics, and embracing AI — all part of a heavily integrated, omnichannel effort built on a solid martech backbone.

Buzzwords like CX and AI are dominating marketing discussions today. With the focus pointed so heavily on emerging concepts like these — purely concentrated in digital channels and new technologies — how are marketers’ priorities, roles and responsibilities shifting? What new marketing technologies are critical to success today, and which ones will be crucial in the next couple years?

set out to find the answers to these questions. They surveyed over 3,500 executives around the world to get a peek inside the minds of today’s top marketers. Here’s what they found in their fourth annual report.

1. Customer Experience: Marketing Spearheads The New Brand Battlefield

Today’s companies compete on the basis of customer experience — and marketers feel called to lead the charge. But what does it take to deliver an exceptional experience? Most agree that this is the goal, but opinions vary on how to accomplish it… and who is responsible.

68% of marketing execs say their company is increasingly competing on the basis of customer experience, and 64% say that providing a consistent experience across every channel has become a priority.

Historically speaking, it hasn’t been very clear where in the organizational structure responsibility for the customer experience fell. In the past, departments like Operations and IT typically had the most control over the overall experience, even if they didn’t formally discuss or manage it as a specific function. Only recently a handful of companies have started creating CXO positions. But for most other organizations, marketers are stepping in to the CX vacuum.

59% of marketing leaders say that traditional marketing roles limit their ability to engage customers.

Today, around two-thirds of marketers feel like they are leading the customer experience initiative across the business, and 61% say they’ve become more focused on evolving from a traditional marketing structure to roles aligned with a customer journey strategy.

Read More: Financial Marketers Unprepared for Data-Driven Future

2. Data Analytics: Marketers Facing Major Hurdles

Marketers everywhere are struggling to leverage data from different sources in their quest to execute a connected customer experience. Only 23% of marketers say they are extremely satisfied with their ability to leverage customer data to create more relevant experiences.

“Customers expect they can switch between any connection — mobile browser, mobile app, social, desktop, and so on — and have a consistent brand experience,” Salesforce wrote in their report. “This expectation has sent marketing into a tailspin trying to cover it all.”

Biggest Data Analytics Challenges Cited By Marketers

# High
Performers
Moderate
Performers
Under
Performers
1 Creating a shared,
single view
of the customer
Budgetary
constraints
Budgetary
constraints
2 Difficulty leveraging
data from
different sources
Difficulty leveraging
data from
different sources
Insufficient
internal resources
3 Budgetary
constraints
Insufficient
internal resources
Difficulty leveraging
data from
different sources

3. Omnichannel Challenges: Managing Messages in a Fractured Media Landscape

67% of marketing leaders say creating a connected customer journey across all touchpoints and channels is critical to the success of their overall marketing strategy.

However, the challenges with achieving a “single view of the customer” is compounded by the frenzied addition of marketing and communication channels. Marketing leaders today say 34% of their budget is spent on channels they didn’t know existed five years ago. This means data is pouring in from new streams. Marketers are still trying to sort out which data points are the most critical, and how to integrate them into algorithmic models that make the most sense.

In the past year, 63% of all marketers say their company has become more focused on expanding marketing efforts across channels and devices. Unfortunately, most marketers say about half of their campaign messages are identical broadcasts from one channel to the next.

“This approach is akin to the early days of email marketing, when a ‘spray and pray’ mindset was the norm,” Salesforce noted in its report. “But with customer expectations for personalization on the rise, static messages can give the impression that a company doesn’t see customers as individuals.”

4. Organizational Shifts: Aligning Marketing With Sales & Service

Two out of three marketing leaders believe customer journey strategies will require organizational shifts — for example, redefining how sales, service, and marketing teams work together.

Winning marketing teams keep close tabs on their sales counterparts’ needs, and value two- way communication. High performers are 2.2x more likely than underperformers to say marketing consistently provides sales with quality leads, and 2.1x more likely to say sales regularly provides key insights that shape marketing efforts.

64% of marketing teams now work in tandem with service to manage social media inquiries and issues.

Similarly, high-performing marketing and service teams align to ensure a more consistent experience for customers. Top teams are 2.2x more likely than underperformers to alert service teams/reps to special offers and promotions, and reciprocally 2.5x more likely to say their service teams alert them when marketing initiatives need to be suppressed because an issue arises.

5. MarTech: Increased Adoption of Emerging Tools

Salesforce asserts that marketers’ ability to orchestrate touchpoints within the customer journey is as much a technology challenge as an organizational challenge. That explains why emerging tech will gather steam in the next 12-18 months.

The research revealed that the biggest growth in marketing technology will be in AI. Only half of marketers today say they are utilizing some form of AI, but an additional 27% plan to in the very near future. Connected devices — the “Internet of Things” (IoT) — will see a similar steep adoption curve in the coming months. One in five marketers say they have plans to add either a marketing automation platform, social listening tools, and/or a content management system to their martech stack in the near term.

Read More: How Financial Institutions Are Turning AI Into ROI

High performing marketers are leaning more heavily on an array of marketing technologies. High performers reported using, on average, 15 out of the 17 tools and technologies included in the Salesforce survey compared to only eight for underperformers. High performers are about 2.5x more likely to say that their martech stack is delivering increased productivity, better analytic insights and improved marketing efficiencies than their underperforming peers.

Percentage Who Say Their Current Martech Stack Delivers The Following Outcomes Under
Performers
Moderate
Performers
High
Performers
Increased productivity 36% 61% 86%
Better analytic insights 31% 59% 86%
Improved marketing efficiencies 32% 58% 86%
More efficient spending 35% 58% 86%

6. Artificial Intelligence: Marketing Embraces the AI Revolution

AI is a relatively new concept in marketing, with initial applications including tactics like product recommendations and predictive lead scoring. Nevertheless, even though AI is still in its infancy, high performing marketers have been using it for a while now. 72% of the most successful marketers say they are currently leveraging AI, while only 50% of moderate performers and 32% of underperformers can say the same thing. And among marketers who already use AI, 64% say it has greatly or substantially increased their overall marketing efficiency.

In the next five years, most marketers think AI will substantially impact their capacity for improving efficiency and advancing personalization. 57% those already using AI say it’s “absolutely” or “very essential” in helping their company create 1-to-1 marketing across every touchpoint. More than half expect AI will substantially impact social media interactions using automated chatbots and similar interfaces. And most agree that any IoT-enabled products/services wouldn’t even be possible without the power of AI.

What Makes Top Marketers Tick?

The Salesforce research revealed what makes high-performing marketers stand out from the pack — from connecting customer experiences and embracing organizational change, to pushing the boundaries of personalization with AI.

High performers are 2.4x more likely than underperformers to have aligned marketing roles around a customer journey strategy. They are 4.2x more likely to be happy with their ability to leverage customer data in ways that yield more relevant experiences. They are 3.1x more likely to be extensively using AI. And they are a whopping 12.8x more likely to be heavily coordinating marketing efforts across channels.

You can learn more about how customer experience is reshaping the mindsets of today’s top marketers by downloading from the Salesforce website (free PDF after completing a simple contact form).

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