The road to recovery – where do marketers go from here?

Ashling Kearns Profile picture for user Ashling Kearns May 21, 2020
The COVID-19 crisis adds to the pressure on marketing professionals. Salesforce's Ashling Kearns highlights some priorities ahead for all marketers.

(via Pixabay)

Marketers have always been at the forefront of change. At the start of 2020, their focus was on trying to innovate and stay ahead in a new decade where every industry, region, and customer experience was already being disrupted.

Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), along with increased customer expectations, presented both incredible opportunities and hefty challenges.

And now marketers face bigger challenges stemming from the global pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis is forcing them to rethink and innovate differently - in a socially distanced world. 

Our latest annual State of Marketing report collected data from nearly 7,000 marketing leaders across the globe just as the COVID-19 crisis emerged.

The findings and insights from the report demonstrate the values that remain especially important to consider as businesses navigate from crisis mode, to getting back to work and the ‘new normal’ and growth. 

Here are four key takeaways from the report.

A fresh focus on skills development and re-skilling

These challenging times have reminded us how critical employee learning and skilling-up for new ways of working can be. Back in February, a third of UK marketers said insufficient human resources, be it skills or the number of team members, was proving a challenge in reaching their overall goals. That is something that will be increasingly challenging with budgetary restrictions and worker shortages over the coming year, and so marketers need a way forward. 

Traditional marketing roles focussed on specific stages of the funnel, or on tactics like social media are falling out of favour. Sixty-eight percent of UK marketers say that traditional marketing roles limit customer engagement. With that too, our study found globally, that they generally rated their teams as advanced across a wide array of skills, with particular confidence in their communication, creativity, and data analysis abilities. Coding and data science ranked near the bottom of marketers’ self-assessment, while emotional intelligence was the lowest rated skill globally, at a time when it is more important than ever.

Online learning tools, such as our own Trailhead, give people the opportunity to learn remotely, at the time convenient to them and on any device. In light of COVID-19 we have additionally launched Trailhead LIVE, a series of streaming and on-demand video tutorials including deep dives into digital marketing, coding and app development. 

Continuous pursuit of innovation

Innovation is a top priority, with 91% of marketers globally in agreement. Our research found that the expectations for how marketers interact with customers is continuing to rise - a related study of consumers and business buyers found that 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. This is up from 80% in 2018. 

Alongside that, real-time customer engagement was the number one challenge for marketers, while 68% said traditional marketing roles limit customer engagement. We also found a disconnect between two divisions that are key to customer engagement success: marketing and IT. While 63% of marketers said they are aligned with their IT organizations, a separate study of IT leaders ranked insufficient business unit alignment as a top challenge.

Addressing these pain points is more crucial than ever, with digital transformation being a core to business success in the years ahead. 

Use of Artificial Intelligence 

Once a hyped-up buzzword, AI is now making real-world impact. There has been a global increase in adoption of 186% in just two years. In the UK, 70% of marketing leaders who use AI, use it to drive next best offers in real time and 68% are using it to bridge online and offline experiences for their customers. 

With the world in crisis, the use of customer data for empathetic marketing has come to the forefront. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of customer needs as they evolve. AI helps achieve this type of personalisation at scale by distilling insights from data and taking action. 

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

As the amount and type of available data has grown, so has the number of platforms to manage it. Marketers now use an average of six data management tools, compared with three in 2018. This explains why marketers cite data unification and activation among their top five challenges.

A new set of emerging technologies

No-one can truly predict what is next for marketing. But one outcome of these current societal shifts is that it has forced businesses across industries to figure out how to better connect with their customers and deliver what they need and when. It has accelerated many of the ideas we’ve been discussing for years. Marketers can be at the forefront of this innovation - 79% of them say they lead customer experience initiatives across their organizations. 

Over the next 10 years marketers expect to see even greater impact from new technologies and societal developments.  These include online access to more of the global population, the implementation of 5G networks, and virtual reality becoming mainstream. Sixty percent of leaders believe 5G will have a major impact on marketing in the decade ahead.  Faster speeds mean other innovations such as virtual reality can become a greater part of the customer experience. Sixty percent of marketing leaders also see opportunity with millions of people in the digital darkness expected to get online access over the next ten years. 

As we make our way through these unpredictable times, and figure out how to get businesses back to full speed, having a sound strategy focused around listening to our customers combined with embracing technology we will recover. 

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