It might be argued that among those professions where it’s incumbent on practitioners to see - or at least present - every glass as half full, marketing is one of those at the forefront.
The latest State of Marketing report from Salesforce today confirms such suspicions as the global marketing community shakes off the COVID crisis and steps into the Vaccine Economy on the front foot. Two-thirds of the 8,200 marketers polled from around the globe reckon that their organizations will see revenue growth over the next 12-18 months, while over three quarters (77%) say that they feel that their work is more valued than it was a year ago.
That said, the pandemic has inevitably had an impact on the way marketing works and it’s the emerging realities of that make for the most interesting reading in this study. For example, 90% of respondents say that their digital engagement strategies have changed to some degree, with more than half of those (48% of total respondents) saying that it’s been a complete change.
Meanwhile 89% say their marketing channel mix has changed with video emerging top of the ranking of channels delivering the biggest increase in marketing value over the past years. This has undoubtedly been driven by the universal cancellation of real world engagements, such as conferences and seminars, and their shift online.
Salesforce is a good case in point here, replacing Dreamforce and all its other face-to-face marketing events around the world with online versions. Again, as the Vaccine Economy takes shape, there’s not going to be a simple bounce back to the ‘old normal’. There will be a Dreamforce next month and some of it will take place in physical locations around the world, but it won’t be closing down the city of San Francisco this year.
Respondents to the State of Marketing anticipate that virtual and hybrid events will continue to dominate with in-person gigs actually declining further. In 2020, 32% of event formats were real world; that will go down to 30% in 2022 if the Salesforce respondents are correct. Meanwhile purely virtual events/engagement will rise from 2020’s 35% to 40%.
People have become used to watching events from afar. Those organizations that have become most adept and sophisticated in delivering such formats will be those who see greatest value in return. In light of this, the launch this week of Salesforce+, a digital media service for streaming live Salesforce events and original content series, takes on a new significance. (Barb Mosher-Zinc will be taking a closer look at this development later in the week.)
As the Vaccine Economy takes shape, there’s a vital recognition that the time for change isn’t over. It’s not going to be a case of slipping back into the pre-pandemic practices. Some 88% of CMOs surveyed state that marketing has to continue to transform in order to be competitive. With that in mind, the top five priorities for marketers are ranked as:
- Engaging with customers in real time.
- Creating a cohesive journey across channels and devices.
- Improving marketing ROI/attribution.
- Improving collaboration.
The first two cited are marketing staples, of course, and featured in 2020’s report. But the other three are new for this year and clearly influenced by the impact of the COVID crisis and the necessity of operating in a different mode.
It’s also interesting to note that the top three priorities are also identified as the top three challenges facing marketing:
- Engaging with customers in real time.
- Creating a cohesive customer journey across channels and devices.
- Insufficient organizational structures and processes.
The bottom two in that ranking are new and, again, clearly reflect the enforced priorities triggered by COVID. As the report notes:
In a new work-from-anywhere reality in which teams are distributed and the role of the office has changed, collaboration is also top of mind, as are the organizational structures and processes that were designed for a different time.
Some 82% of marketing organizations say they are adopting new policies around remote working, even though the majority in some parts of the world - US and Canada are cited - expect to return to the office full time. In other geographies however, the shift to a hybrid model of working seems irreversible. Less than half of European respondents (48%) expect to see a full time return to an office environment.
That has implications for team working, of course. Over two-thirds (69%) of respondents say they find it harder to collaborate now than pre-pandemic, while three-quarters say that the COVID crisis has led to a permanent shift in how they collaborate and communicate. That means there’s a need for new tools, with 78% of marketing organizations adopting new work collaboration tech, most notably video-conferencing.
Cross-channel co-ordination is an interesting challenge. Some 68% of marketers describe their approach to this as ‘dynamic’, up from 31% in 2018. What does dynamic mean? The Salesforce report pitches it as “meaning that messages evolve in a hyper-personalized manner based on customer actions”. Alternatively it could be read as meaning that marketers are having to be more reactive in their response to rapidly changing customer demands and actions.
But however powerful the forces of change have been, one underlying truth remains - the most important goal for marketing is to meet customer experience expectations. Eighty percent of marketers polled recognise this, saying that customer experience is the key competitive differentiator.
That’s the good news. The less good news? Seventy-two percent of them say that meeting customer expectations is now more difficult than it was a year ago. In large part, this has been a side-effect of channel shift to digital and a resulting evolution of expectation. So, today, approaching two-thirds (61%) of customers anticipate spending more time online than they did pre-pandemic and they expect the organizations they deal with to keep up and advance their digital initiatives accordingly. Obviously this has been seen in practice across industries, with ‘We’ve seen 3/5/10 years (delete as applicable) of digital transformation done in 18 months’ rapidly becoming a post-pandemic cliché in corporate/analyst presentations everywhere.
But whatever the reality there, customers are undoubtedly now (a) more digitally savvy and (b) more digitally demanding. Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report from October last year picked up on this when it stated that more than two-thirds (69%) of customers expected customers to offer new ways to get products and services during the height of the COVID crisis.
That places a burden of innovation on all organizations. According to the State of Marketing poll, some 92% of high performing companies say that customer expectations are shaping their digital strategies, with just under a third (31%) confessing that they struggle to innovate accordingly. That situation is worse for underperforming firms, where 74% recognise the pressure to change, but nearly half (48%) are struggling to meet this need.
So what does come next? As noted above, video has become an ever more important part of the marketing mix and that’s going to continue. Some 81% of marketers already use pre-produced video, while 71% are brave enough to use live-stream. Those percentages will increase by 13% and 19% in the near future. Virtual experiences will also see a significant increase in use, up 33% from 46% today as will social marketing, nearly doubling use from today’s 46% deployment.
This is a wide-ranging report - we’ve only scratched the surface of some of the main conclusions here. It’s worth drilling down further both via the full report, but also by checking out the Tableau dashboard on the survey data. The shift in marketing tactics demanded by the COVID crisis has been significant and from these findings, the ‘new normal’ is going to see a continuation of many of those changes.
The demise of real world event marketing has been one of the most notable impacts of the past 18 months and it’s interesting to see that there appears much less of an appetite for a return to the format than might have been expected. Does no-one want to be locked in a Las Vegas conference room anymore? (Did anyone ever?).
Meanwhile the rise of video over the past 18 months is the game-changer that shouts out from this study. During those locked-down days, the ability to deliver strong online visual content became a competitive differentiator. Jon Reed’s ongoing critique of the strengths and weaknesses of online events is worth checking out - start here. For my part, I’ve sat through some very good video engagements - and a hell of a lot more very bad ones. Video killed the radio star; it might just do the same to some marketers if they don’t get their acts together.