In an all-digital world, changing customer expectations and behaviours mean that marketers are rethinking the channels they use, how they define success and how to embrace a work-from-anywhere mentality. This is according to Salesforce’s latest “State of Marketing Report”, which surveyed more than 8,200 marketing leaders across 37 countries to discover how strategic priorities and challenges, marketing tactics and technology are transforming against a backdrop of economic and social change. Improving marketing return on investment is SA marketers’ number one priority, while engaging with customers in real time is their number one challenge.

If digital customer engagement didn’t define marketing prior to 2020, it does now. Just as entrepreneurs experimented with new business models during the pandemic, marketers are embracing new tactics to gain the attention of customers and prospects. The report provides five key lessons for marketers as they adapt to a changing world.

Whatever the future holds, customer experience will remain marketers’ North Star

As the world has transformed, so has marketing. About 86% of chief marketing officers say their marketing must transform to be competitive. This explains why digital engagement strategy (28%), workplace strategy (34%), and organisational challenges (32%) rank as the top three things marketers say they’ve “completely changed” since the pandemic.

Despite the challenges they have encountered over the past year, marketers are entering the next phase of their work with renewed optimism and purpose. About 52%, for instance, feel that their work provides greater value than it did a year ago, and 42% foresee revenue growth at their company over the coming 12 to 18 months.

As customers go digital, innovation – and training – are essential

The rapid shift to digital engagement has prompted marketers to re-evaluate which channels warrant increased investment. The value of video content, social media and digital advertisements especially has surged, and virtual and hybrid event formats will become permanent fixtures.

The evolving nature of customer engagement means that well-rounded marketers are also technologists. Some 79% of marketers say their ability to meet customer expectations depends on their capabilities, and believe their work will be more technology-driven. Beyond managing customer relationship management (CRM) systems, they’re going to need to help organise and make sense of data, automate processes and measure results. The fact that only 20% of marketers rate the employee training they receive as excellent tells us many companies have much to do to ensure they’re truly setting teams up for success.

Time to reprioritise data sources

As customers’ digital expectations rise, reaching the right audience at the right time on the right channel is becoming more challenging. As a result, marketers are turning to a number of data sources and associated technologies to inform or automate their processes.

As technology providers and governments restrict the use of cookies that digital marketers have relied upon, the value of those data sources is evolving. Known digital identities such as e-mail addresses and social IDs saw the biggest increase in popularity since 2020, whereas offline identities such as postal addresses and anonymous digital identities saw the biggest declines.

With so much emphasis being placed on customer data and its implications for marketing, however, marketers’ progress in improving data quality, timeliness and integration has been marginal. With so many types and sources of data at their fingertips, marketers are turning to technology to help them make sense of it all.

Measuring success differently

Following a year of experimenting with the strategies, tactics and methods with which marketers engage with customers and prospects, the marketing profession has become more KPI-oriented as teams seek to understand what works in a radically changed world. While revenue and funnel performance remain the foremost metrics of success, customer referral rates, customer acquisition costs and content engagement have seen the biggest boosts in popularity.

Regardless of the specific metric, the increasingly strategic nature of marketing means that KPIs must be in line with those of company leadership. Some 85% of chief marketing officers align their KPIs with the CEO’s.

Embracing a work-from-anywhere mentality

Throughout the pandemic, though marketers have been physically apart, many feel more connected to their managers, customers, marketing colleagues and partners. Some 70% of marketers say the pandemic has permanently shifted how they collaborate and communicate at work

Adjusting to a work-from-anywhere environment hasn’t been without its challenges. About 66% of marketers say it’s harder to collaborate now than before the pandemic. But marketers are adapting, in no small part by re-evaluating the tools they use to connect. About 86% of marketing organisations have adopted new work collaboration technology due to the pandemic.

Robbie Kearns is the senior regional vice-president at Salesforce

The big take-out:

The marketing profession has become more KPI-oriented as teams seek to understand what works in a radically changed world.


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