UX is the ultimate goal and AI will help, but brands still struggle with data and channels

A new survey from Salesforce found brands are increasingly competing on the basis of customer experience.

As customer experience becomes more of the basis for competitive advantage, more brands are focusing on consistent, personalized experiences, but they struggle with obtaining a single view of each customer and how to deal with data from different sources. That’s according to the fourth annual State of Marketing report from CRM firm Salesforce.

The study found this is further complicated by the never-ending stream of emerging channels – which must not only be addressed, but coordinated, too – and brands struggle to evolve messages across these channels. In addition, new roles are emerging as marketers work more closely with other departments. And, not surprisingly, top teams are more likely to tap into marketing technology. While marketers expect AI will substantially impact efficiency and personalization, challenges remain like defining an AI business strategy, as well as grappling with privacy and wrangling data stored in separate systems.

Salesforce surveyed 3500 marketing professionals around the world in April 2017. Here’s a closer look at the key findings:

New battleground

Salesforce said its 2016 State of Marketing report established customer experience as a significant focus, but now marketers are battling over it, too.

In fact, 68% of marketing leaders said their companies are increasingly competing on the basis of customer experience.

Over the past 18 months, 64% of marketers surveyed say their companies have become more focused on providing a consistent experience across every channel as a result of changing customer expectations.

“This is in part because customers increasingly expect consistent, personalized experiences — and their loyalty is on the line,” the report said.

This applies to businesses as well. While 52% of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t make an effort to personalize communications, 65% of business buyers say the same about vendor relationships.

Salesforce also found consumers are more willing to trade data for better experiences. Among millennial consumers, 58% will share personal data in exchange for product recommendations that meet their needs, along with 52% of Gen X consumers.

A consistent brand experience

Obtaining a single view of the customer and leveraging data from different sources remain two of the biggest challenges in maintaining a consistent brand experience, the report found.

This is further complicated by the addition of new marketing and communication channels.

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

On average, marketers say 34% of their budget is spent on channels they didn’t know existed five years ago — and they expect that to reach 40% by 2019.

In addition, 63% of marketers said their company has become more focused on expanding marketing across channels and devices over the past 12 to 18 months, but top marketers pay special attention to how they’re coordinating marketing across channels, too.

In fact, Salesforce said high performers are 12.8x more likely than underperformers to heavily coordinate their marketing efforts across channels like email, website, mobile, social media, display/banner ads, organic/paid search, video advertising and native advertising/sponsored content. (Salesforce said high performers are defined as “those who are extremely satisfied with the current outcomes realized as a direct result of their company’s marketing investment, as well as their overall marketing performance compared to their competitors”.)

“The gold standard for a customer journey is that each subsequent message builds on the customer’s actions to evolve communications in a true 1-to-1 experience,” the report said. “But the reality is marketers say only about a quarter of their messages evolve from channel to channel in this highly personalized way.”

In fact, most marketers say a little more than half (51%) of their campaign messages are identical from one channel to the next, which Salesforce likened to the "spray-and-pray" mindset from the early days of email marketing.

But static messages can give the impression a company doesn’t see customers as individuals, Salesforce said.

At the same time, even though high performers are twice as likely as underperformers to evolve messages across channels, only 43% currently do. But 91% of high performers agree a connected customer journey across all touchpoints and channels positively impacts customer loyalty – and 89% say the same for revenue growth. Nevertheless, only 23% are extremely satisfied with their ability to leverage customer data to create more relevant experiences, the report said.

New titles

Marketers’ shift toward customer experience is also impacting roles, which include new titles like customer experience analyst and lifecycle marketing manager, as 59% of marketers say traditional marketing roles limit their ability to engage customers.

In addition, 64% of marketers say customer journey strategies require organizational shifts like redefining how sales, service and marketing teams work together.

High performers are at least twice as likely as underperformers to align with sales teams in a variety of ways.

“For top teams, this alignment starts by being empowered to collaborate with sales, sharing common goals and metrics, and understanding how their efforts impact individual accounts and customers,” the report said.

High-performing marketing teams also align with customer service and share information about special offers, promotions and known issues – and the report said brand reputation depends on collaboration between these departments.

Martech

In terms of performance levels, top teams are 4.3x more likely than underperformers to extensively use a data management platform (DMP) and 4x more likely to use a customer identity and access management (CIAM) platform.

With 1-to-1 marketing as the ultimate goal – or marketing strategies emphasizing personalized interactions to foster loyalty and better return on investment, marketers said the top two tools most essential to delivering this are CRM and marketing analytics/measurement tools. And top marketers say the most essential technology to achieving 1-to-1 marketing is a DMP, defined as a centralized system for collecting, integrating and managing data from disparate sources, Salesforce said.

AI opportunities and challenges

AI is the technology where marketers expect to see the most growth over the next two years and they anticipate AI use will grow by 53%.

The study found about half (51%) of marketing leaders are already using AI. It has its roots in tactics like product recommendations and predictive lead scoring, but most marketers think AI will substantially impact their capacity for improving efficiency and advancing personalization over the next five years.

A separate survey found only 26% of business leaders have complete confidence in their organization’s ability to define an AI business strategy. What’s more, roadblocks exist, with top marketers more likely to say AI challenges include customer privacy or wrangling data stored in separate systems.