It has never been more difficult for emerging marketers to seize opportunities and run the personalized campaigns needed to secure, generate and nurture leads. Nicholas Kontopoulos, the head of growth marketing for Asia Pacific at Adobe DX, says this has further widened the performance gap between emerging and advanced marketers.
The pandemic has thrown businesses worldwide into a new era of marketing, with consumers rapidly switching to digital-first habits, redefining behavioral trends, and unleashing a deluge of data and marketing opportunities in Asia.
While business-to-business (B2B) marketers in Asia have largely adapted to critical pandemic-related challenges, their ‘happily ever after’ is a distant reality. As the pandemic continues, the snowballing effects of broken customer experiences, hurdles around the measurement of return-on-investment (ROI) and shortage of relevant skills make it increasingly difficult for companies to turn new marketing opportunities into leads and conversions – as revealed by the latest ‘State of B2B Marketing in Asia’ report by Adobe, B2B Marketing Leaders and Insights Exchange. More worrying is the lack of recognition by internal company leaders in a time where digital marketing is the magic potion for sustained customer engagement and retention.
The report showed critical gaps between marketing professionals that separate emerging marketers from advanced ones. While advanced marketers drive their businesses forward with coordinated, sophisticated campaigns and enjoy respect at the leadership table, emerging marketers are falling behind, slowed by limited management support and tightening budgets. As such, it has never been more difficult for emerging marketers to seize opportunities and run the personalized campaigns needed to secure, generate and nurture leads. This has further widened the performance gap between emerging and advanced marketers.
To overcome these challenges, we must first examine the pressing fundamental issues that marketers face in 2021.
Emerging marketers held back from driving and proving business success
The ‘State of B2B Marketing in Asia’ report surveyed marketers in Singapore (60%), Hong Kong (10%) and other APAC countries (30%). Nearly one in two respondents (44%) reported ‘measuring ROI and attribution’ as a challenge, making it the most significant hurdle experienced by B2B marketers in the region.
This is further complicated by the lack of ROI visibility and understanding of its importance among key decision-makers. 51% of B2B marketers do not know or even have an ROI benchmark target for their marketing spend. This trend is even more prevalent among emerging marketers, with 80% of respondents not having a clear marketing ROI benchmark or target, and 40% not having an attribution model. The lack of attribution stunts marketing support from the leaders and is one of the main reasons emerging marketers continue to lag.
37% of B2B marketers in Asia also reported lead generation as a challenge – the second biggest hurdle regionally. Like ROI, visibility into lead generation and understanding of its importance are issues faced by more than a quarter of respondents, with 27% saying that they do not know or are not able to say what their lead nurture process is.
These factors are why many B2B marketers can’t effectively drive demand at the top of the marketing funnel, identify top leads and prove business impact. While most of the B2B marketers in Asia presume that marketing has a seat at the leadership table, many continue to feel a lack of recognition and respect, with one-third of marketers feeling that marketing was perceived by leadership as a cost center supporting sales. Emerging marketers struggle the most in establishing and communicating their critical role at the leadership table.
The big bad wolves of marketing: shortage of skills, tools and organizational support
Some marketing wizards are ahead of the curve in adopting new marketing strategies, like Account Based Marketing (ABM), to deliver personalization at a level that traditional marketing couldn’t.
However, the reality is that only 25% of respondents are deploying ABM, as lack of account insights and sales commitment persists. Without proper measurement and attribution, it isn’t a surprise that marketers struggle to demonstrate the success required to justify spend on new marketing investments.
Skills shortage is another reason why such advanced strategies aren’t deployed more often. ABM was reported as the number one marketing skill shortage seen by our respondents, followed by shortages in performance measurement and analytics, and marketing operations/marketing technology skills.
Marketers also struggle because they simply don’t have sophisticated and intelligent tools crucial to success – especially in the areas of lead generation, ROI attribution and ABM. Professionals who still rely on spreadsheets report that they spend more than 40 hours a month on calculations alone.
Overall, the gap in skills and tools continues to limit professionals – especially emerging marketers – in seizing new marketing opportunities in our fast-evolving digital-first landscape. The lack of ROI attribution and visibility throughout the digital marketing life cycle also limits marketing’s ability to prove business contribution and value to the leadership team, which in turn limits the tools and potential of today’s marketers.
So, how can we do better?
Combine enhanced tech capabilities with organizational restructuring for lasting change
Breaking the vicious ‘ROI cycle’ is how we marketers can evolve and unleash marketing’s full potential. For this to start, marketers and leaders must rethink how they view the marketing function to build a strong foundation. Just as in the popular fairy tale The Three Little Pigs, we must restructure our marketing ‘houses’, using modern technologies and strategies as bricks – strong enough to withstand the big bad winds of competition and unmet consumer expectations.
Marketing automation is one of the most effective ways marketers and leaders can kickstart change and align marketing’s contribution to company revenue and profit growth. Its tools can easily tackle time-intensive tasks like reporting, allowing us to focus on what really matters. Most of the respondents (63%) who use integrated marketing automation and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms reported having spent only 0 to 10 hours a month on reporting – around four times less than those relying on spreadsheets.
Integrated end-to-end solutions also empower us marketers to effectively determine a direct ROI target for spending across the marketing funnel, accelerating the many moving parts required for ABM and personalized marketing strategies. Advanced marketing automation tools also leverage built-in AI capabilities that provide leaders with accurate, real-time analytics throughout the marketing life cycle, helping us clearly show marketing’s contribution to the business’ bottom line. More importantly, they enable leadership to make precise and informed decisions that directly impact customer experience.
However, having the right marketing tools is just one part of the equation. They need to be supported by strategic organizational and technological restructuring across the business to help emerging marketers successfully transition to advanced marketers.
Company leaders must start looking at marketers as revenue generators rather than cost centers, and ensure that their marketing lead is reporting to the top of the organization, with access to information on business goals, measurement metrics and results – along with the ownership to impact them. This way, marketers can better align with the business’ goals and determine which platforms and resources they need.
We marketers in turn must learn how to communicate our contribution to business objectives effectively to establish stronger authority. While technology can help us show results in a timely and intuitive manner, we must ensure that we are communicating in the language of the business so stakeholders can fully understand our contribution to long-term goals.
We’ve also got to take more personal responsibility for our skills development and keep on top of new technologies and emerging trends in our industry. While accredited courses and workshops are crucial to upskilling, industry summits and events are instrumental in gaining the latest industry insights, and for peer learning too.
Catalyze lasting change with partnerships for the happily ever after
To accelerate positive company-wide change, marketers can also look to collaborate with reliable technology vendors with the right domain expertise and an understanding of the importance of ROI for marketing teams.
Beyond technological support, such partners can also provide valuable third-party perspectives to objectively identify issues and solutions specific to business needs. More importantly, these partners provide insights on the broader customer experience management (CXM) challenges of today and tomorrow, helping leaders see what’s ahead while empowering marketers with the magic potion to evolve from emerging to advanced to keep up with today’s digital-first economy.
Nicholas Kontopoulos is the head of growth marketing for Asia Pacific at Adobe DX