The promise of technology in the workplace is that it will allow us to do more with less, to be more productive or, dream of dreams, to have more leisure time. Remember when your laptop – or, more recently, your smartphone – was going to set you free? Of course, these dreams often do come partly true. But, as anyone who has ever instantly answered an urgent 3:00 am text message from an overseas colleague can attest, they often bring new challenges as well.
This is the story of technology as told in a new survey of marketing executives released this week by US-based DNN Software. DNN undertook their survey of 300 marketing executives with mid-sized US companies. In the DNN survey, “mid-sized” means companies with between 50 and 5,000 employees – in other words, roughly the range between a good sized-language school and a medium-sized university.
The introduction to the survey report sets out the context, and the challenge, for marketing managers in mid-sized companies:
“Marketers at mid-sized companies hold responsibility for a wide range of functions, from lead generation to analytics, from brand management to marketing strategy. Despite the formidable challenges of gaining and holding the attention of target audiences in an increasingly complex marketing landscape, they set ambitious goals for acquiring and retaining customers. Technology tools help, but mid-sized companies don’t have the IT support to integrate the solutions or the time to manage multiple vendors – even though the majority of them work with five or more solution providers.”
The DNN report finds that most marketing executives are trying to pursue several high-level marketing goals at the same time. “[The survey] paints a portrait of marketers who are trying very hard to do it all, do it now, and do it better than anyone else… When presented with a list of seven priorities for their marketing programmes, three-quarters of respondents give five of the seven items a high or very high priority rating.”
As the following chart illustrates, top priorities include acquiring new customers (87%) and retaining current customers (86%). This is perhaps not surprising but it does reflect what DNN characterises as an increasing integration of sales and marketing activities among responding firms.
High and very high marketing priority items for 2014. Source: DNN Software
The key challenges identified by the survey respondents help to explain the growing emphasis on both social networks and content marketing for many marketing managers today. 79% of respondents said that getting customers’ attention online is a major challenge. 72% reported that they have trouble effectively targeting customers online and the same percentage said that the “sheer volume of online content makes it difficult for them to stand out from the crowd.”
Key challenges identified by marketing executives. Source: DNN Software
65% of respondents added that managing technology was either a moderate or major challenge. 63% said that “they have too many marketing technology vendors to manage, and more than half say they need a mini-chief information officer (CIO) to help them manage the flood of technology options.”
Picking up on this last point, DNN found that more than half (53%) of the responding companies use five or more marketing technology applications while 15% use ten or more. Perhaps it is not surprising then that many marketing executives (70%) feel that marketing is becoming more complicated in 2014.
As we noted above, many marketers are turning to social media and/or content marketing, whether to respond to the challenge of breaking through the increasing noise of competition (and the glut of information online) or to engage more meaningfully with customers and prospects.
“The brands that do the best job of delivering value are standing out from the crowd and generating strong ROI, as audiences gain confidence in their online presence,” says DNN.
“That means the future belongs to companies that can consistently generate solid content and target it to the specific, deliberately defined audiences they need to reach.”
DNN notes as well, however, that many firms struggle with sustaining effective content or social media marketing efforts, and that managing online tools and technology is a big part of this challenge.
“While technology and metrics are central to any marketing programme,” the survey report concludes, “they can’t replace the day-in, day-out functions of listening, sharing, communicating, and building community at the heart of an audience-centred content marketing campaign.” DNN offers three closing recommendations to help address the growing complexity of managing multiple priorities and challenges (and often the tech tools that accompany an expanding marketing effort):
- Hire for complexity, focussing on prospective employees that are versatile and adaptable, and that demonstrate a real enthusiasm for learning and adopting new tools and processes;
- Start with strategy and let that lead all of your marketing efforts, rather than scrambling to keep up with the latest tools or online platforms;
- Choose integrated tools, where possible – that is, technology options that are part of an integrated suite of applications or that demonstrate a high degree of interoperability with your current or emerging systems.
Please see the complete survey report for additional detail and background.