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South Africa’s top marketing trends – and how to make them work for you

“We want to have the right conversations with our customers at the right time on the right channel.”

Sagren Pather, Executive Head of Digital, Direct Marketing, and Marketing Analytics, Standard Bank

Whether it’s email content updating in real-time or the ever-increasing ways to personalise experiences – digital innovation has accelerated at a rapid pace. And so too have the challenges of the marketer. 

Customers want empathetic and valuable interactions – and they want them at the right time, in the right place. Keeping up with the latest, up-to-the-minute needs of the customer has never been more relevant, or more important. 

So, we surveyed 200 marketing leaders in South Africa as part of our global report on the State of Marketing to find out what’s trending, and how they’re overcoming their biggest challenges.

Here’s what we found out.

One of the biggest difficulties faced by marketers today is the pressure to engage with customers on the right channel, at the right time, with personalised content. (And this isn’t limited to B2C interactions either: the increasing demand for consumerised experiences in the B2B sector was confirmed by 82% of global market leaders.)

The key to achieving this consumer-centric approach is through smarter use of data – but this is easier said than done. Respondents in South Africa listed their main challenges as unifying customer data sources, and balancing personalisation with customer comfort levels.

“We want to have the right conversations with our customers at the right time on the right channel,” said Sagren Pather, Executive Head of Digital, Direct Marketing, and Marketing Analytics at Standard Bank. “Customers who have a high-quality experience are more likely to keep doing business with a brand and buy additional products.” 

This is a common vision among companies in South Africa. To get there, marketing leaders need to use modern tools and technology to unlock that single view of the customer – so they can innovate and scale and at speed.

Trust and transparency are vital.

Unlocking a single view of the customer isn’t just beneficial to the marketing team: it’s central to providing an amazing customer experience across sales, service, and ecommerce. A whopping 89% of South African customers say their experience with a company is just as important as its products and services.

It’s no surprise, then, that today’s marketers are more involved across the entire customer journey. In fact, 69% of global survey respondents think traditional marketing roles limit customer engagement. But marketers are breaking free from these constraints to make the customer experience more seamless, as demonstrated by the 64% who use 360-degree visibility to put marketing comms on hold if customers have an open service case.

And then consider this:

  • More than 75% of marketers in South Africa share goals and metrics with sales, service, and ecommerce teams.
  • 81% of respondents across the world collaborate with the sales team on account-based marketing programmes.

The trend for cross-team collaboration and a single view of the customer is here to stay. 

In 2021, marketers predict they’ll pull customer data from at least six sources – up from four in 2019. “We need solutions that enable our teams to capture and analyse data from different sources to better understand our customers and prospects,” said Pather.

And with data firmly in the spotlight, respondents predicted that new data regulations are set to have the biggest impact on marketing in the next 10 years. As a result, building trust with customers by using their data wisely and sensitively will be vital: 58% of customers say they’re comfortable with their data being used transparently – but only 63% of global companies are perceived as being transparent.

The companies that do win their customers’ trust will have greater opportunities. They’ll be able to use insight-rich data the customer has consented to sharing, such as first-party data and tracked browsing behaviour, across multiple touchpoints.

For example, Standard Bank uses Marketing Cloud’s Customer 360 Audiences feature, which you can learn about in our guided tour, to analyse how customers interact with its content and to capture metrics such as bounce and drop-off rates. “We wanted to close the loop with regards to form abandonment and improve overall conversion rates,” explained Pather. And that’s just what the bank achieved. “By using Customer 360 Audiences for retargeting in the pilot test, we’re seeing a 104% performance increase of personal loan leads, when compared to the normal way of targeting, combined with early indications of overall sales conversion uplift.”

Bringing AI into the mainstream.

Innovation was cited as both a challenge and a priority for the months ahead – and the biggest opportunity in this space is AI. The top four uses of AI according to South African marketers are: 

  1. Driving next best actions.
  2. Personalisation.
  3. Smarter segmentation and lookalike modelling.
  4. Automating processes to give staff more time to focus on creativity.

With good data integrity, the possibilities of AI are game-changing. But you need to move fast, as it’s quickly becoming the norm for marketers, rather than a differentiator. In 2018, only 29% of global firms were using AI across marketing operations, compared to 84% in 2020.

Turning AI into a differentiator relies on companies using it to build unique experiences. One brand leading the way in this field is adidas. The company implemented Salesforce Customer 360 to create connected experiences for customers, and today it uses Einstein Content Selection (ECS) to personalise emails – even after the message is sent.

“Imagine if you received an email two days before a major holiday, and when you opened it on the actual day, the content reflected that moment in time? ECS allows us to be far more connected to our customers – adapting when we speak to them and what we’re speaking about to meet their needs,” commented Robert Lochrie, Vice President of Digital Products at adidas.

This level of innovation will give companies a significant competitive edge during challenging times.

Adapting and thriving in the new normal.

In this rapidly changing environment, adapting quickly is the only way to survive. And when it comes to digital, companies need to walk before they can run. 

That means investing in robust, reliable, and flexible technology – and creating a central repository of high-quality data to prepare for getting creative with AI and exploring the opportunities of 5G.

Customers are looking for empathy and personalisation when they interact with a company, and the smartest way to make sure you’re meeting those needs is to build strong relationships and invest in social listening. The right tools give you the power to get predictive and proactive, which creates a better experience for your customers and better results for your business. Remember: when your customer feels like they’re winning, you’re winning too.

If you’d like to get up close and personal with Marketing Cloud take the guided tour here; learn how to build smarter marketing campaigns in our immersive, hands-on experience.

This page was paid for by Salesforce. The editorial staff of CNBC Africa had no role in the creation of this page.