Empathetic Marketing Through Change: Trends in The New Normal

Business | 27 Oct 2020 8:00 am

Empathetic marketing is defined by transformation to put people first—a focus on innovation and personalization in the face of disruption. Ever-evolving technologies and consumer expectations present both incredible opportunities and hefty challenges for empathetic marketing through change.

Now, as the world has been upended, even bigger changes have emerged. The health and safety of families, friends, and communities is top of mind for consumers and businesses alike. Still, most are also wondering: “Where do we go from here?”

For marketers, that’s a multi-layered question that requires a multi-pronged response—particularly in the form of digital transformation: The COVID-19 crisis wrought an unprecedented digital renaissance with people socially distanced offline but heavily engaged online.

To help us understand how business and marketing adapts in response to change—with innovation, empathy, and value to put people first—Salesforce released its 6th edition of the State of Marketing report.

This in-depth research presents the insights of nearly 7,000 marketing leaders from across the globe to highlight strategic priorities, challenges, and technologies. These are especially crucial to consider as businesses navigate from crisis mode to growth mode.

Download the full free report to discover a comprehensive analysis of critical transformations as we look toward—and get to work building—better times ahead:

  • Changing definitions of marketing success

  • Shifts in engagement standards and privacy practices

  • Evolving marketing skill sets and processes

  • Unfolding data management strategies and tactics

In this article, we share 4 key takeaways from the report:

  • Marketing innovation takes on new urgency

  • Digital adoption and customer data sets the stage for empathetic marketing

  • Marketing success doubles down on business value

  • Hong Kong marketers prioritize customer engagement


Marketing Innovation Takes on New Urgency

The expectations and behaviours of consumers, businesses, and society at-large are shifting with unprecedented speed and magnitude. Taking a hard look at how their tactics and strategies stack up against new realities, marketers are under tremendous pressure to transform their organizational models and use technology to provide differentiated, digital-first customer engagement.

Marketers rate innovation as their #1 priority, followed by real-time engagement.

Innovation fundamentally means adaptation to change, making it nothing short of critical under current circumstances. Even before the COVID- 19 pandemic, marketers recognized innovation as their top priority. Given the speed of change today, real-time engagement is well-positioned as job number two.

Here are the top 5 priorities and challenges that marketers identified in 2020:

Figure 1: Marketers’ top 5 priorities and challenges in 2020

Innovative, trusted, real-time engagement is no easy feat, however, and so improved tools and technologies round out the top five marketing priorities of 2020. However, marketers recognize that reaching their ambitious goals will be challenging. Unifying and operationalizing customer data to create cohesive customer journeys across digital touchpoints is particularly daunting—but it is critical to optimizing the customer experience. A related study of consumers and business buyers found that 84% of customers view the experience a company provides as just as vital as its products and services when making purchasing decisions.

As such, marketers are expanding their purviews and operations: 79% of marketers say they now lead customer experience initiatives across their organisations—up from just 45% in 2018.

Additionally, marketers are using more channels in more innovative ways to improve the customer experience:

Figure 2: How marketers have changed their use of channels over the past year

For marketers, this shift of priority to focus on innovation and customer experience across channels means that data is more critical than ever to agilely shift marketing strategies and create compelling campaigns, content, and offers that reach both head and heart.

See pages 10-16 for deeper insights.


Digital Adoption and Customer Data Sets the Stage for Empathetic Marketing

As customers navigate the new normal, empathetic engagement has never been more important. Delivering messages and offers that resonate with an individual’s unique needs and expectations requires deep insights.

As such, marketers are adopting new digital channels. For example, use of mobile apps by marketers in 2020 has increased by 34% and use of customer communities has increased by 35% (since 2018).

Coordination between digital channels is increasing too, leading to more cohesive customer journeys. 53% of marketers in 2020 now describe their channel coordination as dynamic—meaning that messages and content on one channel are tailored based on a customers’ actions from another channel (that’s up from 31% in 2018).

This has laid the foundation for empathetic marketing. As every individual across the globe is experiencing the COVID-19 crisis in a unique way, marketers are challenged to understand and act on a 1-to-1 level.

However, 1-to-1 marketing takes a lot of data that is often prohibitively difficult to manage, particularly given the adoption of additional digital channels.

Citing data unification and activation among their top 5 challenges in 2020, marketers use an average of 10 data sources (and expect to use an average of 12 next year) along with an average of 6 data management tools (twice as many as they did in 2018).

While marketers continue their search for data management solutions, they have ranked the importance of such tools to their efforts:

Figure 3: Ranked popularity of marketing data management solutions

Beyond extracting actionable insights from often overwhelming and siloed data, marketers need to apply those actions in real-time to engage customers with the right message at the right time on the right channel with empathetic marketing that speaks to the moment.

AI has emerged as a critical tool in this effort. 84% of marketers now report using AI (which is a whopping increase of 186% since 2018) with 70% of respondents who identified themselves as high-performing marketers claiming a fully defined AI strategy.

Figure 4: Marketers claiming a fully defined AI strategy

As customers’ circumstances and needs evolve rapidly, building a clear and empathetic customer journey across channels while using AI is essential for marketing success.

See pages 17-20 for deeper insights.


Marketing Success Doubles Down on Business Value

The definition of marketing success is evolving, with customer experience joining business value as the profession’s north star.

B2B marketers have a particularly strong role in driving business value and growth through account-based marketing (ABM). ABM programs are B2B marketers’ response to elevated business buyer expectations and represent a new level of collaboration with sales teams. 89% of B2B marketers have an ABM program.

As businesses shift from crisis triage to recovery and adaptation, all marketers have a unique opportunity to turn trusted customer relationships into business value by embracing customer satisfaction metrics and associated signs of success, such as referral rates and customer lifetime value. This is in addition to traditional KPIs, like revenue growth and sales effectiveness.

It’s clear that marketers’ KPIs are evolving to drive business value:

Figure 5: Marketers who track key business value metrics

But marketers aren’t just tacking on metrics for the sake of it—they are being more strategic about where in the customer journey to scrutinize them. For example:

  • For brand-building purposes, marketers are less focused on generating leads and more concerned about showcasing customer satisfaction.

  • Customer acquisition cost analysis is supplementing more traditional lead generation and acquisition metrics.

  • Referrals play an outsized role in retention and advocacy.


See pages 22-25 for deeper insights.



Hong Kong Marketers Prioritize Real-Time Customer Engagement

Tracking the right metrics is one thing—but using those metrics to interact with customers in real-time is quite another. And this is what Hong Kong marketers prioritize: real-time customer engagement.

Innovative marketing tools and technologies are critical for Hong Kong marketers to achieve this priority, but this is also one of their most pressing challenges along with ROI metrics and budget constraints.

And in terms of budgets, Hong Kong marketers prioritize people and technology:

  • Hong Kong B2B marketers allocate 17% of their budgets to people and 17% to technology (while 17% goes to ABM, rounding out the top 3 budget allocations for B2B).

  • Hong Kong B2C marketers allocate 19% of their budgets to people and 19% to technology (while 19% goes to advertising, rounding out the top 3 budget allocations for B2C).

Figure 6: Budget allocations of Hong Kong marketers


See page 34 for deeper insights.


This focus on people and technology helps Hong Kong businesses best serve across digital channels and meet ever-changing expectations and needs in unprecedented times.

Marketers—along with the rest of the world—are facing a crisis. But as time goes on, business will recover, confidence will increase, and a newfound appreciation for innovation will take root. Marketers expect the next 10 years to bring transformational impacts from new technologies, societal developments, and a trend toward putting people first. Are you ready?

Deep dive into the results of this year’s State of Marketing by downloading the full free report.


About the Author: Salesforce

Salesforce is the #1 CRM, bringing companies closer to their customers in the digital age. Founded in 1999, Salesforce enables companies of every size and industry to take advantage of powerful technologies—cloud, mobile, social, blockchain, voice and artificial intelligence—to create a 360° view of their customers. For more information, please visit salesforce.com.

Salesforce is trusted by the world’s top trailblazing brands. Learn more about Salesforce customer success stories.


About the Study: Methodology

This global survey was conducted in January and February 2020, when the impact of a global pandemic was not yet apparent. As we reviewed the impact of this on the data and talked to key stakeholders across Salesforce and beyond, we found that most trends and messages remain relevant amid COVID-19. We did an update to include an intro letter from Salesforce CMO, Stephanie Buscemi recognizing the unprecedented times we are in, modified some messages, and included perspectives from CMO Club members about their thoughts on how marketing budgets may evolve this year.

Data was collected from a double-blind survey conducted by Salesforce research via a third-party survey panel. Respondents include 6,950 full-time marketing leaders in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


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