10 Priorities for Marketers in 2014

The savvy and informed customer of today has higher expectations, keeping marketers on their toes to deliver resonating messages. Here are 10 priorities to keep marketing aligned with customers' expectations.

The start of the new year is just around the corner and organizations, especially retailers, are busy putting the finishing touches on their holiday plans. But in the hustle and bustle of these next few weeks, business leaders shouldn't forget to outline their priorities for 2014.

From telling the right story to leveraging Big Data to getting savvy on mobile, marketers are gearing up for a successful 2014. Technology will also play an important part and savvy marketers will need to determine how to leverage the latest devices and solutions to leave a lasting impact on their customers and prospects. Further, organizations will need to make sure that any marketing initiatives are developed with the customer at the center.

Here, a number of experts share what they believe marketers should prioritize in the coming year and what they should include on their 'to-do' lists.

  1. Find the right intelligence: In a bid to be as effective and efficient as possible, organizations have been investing in the latest solutions. But this has left them with a mish mash of different technologies that not only don't work effectively together but sometimes actually counter each other. Jonathan Gray, Revana's vice president of marketing and leader for revenue generation and marketing, stresses that organizations need to focus on finding the right tools that give them the intelligence they need. Gray notes that organizations tend to purchase expensive campaign management software that team members never fully learn how to use, so they move on to a newer technology. Instead of wasting time and money, organizations need to think first before making a purchase, train their staff members how to use new technologies, and consider outsourcing their campaign management to experts.
  2. Don't just collect data, use it: 2013 could very well be called the year of Big Data, with organizations intent on getting as many insights as possible. But as Rich Fleck, vice president of strategic services at Responsys, points out, many companies stopped there and didn't act on the insights. A large part of the problem lay with the fact that while marketers wanted data, the sheer volume of information quickly became overwhelming. "It's not just about collecting data, it's understanding how to use data in real time and across multiple properties and platforms," says Mark Gambill, Vocus' CMO. Further, while marketers were trying to segment their audiences, they were not necessarily differentiating the messages to these different segments. This, Fleck believes, will be changing in 2014. Grant Johnson, SDL's chief marketing officer, adds that marketers themselves need to have a good grasp on data. "You need to have someone who's comfortable with numbers on your [marketing] team." McKay Allen, inbound marketing manager at LogMyCalls, agrees, noting that the shift of marketing from an art to a science will continue taking place.
  3. If you're not already mobile, get cracking: It is no secret that today's customers are increasingly mobile and organizations need to make sure their marketing strategy recognizes and leverages this trend. But it's not enough to just create a mobile strategy from scratch. Instead organizations need to make sure their mobile plans are integrated within their overall marketing strategies, offering a seamless experience across multiple channels. As Claire Fennessey, CMO of Clarus Marketing Group, notes, the biggest marketing priority for 2014 will be embracing the move to mobile marketing channels. Mobile ecommerce has grown over the past years and Fennessey stresses that this trend will only increase as the younger generations, who were born in the mobile era, grow up. "Companies that respond to [the increase in mobile usage] quickly and effectively can open up some space on their slower competitors. Responsive web design will be an important tool for marketers who want to make sure that customers can access information from their chosen devices. However, Stanten stresses the need to go beyond a mobile-optimized website, but also offer customers call-to-action features that make their lives easier. "Customers expect immediate access to information without any barriers," he says. And as Ali Behnam, president and co-founder of Tealium, notes, the surge in mobile usage means that organizations have another source of data that they need to tap into.
  4. Come up with the right story, and stick with it: "People have less time, and even less patience," notes Navin Nagiah, president and CEO of DNN. This trend will only continue to increase, making it vital to tell customers a story that will resonate. "People can forget about your marketing at the blink of an eye, but touch them with a compelling story and they'll remember you." According to Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and marketing officer at Corporate Visions, in the absence of a core differentiator between organizations' products and services, the businesses which will get the competitive edge are the ones that are able to tell the best stories to their customers. "The best story wins," notes Riesterer, quoting business writer Tom Peters. But coming up with the right story is not enough. Organizations need to make sure that everyone within the company are in tune and able to pass on the same message to customers. Riesterer says this doesn't only apply to marketers but anyone who comes into contact with customers. Further, as Andrew Stanten, president at Altitude Marketing, notes organizations need to make sure their message clearly outlines why their business is better than their competitors'. "As you look ahead at 2014 take a hard look at your messaging to make sure you're effectively articulating why [customers should choose] you," he stresses.
  5. It's all about the customer: Katie McCanna, ecommerce manager at The Hammock Company, stresses the need that marketers put customers at the center of their focus, asking how they can go the extra mile for their customers and still take the business decisions that lead to growth. "We cannot survive without our customers," she stresses, adding that brands need to focus on making sure that customers trust the brand and its products.
  6. Make sure your sales team knows your products inside out: This might sound like an obvious step, but especially very diverse companies sometimes struggle to train staff about their products. But keeping in mind that each employee is a sales ambassador, organizations need to make sure that employees know how to use the products, features, and functionalities and able to pass on that information to customers and prospects whenever the opportunity arises. "Make sure the information is being used effectively," stresses Stanten.
  7. Make online content engaging: More than not the Web is the first place customers resort to when they want to research a new product or service they're interested in. Therefore, the information they get online often informs their first impression of the organization. "You need to make sure that online content is engaging customers in the same way as a good sales conversation," notes Riesterer. Yet, businesses need to be careful not to show their full hand online, but give enough details to pique customers' interests that they want to contact a sales person.
  8. Understand the entire customer journey: While marketers know they need to understand their customers' buying journeys, some are still unable to get a view into the whole journey. Instead, Kurt Andersen, executive vice president of sales enablement at SAVO, notes that marketers are seeing the customer journey in small pieces, not allowing them to get the right insight into individual customers and the right moment to interact with them with the right information. Further, Lou Carbone, founder and CEO of Experience Engineering, notes that the vast majority of mental processing takes place in the unconscious, and organizations need to not only follow customers' journeys from a superficial level but actually dive deep into unconscious human thought and look at customer experience from the inside out.
  9. Distinguish success from failure: While being accountable and justifying marketing spend has always been a priority, Jay Henderson, global strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce, believes this will become even more critical in 2014. He notes that with technology enabling more personalized marketing, the number and complexity of campaigns and customer interactions has grown exponentially. This is great for customer engagement but makes it more complex for marketers to understand how each campaign contributed to the bottom line. "The ability to identify which purchase can be attributed to which specific promotion will be crucial for marketers in the coming year to illustrate how marketing budgets are being used and uncover the effectiveness of specific campaigns," he notes.
  10. Differentiate through relevance: According to Loni Kao Stark, director for product and industry marketing at Adobe, a strategy focused solely on new customer acquisition isn't enough. "In 2014 you need to win the race for relevance and real relationships," she stresses. In fact, Stark believes that digital marketing will shift from focusing on tools and technologies to individuals and communities. "Goals need to move beyond just optimizing for conversions and clicks, to building brand trust and emotional impact," she notes. "In a world ever-crowded with content and the promise of instantaneous manufacturing with 3D printing, trust becomes a rare source of sustainable competitive advantage."

Finally, marketers will need to be more agile to keep up with the multichannel customer of 2014. "Marketers are struggling to keep up with the pace of consumer behavior," notes Responsys' Fleck. He believes there will be a lot more emphasis on delivering seamless multichannel messages in 2014. However, Mark Gambill, Vocus' CMO, notes that while many marketers speak about having integrated marketing plans, in reality this isn't easy to do and requires a coordinated process-driven planning cycle that sets up the primary objectives for that quarter and then uses performance reviews to make the necessary adjustments.