The Future of Marketing Belongs to Consumers

By Jeff Siteman

Adobe's Future of Marketing study indicates that marketers are scrambling to meet rapidly changing customer expectations.

This is a pivotal moment in marketing. Today's consumers have an increasingly sophisticated relationship with brands and digital content. They don't take what companies say at face value, instead evaluating their behavior across multiple channels — and they have a nuanced understanding of the tradeoffs they face. For example, they may want personalized offers but may be loath to share their data unless they have complete control.

Meanwhile, marketers are playing catch up — and rolling back assumptions that have guided their programs for years. Many are out of touch with consumer opinions and the data strategies for the coming age of personalization. And they have yet to understand how to attract and retain consumers from gen Z.

To help marketers better understand what they must do now to keep up with their customers tomorrow, Adobe partnered with Advanis to launch the Future of Marketing survey. We reached out to more than 1,000 marketers and 1,000 consumers across 6 countries — and the results were enlightening.

This blog offers four must-do recommendations for marketers based our analysis of the survey data combined with Adobe's experience with thousands of marketing customers.

#1. Question assumptions about what a great experience looks like.

Companies have great intentions. They want to deliver an excellent and memorable digital experience to all their customers. And virtually all (94 percent) of the marketers surveyed say their companies are good or excellent at delivering great personalized experience at scale.

However, intentions don't always translate to effective action. When asked whether their digital experiences had improved over the last 12 months, only 37 percent of consumers say they've gotten better, while 63 percent say they've stayed the same (51 percent) or gotten worse (12 percent).

Clearly, there's a disconnect between marketer and consumer perceptions, especially now, in the wake of fundamental changes to how people research and shop for products. The key takeaway for marketers is that making assumptions about what consumers want and how much they enjoy a given experience can be misleading.

Instead, it's critical to take a close look at your data, what customers are communicating through their behavior, and to listen to what they're saying in live chat, posts on social media, and conversations with service reps.

2. Prioritize delivering personalized experiences.

Personalization has become a buzzword in marketing. Everyone knows that they should be doing it, but exactly what constitutes personalization can get a little fuzzy. And this fuzziness can make it easy for executives to look at only a small piece of the personalization puzzle and put off making serious investments.

But consumers — especially younger consumers — think personalization at every stage of the journey is an important part of the shopping experience. Two thirds of all consumers say it's valuable, and this figure is even higher for younger shoppers — about three quarters of gen Z (72 percent), millennials (78 percent) and gen Xers (74 percent).

The key takeaway for marketers is that personalization is fast becoming something consumers want and expect across the entire experience. Businesses that haven't taken that first step towards personalization at scale or lack the necessary data, technology, or expertise must make them a priority — or lose customers to competitors that do.

3. Accelerate the transition to first-party data.

Most marketers know that their future is cookieless. Google plans to phase out third-party tracking cookies by early 2023 at the latest. And yet, generally speaking, marketers have not yet found replacements for data currently supplied by third-party tracking cookies.

Here's where marketers say they are still using third-party cookies:

  • Personalizing customer experiences (59 percent)
  • Acquiring new customers (54 percent)
  • Creating ad revenue (46 percent)
  • Profile enrichment (40 percent)
  • Customer loyalty (38 percent)
  • Attribution (28 percent)

Only 6 percent of marketers aren't using third-party cookies for any of these activities, which means 94 percent of marketers are still using third-party cookies for important marketing and CX functions. This puts them at odds with today's consumers, who say the two most important things brands can do to earn their trust is to ask permission to use their data and give them control over how their data is used.

The key takeaway for marketers is that they should take prompt action to depend less on data from third-party tracking cookies and make consent a cornerstone of their data strategy. Giving consumers more control over their data will build trust and ensure personalized communications are wanted and not intrusive or creepy.

4. Get to know gen Z.

Every generation is different. And many marketers tend to lump all digital natives together, conflating millennials and gen Z. But Adobe's research shows gen Z really is different — and they are not entirely happy with brands. Out of all consumers surveyed, they were the mostly likely to say their digital experience have gotten worse over the last year.

Plus, more than any other generation, they back up their feelings with action. Nearly one third (29 percent) of gen Zers have quit three or more brands in the last year due to a violation of trust. And the number of gen Z consumers who post negative reviews when their trust is violated is 10 points above the average consumer (40 percent versus 30 percent); this is higher than any other generation.

The key takeaway for marketers is that it's important to really get to know gen Z and that trusted, personalized customers experiences matter to them. Market research and social listening can provide more insights into this demographic and support strategies for encouraging them to give you permission to use their data.

Embrace the future

While future is likely to keep changing, marketers who are ready to question their assumptions, prioritize personalization, and commit to ending their dependence on third-party cookies will be well positioned to succeed. To learn more about what consumers and marketers think about topics such as customer experience, personalization, and marketing technology, read about Adobe's Future of Marketing study.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Jeff Siteman is the senior director of global portfolio marketing and content strategy at Adobe.