01/20/2015 03:37 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2015

State of Marketing 2015: Understanding the Trends and Serving Your Customer

With the release of the 2015 State of Marketing report, I had a chance to interview Jeff Rohrs, VP of Marketing Insights for Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and discuss the upcoming marketing trends and opportunities.

What are the top three trends in marketing and how have they evolved over the past year?

"Number one is revenue-first thinking. In both our State of Marketing and State of Marketing Leadership reports, respondents listed "revenue growth" as the most important metric for marketing success. This focus on ROI may account for the jump in respondents acknowledging email as an ROI producer (92%) and mission critical to their businesses (73%). Regardless of the marketing medium used, success or failure will be increasingly measured by what it actually delivers instead of what it's proponents feel it delivers.

Number two is social media advertising. According to our research, marketers expect budgets to increase there more than anywhere else--not surprising since social media ads have moved from the experimental phase to the must-have phase pretty quickly for many brands as they afford a level of targeting and timeliness not found in any other medium. The rub is that it also requires a deft hand at organic social media--your ads have to be tailored to the social network and will perform better the more engaged your fans/followers are.

Number three is mobile. Brands have awakened to the fact that the smartphone is the first screen for many of their customers. You simply cannot create a cohesive customer journey today without a mobile strategy that reflects not only your marketing needs but also your customers' service needs. As a result, marketing will increasingly need to collaborate with operations to deliver mobile experiences and messaging that both serve and sell. And while mobile apps will lead that charge, brands must not forget that mobile marketing also means developing responsive websites and emails, SMS engagement that reaches all cell phone users (not just smartphones), and push-messaging that leverages the best of the emerging location-based services."

What trends died out in 2014 and why?

"More brands awakened to the fact that the email channel continues to both generate revenue and serve as the foundation for one-to-one customer engagement.

I'd also like to believe that we've moved on from "faith-based social media," i.e., engaging in social media with some intrinsic, unsubstantiated belief that it's good for our brands. With the evolution of social listening, engagement, and advertising platforms, social media professionals have a wealth of tools with which they can document and communicate the ROI of social media to their C-Suite."

How did marketers communicate with their customers in 2014? Was it effective?

"A better question may be how didn't they communicate with their customers. Websites, email, SMS, mobile apps, mobile push, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat, Google+, Line, etc. Brands are certainly at no loss for ways to reach customers. The challenge is to focus your brand's energy on the channels where you customers: (a) are active and (b) want to engage with brands. This is no longer a race to be the first to leverage a new channel; it's an ongoing competition to find the right mix of channels through which your customers want to engage."

What role did social media play in customer engagement in 2014?

"Social media continued to play a huge role with 64% of brands in our survey indicating that social media is now a critical enabler of their products and services. Social media channels like Facebook and Twitter are immediate feedback loops, world-of-mouth accelerators, and the front lines of today's customer service centers. The brands who can keep their social media audiences engaged have a tremendous leg up on their competition as such proprietary audiences serve to boost sales and amplify positive brand sentiment."

How do you see marketers utilizing social media in 2015?

"I think we'll continue to see social media be the bridge between marketing and operations, with the common goal of serving the customer. Savvy marketers will use social media to surface customer stories that tell the brand's story better than any ad copy ever could and, in turn, operations will leverage the customer service aspects of social media to help marketing surface those stories. In short, I see marketing utilizing social media as a point of collaboration within the organization more than ever in 2015."

What do marketers need to be doing to engage with their customer in 2015?

"Marketers must continue to evolve their strategies, creative, and technology to serve customers in a cohesive fashion across all locations and devices. The customer journey is no longer a linear path; it is a meandering mobile and social experience in which the customer's knowledge about your products, services, and competitors may exceed your own team's knowledge. Accordingly, marketers must be looking to provide true CRM--Customer Relationship Management--in 2015. It's not enough to collect "Big Data." Brands must deploy it to deliver highly personalized customer experiences that are consistent across the web, mobile, and physical experiences."

What are three trends that you see on the rise in 2015?

"#1: Collaboration. Both mobile and social cut across the silo-ed responsibilities in most organizations. As a result, success will demand that marketing collaborate with sales, operations, service, and IT to achieve its goals and ensure that each customer's journey deepens their satisfaction and brand loyalty.

#2: Hyper-targeting of social advertising. Facebook's Custom Audiences product allows brands to better target their social ads based on shared data about their customers. Done right, this hyper-targeting boosts response rates by delivering audiences most likely to convert.

#3: Over-the-Top Messaging for Brands: The rise of OTT apps like SnapChat, WhatsApp, Line, and others have fragmented the short-burst messaging that was once strictly the purview of SMS/MMS. In the U.S., OTT apps have their strongest foothold among teenagers and twenty-somethings, so the short-term appeal of these networks--both in terms of organic posts and paid advertising--may be with brands that target those demographics. However, all brands will want to keep a close eye on how usage and advertising evolves within these networks. They could drive the next generation of one-to-one messaging."

Special thanks to Jeff Rohrs for this interview.