Salesforce has released its latest State of Marketing report, sharing insights from over 4 800 marketing leaders across 29 countries, including South Africa. The report covers the latest trends on how marketers are evaluating and implementing AI into their operations; approaching data acquisition, maintenance, and application strategies; and ensuring customer trust and security as vulnerabilities increase.

Key insights from the new research include:

• Priorities for a new marketing era. Marketers are evolving their practices in a highly competitive landscape. They’re looking to AI – both generative and predictive – to help personalise at scale and boost efficiency.

o Implementing / leveraging AI is marketers’ #1 priority on a global scale, as well as their biggest challenge.

o Locally, improving use of tools and technologies is South African marketers’ number one priority, while building and retaining trust with customers is their number one challenge.

• Marketers shore up their data foundations. Businesses have long struggled to connect disparate data points to create consistent, personalised experiences across customer journeys. Yet as third-party cookies are depreciated and AI proliferates, that quest is only becoming more critical – and challenging.

o 27% of marketers in South Africa are fully satisfied with their ability to unify customer data sources.

o 64% of marketers in South Africa have access to realtime data to execute a campaign – 50% need the IT department’s help to do so.

o Marketers in South Africa use an average of nine different tactics to collect data, with loyalty programmes being the most common.

• Marketers embrace AI with an eye on trust. Marketers are intent on successfully applying AI in their operations with the right data, but are concerned about security.

o 85% of marketers in South Africa are already experimenting with or have fully implemented AI into their workflows.

o AI implementation is also a point of differentiation: high performing marketing teams are 2.1x more likely than underperformers to have fully implemented AI within their operations.

o The three most popular AI use cases among marketers in South Africa are: content generation, automation of customer interactions, programmatic advertising and media buying.

• Full personalisation remains a work in progress. To meet rising customer expectations around personalisation, marketers are graduating beyond broad audience segmentations like location or age to more specific identifiers like individual preferences or past interactions. There’s also a difference between how the highest- and lowest-performing marketing teams adapt.

o High performers in South Africa fully personalise across an average of 6.0 channels, compared with underperformers who fully personalised across 4.0.

• Marketers seek unified analytics. There is no shortage of data sources, but putting that data to work is a challenge – especially when it demands a holistic or long-term view of data.

o 53% of marketers in South Africa track customer lifetime value (CTV).

o 89% of marketers in South Africa say they have a clear view into marketing’s impact on revenue.

• Deeper relationships emerge with account-based marketing (ABM) and loyalty programmes. Companies are increasingly turning to strategies like ABM and loyalty programmes for better acquisition and retention. Yet many of these programmes’ information sources remain disjointed – as does the customer experience.

o Only 58% of South African marketers say loyalty data is fully integrated across all touchpoints.

o 38% of marketers in South Africa say loyalty programme functionalities are accessible across all touchpoints.

o 61% of B2B marketers in South Africa use ABM for customer acquisition, but less than half use it for upselling and cross-selling – 50% and 44% respectively.