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Optimizing the customer experience continues to be the most exciting opportunity for digital marketers and e-commerce professionals around the world, per results from Econsultancy and Adobe’s latest Digital Trends report [download page]. Company respondents are the most excited by the prospects of customer experience optimization, as they have been for some time now.

Close to one-fifth (19%) named CX their single most exciting opportunity for 2018. The only other opportunities garnering at least 10% of the vote were data-driven marketing that focuses on the individual (16%) and the creation of compelling content for digital experiences (14%).

Those are also the top-3 opportunities for agency respondents, though in a closer grouping.

Social Outperforms Expectations

Interestingly, social marketing proves to be the most exciting opportunity for just 6% of company and 10% of agency respondents this year. That’s despite what appears to be a strong showing from social last year.

Econsultancy and Adobe compared expectations for the most exciting opportunity from last year’s study with what respondents this year say turned out to actually be their biggest opportunity in 2017.

The results were quite striking.

While 22% last year predicted that CX optimization would be their most exciting opportunity, fewer this year (16%) say that it turned out to be. Instead, social marketing stands out as the area that most outperformed expectations: while just 7% of company marketers last year predicted it would be their top opportunity, more than twice as many (15%) this year said that it emerged as their leading opportunity.

Social and Content Will be Prioritized, Get Higher Budgets

While social might not carry the same excitement as it did a few years ago, it remains a strong priority. In fact, asked to identify their top-3 digital-related priorities in 2018 from a list of 19 specific areas, a leading 26% pointed to social media engagement.

That ranked just ahead of content marketing (25%) and targeting and personalization (24%) in the prioritization rankings.

Somewhat surprisingly, voice interfaces lagged at the bottom of the list, a top-3 priority for just 2% of companies. That’s despite indications that time spent with Smart Speakers is replacing time spent with other devices, and that voice is increasingly replacing swiping and typing.

Meanwhile, respondents are putting money with their mouths are, so to speak. Content marketing (58% increasing), personalization (55%), and social media marketing (54%) – the most prioritized areas this year – also double as the areas with broadest agreement among respondents in terms of budget hikes this year.

About half or more company respondents will also be increasing their budgets for marketing analytics (51%), lead generation (51%), marketing automation (50%), video advertising (49%), content management (48%) and audience and data management (48%), per the report.

CX Efforts Centered on Making the Experience Valuable

As in years past, organizations are placing the highest emphasis for CX improvements on making the experience as valuable as possible. This is particularly true in North America, whereas in the Asia-Pacific there’s a slightly greater emphasis on making the experience as personalized and relevant as possible.

To deliver a great customer experience, the majority (65%) of company marketers believe that it’s very important that they improve their data analysis capabilities to better understand customer experience requirements.

This feeling has been echoed in a few pieces of recent research. For example, one study found B2B executives seeing data’s benefits mostly in terms of an improved customer experience. Another found data-driven marketing spending surging as practitioners targeted CX improvements.

But there’s one area that could use some help: fewer than half of company and agency respondents to this latest study say that they have an integrated marketing and customer experience technology stack. That might explain why marketing technology users – at least those in the US –
are “split down the middle” about the value they’re deriving from their solutions regarding optimal use of audience data…

The full study is available for download here.

About the Data: The study is based on a survey of almost 12,800 digital marketing and e-commerce professionals from the client-side (60%) and supply-side (40%), with respondents hailing primarily from Europe (44%), Asia (21%), North America (16%) and other regions. Respondents came from a mix of company sizes, job titles and roles. They were fairly evenly split between B2C (33%), B2B (31%) and equal B2B and B2C (36%) companies.

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