With Gartner reporting that CMOs will spend nearly 12% of revenue on technology in 2018, it's time for marketers to take a step back and evaluate the long-term impact of their digital investments on current and future customer relationships. In fact, four out of five marketers say human and personalised interactions are vital, and yet they report digital technology makes it difficult to replicate these interactions. This article is copyright 2018 The Best Customer Guide.

The Scaling Human Interaction in Customer Experiences study from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services (sponsored by ON24) uncovered several new insights into the trade-offs between automated marketing tactics and human-driven marketing engagement.

The results were clear: the majority of marketers agree that taking a more personalized approach gives their business a competitive edge, but most digital technologies today only allow for generic, superficial interactions.

"As digital marketing gets more automated, impersonal and potentially artificial, marketers need to ensure that their current and future customers are being treated as more than just names in a database," says Joe Hyland, CMO, ON24. "This report gives every marketer a business imperative for 2019: find the balance between human engagement and your ability to scale. Then, invest in those digital experiences that offer a unique balance, giving just as much focus on high-quality interactions as high-quantity results."

The study, which featured nearly 300 respondents representing a range of industries, found that:

  • Personalization matters: 80% of marketers agreed that the human element in a customer experience gives their organization a distinct competitive edge.
  • But it's hard to scale: Nearly 60% of marketers say it's difficult to replicate face-to-face experiences with customers by using digital technologies.
  • Email and social media are popular, but where's the ROI? In the past two years, 72% say they have used email marketing, and 86% have used social media outreach - but 70% of respondents say their organizations are not using these tools effectively.
  • Engagement pays off: Nearly 50% of the organizations with the highest levels of customer loyalty say they are trying to maintain the same high level of customer experience across live and automated channels.

The survey examined the different channels marketers are investing in and which deliver the highest ROI on their bottom line. "It's actually quite ironic," noted Laura Ramos, Vice President and Senior Analyst, Forrester Research. "Our marketing technologies target people. But people often play a small role in designing what the systems deliver. Many executives believe they can just plug in the technology and it will magically improve business performance and customer engagement."

One opportunity for marketers to scale the impact of human-to-human interactions is through webinars. According to the marketing technology analyst firm SiriusDecisions, webinars are the highest-rated human touchpoint for buyers. This has led to a rise in webinar marketing with nearly 60% of marketers planning to increase investments in webinars.

"Marketers need to totally rethink engagement and make the audience experience their number one priority," says Hyland. "Interrupting prospective customers with unwanted spam and measuring results simply by clicks and views just creates more noise. Through interactive data-rich webinars and content, we believe marketers don't have to choose between what their audience wants and what their business needs. Creating online experiences that do both is how marketers will win."

The full study has been made available for free download (free registration required) from On24's web site: https://www.on24.com