There are numerous challenges facing today's marketers: pressure for growth, ever-growing marketplace competition and 'always-on' expectations from both customer and employer. With pressure to prove and improve marketing return on investment (ROI) mounting, this adds yet another significant burden, according to Martin Kirov, VP Product Management and Product Marketing for Telerik Sitefinity CMS. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

Meanwhile, rules of business continue to shift underfoot and change the playing field in which marketers operate. Thanks to modern technology giving us instant access to many sources of information, the way consumers are engaging with brands has changed. Customer decision-making changes according to the engagement channel and customers are - better informed than ever before. Often they make buying decisions long before the first contact with a sales representative or stepping into a store. Marketing and sales teams must adjust to these new customer behaviours.

Successful marketing in this new environment begins with objectives based on accurate insight into the customer journey. These insights will enable marketers to build customer personas, improve engagement tactics, leverage metrics, create targeted messaging, adjust the marketing mix and craft plans to drive future growth. However, exploding volumes of data and siloed systems can often stand in the way. Multiple marketing channels are proving a double-edged sword: on the one hand they give marketers greater reach, yet on the other they make it much harder to track and measure potential customers.

Working with only a fragmented customer view weakens digital marketing efforts. To gain a single customer view - as quickly as possible - marketers need tools that compile data from all marketing, sales and customer information channels and systems, including data from real-time known and unknown customer interactions. Organisations need a way to integrate data siloes to gain a comprehensive view of each individual's customer journey, and discern trends that can be affected by marketing programmes and campaigns.

Managing data assets
According to Forrester Research, "Customers take many paths as they solve problems, activating business capabilities in unpredictable ways" - meaning that developing a marketing plan which truly complements the new digital consumer-driven buying journey, combined with more traditional offline activities, isn't a simple task.

On-and-offline engagement data sets - click through rates (CTRs), data from CRMs, and social analytics - are too-often siloed and stored in different systems and formats. Data derived from emerging technologies such as smart sensors, connected devices and social channels only adds to the pile-up (according to a report by the US Chamber of Commerce, 90% of all data has been created in the past two years). Manually completing the time-intensive task of unifying siloed data, often across multiple spread sheets, risk static data becoming obsolete.

Marketing automation tools offer a far more efficient solution for pinpointing and engaging with the customer. Some even provide suggested execution tactics and a 360 degree view into the customer journey. Authenticated contacts - those that have provided their details when downloading whitepapers or attending events - are essential for marketing automation tools to run effectively. However, in most organisations authenticated contacts represent just 2-3% of all recorded interactions. Leaving masses of data 'loose' in the cloud means potential customers remain anonymous, and limit the ability of marketing programmes to drive those contacts toward meaningful conversions.

Real-time information
To compile and analyse data from customer touch points across multiple channels - CRM, direct marketing or social media engagement, from initial contact to long term customer, marketers should make the most of the latest technologies. For example, the Telerik Sitefinity Digital Experience Cloud provides a central repository of individual customer interactions, and integrates with third-party sources to draw data from key systems including Salesforce.com, Marketo, Microsoft SharePoint and Dynamics CRM. The best tools also collate anonymous user profile information, assigning each a persona based upon tracked behaviour.

These same leading technologies also leverage machine learning to relate how groups of customers and prospects interact through different channels. They provide recommendations, such as next steps for engaging with customers, with information accessed via a centrally managed framework.

A targeted approach
An effective marketer will always keep on top of the latest technology. If this seems a low priority to others, they must take note that in today's digital world the relationship between salesperson and customer is increasingly detached, and the constant flow of new data means the customer journey is ever-evolving.

"The right technology plays a vital role in arming marketers with essential insight, as well as offering cost and time-savings longer-term. Marketers can only map and react to the shifting customer journey appropriately, and prove the direct relationship between marketing investment and results, if they broaden their reach whilst improving the effective targeting of both anonymous and known individuals," concluded Kirov.