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How are product innovation and innovation in technology helping in the quest for digital transformation?

By Robbie Kearns, Senior Regional Vice President, Salesforce

According to the Salesforce 7th Edition State of Marketing report, the global pandemic has caused 86% of marketing organisations in South Africa to adopt new work collaboration technology.

Salesforce surveyed over 8 200 global marketing leaders to find out where the marketing landscape is at the moment. How have priorities shifted since COVID-19? What trends are marketers seeing and are they different now from pre-pandemic?

Marketers in South Africa, as well as the rest of the world, are facing challenges in their work. These challenges are caused in part by the pandemic and other recent socio-economic impacts. We are able to drill down into the overall data to find out what’s happening specifically in the South African marketing landscape; to look at some of the challenges you may be facing and offer possible solutions to those challenges.

Using innovation and technology to overcome challenges

We’ve learned from the report that the top three challenges for marketers in South Africa are:

  1. Engaging with customers in real-time
  2. Innovating
  3. Evolving digital customer experiences

All three of these challenges speak to the important need for digital transformation. Marketers knew the importance of going digital before they’d even heard the word “COVID”, but the need wasn’t as urgent as it became during the pandemic. Now we know that going digital is a must-have, no longer just a nice-to-have.  Product innovation and innovation in technology are high on the list of priorities. Going digital is without a doubt the way forward.

So how can South African marketers overcome the challenges in their way?

Digital challenge #1: engaging with customers in real-time

We found that 72% of marketers in South Africa say that meeting customer expectations is more difficult than a year ago. That’s higher than the global average of marketers who say the same (66%) and shows that it’s a real need.

The answer to meeting customer expectations is made up of a variety of different factors. But one thing is for certain; real-time engagement is key. Customers now more than ever expect personalised, connected, real-time communication across multiple channels. Many of the companies that customers do business with offer omnichannel experiences. By using product innovation and technology they can respond to their customers’ needs as soon as the customers realise their needs.

Digital challenge #2: product innovation in technology

Innovation is crucial to driving business growth in today’s fast-moving digital world. Especially during times of crisis, when both customers and employees need to feel like their problems are being solved. They need to have that trust in businesses, whether they’re buying from them or working for them.

Innovation begins with your people, but are marketers completely satisfied with their training? The report shows that less than half of South African marketers (44%) rate their employee training as excellent. So how can they be at their most innovative?

One thing to note here is that, on a global level, the percentage of marketers rating their training as excellent is only 20%. So employee training seems to be more successful in South Africa. Upskilling and reskilling marketers could be a valuable way of boosting product innovation and innovation in technology.

Digital challenge #3: evolving digital customer experiences 

Marketers usually get to adapt to customer needs and behaviours changing at a steady rate. But the pandemic changed that. Customer behaviour switched rapidly over the course of a few months, and their needs changed along with it.

Customer needs have evolved at a rapid pace, and most of those needs revolve around digital experiences. That means that marketers have no choice but to accelerate their digital transformations to keep up. According to our report, 90% of marketers in South Africa say their digital engagement strategy has changed since before the pandemic. Moreover, 48% say it has completely changed and 42% say it has somewhat changed.

It’s apparent that a streamlined, personalised digital customer experience is key. Having multiple digital channels also plays a central role in today’s marketing. Technology and product innovation are there, but are marketers ready to make the most of it?

Product innovation and digital challenges

The crucial thing to remember is that it’s never been more important to offer connected digital experiences. Even if businesses were already digitalising marketing activities, or planning to, the pandemic accelerated the need to “go digital”.

There may be multiple challenges to scalable digital transformation, but armed with the right tools, marketers can overcome them. Lack of training may be an issue, but as already mentioned, that can be worked on.

Clunky, legacy systems are a common barrier to successful digital transformation. Product innovation in technology can help, and it’s good to remember that replacing ineffective technology can have a positive effect on budgets in the long term. Organisations with a lack of overall digital strategy are going to stumble and fall in the long run. It needs to be a business priority.

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