How Marketers Confront the Obstacles of Digital Customer Engagement

Based on responses from over 100 marketers worldwide, working at companies with at least 1,000 employees in various industries, the report overwhelmingly found that despite a desire by marketers to confront the obstacles of digital customer engagement, they still struggle with the basics.

How Marketers Confront the Obstacles of Digital Customer Engagement
How Marketers Confront the Obstacles of Digital Customer Engagement

Key findings include:

  • One-third of companies report poor data analytics as an issue
  • 84% of companies say the main purpose of their website is merely to act as a company brochure
  • 19% of respondents say websites are still not GDPR compliant
  • 71% of companies invest in paid social media for brand awareness as opposed to only 36% investing in SEO
  • 80% of respondents say content maintenance takes up the most time for web teams
  • 64% say well-targeted content is their biggest web optimization challenge

Content Summary

Executive Summary: Marketers struggle to deliver a fluid customer journey
Companies’ web presences fail to impress
Poor data analysis threatens the ability to meet customers on their journey
Content, technology challenges stand in way of website optimization
The value-add challenge: Manual maintenance versus growth
Data governance, accessibility is concerningly problematic
Marketers focus in on the paid social advert
Conclusion: Align your people and optimize your web presence

Executive Summary: Marketers struggle to deliver a fluid customer journey

This report is an attempt to understand what marketing leaders view as their top issues about corporate websites and broader digital presences, and to identify their focus areas today and over the next 12 months. The results point to a desire for marketers to optimize the customer experience across every touchpoint. That aim is commendable but, as our research makes clear, there are serious obstacles along the way.

IDG Connect surveyed with over 150 respondents from the US, UK, Germany, and Australia. Responses came exclusively from organizations of over 1,000 employees across a wide range of industries including retail, financial services, media, energy and utilities, government, healthcare, and telecommunications. Almost two-thirds of respondents (62%) were from marketing leadership roles and one third from IT but having significant involvement in the marketing technology stack.

We discovered a mixed picture: while modern marketers are committed to digital tools, many admit to having suboptimal online presences where budgets, team structures, infrastructure, and content quality and freshness are questionable. There are understandable concerns over security, but also conversion rates, governance, and engagement. While many marketers today proclaim the benefits of insight that marketing technology tools have delivered, our survey pointed to real concerns over analytics.

We also found that what marketers are hoping to achieve with their websites can vary. Many appear to see them simply as online brochures rather than the end-to-end platforms for information, interaction, and selling that they could (and should) be. Finally, while many marketers have now spent over 20 years working on the web, accessibility and regulatory governance are by no means accomplished. Too much time is still eaten up by maintenance and operational tasks rather than being invested in innovation and competitive differentiation.

Generally, there were high levels of consistency across locations, industries and company sizes with a few notable exceptions, including:

  • Data privacy concerns remain more prevalent in the EU than in the US, likely because of the European Union’s GDPR data protection/privacy regulation, which took effect in 2018.
  • Larger organizations claim to have fewer internal issues than other organizations, despite their increased organizational complexity and perhaps because they have the skills and budgets to manage through.
  • A weak data analytics capability is significantly more prevalent in smaller organizations with 1,000-4,999 employees than in enterprise organizations. Excellence in Big Data doesn’t come cheap.

Companies’ web presences fail to impress

Consumers now expect brands to not only provide them with all the information they need online, but also the ability to purchase from, and interact with the brand. Brands absolutely must start addressing that desire, and it appears there’s a long way to go, as most treat their company website as merely a brochure.

We operate in a world where upwards of 78% of consumers spend more time researching a brand online than they do in a store, according to Google and Kelton Global, and where Amazon, Alibaba’s Tmall, and JD.com are vying to become the world’s largest retailers. Yet, despite the vast and still-growing digital commercial ecosystem, 84% of companies said one of the main functions of their website is to act as a company brochure. E-commerce is only listed as a top priority for 63% of companies, while lead generation is only a priority for roughly half (56%) of companies.

This suggests that even in 2019 companies are still failing to see the full potential of their online presence. The website is not just the face of a business, but also one of the first customer touchpoints. Companies should use these power sources to the max and invest in creating a smooth, cohesive customer journey from awareness to explanation to sale and service. But our survey suggests that many web presences remain immature with 73% of companies reporting poor engagement and low conversion rates as pain points.

Also, and perhaps contributing to the above problem, many organizations fail to regularly update site content, with almost a quarter saying they refresh their sites just once a month. Of course, this needn’t be a negative sign and the issue is sector-specific: not every website needs to be a changing gallery of information and entertainment. But as more marketers mimic publishers by drawing in audiences with rapidly changing content, volume, velocity, and frequency of refreshes should at least be internal talking points.

Additionally, 43% of companies report security as a major concern and 38% say the same of site governance. Without proper security defenses in place, and aligned data governance routines, companies run the risk of data privacy breaches with potential for penalties and brand damage.

What are the main purposes of your website? (Select as many as apply)

  • 30% Blog
  • 49% Portal
  • 63% Shop/eCommerce
  • 84% General company information
  • 56% Lead-generation
  • 55% Portfolio
  • 51% General customer education/training (Wiki)

Which of the following best describe the web pain points you experience? (Select as many as apply)

  • 43%: Security challenges
  • 38%: Low conversion rate
  • 37%: Insufficient site governance
  • 37%: Language/translation issues
  • 35%: Poor engagement
  • 28%: Poor brand perception
  • 25%: Poor user experience
  • 8%: No pain points

How often does your business update its website?

  • 22%: Bi-weekly
  • 37%: Once or twice per week
  • 18%: Every day
  • 15.5%: Once per month
  • 6.5%: Once per quarter
  • 1%: Every six months

Poor data analysis threatens the ability to meet customers on their journey

In a digitized economy, reliable data analytics is everything. Without quality data, companies cannot make data-driven decisions that will inform their long-term strategies, and ultimately, their bottom lines. Brands need to heavily invest in their data, as more and more customers expect the right experience delivered at the right time—and companies need trustworthy data to do that.

Data is the currency of modern business strategy and management and becoming data-driven is a mantra for progressive enterprises. High-quality website data will play a large part in informing decisions that can boost campaign performance, drive more leads and bring in revenue. To that point, over 90% of marketers agree that understanding customer journey data across channels and devices is critical to success, according to a 2017 survey by Econsultancy and Google.

However, some of the fundamentals of data management appear to be problematic for a subset of marketers. When we asked about internal website issues, a third of respondents said they struggled with poor data analytics and almost as many reported the lack of long-term strategy as an internal issue. This is a common conundrum: many technology tools don’t make it easy to integrate with data sources, and some marketers struggle to raise the budgets for the people and tools to address this disconnect, instead reverting to free or fewer tools with obvious limitations and lack of support.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the solution to this lies in-house: 30% of companies reported a lack of relevant skills as an internal website issue they face, alongside a lack of quality data.

A core challenge appears to be technical as respondents bemoaned current team structures, missing elements in technology infrastructure stacks, and integration challenges. Almost a fifth suggested that their efforts were being underfunded. Companies that don’t invest will have to live with a key element of their brands being substandard.

What internal issues do you face with your website? (Select all that apply)

  • 10%: No issues
  • 22%: Poorly integrated systems
  • 32%: Lack of long-term strategy
  • 41%: Team co-ordination
  • 42%: Technology stack gaps
  • 33%: Poor data analytics
  • 30%: Lack of relevant skills
  • 21%: Wrong team structure
  • 18%: Lack of budget

Content, technology challenges stand in way of website optimization

Brand loyalty is a fierce competition, and companies must engage customers with precision in order to win their trust and attention. At a minimum, a brand’s website must provide consumers with tailored answers and clear information for every stage of their journey, but ideally, brands must shift towards giving customers personalized content that delivers a high-quality brand experience.

Organizations are struggling to optimize their websites due to a host of different factors, which limits their ability to serve up the kinds of customer journeys that audiences find so compelling today. We asked respondents to rank 10 challenges from most to least challenging and found that developing well-targeted and relevant content (64%) was the biggest issue facing respondents, with 42% naming it as their number-one challenge.

This might point to content management and marketing still being immature as brands end up advertising their qualities rather than delivering the sorts of content that will attract buyers and create brand affinity. Even the basic task of identifying broken links and fixing spelling and grammar errors was a very large issue, with the larger companies surveyed (5,000 to 24,999 employees) especially likely to cite this—clearly the issue of “link rot” persists, as well as human error. Automation can take marketers a long way to addressing this persistent content pain point.

However, there were several other challenges identified outside of content, including technical issues such as patching, performance, analytics, and accessibility. Organizations that don’t act on these issues will deliver a poor customer experience and will effectively drive customers and prospects into the arms of rivals. Survey after survey shows that customer experience is the number one concern for marketers today, but by not paying attention to website optimization, it’s clear that many organizations aren’t getting that message.

What are your biggest challenges in website optimization? (Based on rankings in top three)

  • 22%: Analytics
  • 64%: Well-targeted, relevant content
  • 16%: Performance
  • 52%: Broken links, spelling, and grammar
  • 15%: ROI
  • 50%: Software patching/maintenance
  • 13%: Language and localizing content
  • 30%: User experience
  • 12%: SEO
  • 28%: Accessibility

The value-add challenge: Manual maintenance versus growth

To stay competitive, web and marketing teams need to aggressively use automation tools and explore selective outsourcing that leaves them in control of their brand, but free to focus on the value-add rather than the drudgery.

When we asked respondents to rank the areas which chewed up the most time for their web teams, we discovered that what could be classified as maintenance routines take up significant team resources and prevent businesses from driving bigger, value-add initiatives on their websites.

In line with the previous section, content management was cited as being a major pain point. Ongoing content maintenance and updates were ranked as the most time-intensive areas, with 44% of people seeing it as the most demanding discipline – about four times more than any other answer. The site and page design were the next highest issues, and manually-intensive tasks are a major factor in limiting an organization’s ability to optimize websites.

But there are also soft issues, notably the challenge of managing teams of writers and designers, some of which will often be freelancers and scattered across multiple locations. Where teams are international, having strong team communication is crucial, and investing time to ensure a shared culture is in place is important.

Our responses here suggest that businesses might want to investigate automation and partnering as a way to increase in-house capacity. Backing that up, research conducted by Salesforce found that 50% of the best-performing companies use marketing automation. By investing in modern tools and consulting assistance, businesses will benefit from a fresh perspective, and perhaps liberate their people to focus on more interesting challenges that differentiate them from rivals and a return to becoming customer-centric.

What areas demand the most time from your web team? (Data aggregated)

  • 80%: Content maintenance and updates
  • 68%: Site/page redesign
  • 61%: Managing distributed teams
  • 56%: Template development
  • 42%: Data analytics
  • 38%: Performance
  • 35%: SEO
  • 25%: UX

Data governance, accessibility is concerningly problematic

Data security is an integral part of the digital customer journey. If almost one quarter of respondents can’t confirm that their websites are GDPR-compliant, there’s a massive gap in the customer relationship: trust. Companies need to do everything they can to stay compliant and to ensure that maintenance plans are in place for ongoing assessment and improvements.

When it comes to web governance, the focus is on setting standards for websites and holding those working on them accountable. This can include both internal processes and quality benchmarks, as well as external regulations and compliance standards. Our survey suggests that respondents still have work to do to assure quality and compliance.

Marketers working in European markets cannot afford to underestimate GDPR and its potential fines of up to four percent of annual trailing revenue. But, worryingly, more than half our audience said that meeting data privacy regulations is a concern, second only to detecting and fixing broken links.

There is a US/European divide here, which is most likely the result of GDPR. In the US, the highest majority of respondents see detecting broken links as the biggest challenge in website governance (65%). In the UK and Germany (the latter famous for its stringent data controls), data privacy rules are the number-one governance issue. Despite well-publicized legal action, almost one quarter (23%) of respondents could not confirm that their websites are GDPR-compliant, more than a year after the regulation came into effect. This supports recent independent research by Gartner, which states that most organizations struggle with integration costs and technologies that can help speed up compliance.

It’s a similar story with adherence to accessibility standards. Despite well-publicized initiatives by large organizations to improve diversity and inclusiveness, just over one in five respondents couldn’t confirm their websites meet minimum accessibility standards set out in regulations such as the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive.

In reality, industry benchmark data suggests that websites are much less accessible than even respondents believe. For example, looking at the Accessibility Digital Certainty Index™ (DCI) for the US, the average score across industries is 65 out of 100, indicating that a significant number of websites are still only partially accessible.

What are your key website governance challenges? (Select the top three)

  • 48%: Maintaining URL structures
  • 47%: Accessibility testing
  • 53%: Meeting data privacy regulations
  • 44%: Messaging consistency and brand compliance
  • 52%: Content errors
  • 56%: Detecting broken links

Does your website meet minimum accessibility standards set out in the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive?

  • 79.5%: Yes
  • 8.5%: Not yet but we are working on it
  • 9%: No
  • 3%: Don’t know

Is your website GDPR-compliant?

  • 77%: Yes
  • 8.5%: Not yet but we are working on it
  • 10%: No
  • 4.5%: Don’t know

Marketers focus in on the paid social advert

Interestingly, brands are heavily investing in paid social media promotion—especially enterprise companies. While paid promotion is certainly a way to jumpstart brand awareness and lead generation, companies must continue to invest in organic social and search optimization. Consumers trust organic results more than paid, so it’s key that brands not neglect this.

Lastly, we looked at what marketers spend money on today and what their attention will turn to over the next 12 months.

Organizations are investing in paid social media exposure. Over 70% of respondents state this is where they allocate budget to drive brand awareness. This area is particularly popular at large organizations with 88% choosing this fast-changing and highly influential channel as their preferred method of promotion.

However, Shared Presence, where the focus is on content shares across social channels, had the lowest number of votes in the survey, with only 35% of respondents selecting it as a priority—clearly indicating that companies prefer to hone in on paid social media.

Organizations want to improve their overall digital content creation, while also improving the control and management of their site content and structure. Owned Presence (including website, blogs, landing pages, email, and mobile) received the highest mean ranking as a 12-month priority for businesses. Given the pain points and internal pressures, it makes sense to control the assets closest at hand.

Earned Presence—with a focus on organic search, listing and reviews, and media and influencer research—was the next highest marketing priority.

Most businesses invest in a marketing mix that covers different digital channels across their owned, earned, paid, and searched digital presence—however, a strong emphasis on paid social media indicates that brands know who they want to target but struggle to do so organically to the same effect.

Which channels do you spend marketing budget on to gain brand awareness? (select all that apply)

  • 71%: Paid social media placements
  • 63%: Display/banner advertising
  • 60%: Paid search
  • 60%: Sponsored content
  • 36%: SEO
  • 3%: Not sure/not responsible

What areas are you likely to spend on in the next 12 months? (Chart shows ranked aggregate)

  • 71%: Optimizing marketing technology stack
  • 65%: Content production or maintenance
  • 64%: Website governance
  • 60%: Talent recruitment
  • 47%: Website redesign
  • 40%: Analytics
  • 26%: SEO
  • 23%: UX dev

What are your optimization priorities over the next twelve months?

  • 58%: Owned presence
  • 50%: Earned presence
  • 48%: Paid presence
  • 35%: Shared presence
  • 2%: Not sure/not responsible

Conclusion: Align your people and optimize your web presence

Our report shows how challenging it is for marketers to deliver outstanding digital experiences for customers. There are so many calls on the attention of marketers that the website’s status as a core brand asset can get lost amid all the noise.

With marketing now being almost exclusively digital, there needs to be a realignment of the relationship between IT and marketing. By working together, CIOs and CMOs have an excellent chance of melding technical know-how with marketing strategy. It’s too easy for businesses to lose sight of the seemingly simpler, fundamental tasks associated with website management or to prioritize tasks in a smarter way.

Similarly, it’s important that sales and marketing lose their oil-and-water association. If all departments pull together the chances of successful web and digital presence are multiplied.

With more than 7,000 companies represented in the marketing technology landscape, manual solutions to time-intensive maintenance tasks will be relegated to niche areas. The challenge is to choose the right solution that fits the business need and can feed into a wider organizational context, all intending to serve the most important stakeholder of all, the customer.

As organizations push for digital transformation across all departments and attempt to build strategies where they meet the customer at every corner companies need to assess their existing tools, structures, and workflows. But the website sits at the heart of successful customer journeys: it is the rallying point, the home base and the crossroads. Treat it in that way and rewards will follow from increased engagement to customer loyalty and brand advocacy.

Source: Siteimprove