Building Relevance Through Relationship-Driven Marketing

Right-now thinking, content marketing and nimble messaging nurture customer bonds.

The 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI), recently launched and as we sift through the top performers, it’s clear to us that relationship-driven marketing strategies are powering the strongest companies.

Now in its sixth iteration, the BRI is based on four core principles of relentless relevance, measuring whether a brand is customer-obsessed, ruthlessly pragmatic, pervasively innovative and distinctively inspired. But a year of pandemic, social unrest, political upheaval and economic uncertainty is causing some brands to soar and pushing others entirely out of the conversation.

To understand how consumers measure the most relevant brands, we closely study the specific relevance dimensions in the top-ranked brands. We see three clear consumer marketing trends executives can tap into, regardless of industry and category.

The “right now” consumer need: Lean into how you can help, then execute relationship-driven marketing

Organizations that are confident enough to jump into a pressing need, solve it fast, and communicate effectively are among the year’s biggest gainers. Top brands demonstrated an embracement of the relationship-driven marketing mindset.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, No. 8, vaults into the Index for the first time, primarily due to the creation of its widely-used COVID-19 dashboard. Launched in late January last year, when many people felt they weren’t getting the answers they needed from the government or media sources,  it quickly became not just a trusted data provider, but also a source of daily contact.

As Black Lives Matter protests swept the world, many companies did little more than slapping a black box into their Instagram accounts. But Xbox, No. 19 and one of the Index’s biggest gainers, responded differently. It tightened rules around hate speech, sparking meaningful conversations among gamers worldwide.

And to pass the time during the pandemic, millions of consumers turn to KitchenAid, No. 3. It increases adoration by leveraging its Yummly food platform, with 26 million users and more than 2 million recipes, it elevates fans from mere cooks to domestic divas.

“Right now” thinking also includes launching new products and services that speak directly to the moment. These new offers go well beyond features and functionality. They address important emotive needs–and consumers reward that thoughtfulness. Chick-fil-A, No.39, is the only restaurant in the top 50. That’s a credit to compassionate introductions like family meal kits, well outside its quick-serve wheelhouse.

Content marketing: Keep your audiences engaged with core products & services

The most relevant brands are content juggernauts, using new agile processes, techniques and channels to create sprawling ecosystems. And these ever-growing hubs reach well beyond their central customer base, finding unexpected avenues to acquire new and potential customers. In doing so, they don’t just remain top of mind: They become constant companions.

“The best marketing and sales organizations have been focusing on speed skills for years now, reengineering both organization and culture to add more flexibility.”

Peloton, No. 2, isn’t only relevant because of its bikes, treadmills and the fact that – as gyms and fitness studios closed – people needed digital sweat sessions more than ever before. Its incredible rise started long before the pandemic and is directly linked to a smart, relationship-driven and agile content strategy, providing a constant stream of workouts, a “virtuous cycle,” built into a system that allows them to constantly retouch the content. With its commitment to supporting content throughout its lifecycle, its classes by now welcome millions of at-home meditators, yogis and weightlifters over and over again.  

Coming in at No. 5 LEGO recognized the pandemic’s effect on adult’s normal social and leisure activities, the creative outlet brand for kids introduced several grown-up art projects, including Andy Warhol style murals and the Botanical Collection… LEGO also leads by creating an entire digital content ecosystem around its products, from movies to minimovie series and microsites designed around LEGO storylines, innovative tools and processes to drive customer-generated content.

Message molding: Shape the conversation

The best marketing and sales organizations have been focusing on speed skills for years now, reengineering both organization and culture to add more flexibility.

These brands entered 2020 more agile than their competitors. But as events unfolded, it became clear just how essential this is. Our BRI is filled with examples of brands as nimble as ninjas, continually updating their messages and flexing their agile muscles.

Take Sephora. It rises 36 places to land at No. 33, an astonishing gain in a year where industrywide, makeup sales plunged 19 percent. Few nights out give consumers little reason to buy cosmetics, however, Sephora keeps gaining relevance, with messages focusing on beauty as a key part of self-care.

Amazon, No. 10, offers a different example. Its sales are skyrocketing, reflecting the surge in e-commerce. Yet it recognizes that many consumers question its lack of transparency around employee health. So, it’s running an extensive ad campaign explaining the many ways it is working to protect its front-line workers.


Even amid intense upheaval in consumer behavior, marketing and selling strategies can help brands increase relevance–and revenues. To achieve uncommon growth, organizations must look for ways to deepen their relationship-driven marketing capabilities. This will help each respond to new needs and opportunities as quickly as they arise, invest in content that expands the brand’s universe and find ways to update messaging to meet the moment.

You can learn more brand implications and business insights by downloading the 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®.

If you’re particularly interested in driving relevance within your marketing & sales organization, please reach out.


Top Digital Transformation Challenges in Financial Services

Collaboration and personalization can help legacy firms outpace fintech upstarts.

When it comes to digital engagement, some of the biggest names in financial services still can’t seem to move fast enough.

While upstart brands like Cash App, Alipay, Monzo and Robinhood rack up millions of new customers, many legacy financial services companies are plodding along. There is progress, but many digital transformation initiatives are underperforming.

“Many digital transformation initiatives are underperforming.”

There’s no question that companies like Capital One and USAA are breaking new ground. But despite increased spending, many others are lagging behind – both in how they think about digital transformation strategy and how they execute it.

At Prophet, we wanted a better sense of what’s holding these companies back and how financial services compared to other industries. Our digital transformation research dug into the details of transformation, surveying 476 digital executives worldwide, including 150 who work in financial services.

One major finding? If efforts are uneven, it’s not necessarily because they’re underfunded. Digital marketing budgets in financial services now comprise between 50 and 70 percent of marketing resources. That’s up from a range of 20 to 40 percent in 2018. And while COVID-19 is causing some firms to cut spending as part of overall cost reductions, most execs recognize the need for more digital marketing in an increasingly virtual world.

The 2020 State of Digital Transformation research uncovers three key digital transformation challenges found in the financial services industry:

1. Missing Objectives

Financial services firms still focus on traditional marketing objectives, like increasing brand awareness or developing brand reputation. Those goals matter. But it often means that they pay less attention to higher-impact digital targets, such as adding customers (which ranks as the first priority across all industries) and increasing revenues from key customers and accounts (ranks as the second priority). And they lag even further behind financial disruptors, which use marketing to generate leads.

2. Gaps in Personalization

While almost half of the financial services respondents rank personalization as a top priority, the industry is lagging in delivering those experiences, something that is considered table stakes in other industries. While dynamic personalization is a key characteristic of digitally mature enterprises, less than half of financial services believe they can personalize at optimal levels. And 16 percent of firms don’t personalize at all across channels. There’s also a worrisome level of false confidence. Almost half do not use marketing technology (martech) platforms to scale personalization efforts, despite the general consensus that martech is needed to deliver optimal levels of personalization.

3. Lagging in Collaboration

Certainly, marketing teams at financial services companies understand that it’s essential to work closely with other business functions, especially sales. They know they need to continue to prioritize this cross-functional collaboration. In the context of demand generation and B2B2C marketing, this increased collaboration is crucial to ensuring a lead doesn’t get dropped and is ultimately converted. About three-quarters of financial services respondents plan to invest in cross-functional efforts going forward, indicating that plans are taking this collaboration need into account. While the mindset and plans for the future are good news, it’s still worth noting these efforts lag in practice. About two-thirds of respondents increased collaboration with sales over the last two years, compared with 75 percent of respondents in all industries. Almost a third of respondents actually cut back on collaboration.

The Underlying Challenges: Integration Struggles and Skill Shortages

There are two underlying areas to address that are critical to solving the above problems. First, financial services still struggle to integrate the technology they already have. Almost half of all financial services firms say they lack the budget and integration mechanisms for their technology, specifically the martech stack.

And second, finding and hiring the right talent is still difficult. More technical skills are central to digital marketing talent needs, especially data analysis, marketing automation and software expertise.


As financial services firms look to improve and accelerate their transformation efforts, here are five ways to increase the pace of change:

  1. Use digital marketing to drive growth through generating leads and acquiring more customers, rather than simply building brand awareness.
    Integrate a marketing technology stack that enables personalization.
    Prioritize cross-functional collaboration between marketing and other departments, especially sales, for the greatest business impact.
    Focus on integrating martech into the existing technology stack by ensuring adequate budget and resourcing is in place.
    Develop recruiting strategies and revamped employee value propositions to fill talent gaps, especially in the ability to make existing martech solutions work better.

Is your business equipped to compete? Our expert Financial Services practice can help to devise a clear strategy to move your business forward in 2021 and beyond, get in touch today.


Marketing and Sales Can’t Collaborate Without These Three Key Investments

Our research shows that teamwork requires systematic efforts to share customer data.

It isn’t terribly insightful to say that marketing and sales need to work together effectively to deliver on revenue goals. However, describing what that looks like continues to be a challenge for most companies.

When we think of collaboration within a company, we think of improved communication, clear ownership of responsibilities and a shared sense of purpose. In the digital age, implementing these collaborative elements requires more than camaraderie or strong leadership. Our research shows that three key investments have the biggest impact on marketing and sales collaboration, regardless of the size, type or location of the company.

Sharing a common view of the customer

A common view of the customer helps both marketing and sales to view and engage the customer based on a single, unified profile. This means a single place to track the movement of the customer, their level of engagement, their propensity to buy, their preferences and past purchases. Without having all that information in a single, centrally accessible profile, both marketing and sales would operate with only a portion of the total data available. 

“A common view of the customer helps both marketing and sales to view and engage the customer based on a single, unified profile.”

This common view can be achieved by either elevating a CRM platform to house both marketing and sales-relevant customer data or investing in a specialized customer data platform (home-grown or bought). This platform is different from a “data-lake” which is an uber database built to house all possible digital and non-digital data in a single bank. What’s required here is a platform that only houses the most relevant data points, and can seamlessly integrate with engagement platforms (such as web, email or ads) to record interaction data.

Mapping an end-to-end customer journey

Almost all digital marketing teams operate off of some form of a digital customer journey. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sales team that doesn’t have a version of a customer sales journey. The challenge is to unify both those journeys into a single operating plan, i.e. an end-to-end digital customer journey that spans across all teams and functions. This journey holds everyone accountable to the customer experience, rather than creating broken-up hand-off points between teams. It allows sales to clearly see the value being added by marketing actions at the top of the funnel and allows marketing to see which tactics have the biggest impact on sales goals.

Our research shows that most companies are already well on their way to implementing this requirement.

Our 2020 State of Digital Marketing survey found that a great majority of respondents (79%) have mapped a unified digital customer journey, which means a customer journey that spans different functions and is inclusive of different channels and departments.

Despite the majority, there were differences in implementation. Thirty percent of respondents have created the customer journey, but are still in the process of utilizing it to improve the customer experience, while an equivalent number have already started doing so. And 19% of respondents have progressed to using AI to gain actionable insights from the journey data to continually optimize the customer experience.

Formalized integration plan and platform

It isn’t enough to say marketing and sales should collaborate, successful companies have hardcoded what that collaboration looked like in terms of shared data, content and platforms.

According to our research, the majority of digital marketers (34%) said they have periodic collaborations with the sales team through both in-person interactions and communications through shared digital platforms, such as a CRM.

The next level up (23%) is to turn periodic collaboration into regular, scheduled collaboration, with greater assistance from technology. This might look like automated alerts, algorithmic lead scoring shared between the teams and real-time updates on campaign performance.


This drives home the point that collaboration has to be formalized in a way that is intuitive and frictionless for all parties involved. It also shows that any kind of plan and structure is better than having none at all and that teams shouldn’t be hung up on the exact platforms or meeting cadences at the expense of just starting.


Busting the Myth That B2B Companies Are Digital Laggards

We examined 26 criteria, and find B2B companies are holding their own.

New research shows B2B companies are on par with their B2C counterparts and should look to B2B digital leaders for best practices.

The online world is full of warnings that B2B companies have fallen behind B2C companies when it comes to digital transformation. However, our new report, The 2020 State of Digital Transformation in B2B, clearly shows that B2B companies are on par with their B2C counterparts across five stages of digital maturity. This work is based on a comparison of 170 B2B companies with 238 B2C organizations and 160 B2B2C firms based on a survey conducted by the industry analysts at Altimeter, a Prophet company.

Five Stages of Digital Maturity

Digital maturity was determined by evaluating the relative adoption of digital practices across twenty-six criteria grouped into five areas: Leadership and culture, customer experience, marketing and sales, technology and innovation, and data and artificial intelligence. To understand the impact of digital transformation maturity, we grouped all of the respondents into one of five transformation stages based on their maturity scores (see Figure 1). Click here to see a deeper exploration of digital maturity in the full report.

Figure 1: The 5 Stages of Digital Maturity

Sixty-nine percent of all companies (B2B, B2C and B2B2C) have moved past the initial stages of digital transformation maturity and are investing in digital technology and data to accelerate growth and improve productivity. Two-thirds of these more mature companies are in stage three where they are focused on operationalizing the use of platforms and data at scale and putting them to work to drive growth. The most mature companies, 25 percent of total respondents in stages four and five, are characterized by efforts in integrating operations to deliver more personalized experiences and using emerging technologies such as AI to redesign customer experiences and offer digital services to accelerate growth. Time is running out for the laggards in steps one and two while those companies in stage three must turn their efforts into impact so they can justify their investment and continue to accelerate progress.

Digital Maturity is a Better Predictor of Capabilities and Plans Than Customer Type

Our study revealed that stages of digital maturity are better predictors of digital capability building, investment in technologies or utilization of advanced digital platforms and data. Differences between B2B and B2C companies on a broad range of digital transformation plans and practices become small once responses are controlled for the level of digital maturity.

“The most mature is taking a more opportunistic approach compared to those who are still struggling to put in place basic digital capabilities.”

B2B2C companies are more likely to be more digitally mature (41% in stages 4 and 5) than either B2B or B2C companies; probably because they must build capabilities to address both business and consumer audiences.

Figure 2: Digital Maturity Levels by Business Type

Digital Maturity Matters

Organizations that are furthest down the path of digital transformation are best able to turn uncertainty into a competitive advantage. Their response to the pandemic is illustrative. The most mature are taking a more opportunistic approach compared to those who are still struggling to put in place basic digital capabilities. While eighty-two percent of stage one through four organizations are continuing or pivoting their transformation efforts, seventy percent of the most digitally mature companies are accelerating their digital transformation efforts (see Figure 3). They recognize that disruption is a time to step forward not back and have the confidence in their digital capabilities to capitalize on the situation.

Figure 3: Transformation Initiative Shifts Due to COVID-19


B2B companies should shift their search for best practices from B2C companies to more digitally mature B2B companies.  It is easier and more effective to replicate best practices from one B2B company to another and maturity is a better predictor of outcomes than customer type. B2B companies who are digital laggards (stages 1 and 2) should look to the examples of companies that are operationalizing and scaling their digital efforts (stage 3). B2B companies can look to their more mature counterparts for insights into how to integrate, personalize and used advanced technologies to drive impact and become more digitally mature.

Want to know where your company stands on its digital transformation journey? Download the 2020 State of Digital Transformation in B2B to determine your next steps and contact us.


Brands Are Sitting Out the Super Bowl: Is This an Inflection Point for Marketers?

How companies are recalculating the complex math of advertising during the Big Game. It’s riskier than ever.

The Super Bowl LV is right around the corner. The Kansas City Chiefs will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and this year’s match-up is all about legacy vs. new. The duel of Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes. Will Tom Brady be able to win another Super Bowl and retain his GOAT status? Or will the 25-year-old star outperform him on a national stage? It will be a fascinating game to watch.

Off the field, we also see the duel of legacy vs. new as we look at the much-ballyhooed ad spots surrounding the Super Bowl. Several legacy brands that traditionally bought ad spots are sitting out this year: Budweiser, Pepsi, Coke. While other brands like Chipotle, DoorDash and Indeed are willing to get in the game and spend $5M+ for 30 seconds of airtime. Even amidst the criticism against the NFL for their lackluster response to Black Lives Matter, the controversy of physical audiences during the pandemic and viewership ratings once again on the decline, the Super Bowl is still considered the quintessential placement for U.S. advertisers.

“The Super Bowl is still considered the quintessential placement for U.S. advertisers.”

In addition to navigating these ongoing challenges, this year’s Super Bowl also brings the duel of advertising on legacy television vs. digital video to a head. Brands are increasingly aware that coveted eyeballs are turning off the television while the reach and engagement on YouTube, Twitch and other digital platforms are becoming the new prestige play. CMOs today are seeing digital video advertising deliver results and brand awareness is also functioning as a direct response.

We believe this interesting match-up of legacy vs. new highlights 3 shifts in how CMOs decide where and how they invest their marketing dollars:

1. From Static to Dynamic

CMOs are increasingly under pressure to move the needle and do it fast. Their mandate has expanded from the top of the funnel down to acquiring customers. As a result, they are continuously experimenting with ways and channels to optimize the return of their marketing investment – often challenging practices that have been considered “tried and true.” For the first time in decades, Anheuser-Busch announced that the iconic Budweiser brand is sitting this Super Bowl out. We can still expect to see ads from BudLight and the first-ever corporate spot. Regardless, this still came as a big surprise to many.

2. From Reach to Relevance

The pandemic has shifted consumer behavior. Consumers have become more open to trying new brands – even new players – forcing brands to defend their positions. As a result, CMOs are changing their approach from maximizing reach to proactively finding ways to embed their brands in consumers’ lives. This year, for some consumers, the Super Bowl will not be as important as in prior years, given social distancing. Budweiser understands this and is reportedly reallocating its Super Bowl budget to a topic that is more relevant to its audience: COVID relief in the form of coronavirus vaccination awareness efforts.

3. From Opportunistic to Authentic

Shifting marketing strategy and execution depending on context or market conditions is not new. The best marketers have done it to raise the bar and set the standard on how to engage consumers (remember the “dunk in the dark” tweet from Oreo in 2013?). Today this is increasingly difficult as consumers expect and demand brands to be authentic. Consumers are quick to call out anything that looks and feels different or “off-brand.” With the ease and speed of social media, brands have to answer to their customers. It will be interesting to track how Budweiser executes on the COVID-19 efforts now and into the future from an authenticity perspective, at the risk of exposing the brand and hindering the return of their investments.


Investing in a Super Bowl ad is a big decision for any marketer. Sometimes the decision is clear and compelling: by showing up to where consumers are, on the right platforms, in the right context and with authentic engagement, marketers have a better shot at maximizing the return of their investments.

But the case is not always clear and yet organizations continue to invest.  Why? The culture within organizations is slow to change. Successful marketers go beyond the data to focus on aligning the mindsets and behaviors of their organizations to ensure they make the right decisions, not the decisions that have “worked” in the past.  It’s a tall order.


Marketing Transformation: Scaling Personalized Technology, Workflows & Content

Our research finds that the most effective teams are also using smarter segmentation and omni-channel campaigns.

While Scaling Personalized Content, CMOs are Transforming their Companies

I joined Prophet just about nine months ago after leading the marketing services practice at one of the largest interactive agencies in the world. I thought I knew a lot about marketing transformation. I now work with CMOs who are responsible for leading their own transformation agendas. Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020 only reinforces how much of a marketing transformation is now focused on driving more personalized customer interactions and achieving the scale of operations required to support it.

The CMO Transformation Agenda is Focused on Personalized Experiences

Digital transformation, a term du jour, is often used to articulate the need to modernize an organization. Transition to the cloud, which my prior firm often spoke to, isn’t transformation; rather, it’s a means to modernize capabilities, streamline costs, and improve outcomes. In recent work, it has become clear that true transformation is anchored on becoming either a truly data-centric or customer-centric company. These are not mutually exclusive targeted outcomes but can be a different lens for defining and prioritizing company priorities. For the CMO, this marketing transformation agenda often translates into the ability to deliver a more personalized series of interactions to their most important customers who will have the most impact on their business performance. In fact, 52 percent of respondents chose personalization as their top capability to improve, while 37 percent prioritized improving segmentation—a direct input into personalization (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020). The effort to generate more personalization requires both data-centric and customer-centric marketing transformation capabilities and measured outcomes.

Source: Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020

Measuring Performance

CMOs have been modernizing their capabilities with digital for years, with added sophistication in finding and reaching audiences through additional digital marketing channels. Another priority is improving performance on existing digital channels (42%), while investing in new ones (34%) (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020). What is reinforced here is how the growing demands on new channels go together with the need for more personalization. Finding new or existing customers in new channels requires cross-channel understanding and insights to drive personalized interactions. The relevance and timeliness of these interactions will ultimately directly impact marketing performance going forward. Experiences are increasingly instrumented and performance understanding requires data to be captured, measured, organized and given back at the speed marketing works to be effective.

Scaling Technology

These large amounts of marketing performance data must now deliver insights that are integrated with the marketing technology platforms to enrich more real-time interactions in acquisition and conversions.

The top challenge, however, remains purchasing and integrating the right Martech platforms with 52 percent of those interviewed stating that purchasing or integrating the right marketing technology platform was their biggest obstacle (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020). For most organizations, these investments in content management, customer relationship management, and marketing automation have been underway for years. There is still an ever-increasing need to connect more core marketing capabilities into these platforms. These integrations enable core capabilities that marketing now deploys to drive personalization, as well as the ability to measure and optimize based on desired business outcomes. The race is in reaching scale in efficiency and effectiveness of these new capabilities.

Source: Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020

Scaling Processes and Workflows

What is also apparent in working with leading CMOs on their marketing transformations is that most of the challenges they face are underpinned by the need to embed new ways of working. Forty-nine percent of digital marketers said scaling best practices across business units and geographies were their biggest challenge (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020). Marketing budgets are not increasing to meet the needs of providing more unique and personal content to more people. Despite what many friends in technology will say, in practice, no platform alone will close this gap without fundamentally rethinking what new skills are needed, how teams are structured and how to best integrate their workflows to streamline and gain efficiency.

Source: Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020

Scaling Content

How a company presents itself in advertising, messages, on its website, in its mobile applications, etc. will matter greatly in terms of how CMOs build relevance and depth of relationship with customers. Content matters. Content matters a lot. While marketing budgets aren’t wildly increasing and growing segmentation increases demand further, the delivery of needed templates, images, copy and offers will not scale to support that demand. In order to deliver this marketing transformation, CMOs will need to turn to AI and machine learning to deliver Intelligent Content systems that tie together their marketing performance data, segmentation intelligence, content management and marketing automation tools to dynamically create personalized advertising, email, web, and mobile messages in real-time. Creating this system of “intelligent content” is a major success factor for advanced personalization, and it makes it much easier to introduce AI-assisted enhancements once a robust system has been built. Ninety-five percent of companies are able to personalize messaging and experiences in some form based on customer data, with almost a fifth utilizing AI-driven predictive analytics to do so (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020).  This growth in the need to leverage automation to deliver the scale necessary will only increase over time.

“The new CMO agenda is about personalizing customer interactions and achieving the scale of operations required to support it.”


As you work through your 2021 marketing plans, the above initiatives will likely loom large. I’ve learned that these types of transformations require much more than traditional modernization or just an IT-led view of technology. The work spans measuring performance, scaling technology, re-engineering workflows, creating content design systems and optimizing activities against business outcomes. The new CMO agenda is about personalizing customer interactions and achieving the scale of operations required to support it.

To learn more about how our work delivers data-centric and customer-centric marketing transformation for some of the leading companies in the world please reach out and we can connect directly.


Four Areas of Focus for Marketing Teams in 2021

Empathy, data, relationships and direct-to-consumer convenience lead to the best results.

Prophet releases marketing and sales trends to watch every year, with advice on acting on them. Given the chaotic and unpredictable events of last year, we’re focusing on what trends from 2020 we believe are here to stay and our hopes for carrying over some good aspects from the Zoom-based year we enjoyed with clients and colleagues.

Instead, we want to talk about four established trends that we’re thrilled to see are still gathering steam. Even before the pandemic, these four marketing tactics were gaining new importance for sales and marketing organizations, but the need for digital transformation tipped them over the edge. We believe accelerating these efforts can lead organizations to be more customer-centric and deliver uncommon growth in the months ahead.

Marketing Learnings to Carry into 2021

Empathetic Marketing and Sales Strategies

Everyone knows that companies aren’t human, but this is the year we became intensely aware that the decision-makers who run them are. This heightened human-centricity will continue to shape the best marketing and sales strategies in the year ahead.

“Even before the pandemic, these four marketing tactics were gaining new importance for sales and marketing organizations, but the need for digital transformation tipped them over the edge.”

Whether it’s in terms of messaging, content, digital experiences or sales materials, it’s time to keep the empathy flowing. That means appreciating what customers are going through–and acknowledging their struggles–is more crucial than ever. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the best business policy and ensures companies are delivering on their brand purpose. Responding quickly and connecting through empathetic content that shares your values and says we get you are proven ways for brands to stay relevant and build deeper relationships.

Some favorite examples? As soon as the U.S. declared a National Emergency due to the pandemic, Hyundai and Ford introduced new job-loss protection programs for new owners. And IKEA and LEGO understood how worried parents are about stuck-at-home kids, quickly creating blueprints for blanket forts and reassuring videos.

Data-Driven Decisioning

Businesses that make data-driven decisions can move more effectively, leading to better customer and business outcomes. And while plenty of marketers have that level of data, too few also have the processes in place to act on it. Those that do, and those with teams assigned to accountability areas, are those that will thrive in the year ahead.

Early in the pandemic, Marcus, Goldman Sachs’ consumer banking platform, used data to gain knowledge on which of their customers needed help, resulting in targeted measures such as the introduction of a temporary hardship program, allowing its customers to postpone making a loan payment for one month at no additional interest. It also used its data to determine how to share the continually changing interest rates. By using data effectively, the platform is now better equipped than most to deal with the banking industry’s new, post-COVID-19 normal.

Fiercer Focus on Relationship-Building

More companies, including Disney and Target, are fueling growth by leaning into loyalty efforts. And they are making sure these efforts have an impact across the entire customer journey into the acquisition phase. They are using loyalty data to improve offers for all existing customers, which often proves to be a smart use of resources. Loyalty programs strengthen relationships and say to customers, “We’ve got your back.” They also help with customer acquisition to increase sales.

Direct-to-Consumer Convenience

Making products and services more convenient is an old idea. But as consumers swarm to e-commerce options, the brands with the most direct relationships with their customers–from DoorDash to Peloton to Glossier–have distinct advantages over much-bigger competitors. More companies, including B2B organizations, should find ways to emulate that closeness and convenience by helping to make convenient decision making for customers, following companies such as Levi Strauss, Lululemon and Nike that are expanding their DTC tactics.

Personal Aspirations for 2021

Just as the past year is reshaping corporate sales and marketing strategies, it’s changed people, too– us included. We’re getting to know colleagues and clients differently. For all its faults, Zoom is introducing us to co-workers in different ways, especially when their kids or pets drop in. We’re gaining a window into people’s lives and a better understanding of who they really are.

Despite occasional irritability, it’s also led to a sense of grace. After decades of expecting everything to go smoothly (remember when connecting to projectors was the most challenging part of the day), we are getting used to messy intrusions. Dogs bark. Delivery people ring doorbells. Babies need to get up and kids need help with school.

As our mental health frayed a little, we’re gaining a fuller understanding of self-care. Not only did we not mind when colleagues joined a meeting while walking outdoors, but it is also inspiring us to do the same. Also, we expressed what is important to us and set boundaries for important activities such as family meals.

Here’s hoping the new year brings us all more grace, empathy and some comfy clothes.


We are carrying many lessons – both professionally and personally – into 2021 that have changed (and mostly, improved) the way we approach our work. With these lessons in our back pocket, we are growing alongside our clients – partnering with them to implement the most relevant, customer-centric marketing tactics to drive growth.

Do you need a growth partner in 2021? Reach out to us and we will connect you with someone from our marketing & sales practice.


Step Aside Salesforce and Adobe, Microsoft is the New Leader in Martech

With its integrated suite and large market share, Microsoft is muscling past the category leaders.

For the past five years, Salesforce and Adobe have regularly topped our list of the most used primary marketing technology platforms in companies. But this year, Microsoft came out of nowhere to take the top place.

In our annual “State of Digital Marketing” survey, we asked companies what their primary digital marketing platform was, giving them a choice between the top players in the space. Most companies rely on a primary digital marketing platform or suite to orchestrate the majority of their digital marketing strategies. These platforms usually have a core application (typically email or web management) with integrated add-ons for managing other channels such as web publishing, advertising and analytics.

In past years, the “big 4” enterprise marketing technology players (Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle, and IBM) have accounted for most of the market share. However, this year, Microsoft shot to the top as the most popular primary martech platform (26%) marginally ahead of Salesforce (25%), the previous year’s leader.

Admittedly, this came as a bit of a shock. Salesforce, Adobe (and Oracle to a lesser extent) are well known for their best-in-class offerings for digital marketers, with each one claiming to offer more tools and integrations than the other. Microsoft wasn’t even in the picture unless you count its well-regarded CRM platform Dynamics, a direct competitor to Salesforce’s legacy CRM platform. Microsoft’s marketing automation offering is a direct add-on to its Dynamics CRM, with features for email marketing, customized landing pages, segment analysis and limited multi-channel orchestration. It’s a direct competitor to Adobe’s Campaign and Marketo, Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud and Oracle’s Eloqua.

“Microsoft’s marketing automation offering is a direct add-on to its Dynamics CRM.”

However, upon closer scrutiny of the responses, these results varied quite a bit by different geographies. In the US, Salesforce was easily number one (39%), followed by Adobe (19%) and Microsoft (15%) which is consistent with what we have been observing in the market.

When you get to Europe (in this case UK, France and Germany), Microsoft was well ahead of everyone else, and even IBM had a stronger showing outside of the US. We believe this is the reason the overall results are skewing towards Microsoft as the overall leader.


This shows that Microsoft’s strategy for its digital marketing solution has really been to compete in markets where Salesforce and Adobe don’t have as much footprint, and their branding around digital marketing innovation is more diluted. Couple that with its sizeable foothold in another business tech (productivity, work suite etc, cloud storage) it makes sense that Microsoft could capture a huge chunk of the market with its sheer scale and strong claims for an integrated suite. Even if the Microsoft marketing automation solution isn’t quite as innovative as Salesforce or Adobe’s, these factors would be enough for it to do some real damage to competitors’ market share.

Download Altimeter’s “2020 State of Digital Marketing” report for even more benchmarks, insights and stats on digital marketing.


The Most Desired Skills for Marketing Hires in 2021

Companies are scrambling to hire those with magical marketing skills, as well as data-analysis wizards.

In Altimeter’s annual State of Digital Marketing survey, we asked marketers in the US, Europe and China to rank their most desired skills in new hires for next year.

The results showed us the continued importance of hiring both “Mad Men” and “Math Men” for digital marketing success.

Data analysis (42%) and marketing automation expertise (39%) continue to be the most desired skills in 2020–2021, a result unchanged from when we did the survey last year. These are the two skills that underpin the “digital” in “digital marketing” and it’s hard to imagine any company progressing to maturity without them.

In particular, we’re seeing companies invest more in data than they ever have before. This means hiring analysts who can gain insights from data gathered from multiple sources, as well as creating data centers of excellence for managing the flow of data throughout the organization. All this is in service of creating and delivering the best possible customer experience, across as many digital (and non-digital) touchpoints as possible.

“All this is in service of creating and delivering the best possible customer experience, across as many digital (and non-digital) touchpoints as possible.”

Marketing automation skills are also in high demand, as companies continue to look for specialists who have the technical knowledge to operate sophisticated marketing automation platforms, but also the business know-how needed to create and optimize data-based experiences in collaboration with other customer-facing teams.

However, more mainstream marketing skills such as UX design and graphic design are still in demand, especially as digital marketing becomes more customer-centric and more consideration is given to providing the right visual and experiential elements across digital interactions. It’s good to see that traditional marketing skills are still just as important, even with the proliferation of all things digital.


It’s interesting to see how mainstream digital marketing skills such as SEO and paid media expertise are way down the list of desired skills. This indicates that companies are more likely to outsource these activities to agencies, where it makes more economic sense for them. Additionally, the main vehicles for SEO and paid media (namely Google and Facebook) have made it extremely easy to operate on their platforms, making the task of search and display advertising much more intuitive and frictionless than before. All this indicates that these skills, while still required, don’t require the same level of specialization that they used to.

Click here to download Altimeter’s 2020 State of Digital Marketing for more benchmarks, stats and insights on digital marketing.


Five Reasons Why the CMO is Becoming the Best Salesperson

As sales and marketing become more aligned, some CMOs are cultivating traits to get closer to customers.

Today, marketing plays an outsized role in shaping the experiences of customers and prospects. Chief marketing officers are increasingly responsible for delivering on company growth objectives, which means playing a larger part in the selling process. And this trend is intensifying as more customers demand highly-personalized interactions, requiring much deeper marketing and sales alignment.

These shifting dynamics position a CMO as the best tool, ally and salesperson the company may have. Let’s uncover five traits of great salespeople, where many CMOs already excel.

1. They’re hungry.

The best salespeople are eager to take on new accounts— aggressively delivering for the company.

With more digital marketing and measurement in place for most firms, the C-suite now expects marketing to not only contribute to growth objectives but also lead and deliver in a measured way. Increasingly, CEOs expect marketing to drive the bottom-of-funnel demand generation. With availability 24 hours a day, the modern marketing engine is constantly targeting advertising to attract new customers. More targeted marketing leads to more targeted customer-segment success. Both, marketing and sales teams are eager, hungry and incentivized to take on business outcomes by delivering an insightful view into how best to attract, convert, and serve the most desirable customers.

Many marketers are already there. Our Altimeter 2020 State of Digital Marketing report finds that the top objectives for digital marketing are to acquire new customers (40%) and increasing revenue from current customers (39%) are the top objectives for digital marketers.

2. They’re empathic listeners.

Top sellers have to be great listeners. They must understand the customer’s needs and how best to position the company, its products and services to suit them.

Listening to customer needs and delivering insights isn’t a new marketing function or capability. What has changed is the breadth and depth of that involvement for marketing. Marketing is much more involved, using insights to drive segmentation strategies leveraged by many different channels to sense and differentiate experiences based on segment needs.

Emerging self-service and “always-on” digital channels that can initiate interaction and carry it through to a sale are becoming more common, even in complex B2B selling scenarios. As marketing plays a critical role in developing customer experiences, the need for more personalized content, driven by marketing and sales, is also growing. As before, marketing must play a key role in listening to customers in all channels to generate meaningful insights. Marketing is also best positioned to enable more and better interactions, playing back sufficient empathy for customer needs in real-time.

Our research found that 95 percent of companies can personalize messaging and experiences based on customer data, with almost one-fifth using AI-driven predictive analytics to do so. (Altimeter 2020 State of Digital Marketing)

3. They build trust.

Effective selling requires strong relationships built on trust. That includes internal relationships. 

There has been a notable increase in collaboration with sales, with 75 percent of companies in our research said they have stepped up the way the marketing and sales functions work together in the last two years. And 60 percent have increased collaboration between marketing and customer service.

As prospects enter a firm’s funnel, marketing plays a critical role in capturing, quantifying, measuring and reporting more data on behaviors exhibited by different prospect groups. As marketing’s personalized interactions drive interest and affinity, the coordination of sales and marketing efforts highlights opportunities to build trust and loyal relationships with customers.

Just like a good salesperson remembers birthdays and children’s names to build familiarity, marketing is now capturing important details to reinforce important and tailored messages. Marketing can also scale this level of intimacy with existing customers to improve repeat purchases, cross-sell, up-sell and grow advocacy to gain new customer referrals.

There has been a notable increase in collaboration with sales, with 75% of companies increasing collaboration between marketing and sales in the last two years, and a 60% increase in collaboration between marketing and customer service. (Altimeter 2020 State of Digital Marketing)

4. They are prepared to optimize efficiencies.

The best salespeople are always well prepared. For full closed-loop reporting and deep customer insight to be achieved, marketing and sales are linking their data to back-office data.

Stitching together this back-office account information to customer behavior is the next big play for companies. It’s how they can deliver better experiences, improve operating models to focus on business outcomes and enrich overall decision-making.

It’s not surprising that the most desired skills for digital marketing new hires were data analysis (42%) and marketing automation expertise (39%).

Much of this work starts with more alignment of sales and marketing incentives and integration of their processes. This complete view allows the organization to coordinate marketing and sales efforts for greater efficiency. Marketing can then leverage AI/machine learning to automate many processes, delivering both marketing and sales interactions. Marketing can now sense the next customer need. When marketing is fully prepared, sales can show up ready for anything, armed with the right insight and offer at just the right time.

It’s not surprising that the most desired skills for digital marketing new hires were data analysis (42%) and marketing automation expertise (39%). (Altimeter 2020 State of Digital Marketing)

5. They’re polished.

Even the most likable salespeople underperform when they aren’t professional and organized.

While it’s wonderful that so many sales departments are rebuilding Customer Relationship Management systems, Content Management Systems and Campaign Automation technologies, these silos need to be linked together effectively. Whether they are from Microsoft, Adobe, Salesforce or others, they can become vast repositories of disconnected data.

“When marketing is fully prepared, sales can show up ready for anything, armed with the right insight and offer at just the right time.”

Companies can and are stitching these technologies together to drive integrated workflows for both sales and marketing. One central area that highlights this collaboration is demand generation, where marketing and sales integrate information for identifying, scoring and routing marketing leads. This streamlining and automating joint sales and marketing processes drive speed and efficiency, allowing both marketing and sales to show up as thoughtfully coordinated. They can deliver a polished customer experience.

But it isn’t easy. Fifty-two percent of our respondents say that integrating technology in this manner is their top digital marketing challenge. (Altimeter 2020 State of Digital Marketing)


Is your CEO pounding the table and demanding more results? Marketing is increasingly becoming the sales department’s strongest ally. And in many ways, we’re finding that CMOs can (and should be) the sales teams’ biggest champions.

To learn more about enabling CMOs and their marketing departments to super-charge sales, contact Hanif or David.


The State of Digital Selling 2020

Selling has always been a team sport. But as digital excellence builds, boundaries are even blurrier.

Insights for Driving Sales Productivity & Resilience

Digital has long been a key ingredient in sales teams’ success, even before disruptive technologies made digital transformation a business-wide imperative. Now, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital selling is more important than ever.

In our 2020 State of Digital Selling research, we sought to understand the capabilities and key success factors enabling the digital transformation of selling among B2B businesses.

Based on a survey of 506 sales professionals across North America, Europe, and China, this report offers a comprehensive view of how B2B sales teams are leveraging digital in their sales processes.

Key Learnings From the Report

  1. Now, more than ever, selling is a team sport.
  2. Sales teams need to make the digital mindset shift.
  3. High-touch, high-value cross-functional selling outperforms automated high-volume selling.
  4. Top performers focus on the customer through customer-focused metrics, cross-functional teaming, and selling by vertical industry.
  5. As teams build digital excellence, boundaries are likely to blur between sales and marketing teams.
  6. Digitally mature sellers are outperforming less mature teams through the global COVID-19 pandemic.

For all the data and insights, download the full report below.

Download The State of Digital Selling 2020

*Fill in all required fields

Thank you for your interest in Altimeter’s research!


Report: Benchmarking Digital Maturity in B2B Companies

Discover the main drivers of digital transformation investments and initiatives for B2B companies, based on 170 interviews.

B2B organizations have made drastic changes in response to COVID-19 – shifting to remote work, digitizing customer offerings and moving commerce online. Digitization planned to take years happened in months.

Based on conversations with 170 senior B2B transformation leaders and C-suite executives, this report reveals the main drivers of digital transformation investments and initiatives for B2B companies in 2020.

Here’s what you can expect to learn:

  • Substantial Operational Shifts Due to COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Exposed Significant Gaps in Digital Selling Capabilities
  • Marketing Transformation Continues Despite and Because of the Pandemic
  • Five Stages of Digital Transformation Maturity
  • Most Companies Continue Transformation Initiatives – Digitally Mature Are Accelerating
  • Application of Digital Tools Varies by Maturity Stage
  • Technology Priorities Reflect Level of Digital Transformation Maturity
  • Digital Transformation Sponsored Primarily by CIO/CTOs and CEOs

Download the full study to explore additional findings and examine detailed charts for each of the headlines provided above.

About the Authors

Fred Geyer and Joerg Niessing are co-authors of The Definitive Guide to B2B Digital Transformation, curators of – an online resource center for B2B transformation leaders and facilitators of a monthly webinar series featuring senior B2B executives discussing the challenges of B2B digital transformation. For more information about the guide, the webinar series or to gain access to the online resources go to Fred is a Senior Partner at Prophet, a leading growth and transformation consultancy and Joerg is Senior Affiliate Professor of Marketing at INSEAD and director of INSEAD’s “B2B Marketing Strategies” and “Leading Digital Marketing” programs.

Open Research

This independent research was fully funded by Altimeter, A Prophet Company. This report is published under the principle of Open Research and is intended to advance the industry at no cost. This report is intended for you to read, utilize, and share with others; if you do so, please provide attribution to Altimeter, a Prophet Company. This B2B report is part of a larger study by Altimeter, A Prophet Company: The 2020 State of Digital Transformation was authored by Charlene Li, Omar Akhtar, Susan Etlinger, Ed Terpening, Ted Moser, and Aubrey Littleton.

Download The State of Digital Selling 2020

*Fill in all required fields

Thank you for your interest in Altimeter’s research!