Wooden mailbox close to a street.
Email's the No. 1 way in which consumers initiate engagement with businesses, according to a Marketo survey. PHOTO: atlnav

Chatbots, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual and augmented reality may be all the rage in digital experience, but websites and email remain the most common points of engagement between consumers and businesses.

That's at least one of the findings in Marketo's "The State of Engagement" report (registration required). Marketo, a marketing automation provider based in San Mateo, Calif., partnered with Illuminas to survey almost 1,200 marketers, 500 B2C consumers and 500 B2B consumers for their views on the digital experiences marketer's provide, the consumer's responses to them and the gap between the two. 

Email Remains King

Email (79 percent) and websites (60 percent) dominated the channels consumers use to initiate engagement. Those were easily the most-used channels regardless of consumer type, with social media (35 percent), chat (28 percent) and mobile device or app (25 percent) far behind.

Those two channels also win when it comes to learning about and comparing products and services. Websites (65.5 percent) won top honors here, followed by email (54.5 percent). Social media is next in line among B2C consumers, while B2B consumers rely more heavily on chat and forums, according to the survey findings.

Garbage Content 

What do consumers want from the people selling to them? Let's start with what they don't want: junk content.

According to the Marketo survey, irrelevant content is the No. 1 reason consumers don't engage more often. So, next time you think about hitting send on that campaign that targets everybody, ask yourself what consumer needs does it meet

Consumers also get turned off when businesses:

  • Don’t have anything to offer outside of products/services (33 percent of B2C consumers said this; 29 percent B2B consumers)
  • Didn’t make enough of an effort to resolve past issues (30 percent B2C; 25 percent B2B)
  • Don't share values (18 percent B2C; 14 percent B2B)
  • Don't offer preferred engagement channels (16 percent B2C; 15 percent B2B).

About a quarter of B2C and B2B consumers also reported that, "engaging with certain vendors or brands is more work than it's worth."

And some more telling numbers on consumers' feelings on engagement:

  • Half of consumers think brands could do a better job of aligning with how consumers prefer to engage 
  • 75 percent of B2B consumers think brands must have a deep understanding of their needs in order to engage successfully 
  • Two of out three consumers want to advocate for brands that demonstrate they care about them.

Marketers: Tool Conundrum

Marketers, meanwhile, shared their biggest challenge in delivering superior customer experience: the tools available to support their efforts. 

In fact, satisfaction with current engagement tools’ ability to reach consumers using the right channels and at the right moment is low, according to the Marketo survey findings.

Marketers told researchers they also faced significant challenges demonstrating return on investment. 

On a global level, 48 percent of marketers cited tools (lack of technology/tools, complexity of tools and ability to manage across tools) as their top challenge, while 40 percent said organizational knowledge (lack of knowledge of engagement programs, tools, etc.) and ability to measure ROI (turning data into action, demonstrating value, defining metrics to track) hampered marketing efforts.

Budget allocation (38 percent) and executive support (29 percent) rounded out the list. 

Marketers were on the same page as consumers as far as channels on which they mostly engage: email, social media and websites.

Tool integrations are also top of mind for marketers. Mostly, they've integrated websites and ecommerce sites (61 percent), email (56 percent) and social media (53 percent).

Employees Need Experience, Too

Marketo's survey dove into employee experience, an increasingly important topic as companies recognize its influence on the consumer experience. The good news for marketers is most of their companies have strategies for employee experience: 81 percent of US marketers reported existing strategies.

Communication channels between companies and employees reflected a similar trend as the path between brands and consumers: email topped the list at 80 percent, followed by website (35 percent), chat (32 percent), social media (25 percent), mobile device/app (23 percent) and online communities (22 percent).

About 41 percent of employees think their organization is effective at engaging them through the right channels. But the sobering fact remains: employee disengagement remains a costly problem that too many senior leaders continue to ignore.

'Leading in the Engagement Economy'

Marketo pushes the idea of the Engagement Economy as a vendor: the belief that, as CEO Steve Lucas blogged, "we are living in a new era — a digital future where everyone and everything is connected." 

"The Engagement Economy," Lucas wrote, "embodies the fundamental shift in relationships between buyers and sellers, but extends across entire organizations to include customers, prospects, employees and partners."

Marketo chose "leading in the engagement economy" as the theme of its customer conference this spring.