released its ExactTarget Marketing Cloud 2014 State of Marketing study (registration) this week. With over 2,600 responses from mid to senior B2C marketing managers, in large to small companies across all industries, the study reveals how marketers plan to spend their budgets, their strategies for success, along with some blind-spots.

2014 Marketing Goals

The good news is that budgets are increasing.Marketers are amping up their investments in five areas: data and analytics, marketing automation, email marketing, social media marketing and content management.These investments are in direct support of their top three priorities for 2014: Increasing conversion rates, engagement rates and return on investment.

Sixty-seven percent of marketers say their number one priority for 2014 is to increase sales directly attributable to digital marketing campaigns, 64 percent are focused on increasing email click throughs and open rates, and 61 percent want to increase their ROI.A distant fourth priority is lifetime customer value -- only 35 percent of marketers listed this as a priority.

Marketing has figured out that to align with sales they need to produce real revenue.With a laser sharp focus on campaign and channel performance, marketers are figuring out that persistent engagement is king because it converts into revenue.Last year’s obsession of being everywhere on every channel with every imaginable piece of content is old school.Whether that realization was the result of sheer exhaustion or from a hard look at the questionable ROI of social isn't clear, the study doesn't say.

Mobile and Email Roles Defined

There is an interesting finding in the study’s results about how marketers engage net new versus existing customers. Email is the vehicle of choice in acquiring and onboarding new subscribers and customers.Mobile, however, is the preferred channel for engaging with existing subscribers.

Marketers see mobile as the best channel to keep relationships with existing customers alive as well as to re-engage and retarget shoppers. Mobile cuts through the clutter of email and social.Who doesn’t look at a SMS or welcome a text about an exclusive deal?Catering to consumer mobile habits is opening new avenues for brands to engage customers while they browse products, contact customer service, participate in social communities, watch videos, sign up for alerts and download branded apps. In fact, 46 percent of respondents have or are planning a branded mobile app. The strategy is different, however, for attracting and engaging prospects

Sixty-seven percent of marketers say that email is their preferred engagement mechanism and is core to their business as well as the best path to increasing marketing ROI.  Fifty-seven percent of marketers plan to increase the number of emails they send with 49 percent of respondents planning to send over a half a million emails in 2014.Expect more email in your inbox not just enticing you to join their networks but to engage you with promotions, new products, loyalty programs and prompt you to finish that shopping cart you abandoned.

Social Trends

While the role of email and mobile is clear, social remains an intriguing but unproven area.While 66 percent of marketers claim that social indirectly impacts their business performance, only 9 percent claim that it can be directly linked to revenue.The preferred social channels for 2014 are Google+ (18 percent), SlideShare (17 percent), Blog (17 percent), Podcasts (17 percent) and Pinterest (16 percent).These augment the most popular social channels of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Foursquare and MySpace are dead. To drive ROI, marketers need to develop a credible social strategy with measurable target metrics that align with the customers desired customer experience.Otherwise social will remain on the sidelines.

Falling Behind on the Buyer's Journey

This is all good news as marketers make strides forward.The bad news, however, is that marketers still have not accepted that they need to first understand their target segments buyers’ journey and lifecycle experience expectations in order to truly realize significant improvement in ROI and conversion.

Lifecycle marketing is an area of focus driven by the need and technology that finally makes it possible for “marketers to communicate with specific audience members at precise times.”In line with marketers’ top priority of increasing conversion, their planned tactics for 2014 are newsletters (66 percent), web opt-in (54 percent) and transaction campaigns (42 percent).According to the study, there is a “significant gap between the importance marketers place on lifecycle marketing campaigns and the number of campaigns they actually implement.”

Learning Opportunities

The real gap lies in the surprisingly low number of true one-to-one personalized campaigns that marketers execute.That’s because the real truth of where marketers are focused is net new customers, period.  Sixty-five percent of marketers are focused on getting new subscribers to buy from them, 58 percent of marketers use lifecycle marketing to acquire new subscribers, and only 42 percent are invested in re-engaging and re-targeting.

In fact, only 15 percent of marketers are using lifecycle marketing to re-engage abandoned shopping carts and a whopping 65 percent of marketers have no plans to do anything about winning back these buyers. Simple things like birthday and loyalty campaigns, which have a positive impact on customers, are not being leveraged.If marketers really want to drive sales, they are missing a big opportunity by not running campaigns to re-engage or win-back shoppers or aligning campaigns to buyers’ journeys.

All the investment in lifecycle, behavioral and sophisticated campaigns will not yield the real potential marketing has to impact a brand’s success if strategies and tactics are not aligned to the buyers’ journey.Without that basic understanding marketing continues to be a guessing game.While the spaghetti tossed at the wall is getting more precise, it still isn’t hitting the mark predictably and consistently.

Salesforce Exacttarget Marketing Cloud came to many of the same conclusions.They offered some recommendations for marketers to make 2014 their best year ever:

  1. Focus on customer engagement
  2. Take a deep look at how customers are currently experiencing your brand
  3. Start communicating one-to-one with customers
  4. Think about personalization beyond email
  5. Develop a clear data strategy
  6. Get smarter about channel options and choices
  7. Evaluate email lifecycle campaigns
  8.  Roll out responsive design in email campaigns
  9. Define clear social marketing objectives
  10. Don’t ignore mobile

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Title image by Sergey Nivens (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more of Christine's thoughts on the marketing landscape in What Successful B2B CMOs Will Do in 2014