Customers’ expectations are proving a challenge for marketers seeking a balance between technology’s efficiencies and personal connections through human interaction. The Conference Board surveyed senior marketing and communications executives at 84 firms across North America, Europe and Asia, and found that rapid changes in consumer attitudes are both testing marketers and presenting them with new opportunities.

In “Customers Are Changing, and So Should Marketing,” The Conference Board reports that while half of respondents expect customers to use more voice communications to interact with companies, more than a third expect customers’ cravings for human interaction to grow. And while specialist skills—including data analytics, AI and digital media—are the most sought-after skills in future marketing hires, it notes that “left brain/right brain” thinking and creative skills, which marketers prioritize least, shouldn’t be underestimated, as they will be important in designing competitive strategies and customer-friendly processes and interfaces that complement marketing teams’ digital expertise.

“The pandemic has inspired much more digital interaction with companies at all stages of the customer journey,” says Denise Dahlhoff, senior researcher at The Conference Board. “While people may appreciate technology even more now, human touchpoints are still essential. They complement tech efficiency and convenience and help maximize the customer experience.”

Nearly 40 percent of marketing executives expect brand loyalty to drop, the survey found. While 60 percent of marketing leaders expect increased customer attention to companies’ values, about half see rising cynicism about brand promises.

“The importance of authenticity has grown even more during the pandemic,” says Dahlhoff. “In a crisis like this, people expect companies more than ever to do the right thing. But words and actions have to fit a brand’s DNA and they need to be meaningful.”

According to more than three quarters of the marketing executives surveyed, customers’ expectations for frequent new or enhanced products/services will grow. Almost two-thirds think customers’ openness to experimental approaches to new products and processes, and their interest in providing input for new products will increase.

Dahlhoff adds, “Involving customers in product development processes that are typically behind the scenes isn’t only valuable to better meet customer needs but also creates unique customer experiences. This type of customer engagement, along with an experimental innovation culture, can enhance a brand’s perceived authenticity and appeal.”

The research found that two-thirds of marketers expect customers to want more control of their data and 40 percent expect customers’ willingness to trade personalization for privacy will increase. Moreover, for almost three-quarters of senior marketers, a variety of channel options (omni-channel, self-service) is a way to serve customers in the future.