Marketing concerns

January 2014

A new laundry detergent that stands out from dozens of other boxes and bottles, innovative unique clothing material or an electricity price plan that aims to win over even more customers – German companies are developing innovative products, services and business concepts every single day. Many companies employ marketing experts tasked with ensuring that these successfully make the transition from the company to consumer consciousness. For them, the most important objective is to tap into new markets and optimize communications. They also anticipate a number of challenges which they must overcome in the next few years. The number one is to be smarter than the rest in order to survive in the face of competition.

Opening up further sales potential and channels as well as defending existing markets is the greatest challenge which many marketing managers feel they must master in Germany. These are findings from the “Marketing concerns 2013” study conducted by the GfK Verein, for which around 600 marketing managers from nine different economic sectors were surveyed for the second time in autumn last year. They shared their opinions on current challenges, key tools in their work and for the first time, on the tasks which are top of their agenda for the next few years.

Knowing how customers think

In comparison with the previous year, the importance of the issue of new markets once again increased slightly. As did the improvement of communication strategies and channels, which ranked as the second most pressing issue, listed by 24% of respondents. Third was the right customer and target group approach (20%), although this has become significantly less prevalent over the last year. This could be attributable to the fact that ever fewer consumers exhibit static purchasing behavior. As a result of the cornucopia of products and desire for individuality it is seemingly becoming more difficult to identify one single target group. With 15%, concerns about political and social developments rank at number four. Overall, 13% are currently worried about prices and expenses and product policy is a major concern for just under one in ten marketing managers. The staffing situation is a challenge with which 6% feel they are confronted.

Finance sector: greatest range of concerns

The widest range of problems was recorded in the financial industry, where marketing managers mentioned an average of 1.7 different concerns. With 1.6 categories, the hospitality industry is next, followed by the manufacturing and service sectors with 1.5 problems each. Energy, retail, other services and the health and social sector are midfield, all averaging 1.3 concerns. Problems appear to be most homogeneous in the construction industry, where those responsible only mentioned 1.1 different categories on average.

When looking at the particular concerns and tasks, industry respondents seem to be in relative agreement. Opening up new markets seems to be the most pressing issue affecting almost all industries, with the exceptions of retail as well as health and social services. While retail companies are above all concerned with new communication strategies, health and social services are particularly focusing on external framework conditions. This is not surprising because this sector is plagued by a number of ongoing political issues, such as healthcare reforms, care reforms and the pension debate. For this reason, companies operating in this industry are keenly focusing their attention on Berlin and Brussels to allow them to prepare for relevant new decisions in good time.

Online presence: the magic words for opening up new markets

Which methods do marketing experts work with most often? Which tools will become even more important for their work in future? The answer is relatively clear: seven in ten respondents are almost exclusively focusing on the internet when it comes to tapping into and developing new markets. The importance of online presence has increased by 10 percentage points on the previous year's figure, with banks, retail and insurance companies, in particular, developing opportunities in the online world. Most are taking the entire range of options into consideration, but social media activity is a must-have for many.

However, it would be a mistake to draw from this the conclusion that personal and direct contact is becoming less important. Chatting with customers on the phone, meeting shareholders at specialist trade fairs or field agents going on tour will continue to be key components of the marketing mix, especially with regard to sales and B2B business. Despite the major online affinity of marketing managers, traditional media will still be used. Television, radio and printed documents and direct marketing are the top three most important tools, followed by advertising measures and public relations for image cultivation ranking fourth. More than one in ten marketing strategists are very much conscious of the fact that it is only possible to convey a good external image if things run smoothly internally. Accordingly, further training of employees, market research into the relevant field and acquisition of new machines and technology are also increasingly part of the standard repertoire of marketing managers.

Looking to the future: who will stay and who will go

Competition drives business – while this saying is rather good from a customer's perspective, for marketing strategists competitiveness is considered a major challenge for the future. Demographic, economic and social developments – especially the threat of a lack of trained staff – are also top of the list of concerns. These issues are above all on the agenda for health sector and other service providers. Third and fourth in the rankings are optimized customer support and the threat of international competition. The latter is particularly weighing on the minds of companies in the manufacturing and production industries. Retailers and those working in finance are thinking about how to best deal with “the customer as king”.

Plans for the next few years: policy will help decide

Will there soon be banking supervisory? How will the energy change progress? What can be done about the lack of doctors in the country? There are many questions which policy must strive to answer in the coming years. How much companies are thinking about political framework conditions depends on how strongly a company is affected by legislation. Marketing experts in healthcare, the energy, water and transport sectors, other services and the financial industry feel they will be affected by such challenges in future. Issues relating to corporate identity and brand image, including the buzz word sustainability, are hardly given any weighting (anymore).

Seeing the world through customers' eyes and tackling new trends whilst keeping track of the competition and hoping for favorable framework conditions – marketers will again have to master a mountain of challenges in the new year in order to contribute to business success. Given the task that lies ahead, the wise words of Confucius might be worth bearing in mind: The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.

Data source: GfK Verein (Study “Marketing concerns 2013”, December 2013)

If you have any queries concerning this article, please contact Claudia Gaspar,  e-mail: or Ulrike Mühlbacher, GfK SE

January 2014