Working with marketing leaders and business decision makers from regional, national and global companies provides incredible perspective.

While I look forward to reading the annual wave of “big picture” articles on national and global marketing trends, the fun part of my job is studying the short-term and longer-term expectations of our clients and prospects and making sure we are ready to help them grow.

What are we seeing in our market place? Here are a few trends I’ve noticed recently:

Marketing Budgets

JPL experienced 34 percent growth in 2011, a record-setting year for our organization. Without question, we saw companies re-investing in their brands and marketing programs over the past 12 months.

With that said, I don’t think marketing budgets have fully recovered to where they were before the recession. Companies are prioritizing and spending their marketing dollars very carefully. They are totally focused on making sure their marketing efforts deliver tangible results.

Marketing Mindsets

Marketing leaders are under intense pressure to contribute to the bottom line. Companies will invest in marketing and brand building, but they expect those programs and campaigns to deliver measurable return on investment like never before.

Additionally, companies that are spending on marketing today have an aggressive mindset. They don’t see marketing as an expense. They view it as an investment to grow and make money. And that’s what they rightfully should expect.

I think that’s why we saw significant growth last year. Our programs are delivering results, and that’s how our clients are justifying their marketing expenditure.

Today’s Priorities

Over the past year or so, we’ve seen companies focusing in three primary areas: we’re developing lead generation programs and campaigns for clients. We’re building sales support tools for them. And we’re helping companies build their brands in targeted market segments where they know they can grow.

Metrics-Driven Campaigns

The traditional advertising campaigns of the past no longer meet our client’s needs or expectations. Today, everything we’re doing has a digital marketing foundation. We build a campaign or communications program with an emphasis on online advertising, social media and mobile marketing. We still use traditional advertising, but it’s a piece of the campaign, not the entire campaign. Some time ago, we developed a methodology we call “Accountable Campaignssm.” It is a metrics-driven approach to building communications programs and campaigns, and it allows us to measure the effectiveness of each campaign element. We continue to see more and more interest in this approach.

Tablets and Mobile

Technology is at the center of everything we do for clients today. We’re developing tablet applications and mobile apps to help clients engage their customers and prospects in new ways, conveniently, while they’re on the go. We’re also working with companies to make their sales tools more accessible and more effective for their sales teams. For example, companies are arming their sales professionals with iPads loaded with all their selling tools and information. We’re developing those robust, easy-to-use applications that include everything from product configurators to product demo videos.

Longer-Term Trends

Data and Insights

We all know data is power in marketing today, and I only see that intensifying in the future.

I’m impressed by how our clients are increasingly interested in leveraging data. More companies will drive data from their websites and social media activity into their CRM systems. That data allows their sales and marketing teams to better understand the needs, expectations and behaviors of their customers and prospects. It allows marketing teams to focus and prioritize their resources, and it gives them the intelligence to help the sales team close sales and grow.

Capturing data gets easier and easier. The challenge will continue to be in translating information overload into competitive advantage. Companies will continue to expect their marketing teams and their external partners to “connect the dots” fast and efficiently and provide real-time insights and actionable recommendations as the story is developing.

Lead Generation Programs

We also expect to see clients continuing to construct their marketing programs to generate and nurture leads and selling opportunities because these kinds of programs directly impact a company’s ability to grow.

Social and Brand Loyalty

We’re also going to see social media continue to evolve and play a significant role in our marketing programs. Companies are increasingly asking for our guidance on how to leverage their social channels in a meaningful, results-oriented way. It is a powerful tool to engage customers in a dialogue — a conversation that builds customer loyalty. It turns customers into advocates for your brand. We expect that to continue to build into the future.

Content Marketing

Finally, there will be an increasing need for content development and content marketing. For companies using social media, they must constantly develop fresh, new content to drive their social media programs. That can be challenging. There has to be a plan for how new, relevant content is going to be created as part of the social program.

Fresh, dynamic content is also an important tool for proactive selling, for sales teams that are reaching out to their prospects. In many businesses, the sales cycle is very long. As you move a prospect through the sales process, you want to proactively share success stories, product updates and other valuable information to move them toward closing the sale. Again, there has to be a plan for how that content is developed on a sustained basis.

The Challenges

The challenges facing our industry are actually exciting opportunities.

Change = Opportunity

As marketers, our industry is in a constant state of change. The use of social media, digital marketing and mobile marketing is continuing to evolve. New technologies are being introduced to engage consumers differently, more effectively, uniquely.

We are constantly studying and thinking about how to do things differently and better. We have to stay on top of new technologies and techniques to serve our clients at the highest level. Our clients expect us to be experts in these areas, to be experts in marketing innovation. That’s both a challenge and an opportunity.

Prioritize and Focus

For our clients, they are challenged to prioritize and focus. There are so many marketing tools available today, but it takes resources and budget to effectively utilize them. Marketing leaders are charged to set the right plan, and find the right mix of marketing tools to help their organizations grow.

What are you experiencing? Do you see similar or different trends in your organization? What will be your marketing priorities, challenges and opportunities over the next several years?