A majority of the world's top marketing executives recognise a critical and permanent shift occurring in the way they engage with their customers, but seem unprepared to manage the change, an IBM study has revealed.

The study, released on Jan. 11 in HCM City , polled over 1,700 chief marketing officers (CMOs) in 64 countries and 19 industries, including 70 CMOs in ASEAN member countries.

While 59 percent of ASEAN CMOs (global 63 percent) think return on marketing investment will be the primary measure of the marketing function's effectiveness by 2015, even among the most successful enterprises, they could not provide specific numbers.

Most of them say they lack significant influence in key areas such as product development, pricing, and selection of sales channels.

Customers are sharing their experiences widely online, giving them more control and influence over brands, a shift in the balance of power from organisations to their customers that requires new marketing approaches to stay competitive. CMOs are aware of this changing landscape, but are struggling to respond.

"The inflection point created by social media represents a permanent change in the nature of customer relationships," Giuseppe Bruni, head of the strategy and transformation, global business services, IBM ASEAN, said.

Collectively, the study findings point to four key challenges that CMOs everywhere are confronting: the explosion of data (ASEAN 56 percent, global 71 percent), social media (ASEAN 64 percent, global 68 percent), channel and device choices (ASEAN 48 percent, global 65 percent), and shifting demographics (ASEAN 52 percent, global 63 percent), which are expected to be pervasive and game changers for their marketing organisations.

To grapple with data explosion, ASEAN CMOs are more likely to use social media (ASEAN: 93 percent, Global: 82 percent), customer analytics (ASEAN: 89 percent, Global: 81 percent), and customer relationship management (ASEAN: 85 percent, Global: 81 percent) tools.

CMOs are looking at three key areas for improvement – delivering value to empowered customers, fostering lasting connections, and capturing value and measuring results.

The majority of the CMOs surveyed are still focused on traditional sources of information such as market research (ASEAN 84 percent, global 82 percent), competitive benchmarking (ASEAN 83 percent, global 80 percent), and sales campaign analysis (ASEAN 61 percent, global 68 percent) to make strategic decisions./.