What the Tools Marketers Use Can Tell Us About This Current Moment 

A worker is only as good as their tools. Just like carpenters rely on hammers and saws to build stuff, marketers depend on a growing range of applications to handle things, like design, sales, and collaboration. 

The 2023 Okta Businesses at Work report takes a look at the applications and services used by companies around the world. Based on anonymized data from Okta customers collected between November 1, 2021, and October 31, 2022, the report reveals what’s inside the toolboxes of some of the world’s most innovative and successful organizations.

You can tell a lot about the direction of a company — or, more broadly speaking, its industry — by looking at the apps and services it uses, and the pace it adopts new technologies. It’s an indirect indicator of confidence, ambition, and strategy. And the 2023 Okta Businesses At Work report shows compelling growth in the design, sales and marketing, and content collaboration sectors. 

Post-pandemic marketing

Design software — the previous top-performing category in the 2022 Okta Businesses at Work report — maintained its upward trajectory, with 31% growth in customers and 60% growth in users. 

Sales and marketing tools also enjoyed a double-digit boost, with customers and unique users climbing by 23% and 53%, respectively. Content collaboration tools, meanwhile, saw their customer numbers leap by a strong 28%. 

Of course, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. We have to look at them in context. During the period Okta collected its data, two major events took place. First, life finally started to resemble its pre-Covid normality. With each jab and booster delivered, consumers and businesses grew more confident. For nearly two years, entire segments of the economy lingered under a cloud of uncertainty, unsure of when the next emergency lockdown would arrive. 

Normality meant, in practice, that businesses in the leisure and travel industry (to name just two examples) could stop thinking about surviving and start contemplating how best to take advantage of the massive pent-up consumer demand. Consumers could make plans without worrying about another outbreak ruining their plans. 

At least, that’s part of the story. A tidal wave of inflation quickly dampened consumer demand. Inflation is a challenge for marketers. If prices go up, but salaries remain the same, consumers have less money to spend. And so, the competition for each dollar of a person’s disposable income becomes fierce. 

As the Harvard Business Review pointed out in 2008, following another period of price inflation, brands must invest heavily in their marketing efforts, paying close attention to research and messaging. 

This advice is evergreen. Innovation, empathy, and agility have always served marketers well — particularly in challenging times. The difference is that marketers have incredibly powerful tools at their disposal that simply weren’t available back in 2008. 

The fastest-growing enterprise marketing apps

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, when looking at the 50 most popular enterprise apps recorded, three of the five fastest-growing had an obvious utility for marketers. 

Figma — which reported the highest unique user growth of 81% YoY — is a collaborative design tool, allowing teams to quickly build and implement user interfaces across mobile and web. It also clinched the second-place spot on the customer growth leaderboard, losing only to Sentry, an application monitoring tool. 

Miro, which boasted the second-highest unique user growth, is a collaborative whiteboard tool that’s incredibly helpful for ideation and project planning. Hubspot, ranked fourth for unique user growth, is a giant in the CRM (customer relationship management) space, and also performs a brisk trade in inbound marketing, collaboration, and content management tools. 

When we expand our data beyond the top 50 apps in the leaderboard, this trend continues. Businesses are adopting marketing-centric apps at an incredible velocity. 

Grammarly was the overall second-fastest growing app across our customers, with 124% YoY growth. Notion, a productivity and note-taking tool, held fourth place with 113% YoY customer growth. 

What the numbers say

Sure, these figures tell us a story about the incredible growth of certain applications, and how Figma and others have quickly established themselves as essential components in the marketer’s toolbelt. But they also suggest a broader narrative of marketers feeling increasing pressure to perform. 

The lifting of pandemic restrictions presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capitalize on a wave of pent-up consumer spending, and marketers needed to recapture the ground lost during the dreary days of lockdown. As economies reopened and the economic realities changed, they needed to shift gears — and the tools to do so. 

Then came another economic reality. Inflation — an endemic problem across the globe — presented marketers with a slightly different problem. As prices rise, marketers need to understand their customers better. They must adjust their messaging and branding to reflect the current reality, emphasizing the values that make their product a compelling choice, even during times of economic uncertainty. 

And that’s ultimately reflected in the types of tools people are using. Figma’s unique selling point is that it radically accelerates the time taken to design user interfaces, thereby allowing development, design, and marketing teams to iterate rapidly and reduce time-to-market. Miro helps distributed teams reach consensus, create rough mock-ups of designs and interfaces, and plan projects. 

Hubspot is … well. You know Hubspot. It’s a giant in the inbound marketing and CRM space. With Google set to deprecate support for third-party tracking cookies in 2024, and marketers forced to rely further on their first-party and zero-party data, we expect to see its growth continue in the years to come. 

These tools aren’t an exhaustive list of every marketing-friendly product at play, or even those with the fastest growth across the customer and unique user segments. I could easily point to other applications and services like Adobe CC, Lucidchart, and Salesforce. But they do illustrate a sense of urgency among marketers to move fast, drive sales, and obtain actionable customer insights that will help them navigate these choppy waters.

More than your toolbox 

To read the full Okta Businesses at Work 2023 report, click here. It gives you the low-down on the fastest-growing enterprise applications and services, how preferences have changed with our post-pandemic world, and the tools relied upon by organizations to protect themselves in an increasingly dangerous online landscape. 

Picking the right tool for the job is important, but it’s not everything. You can have perfect messaging and a 360-degree understanding of your customers, but if your UX underwhelms, they won’t convert. Login and sign-up flows are two of the biggest potential causes of customer attrition, but they’re also easily fixed. To learn more, check out our report: Why Your Customers Aren’t Converting

If your martech stack is stifled by identity or security limitations, it’s time to adopt a modern CIAM platform. Okta CIC’s best-in-breed security and extensibility features can help. To learn more, reach out to our team here.