What Consumers Want—Channel Preference Matters for Marketers

In a recent post, I talked about the “Consumer Decision Journey,” a fresh perspective on how consumers evaluate and make purchase decisions, developed by the consulting firm, McKinsey. McKinsey was addressing the fact that consumer behavior is changing, and with it, marketers need to change their thinking from a simple process of lead qualification to a more iterative, circular process of cultivating and engaging consumer interest at various stages.

A new study by Epsilon Targeting, the data services division of marketing service firm Epsilon, not only confirms the new reality of this journey, but also suggests that consumers “have very clear preferences and strong reasons for making certain channel choices.” In fact, says the study, more than ever, marketers need to understand consumers’ channel preferences and distribute information to them via the most appropriate channels.

This presents a significant challenge to the typical marketer, because there are so many media channel choices available today. It’s easy for an online marketer to become complacent and rely solely on the Internet, but in some cases, it may be advisable to supplement an online program with traditional media. You may have noticed, for example, that despite the fact Amazon is an online company, it uses television and print ads to promote its Kindle Fire. Why wouldn’t the company restrict its efforts to online media, you might ask? I think it’s because Amazon recognizes there is a broad world out there, and the company wants to reach consumers in big numbers who consume traditional media, not just online media.

Surprising Data for Online Marketers

The Epsilon Targeting study, which surveyed over 2,200 consumers age 18-plus in the United States, includes some data that might be quite surprising to online marketers. Consider the fact, for example, that 50 percent of respondents said “postal mail gets more attention” than email and 59 percent said they “enjoy getting postal mail from brands about new products.” In contrast, 65 percent said they “receive too many emails in one day” and 75 percent said they “get a lot more emails that I do not open.” Pretty ironic given the U.S. Postal Service’s ongoing crisis, isn’t it? The data suggests, perhaps, that there is a sort of backlash against promotional email that may be making traditional direct mail attractive again.

Channel Preference and Channel Trustworthiness

The most telling data from the study is the notion of “channel preference.” It seems that consumers vary in the channels they use regularly, the channels they prefer, and the channels they trust. Facebook and mobile phones were the only channels showing growth among U.S. consumers in terms of regular usage. In fact, 61 percent of respondents said they have a Facebook account.

As for preference, the preferred channel changes based on the type of information being consumed, but in general, consumers prefer receiving information about consumer products and services via direct mail rather than email. For insurance and financial services products, for example, 36 percent of consumers prefer traditional mail over other channels. For prescription drugs, 37 percent prefer traditional mail. For the travel category, however, only 21 percent prefer traditional mail.

Media trustworthiness presents a somewhat different picture. Newspapers and company websites were rated as the most trustworthy media (21 percent), followed by direct mail (16 percent), television (15 percent), and email (10 percent). Interestingly, it was social media that was rated the lowest in trustworthiness. While Facebook was considered somewhat more trustworthy (8 percent), blogs, online forums, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media were at the bottom of the scale (6 percent).

Despite the lower trustworthiness scores for online media, 53 percent of consumers say they use the Internet weekly to search for new products and ideas. Company websites are the most trusted of the sources found on the Internet.

The “deal” reached a level of prominence in 2011, demonstrated by the fact that 34 percent of respondents said they receive an emailed deal on a daily basis, and 12 percent receive deals weekly. But only 1 percent of those who receive daily deals and 3 percent of those who receive weekly deals purchase them, suggesting that the viability of deals in the long-term could be something of a house of cards.

Giving Consumers What They Want When They Want It

Not unlike McKinsey’s notion that the consumer is driving a circular consideration process, Epsilon says the data from its study proves:

“The consumer is in charge and must feel empowered by having choices about how to receive information and how to interact with it. Consumers must have the power to customize what they receive and to act on what is compelling in the most convenient, least time-consuming way.”

Going forward, this means marketers will have to adjust the use of media channels to meet the specific needs of their target audiences. One thing seems very clear—we’re living in a more complex marketing world that demands paying a lot more attention to what consumers want.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

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