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Why consumers think your brand doesn't get it

Why consumers think your brand doesn't get it Morgan Stewart

"Marketers just don't get it!" was one common phrase at a conference I attended earlier this month. While quips like this may be useful in drawing the attention of those in the audience, few making these claims ever went on to explain exactly what marketers didn't get, nor did they offer up any hypotheses about why marketers may be having such a hard time doing so.

Truth is there is simply a huge difference between those that do "get it" and those that do not. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of marketers in the latter camp wandering aimlessly in a multichannel marketing communications landscape that is changing by the day.

This reality crystallized for me recently while working on a two-part research project. First, my firm commissioned a study by Forrester Consulting of marketers' perceptions and strategies in various multi-channel marketing initiatives. Second, we conducted our own research on how consumers want marketers to communicate with them. Comparing the attitudes of marketers and consumers toward multi-channel marketing shines a spotlight on what marketers aren't getting.

Here are a few of the areas we have identified where there is a disconnect between marketers and their customers:

Online consumers are growing tired of aggressive marketing tactics. They believe they should be in control of the messages they receive and most simply feel overwhelmed by marketers that invade their personal space.

Interviewing consumers about their perceptions of marketing, the initial reactions were almost always negative. We repeatedly heard comments like, "it's too much,"  "I just ignore it," and "it makes me mad."

But the tone changes when we asked about marketing messages from the brands they have given permission to contact them. When marketing messages come from trusted brands, there is a sense of anticipation for the next deal or next insight -- they want to be the first to know.

However, many marketers overstep the boundary separating permission from non-permission marketing. For example, marketers may assume actions, such as making a purchase, constitute permission, when in fact the consumer hasn't agreed to future communications. U.S. consumers' attitudes towards permission are changing quickly. In 2008, only 26 percent of consumers believed it was unacceptable for companies with whom they regularly conduct business, but had never given explicit permission to send them email. One year later, 50 percent believe these email messages are unacceptable.

The time may be coming when consumers avoid making purchases from companies that make these types of assumptions. Maybe they don't want a relationship; maybe they're cold and just want a damn sweater! When it comes to permission, never assume!

"It's for my friends, not for you!"
When asked about how marketers should communicate with their customers, only 31 percent disagreed with the statement, "Marketers should communicate to consumers in the same way consumers communicate with their friends." This is perhaps the most blatant example of marketers not getting it.

Consumers have clear boundaries about which channels are and are not appropriate for different types of communication. For example, the majority of teens and young adults age 18-24 communicate most often through SMS. However, as one recent college grad we interviewed summarized, "Texting is for my friends, not for you!" Another recent grad explained, "When I get a text, I think it is about something important, like where we are meeting for drinks after work. But no, it's an advertisement for some stupid service from [my phone provider] I don't want."

Consumers have distinct expectations about how and where marketers should communicate with them. They expect to see commercials on TV; they expect to register for email promotions and newsletters; they even expect phone calls or text messages about truly important things like fraud detection or travel alerts. Go beyond these realms of what consumers expect, and the risk of alienating your customers goes up significantly. Then again, done well, the potential rewards also go up.

The rule? As companies branch out from what consumers expect, the need to understand channel nuances and develop a compelling strategy becomes infinitely more important. Don't launch half-baked ideas.

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Social media
Marketers are more optimistic about the future of social media than any other marketing channel. Of those surveyed, 69 percent expect social media will be more effective in two years than it is today.

(Click to enlarge)

Consumers aren't there yet. The vast majority do not buy into the idea that social media is an appropriate place for marketing. We found that 55 percent believe social networks should be used only for personal communication, and 57 percent do not feel marketers are welcome participants in social networks.

Even worse, as the industry tries to understand the value of a fan on Facebook or a follower on Twitter, marketers cannot afford to look at these as simply new channels for their direct marketing messages. Of consumers who visit Facebook at least once a month and say they are a fan of at least one company/brand, 70 percent claim they have never given a company permission to send them information through a social network.

The growing number of case studies featuring social media success stories clearly point to its potential. However, to succeed, marketers need to overcome considerable skepticism from consumers. It's not that marketers can't launch social media campaigns, it's that they can't act and think like marketers when doing so. They must find ways to align with their fan bases and collaborate with them instead of talking at them.

So, if "marketers don't get it!" then what exactly is "it" that they don't get? Based on the comparison of the attitudes of marketers versus the attitudes of their consumers, I believe there is a pretty simple answer. Regardless of industry or the demographic of your target audience, marketers don't get that marketing is a service industry first and foremost.

Instead, 54 percent of marketers say that each channel they use competes with the others for budget. And yet, while this competition festers, customers are trying to interact with your brand. Some want your email promotions, some are DMing you on Twitter, and others are looking for a SMS shortcode for their customer service questions.

(Click to enlarge) 

Consumers don't care about which channel got funded. They simply want to interact with you according to their rules, not yours.

In an age where stories about customer service -- good and bad -- have the ability to reach millions within the course of a day, we need to move beyond siloed marketing approaches. Our job is to create better customer service experiences and make good on the bad ones quickly by listening where they are talking and responding through the channels of their choice.

At its core, our job is not much different than the job of a waiter. We are responsible for serving customers what they want and when they want it. Do that and your current customers will love you, will talk positively about you, and new customers will find you.

Morgan Stewart is director of research and strategy at ExactTarget. 

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Morgan Stewart is director of research and strategy for ExactTarget, a leading provider of on-demand email and one-to-one marketing solutions.  Morgan is responsible for conducting primary research on email marketing trends and best practices...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Derek Vest

2009, November 05

It looks like the legend in chart 1 is backwards, as the data would point to 1 being completely unacceptable and 5 being completely acceptable.