The majority of marketing studies tend to focus on either the consumer or producer (business) side of the equation, essentially only telling half of the story. I tend to prefer a more holistic approach. Such is the case with a newly released study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and Lyris analyzing the differing perceptions among marketing executives and consumers regarding the effectiveness of various marketing channels. The study finds significant gaps in perception regarding how consumers prefer to engage with brands, what influences their purchase decisions, and how they view privacy. It also highlights an emerging trend in marketing: the mass adoption of the internet, mobile and social is creating a tech-savvy consumer that has an almost organic relationship with technology.
This has two repercussions that can be regarded as both boon and bane for marketers: 1) there is an overwhelming amount of consumer data to analyze and parse out, and 2) consumers are expecting more out of brands- including personalized, on-demand marketing and always-on customer service; this puts ever more pressure on marketers to use the data at their disposal to continually redefine their understanding of what the user wants in order to enhance the user experience. This is especially relevant because, if we take as a given that the consumer is king, then any gap between consumer and business perception of marketing effectiveness must be viewed as a loss for business.
To better understand this, here are a few insights gleaned from the EIU/Lyris study.
Customization over Personalization
Marketers are trying to take the easy route to personalization, mainly through "personalized" mass email blasts, and customers are seeing right through it. When asked "what frustrates you most about companies' use of online communications," 80% replied "too many unwanted email messages." On the other hand, when asked "when companies personalize their communications with you, which features do you prefer the most," personalized product recommendations (48%) and individualized content (37%) were the most common answers.
These responses underscore the relative sophistication of consumers in our modern day techonomy. They want relevant, value-added online experiences. Consumers know when marketers are faking it; they want real love.
The Power of Process
Given consumers' relative disdain for mass-marketed emails (personalized or otherwise), you'd think email is out. Not quite. When it comes to the actual purchase process (the real goal here), the consumers surveyed most prefer email for both initial product research (37%) and post-sale follow-up (52%). In spite of this, digital marketing budgets are skewed in favor of company websites over customized email lead-nurturing campaigns.
Still, the majority of consumers (51%) cited company websites as the preferred digital media channel for brand engagement (email was only 19%). This suggests brands would do well to follow inbound marketing best practices, using their websites to capture leads and then activating email lead-nurturing campaigns to offer customized content to varying consumer segments.
Big Data is a Headache
As the EIU/Lyris survey clearly demonstrates, consumers are shunning wooden attempts at personalization, instead demanding authentic exchanges and real customization. For example, a large majority (70%) stated that many of the personalized online messages they receive are annoying because the attempts are too superficial.
Data such as this suggests there is an unwritten "digital" contract emerging between the savvy tech consumer and the beleaguered marketer, wherein the former is saying, "ok, I'll let you collect my data if it helps you create a more relevant online experience for me." On this count, many businesses and marketers are falling flat.
When asked about the biggest obstacles to adopting a more effective digital marketing strategy, the executives surveyed cited the following as their top two: inadequate budgets for digital marketing and database management (50%), and a lack of capacity for analyzing big data (45%). When asked to enumerate what are the largest drivers of change in the current marketing landscape, 58% noted that the digital environment requires much more agility and speed, while 40% admitted that today's consumers are much more knowledgeable.
Mind the Gap
The EIU/Lyris study is entitled, "Mind the Marketing Gap." All London tube allusions aside, this is a pithy way to summarize the emerging problem for marketers in the digital space vis-a-vis consumers: it's clear that marketers are having trouble harnessing the power of big data to meet and exceed the expectations of their increasingly savvy target audience. For those who can crack the code, prosperity awaits. For those unable, the gap between consumer expectation and business execution will likely continue to widen until their business is swallowed up whole.