Survey of 2,021 customers reveals disconnects between customer preferences and marketing practices
By Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa
How well do you know my mom?
Or any of your other customers?
Let me give you an example. The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed me about research MarketingSherpa conducted with 2,021 consumers and 455 marketers. We were looking for disconnects between what consumers say they want and what marketers actually do, to help us as we build content for the upcoming MarketingSherpa Summit.
So, like any good son, I shared The Wall Street Journal article with my mom. Her response, "You should have researched me. I want to know - 'Why don't companies stop emailing me if I don't buy for a while?'"
The question seemed odd to me - if she doesn't like the email, why doesn't she just unsubscribe? And then it hit me...
Customers expect brands to know what they want
The media is filled with stories about data - big data, data analytics, data breaches, etc., etc. For example, just on The Huffington Post alone, more than 250 stories are tagged as Internet Privacy.
The lay consumer does not understand how hard it is for marketers to make sense of this data to really understand what customers want.
For the older set (my mom self-identified as "And you can tell them I'm in the 65+ demographic") - the digital tourist - there is still a bit of magic to it all and they assume companies can use this new technology to give them what they want.
Younger customers - especially digital natives - have been brought up to expect that this is simply how the world works. Every desire they have should instantly be met with a user-friendly interface.
So how are marketers doing?
According to our paired surveys, marketers still have a ways to go to truly give customers what they want.
For example, there is a disconnect between consumers and brands in terms of how email is received. Three-quarters (76%) of brands said "subscribers get email updates at a pre-determined frequency" while only 24% of consumers desired to "subscribe to receive emails at a pre-determined frequency (chosen by the brand)." On the flip side, 49% of consumers desired to "subscribe to emails at a frequency I choose" while only 14% of brands say "subscribers get email updates at a frequency they choose."
In another example, brands may be underestimating consumers' desire to shop locally and receive a product right away, instead of waiting to receive a package that is shipped to them. The bottom tactic among marketers (only 5%) "alert customers when products they are looking for are in-stock at a store near them (via email, website or mobile phone)" was requested by 26% of consumers.
Also, marketers may overestimate the power of simply sticking a Facebook logo on a billboard or postcard. When asked why they follow brands on social media, "I see their social media icon (e.g. in email, on website print ad) during an interaction with them" was the third-lowest response for consumers (16%), and yet "prominently display social media icons in email, on website, in print ads, etc." was the second most common tactic used by marketers (61%) to entice customers to follow brands' social media accounts.
And now the good news
In good news for brands, only 8% of consumers said "I prefer not to receive any company updates or promotions."
Marketers are certainly in tune with some consumer preferences. For example, email was the most popular communication method for consumers (60%) and used almost universally by brands - 90%, the top response.
So what is the answer?
I can't give you a buzzword-laced simplistic answer, like "use big data."
In fact, brands are using so-called "big data" practices somewhat more than consumers prefer. Only 5% (the least popular response) of consumers want companies to "tailor their websites around my preferences using publicly available data (e.g. info I've shared on social media, other websites I've visited, gender, location)" and yet 15% of brands are doing just that. That said...
Customer intimacy is the goal
Any good relationship has a level of intimacy. And the relationship between a customer and brand should be no different.
So while organizations with realistic resource restraints can't possibly know everything customers want, the essential question you should ask within your organization is - how can we become more intimate with our customers and put their needs first using resources we already have (and while respecting privacy concerns)?
Here are some examples to get you thinking.
Use behavioral data you already have about your customers
To address my mom's concerns, a retailer could run a win-back campaign like CNET did - triggered by a certain level of inactivity (say, customers that haven't clicked on an email in the past 180 or 365 days.) There is no big data involved. You likely already have this info on subscriber activity in your email platform. Marriott used data from its Rewards program to create infographics with six individual data points specific to each member, helping to increase revenue 86% year-over-year.
Ask your customers for data
Ask customers to voluntarily provide data...and use it to serve them better. IAC subsidiary HomeAdvisor increased email-generated revenue 114% by, among other things, providing information about remodeling costs in a recipient's city (info that subscribers provide when they sign up to receive quotes from contractors).
Flash sale site Doggyloot generated 750% higher clickthrough rate and more revenue by asking customers the size of their dog and then sending customized offers.
Run split tests with your customers to collect new data
You can also create hypotheses about your customers and test to discover what your customers really want. Pinterest is a key social media platform for WeddingWire, the leading online marketplace in the wedding industry. Testing a "Pin Now, Read For Later" email newsletter section resulted in a 31% lift in re-pins from email.
While marketers and consumers won't always see eye-to-eye, the differences don't have to be as dramatic as the houses of Stark and Lannister. After all, all marketers are consumers as well. What we want as customers - getting our needs met without violating our trust - is what we should deliver as marketers.
However, since we aren't always in the same demographic as our customers, we must use this empathy as guiding principle while learning what unique expectations customers have of our brands. We can do this by making better use of data we already know about customers, transparently asking them for more information to better serve them, and testing to see what really works. The end result is a win-win - happy customers and better bottom-line results.