Marketers boxed in by consumer channel preferences

Those are among the findings from the annual fast.Map/DMA Marketing-GAP Tracker survey. Each year, it asks consumers about their likes and dislikes in how marketers make contact. It also asks marketers to estimate what consumers will say. How closely aligned the two sets of figures are reflects the extent to which marketers understand their targets.

It is perhaps surprising that nearly a quarter of consumers would rather not have any contact with a company they have already done business with. It is no surprise that marketers underestimate this resistance – after all, the whole basis of relationship marketing is to assume a level of engagement.

In terms of the channel mix, though, marketers are behind the curve in their assumptions about email, which the majority of existing customers prefer, but which only three in ten marketers think they would like best. It is also evident that new channels, such as mobile phone calls and SMS, excite the marketing community far more than their customers, who barely acknowledge these options. There has even been a resurgence in the popularity of direct mail among customers which many marketers have missed.

The shock for any marketers running acquisition programmes is the continued negative view among prospects revealed in the survey. Two-thirds say they do not want cold contact of any type, whereas only four in ten marketers take a pessimistic view about their permission to market.

A notable shift in preference among prospects has taken place over the course of the last 12 months with many consumers falling out of love with the mobile as a means of receiving sales calls. During 2008, a quarter said they preferred this channel – and the same level of marketers shared this enthusiasm. By 2009, consumer preference for a call on their mobile had fallen by a third.

In fact, prospect preferences have declined across the board, possibly reflecting lower consumer confidence and disposable incomes. Even so, marketers remain far more enthusiastic about cold calling to land lines and sending SMS messages than their targets are.

David Cole, managing director of fast.Map says: “There is a general lack of realism about marketers’ views of the consumer. The whole report is shocking. We’ve seen year after year that marketers get it wrong, particularly about their customers.”

He believes that the traditional emphasis on the creative message continues to overshadow the importance of insight into channel preferences. “Marketers don’t take preferences into account when mapping out their marketing plan. A case in point is email where people are being bombarded and we are seeing a small reduction in preference for that channel as a result.”

Getting permission to market is also increasingly difficult. The survey found that 77 per cent of prospects always tick the opt-out box, as do 25 per cent of customers, to stop being contacted again. Yet only just over one third (36 per cent) of marketers assumed that prospects would always exercise this option.

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