Marketers are far off the mark when trying to understand how much consumers use mobile devices and social media to interact with brands, finds the latest marketing gap survey.
Marketers overestimate consumer use of mobiles and tablets for researching, and underestimate the need for traditional customer service channels in favour of social media, according to a new study seen exclusively by Marketing Week.
The ninth Marketing Gap tracking study by research company fast.MAP, which shows the gap between consumers’ behaviour and marketers’ perceptions of it, also highlights the disparity of both groups views in terms of the use of promotions and loyalty programmes, the effectiveness of sampling before purchase and the level of help consumers require when sourcing product information.
Fast.MAP managing director David Cole says: “I was disappointed that yet again marketers have underestimated the value of human contact, looking at customer service. There isn’t [just] one consumer out there, there is a whole range, so they need to cater for traditional consumers, who are perhaps not as comfortable on the web.”
The study, produced in partnership with the Institute of Promotional Marketing (IPM) and the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM), looks at 1,000 consumers and more than 350 marketers.
Marketers believe only around half as many people favour customer care contact via email than actually do (17 per cent versus 32 per cent of consumers), and they underestimate the proportion of consumers who want to use the phone (28 per cent) by seven percentage points. Marketers are more accurate assessing the demand for face-to-face help (18 per cent), underestimating it by only two percentage points.
Email or landline phone remain consumers’ preferred routes when contacting a customer service team, and when shoppers need help or advice they prefer face-to-face contact than using a website or interacting on social media.
Continuing a regular theme of the research since fast.MAP’s questionnaire was expanded to include social media in 2010, marketers significantly overestimate the popularity of Facebook and Twitter as channels of communication. Marketers believe that 8 per cent of people favour Facebook whereas only 2 per cent do, and that 7 per cent favour Twitter compared with the real figure of just 1 per cent.
“Despite the belief among some marketers that their customers prefer to browse for answers on a website or have a live online chat, the reality is that behaviour is not changing that fast,” says David Reed, editor of IDM’s Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice.
“Don’t believe your customer services representatives will be doing their job via Twitter and Facebook next year. If listening to the customer really does mean anything to brands, then they need to hear [them] saying, ’slow down the pace of channel switching’.”
Nonetheless, several brands are evidencing a trend towards using social channels for customer service. Xbox, Tesco and Asos have all given consumers the option to use social media to discuss their service by creating dedicated Twitter accounts or hashtags to separate customer queries from general comments.
Transport operator Arriva is rolling out its customer service via social media using a monitoring platform provided by CrowdControlHQ. Arriva engages with more than 70,000 followers across 70 in-house social media accounts to communicate about possible delays, road closures and accidents, as well as dealing with queries and grievances from passengers.
It has set up regional Twitter pages using an audit trail of who posted comments, what they wrote and when, and is picked up by the relevant regional customer service department, which includes a member of staff that has been specially trained to deal with social media communications.
Nick Gordon, marketing manager at Arriva, believes it is important that the company is connected through various channels in accordance with what is convenient for the customer. With Wi-Fi being installed in new vehicles, social media has become a channel for customers to get in touch (see Marketers’ Response, below).
Gordon says: “For people on the move, it’s quick, easy and convenient – and it’s beneficial from an Arriva point of view since it cuts the amount of calls coming into our call centres. We are giving people that option: you can send a quick message on social or you can email, phone or go through the website to contact us. It’s about appealing to all our different segments.”
As well as indicating that consumers remain wedded to traditional customer service channels, fast.MAP’s study also shows that marketers are over-enthusiastic about the use of mobile and tablets when accessing the internet. Marketers expect consumers to spend far less time on their laptops and desktop computers than they say they do and more time on their mobiles and tablets.
Marketers’ estimate of how many people use their laptops as the primary device for accessing the internet is half the real figure, and their guess is a quarter lower than the figure for those using desktops. 49 per cent of people of people use laptops and 36 per cent use desktops to access the internet.
In their over-enthusiasm for the latest technology, marketers overestimate the number who usually use mobiles by more than 150 per cent and those who use tablets by 200 per cent.
Cole at fast.MAP says: “Like everyone else, marketers judge reality based on their own experience. Many of them will have tablets and access the web via mobile, so they believe everyone else is doing the same, when in reality they are not. The nature of the industry is more embracing of technology and change and the people who are driving the industry are the innovators.”
The consumer voice in the study however gives “a sense of perspective in reality”, says Cole, rather than the headlines around the latest technology and its uses for marketing.
Reed at the IDM also believes this a reflection of marketer’s personal experiences. He says: “When marketers have finished reading the latest campaign results on their tablet and checking messages on their smartphone, they should spare a thought for the technologically impoverished consumer.
“Despite expectations among nearly half of marketers that old-school devices have been ditched by consumers in favour of the latest mobile window on the world, half of their customers are actually still browsing via their laptop and one-third make do with a desktop device.”
The need to be seen as innovative and using new techniques is also prevalent in marketers’ tendency to devalue the use of more traditional techniques such as promotions.
The study shows that more than a quarter of shoppers strongly agree and 44 per cent agree they like to buy brands that are running a promotion; 71 per cent in total. But marketers believe only 38 per cent would like to buy brands that are on promotion.
Paul Godwin, insights consultant at the IPM, says: “The single most important tool in any marketer’s armoury is a knowledge of how their customers and prospects behave. If that knowledge is based solely on received wisdom, personal prejudice or experience, then it isn’t knowledge at all but supposition.”
“Marketers are magpies,” he says, claiming that they are too quick to jump on new ideas so that they are seen to be positioning their brand as innovative. “Innovation is there within almost all marketing strategies so they look for new techniques and routes to new audiences.”
Loyalty programmes such as Avios, which launched its first international Avios Travel Rewards Programme in South Africa this month, are also popular with consumers and is the biggest driver for brand consideration beyond the brand a consumer would normally buy. The study reveals that 35 per cent sometimes buy and 21 per cent often buy because of loyalty and reward schemes.
Nick Pilbeam, director of new markets and business development at Avios Group, says: “Loyalty is and should always be concerned with the behaviours and motivations of consumers, so it’s important that loyalty programmes are relevant and rewarding, giving something back to the consumer.”
A trend has also appeared since the last fast.MAP study was carried out, in the form of ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) marketing. It involves consumers gathering and researching information from a variety of sources that influence their final decision, however they still require marketers to help them with this.
The study shows that people expect brands and service providers to give all the information they need to make a buying decision, and then they will purchase when and where they want. Shoppers view the provision of such options as the norm and are inclined to be critical when anything is missing.
Basic shopper information requirements include an easy-to-navigate website with maximum product information, images and unbiased reviews, with links to ‘help’ pages and order-taking available online, by phone and by mail. Also, brands are often expected to have a presence on comparison sites, mobile apps, printed brochures, offers and promotions.
Industry-specific questions in fast.MAP’s research on how consumers shop for utilities, credit and insurance show the current gap between the views of consumers and marketers in researching and purchasing. They also highlight the DIY trend in the buying process.
The growth in choice overall, for both consumer and marketer, could be one important cause of the gap between marketers’ perceptions of consumer behaviour and what they are actually doing. Consumers have more choice in how, when and where to shop and marketers have an array of channels to use for marketing to those consumers. Godwin at the IPM also believes that “choices increase with numerous channels and techniques that can be used, but with the same funds harder choices have to be made”.
Fast.MAP’s Cole says: “There is so much choice that brands have to really convince consumers to come over the precipice and purchase. It is an extraordinary array of channels and influence that brands now have a responsibility to provide and it all impacts on that decision process.”
Cole also suggests that brands’ employees need to work together. “In the past you had managers who were responsible for far more with a narrower skills set and these days there are so many different departments that need to pull together in the purchase cycle. You need to be constantly thinking and getting into the mind of the consumer and how they are reacting to your process, which is very difficult.”
Director of new markets and business development
Loyalty is and should always be concerned with the behaviours and motivations of consumers, so it’s important that loyalty programmes are relevant and rewarding, giving something back to the consumer. Data is key to a good customer loyalty strategy.
We’ve seen many retailers relying increasingly on money-off vouchers and offers during the challenging economic period, as a tactic to attract customer spending. While these marketing tools are undoubtedly popular and are able to drive short-term sales, they are relatively expensive to businesses and do not secure long-term brand loyalty.
More importantly, as transactional rewards, they do not resonate with or leverage consumers’ emotional decision making. Reward programmes that appeal to consumers’ emotional and aspirational needs are the most successful, as they go one step further.
The ultimate aim for any brand strategy is building and driving brand loyalty. Whether the business is a major supermarket retailer or a luxury product with a niche market, attracting and maintaining customers is central to both strengthening reputation and boosting the bottom line.
Using social media for customer service is becoming more prevalent because people want answers quickly and the response times you expect with social is quicker than any other form of communication. If you send someone an email, you might expect a response in a couple of days but with social media people want or expect an answer within half an hour at the most, and that’s symptomatic of where society is as well.
The strategy for Arriva would be to drive more traffic through social in that respect because it’s a quicker and easier way for the customer to get a response and quicker and easier for us to deal with those enquiries as well.
We have certainly seen an increase in the last 12 months in customers using both Facebook and Twitter to ask us questions that would otherwise have been done via email or on the phone. That said, we wouldn’t restrict those other forms of communication in the future because we understand that different types of customers want to contact us in different ways.