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Ignore Consumers' Channel Preferences

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors

The results of a new study (for more details and good insights on this study, see Bank Marketing Strategy) found that:

“50% of U.S consumers prefer direct mail to email.”

But wait. One of the leading social media gurus wrote:

“…with social networks becoming the preferred channel of communication among connected consumers, businesses are losing ground and faith. “

Hold on. Crossview found in 2010 that:

“37% of US in-store shoppers’ preferred method of recieving retail promotions in via email. Only 9% of US in-store shoppers prefer to receive promotional messages on social media sites.”

So who’s right?

My take: It doesn’t matter. Marketers should ignore studies like these (not to mention seat-of-the-pants remarks from social media gurus).

Why ignore them? Because these studies are designed — and used — to do nothing more than allay the insecurities of marketers who have a vested interest in the channel that comes out on top of the study.

These studies violate the principles of right-channeling which states that there is a “right” channel for each type of transaction, interaction, or message. What’s “right” is determined by a number of factors including the consumers’ preferences and behaviors, the cost (to the firm) of delivering the message or executing the transaction or interaction, and the timing considerations of the message or interaction.

Just because 50% of consumers — actually, we should say “survey respondents” — said that they “prefer” direct mail to email, doesn’t mean they don’t want email, nor does it mean that they want every communication through direct mail.

Can you imagine your customers getting an email from you and thinking “Damn! I wish they had sent that through direct mail”?

Findings and claims like the ones at the beginning of this post are completely useless to marketers.

Caveat: Since I know someone is going to say this, let me preempt their disagreement by saying that, yes, I understand that there are times when you shouldn’t ignore your customers’ channel preferences. Like when they tell you specifically that they want, say, low balance alerts to be delivered to their smartphone or through email.

I get that. But if you can’t figure out the difference between that and the examples above, you shouldn’t be reading this blog.

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Digital Banking Report | 2017 Marketing Trends


  1. How many of us spend more than a second on unsolicited advertisement we receive in the mail? How many of us discard this spam without a second thought? Is direct mail the offline equivalent of spam?

    As with email spam, there is a portion of the population that clicks on the message and responds to the message. Likewise, as with offline spam – there will always be a portion of the population that reads offline spam (aka direct mail advertisement) and responds. But how many organizations can get excited about sub 1% read-rates and even lower response rates?

    No doubt there is plenty of hype associated with every segment of marketing. After all, we are talking about marketing… which to many represents the ‘art of hype’.

    However, smart executives will force their vendors and partners to share the risk. That is, have your marketing firm guarantee results based on their “expertise”. Force them to base their pricing based on deliverables… which might be customers, loans, deposit accounts, what-ever is the goal of the advertising campaign. Force your vendors to be performance based! If they refuse, find true partners who are willing to put “skin in the game”.

  2. Serge: These “channel preference” studies do nothing but give vendors ammunition to wave in the faces of their clients and prospects. Not one of them will put “skin in the game” or do a “pay for performance” deal.

  3. Buyers – eg. Banks and Credit Unions – should force their vendors into performance marketing deals. It is time that “pay for performance” became the standard.

    This is a good deal for buyers (Banks and Credit Unions) and a great deal for those vendors who are able to back up their words with results.

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