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How Do Consumers Want to Receive Updates and Promotions?

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin

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

Every once in a while I come across consumer research that reports a data point that I find astonishing, surprising, and, well….just too hard to swallow. I’d like to share one of those data points with you.

MarketingSherpa commissioned an online survey of a nationally representative sample of U.S. consumers, and asked them:

“In which of the following ways, if any, would you prefer to receive regular updates and promotions from companies that you are interested in doing business with? Please select all that apply.”

It’s 2016. Reportedly, more than eight in 10 mobile phone subscribers have a smartphone. Another source puts smartphone penetration at 57%, but that’s calculated on a base of 320.8 million people, which includes babies and toddlers. Now, I understand kids are getting smartphones at early ages these days, but including babies in the denominator seems a little extreme.

So with the proliferation of smartphones, you’d expect that people would prefer to get updates and promotions from the companies they’re interested in doing business with (that part is important) through mobile apps, right?

But hold on. Pew Research Center says two-thirds of all adults are using at least one social networking site, so people would prefer to get updates and promotions from the companies they’re interested in doing business with through social media, right?

Nope. And “no” to the previous question, as well. According to MarketingSherpa’s research, more than half of US consumers would prefer to receive regular updates through… wait for it… the US mail. Snail mail.

Thankfully (for the purpose of my sanity), roughly half of consumers said they’d prefer emails at a frequency they choose.

Despite the prevalence of smartphones, however, less than one in five consumers wants updates via text message or by downloading a mobile app. I can understand the lack of interest in text messages. But updates on a mobile app has got to have the highest convenience-to-intrusiveness ratio.

In other words, very convenient and not at all intrusive. Emails and text messages are intrusive. Updates sitting on a mobile app? Not intrusive at all.

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Just one in five consumers wanted updates through social media (which actually works out to about 30% of adults who are actually on social media).

This result is likely dependent on which social media networks people use.

I can’t see getting updates and promotions through Twitter — way too much noise and nonsense in my Twitter stream. Truth be told, thanks to all the lunatics out there, I don’t even look at my Twitter stream anymore (I know what you’re thinking: I shouldn’t follow those lunatics. I don’t. Problem is, some of you normal lunatics retweet the annoying lunatics).

Maybe many of the one in five who prefer social media are thinking of Facebook, where they can easily visit their preferred companies’ pages.

This last point gets at the underlying difference in the update approaches that MarketingSherpa asked about: There are push approaches, and there are pull approaches.

Snail mail, email, text messages are push.

Visiting a company’s web site, receiving at a physical store, and, to some extent, getting an update from a mobile app are pull.

The two most frequent responses are push methods. The next two most frequent responses are pull methods.

The lessons to marketers are:

  1. Be careful what you ask and how you ask it. When you ask consumers what they want, and give them the freedom to list as many things as they want, they’ll ask for the world, and
  2. It’s important to understand how preferences relate to each other. It would be a mistake to only offer push or pull methods for updates and promotions. A mix is important.
  3. The Rolling Stones were right. To refresh your memory, they said “you can’t always get what you want.” Consumers say they want to receive updates through the mail. That’s nice. If MarketingSherpa had followed up and said “and would you still prefer to receive those updates through the mail if your preferred companies passed on the mailing cost to you?” I bet the percentage of people preferring snail mail would be close to zero. Consumers may say they want snail mail, but that doesn’t mean they should get it.

Closing Thoughts

It would’ve been interesting to see the MarketingSherpa data cut by generation. Can’t help but wonder to what extent younger consumers prefer snail mail relative to older consumers.

And what’s with the nearly one in 10 consumers who said they’d prefer to receive updates and promotions by attending local events? What kind of events are we talking about here? I occasionally get invitations from financial planners who hold events at expensive restaurants. If that’s what we’re talking about, then I can definitely see how 10% of people want to get their updates that way.

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.

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  1. What exactly is “Updates sitting on a mobile app” or “update from a mobile app”? If they’re the same as the app alerts appearing on the smartphone notification area, they’re not pull – in fact, they’re actually called PUSH NOTIFICATIONS! On a side note, according to *my* studies, relevance of updates far outweighs channel / frequency: Customers welcome relevant updates and spurn irrelevant updates, no matter the channel or frequency.

  2. Giles Sergant says:

    Ron, your post nicely illustrates just how low general awareness is towards Notifications from installed mobile apps (from consumers and researchers).

    In my experience a surprising and significant proportion of i-phone owners have no real idea what ‘Notifications’ actually are … how they are generated, why they appear (why they disappear) and how they work.

    I can’t speak well for the US, but what’s missing in the UK is a significant brand who uses their mobile app to send push Notifications which enhance loyalty and strengthen trust amongst their customer set …. by doing it right. We need a pin up retailer, a poster child to get some real traction here.

    This has much to do with efficacy. The ‘retailer-in-your-phone’ relationship is pretty new after all. It’s also ‘alive’ (which is new too) an always-on relationship we carry around in our pocket and that’s really quite a different level of commitment by the consumer than carrying a thin bit of the retailer’s inert plastic around.

    It’s a relationship that needs to be carefully nurtured over time in order to enable it to blossom. It’s also a one-time-gift from the customer which provides the retailer with an opportunity to demonstrate they can be entrusted with this more intimate of connections by sending messages over this medium that are both timely and useful: incentives and ‘rewards’ in a fun and un-intrusive manner.

    Success here being that their unsolicited Notifications are welcomed, nay, looked forward to. But tolerance and patience is super super low on this medium – get it right and the trust that builds over this new platform deepens the consumer tie in ways not previously possible …. screw it up (or abuse it) and your app’s likely gone in a puff and whatever loyalty you’d accrued before they even got to your app could well get deleted too.

    The BLE-conisation of retail will further add an exponential component to the art-of-the-possible here. Whilst it should certainly come I for one can’t wait to see some good examples.

  3. Any ideas on why snail mail is such a popular response? I see why it’s such a terrible idea for a company to actually do, but I can’t help but wonder why someone would want to receive promotions in such a manner unless it was a company they DIDN’T want to do business with.

    Ron, I selected to have all your future posts delivered to me by carrier pigeon and read to me by a singing bard, but I still can only read them using a phone or computer. Any words on when that will be fixed?

    ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  4. The result is very surprising and interesting. Since mobile and internet user penetration is very high in the US and the rest of the world, I had always assumed that most people would prefer to receive updates via SMS (popular in Asia) or through email subscription. I wonder what is the demographics of people who answered this survey.

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