Do Marketing Professionals Really Understand Consumer Behaviour When It Comes To Social Media Marketing?

You’d think that the most important quality any marketing professional would need is the ability to empathise and understand consumers.

Surely they’d need to be on the same, or at least a similar sort of wavelength. Well, a new survey of Australian marketing professionals by Experian would suggest that this isn’t the case. In fact the study goes so far as to suggest that there is a distinct disconnection between marketing professionals and the audience they are intending to target. You might believe that because the research was carried down under that it has little relevance to professionals and businesses here in the UK, but the fact remains that similar attitudes appear to be endemic in all modern westernised democracies.

So, is there a problem?

Do marketing professionals really not understand the behaviour and preferences of the audience they claim to know like the back of their hand?

The Experian survey based its conclusions on the information it received from 1000 consumers and 330 Australian marketing professionals from the retail, financial services, government, technology, digital and travel industries. Its findings are surprising given that almost 60% of consumers have ceased to engage with multiple brands because of poorly targeted communications. Marketing professionals however, apparently did not see that coming, believing consumers were happy to endorse multiple brands. Consumers were happy to ignore speculative emails and promotions, and would only truly engage when brands offered giveaways and incentives: 70% placed this in the top three ways to receive their information from brands.

However, marketing professionals and consumers were able to reach a consensus about brand websites: 91% and 85% respectively naming these as the most important source of information for products and brands. Yet the disconnection was evident again when it came to attitudes about the relative merits of print and social media. Consumers overwhelmingly value print media (71%) and direct mail (60%) more highly than social media. Marketing professionals on the other hand see print media as one of the least, if not the least, important sources of information for communicating with customers, with only 28% naming it as an important channel for communication.

In terms of trust, newer channels like social media didn’t fare that well with consumers.

They were distrustful of most of the newer channels like SMS and social media for brand communication. Almost 30% put social media in the bottom 3 trusted channels; whilst only a mere 4% of consumers said it was the channel they trusted the most. Marketing professionals unsurprisingly held contrary views and put the newer channels at the top of their agenda.

According to Matt Glasner, general manager of Experian Marketing Solutions, this sort of contrasting behaviour can be put down solely to the relative infancy of social media’s use in marketing, coupled with the fact that 89% of Australian marketers now use a customer segmentation strategy as a general rule: however, they tend not to use this same strategy with newer communication channels like social media – at least not yet. However he was also keen to point out that this is a comparable situation to 5 years ago where email and EDM marketing were then the ingénues or new kids on the block:

“The challenges uncovered by the research are similar to the barriers we saw five or so years ago when customers lacked trust in emails and EDMs. Yet, for many brands, these are now common place communication channels which are highly valued by customers.”

Glasner believes the opportunity lies in bringing the level of consumer segmentation seen in traditional channels to social media campaigns, and warns that the era of multichannel marketing brings the challenge of information overload to the fore. He also argues that marketers need to be more selective than ever in their choices of communication. Over the next year he believes most marketers will increase their investment in social media advertising and develop the channel:

“Marketers are working hard to ensure their messages are heard. However, our research highlights that there is still a huge opportunity for marketers to further understand how and when consumers want to engage across all channels, including social media.”

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