A recent study by R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company (RRD – Chicago, Illinois), a leading global provider of marketing and business communications, revealed that traditional marketing channels – including word of mouth, direct mail, and in-store signage – are still largely untapped by marketers. The study, based on surveys of both marketing professionals and consumers alike, also uncovered significant differences between marketer assumptions and what consumers say actually influences their brand awareness and purchasing decisions. In July of 2021, RRD surveyed 250 U.S.-based, mid-level to senior-level marketers across a variety of industries, as well as 1,000 consumers in the U.S.
After a year of volatility and transformation, the survey found that consumers continue to value traditional marketing channels. For nearly a third of consumers (28%), word of mouth is the preferred method for learning about a new brand, product, or service – outpacing social media (23%), cable TV (12%) and online/digital ads (11%). At the same time, a mere 4% of marketers identified word of mouth as a consumer preference for learning about new brands, products or services. The study also revealed that word of mouth has a higher research-to-purchase ratio (40%) than social media (30%), online/digital ads (27%) or print ads (16%).
“In a tumultuous and challenging year, consumers embraced traditional marketing methods as they sought to discover, research, and ultimately purchase from new brands,” said John Pecaric, President of RRD Marketing Solutions and Business Services. “Based on our survey results, marketers may need to revisit their strategies and assumptions about what customers are looking for, and adjust accordingly in order to meet their expectations.” The survey results also underscore four important themes that all point to the power of traditional marketing methods.
1. It’s time to redefine word of mouth. Word of mouth traditionally refers to consumers sharing product and brand recommendations with one another verbally. Today, this has evolved to include interactions between acquaintances on social media. Word of mouth outranked all other forms of brand discovery, with the survey findings showing that the majority (55%) of consumers have discovered a new brand, product, or service in the past year through word of mouth, followed by social media (53%). More importantly, 40% of consumers actually purchased a product after discovering it via word of mouth, topping all other channels. Yet only 7% of marketers identified word of mouth as a channel that results in consumer purchases.
2. Gen Y is excited to receive direct mail. More than half (51%) of consumers were more excited to receive direct mail in the past year than they were in the year prior, with the highest levels among Gen Y (65%), Gen Z (57%), and Gen X (53%). Baby Boomers are least likely to be excited about receiving direct mail (36%). While 67% of marketers made significant changes to their marketing strategies in the past year, the consumer data suggests that marketers should continue to fine-tune their efforts and consider re-investing in traditional marketing channels such as direct mail.
3. Consumers want to return to their ‘old’ shopping habits. The good news for retailers, including providers of printing and related services, is that 62% of consumers surveyed were eager to return to their pre-pandemic shopping habits. More than a third (35%) of consumers admit that the changes they made to their shopping habits due to the pandemic will only last less than six months. This contrasts with marketers’ assumptions, with 43% expecting consumers not to return to their pre-pandemic shopping habits for another 6-12 months. Consumers also showed a preference for retailers who effectively use in-store signage and displays, with a majority (58%) saying that in-store signage is influential to their purchasing decisions.
4. Pinterest and TikTok are on the rise while influencers wane. While consumers indicated their preference for some forms of traditional marketing channels, their engagement with brands online and via social media continues to evolve, posing additional complexities for marketers looking to connect with their audiences. While 82% of marketers believe influencers – public figures that promote brands, products, or services, often via social media – drive consumer purchases, the reality is that just over a quarter (26%) of consumers say that influencers make them more likely to purchase new products or services.