Survey: Word of mouth outpaces social media, TV ads

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A study released by R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, a global provider of marketing and business communications, reveals that traditional marketing channels, including word of mouth, direct mail, and in-store signage, are largely untapped by marketers.

The study, based on surveys of both marketing professionals and consumers, uncovers significant differences between marketer assumptions and what consumers say actually influences their brand awareness and purchase decisions.

After a year of volatility and transformation, consumers value traditional marketing channels. For nearly a third of consumers (28 per cent), word of mouth is the preferred method for learning about a new brand, product, or service — outpacing social media (23 per cent), cable TV (12 per cent) and online/digital ads (11 per cent). At the same time, a mere 4 per cent 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 per cent) than social media (30 per cent), online/digital ads (27 per cent), or print ads (16 per cent).

“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 underscore four key themes that all point to the power of traditional marketing methods and how social and digital marketing continue to evolve:

Theme 1: It’s time to redefine (and re-engage) 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 per cent) of consumers have discovered a new brand, product, or service in the past year through word of mouth, followed by social media (53 per cent). More importantly, 40 per cent of consumers actually purchased a product after discovering it via word of mouth, topping all other channels. Yet only 7 per cent of marketers identified word of mouth as a channel that results in consumer purchases. This division speaks to the continued importance of word of mouth and asks marketers to deliver timely and relevant messaging that gives consumers something to talk about, both in-person and online.

Theme 2: Gen Y is most excited to receive direct mail

More than half (51 per cent) 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 per cent), Gen Z (57 per cent), and Gen X (53 per cent). Baby Boomers are least likely to be excited about receiving direct mail (36 per cent). While 67 per cent 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.

Theme 3: Dear retailers, are you ready to return to normal?

The good news for the retail sector is that 62 per cent of consumers are eager to return to their pre-pandemic shopping habits. More than a third (35 per cent) of consumers admit that the changes they made to their shopping habits due to the pandemic will only last less than 6 months. This contrasts with marketers’ assumptions, with 43 per cent expecting consumers not to return to their pre-pandemic shopping habits for another 6-12 months. Consumers also show a preference for retailers who effectively use in-store signage and displays, with a majority (58 per cent) saying that in-store signage is influential to their purchase decisions. Eight in 10 prefer to shop in stores with signage that helps them navigate the store and avoid crowds. These data points suggest that consumers are more eager to return to in-store shopping than many marketers assume and have high expectations, confirming the importance of experience-driven in-store marketing strategies.

Theme 4: Pinterest and TikTok 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 per cent of marketers believe influencers — public figures that promote brands, products, or services, often in social media — drive consumer purchases, the reality is that just over a quarter (26 per cent) of consumers say that influencers make them more likely to purchase new products or services.

At least one in three consumers follow brands they like on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram — and this is where engagement is most likely to happen. Gen Y leads all other surveyed generations with regard to brand engagement on Facebook (42 per cent), while Gen Z leads with regard to brand engagement on YouTube (45 per cent) and Instagram (50 per cent). Marketers overestimated the power of Snapchat, with 21 per cent saying that consumers use the platform to discover new brands, while only 7 per cent of consumers agreed. When it comes to following their favourite brands, consumers prefer Pinterest (21 per cent), TikTok (20 per cent) and Twitter (19 per cent) over Snapchat (16 per cent) and Reddit (11 per cent).

With regard to in-app purchases, 41 per cent of consumers have made an in-app purchase on Facebook, followed by 25 per cent on Instagram, and 11 per cent on Pinterest. Baby Boomers are the least likely to make in-app purchases, but when they do, they overwhelmingly prefer Facebook. Gen X also prefers to make in-app purchases via Facebook. However, nearly half of all survey respondents (47 per cent) have never made an in-app purchase.


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