Channel Preferences Don't Matter

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eMarketing and Commerce reported on a Habeas study which found that:

67% of consumers prefer email as a communications channel over other online vehicles, and 65% believe this will continue to be the case in five years.”

This contradicts my own research. I telepathically contacted 10,000 consumers and found that telepathic communication was the preferred method by 100% of them, and that 100% expected that preference to continue, not just for the next five years, but for the next 500.

OK, I’m being facetious, but to make a point: Channel preferences don’t matter.

So what if 65% prefer email? First off, it’s 65% that prefer email to other online vehicles — like video conferencing, IM, SMS text messaging, and Web meetings, all of which have much lower adoption rates.

Second — and more importantly — is that asking about communication channel preferences ignores a critical factor: The content of the message.

I’m reminded of a joke I heard long ago:

A woman hears a knock on her door, and it’s the mailman.

Mailman: Good morning, ma’am. I have a telegram for you.
Woman: Oh. Is it a singing telegram?
Mailman: Uh….no, it isn’t.
Woman. Oh, that’s too bad. I’ve never received a singing telegram. Would you mind singing the telegram to me?
Mailman. Uh….um….well, OK. La la la la, your mother’s dead.

My point: Some messages/communications just aren’t appropriate for email, regardless of how many people “prefer” the channel.

Duh, you say. We knew that already. So why, then, do managers continually cite studies highlighting consumers’ channel preferences?

Because they use them to justify spending in their preferred channel. And because somebody surveyed a bunch of their customers, they claim to be customer-centric. But they’re not, they’re simply being channel-centric.

The Habeas study misses the point about consumers. They don’t care about “channels”. They care about convenience and appropriateness. They’ll use whatever channel is most convenient at the time they want to do something. And they want to be communicated to through the channel for which the message is most appropriate.

In addition, you can’t ask consumers about five years in the future. If you don’t IM, Twitter, or send text messages, then you haven’t experienced the convenience and ease of these channels. Will many people try and adopt these new communication channels? You betcha. Will many say that these newly tried channels are their new “preferred” channel? You betcha. Will it be appropriate to send all messages through that channel? No.

So then how will marketers be able to determine how much to spend on or invest in different channels? By first understanding which customers they’re trying to attract and keep, and which messages work best to attract and keep those customers.

Some marketers will find that email is an — if not the most — important channel after doing that analysis. But it won’t come from a study that shows 65% of consumers prefer email. And I wouldn’t count on you figuring this out if “customer service is the new marketing” in your organization.

Image via flickr

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