Tuesday, October 21, 2008

ExactTarget's new study misses the point of social media

In a study released by ExactTarget, and done in collaboration with Ball State Universitys Center for Media Design, provides new insight into the media consumption habits and marketing preferences of six commonly targeted groups. They argue that email and direct mail is more impactful in purchasing habits than social media. I argue that they're missing the social media point.
One of the key findings in this research is that 18- to 34-year-olds claim they are more likely to be influenced to make purchases based on e-mail marketing messages and direct mail than from marketing messages on social networks, said Mike Bloxham, director, insight and research, Ball State Universitys Center for Media Design. It is too easy to assume that the media consumers choose for their own news, information and entertainment are, by default, the best media to use for marketing messages. This is a dangerous assumption to make in a time when consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their level of control over their media experiences."

Read the release on the study here.
My Take:
The original study didn't differentiate if they were testing B2B or B2C. The advantage of email is that using in collaboration with a powerful CRM, you can target the message based upon the purchasing profile and demographics of the individual. Social media (facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc) doesn't offer the specifics, nor closed-loop metrics of email and CRM combined. It's scalable, and targeted, but in order to be taken seriously, needs to be personal and manual. Social media is better suited to be used to develop a sense of community. Zappos, Comcast, WholeFoods, for example, have done an exceptional job in the social media world, and Amazon has developed a community within their own site (reviews, etc). However, I feel the study is flawed because it doesn't test the main purpose behind using social media as a marketing/PR tool.

In addition to what I see as a flaw in the overall concept of the study, one needs to evaluate who conducted the study. ExactTarget, while an exceptional email marketing and one-to-one marketing tool, makes their money on email marketing. It would be in their interest to skew the study to achieve the results they desire. Of course they would want to say email is much more efficient at delivering the message the customer wants to hear and to drive sales. It's in their best interest. If they were to find that social media marketing drives sales better than email, they would have to change their entire business model.

Now, email marketing isn't going anywhere. I'd be in trouble if it did. However, that doesn't mean that social media isn't as powerful, or in certain cases, more powerful than email, but what this study examines is simply the wrong usage of social media marketing.


Unknown said...

Nathan - Interesting insights. I agree that social media helps develop a sense of community. ExactTarget recognizes that Social Media is great at building brand awareness and promoting conversations with our customers.

But when it comes to purchasing the study showed that people in that 18-34 demographic are more reactive to an email or even a catalog then the latest Zappos Twitter.

Another example, I'd rather receive an email from Coldplay letting me know I can buy their latest concert tickets, as opposed to a Myspace Wall post.

I can tell you from first hand experience we have had some amazing things happen out of social media networks. I think a case can be made that both are critical for the future of marketing.

Dawn DeVirgilio
Internet Marketing Specialist
ddevirgilio at exacttarget.com

Unknown said...

I don't disagree in the least. I am a huge proponent of email marketing, and it does gear itself toward instant sales, heck I'm even an ExactTarget user and brand proponent.

My only issue with the study is that it covered social media marketing messages (I assume Facebook Ads and the like) rather than community building or two-way interaction, which is the primary intent of using social media for marketing purposes.

Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

Another issue with the study is that social media is such a young marketing channel no one really knows what to do with it. Us old hands remember the early days when web sites were considered non-commercial.

Of course today's email is a more effective marketing tool - it's just direct mail without the waste paper. Established direct mail techniques translated easily but social media has to develop all new strategies.