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Fluidity in marketing

There is no next big thing. That’s the underwhelming yet overpowering message of a new Forrester study looking at how consumers latch on to new brands and products. No new marketing channel is taking over, and no old-timer is getting grounded into the turf. Consumers are media multi-taskers who tweet, post, and pin, but who in aggregate still spend more time reading magazines, watching television…oh, and talking to real live people–especially before buying.

Forrester Research’s online survey of more than 4,500 United States consumers found that 80% of them discover new brands, products, and services by talking with someone they know. Yet in a statistical dead heat with the old tried-and-true method was the favorite product finder of the Information Age, online search, at 79%.

After that, however, it’s all old school. Before you get to a digital channel (32% of consumers were influenced by online display ads) in the Forrester study’s pantheon of product positioners, you have to pass by TV ads (71%), in-store and outdoor ads and promos (51%), direct mail (45%), and ads in magazines (36%) and newspapers (34%). Radio ads tied with display ads in their level of consumer influence.

“This doesn’t suggest that marketers need to ditch social,” says Forrester analyst Gina Sverdlov. “When you’re surveying consumers, the things that come top of mind with them are things that are more traditional and entrenched. But what this study does suggest is that marketers need fluid marketing campaigns throughout all their touchpoints. I see marketers with social media campaigns that are not linked to overall brand strategy, and those things need to tie in together somewhere.”

There are two ways that consumers discover new product information. They find it actively, such as when searching a category online, or passively while skimming a magazine or speaking with a friend. Sverdlov says marketers are especially drawn to passive communication of their products and services, because it represents incremental business. But woe be to them who neglect active product-seekers, for they make the register ring.

When asked what word-of-mouth (WOM) channels led them to try or purchase a new product, 94% of those surveyed named speaking to a friend. The next three WOM purchase influencers, however, were of the active variety: speaking with someone they didn’t know personally like a sales rep, online review sites, and online customer communities.

“Marketers are just finding out about passive discovery. They weren’t considering it before, so they are really excited about it,” Sverdlov says. “Marketers can play a role in both active and passive discovery. For instance, they can make sure they make online customer reviews available on their sites.”

Marie Antoinette once said, “There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.”  Marketers should remember not to forget that old channels are as much a part of multichannel strategy as are the new.

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