Markets Can’t Really Tell Us How They’re Influenced

I’m a proponent of marketing research and the use of data to drive business decisions at every level and in every aspect of organizational performance. I recognize, though, that sometimes the predictive value of research can be questionable and that it can be most useful to evaluate actual behaviors to support future decisions.

Advertising efforts are a good example of this.

Ask a consumer to what degree they are influenced by advertising (whether it’s television advertising, direct mail or online advertising) and they’re highly likely to tell you that they aren’t. They’re generally wrong. Monitoring their actual actions in response to your marketing communication efforts can yield some interesting–and valuable–results.

Consider those little postcards that drop out of magazines and universally irritate magazine readers everywhere. Most of us, if asked, would say they “don’t work.” Yet, advertisers continue to use them. Why? Because they do work–at least to the extent that the response generated more than covers the cost of the effort. The same is true of telemarketing, annoying Internet pop-up ads and other marketing efforts that few consumers would admit influence them yet whose advertisers know (hopefully through metrics that they monitor) work.

The influence of advertising and other forms of marketing communications is subtle and often subconscious. We, as consumers, don’t really know when, how or why we’re being influenced to think, do or believe certain things. Yet various elements of influence are impacting us continually. Marketers can’t learn much by asking us how we think we might act, or how we think we are influenced. We’re not good judges of what we can’t objectively define.

What marketers need to do, therefore, when it comes to considering which advertising tools will exert the greatest influence is to use those tools and test those tools in various ways to evaluate real impacts. Online advertisers have a bit of an advantage here because they can quickly–and very quantitatively–determine how their audience is influenced. Traditional direct mail marketers have a similar benefit. Traditional advertisers–those who use traditional media like television, broadcast, print and outdoor elements to influence consumer beliefs and behaviors have a tougher task, yet one that is not only doable but required.

Don’t spend your time and resources asking your target audiences how they think they might be influenced–find out for yourself through the careful selection, implementation, monitoring and measurement of your advertising messages.

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