Fewer than one in five people believe marketers are still in control of the relationship between brands and consumers, according to independent research commissioned by global marketing services and technology company Acxiom.
In the two-part survey examining consumers’ use of technology, marketers believed that only 30% of people would feel in control across a range of industry sectors. But the responses from consumers revealed a huge disparity between what the professionals believe people think of their marketing, and how consumers actually feel about it – with 82% of individuals feeling in control.
The survey question defined ‘in control’ as people feeling they “receive only the information they require, when and through which media channel they want it”. For businesses, the findings mean that ‘push’ marketing - where brands broadcast messages to the mass market - has well and truly been replaced by ‘pull’ marketing, with the individual in charge of how they receive information and interact with brands.
The proportion of consumers feeling in control started quite low in the youngest age group – 28% among 18- to 24-year-olds – and was also less than half (48%) in the 25 to 34 sample. However, the sense of control climbed steadily from 61% among 35- to 44-year-olds, to 68% among those aged 65 or over, which was the highest proportion of any age group.

Murray Dudgeon, Acxiom Europe’s head of client services, said: “For the first time, we have been able to quantify the shift from push to pull marketing. The findings suggest consumers are using the technology available to filter out messages they don’t feel are appropriate or interesting to them personally. Older consumers may feel more in control because they have long-standing relationships with brands, do not feel as bombarded by messages because they do not necessarily experience the non-stop media stimulation of younger generations and have worked out which channels they prefer over many years. We can also infer that some marketers are still working in silo and do not enjoy a 360-degree view of their organisation’s marketing activity.”
Other findings highlighted in Acxiom’s new report ‘Tug of Love: how technology is changing the relationship between consumers and brands – and what marketers can do about it’ include:

• While marketers underestimated consumer control in all sectors, some gaps were particularly wide. The underscoring was highest in the charity sector with marketers thinking only 15% of customers (or donors) were in control; but actually 77% of people said they felt in charge.
• At the other end of the scale, marketers were closer to the truth in their assumptions about automotive and supermarket customers, where the gaps were smallest at 32% and 30% respectively. They thought 55% of car brand customers would be in control, against 87% of people who said they were in the driving seat. Meanwhile, marketers assumed the same figure, 55%, for supermarkets, whereas 85% of shoppers reported being in control.
• Despite feeling in control, one in four consumers still say they receive ‘inappropriate’ marketing communications, while marketers generally have a much higher opinion of their industry’s work.
• Three in four people (71%) are happy to receive mail from organisations they are already customers of. Additionally, some 57% also felt postal contact was appropriate for prospective customers. Email is similarly popular among customers, with 78% of people willingly accepting this form of contact; the figure dropped to 52% for prospects, but this was still the second most appropriate way of targeting people.
• Only 9% of customers felt SMS marketing was appropriate. Marketers were off-beam with their estimate, guessing 25% of customers would welcome text messages. SMS contact provoked more disdain among prospects (4% acceptance), although marketers seemed aware of this sentiment, predicting 5%.
• Just 4% of customers approve of contact through Twitter and the same proportion through other social media. Marketers were cautious about using these channels, estimating 5% of customers would like to be contacted this way. They also believed 5% of prospects would be happy to receive marketing via social media; the actual figure was 6%.
• Marketers are unsure of the penetration of technology among consumers and also overestimated consumers’ preference for multiple touchpoints compared to the ‘simpler’ marketing landscape of the past.

Dudgeon added: “The digital age is accelerating the opportunity for brands to truly engage with consumers across all channels. Equally, it is leading to constant shifts in the way people buy and interact with brands.
“The risk of marketers getting contact strategies wrong and wasting budget is increasing. In some ways, the industry has created Frankenstein’s monster; by doing such a good job of marketing technology and digital services, they have breathed life into consumers’ ability to control the relationship between brand and individual.
“Now more than ever, marketers need the insight to understand when and where it’s appropriate for brands to join the conversation with consumers - and when they do, to make those communications as relevant, consistent and delightful as possible.”

Published on: 2:29PM on 1st September 2011