With all of the emails, texts, and social media posts going into digital marketing everyday, consumers may be suffering from marketing fatigue – and your business’ marketing strategies may be to blame.

That’s according to a new survey from Aimia Inc., a marketing company specializing in brand loyalty. Last summer, researchers from Aimia polled respondents from Canada, the U.K., and the U.S., speaking to 2,000 consumers from each country to ask about their attitudes towards digital marketing. Questions ranged from asking consumers about the brands they followed on Facebook and Twitter, to whether they enjoyed receiving special offers via text messages and emails. The survey also explored whether consumers were interested in incentives and rewards.

What researchers found was that consumers are willing enough to connect with brands online, with 31 per cent of Canadian respondents saying they liked or followed between one to five brands on Facebook and Twitter. But once a consumer agrees to like or follow your brand, says report author Martin Hayward, marketers need to preserve relationships with their customers and not destroy their trust. He says we’re currently at a “fork in the road” when it comes to establishing what digital marketing should look like.


An interview with Aimia’s CIO, Susan Doniz, about technology’s role as a business enabler.  

“It’s quite an interesting point we’re at, really … [we can] really get great relationships between companies and consumers. Or if we’re not careful, we can abuse [customer] data and over-message people and make a right mess of things,” Hayward says.

The survey found while many consumers like receiving offers and deals online, some feel they’ve been oversaturated with the missives marketers are sending out everyday. Twenty-two per cent of Canadian consumers said they regretted liking a brand on Facebook, while 24 per cent regretted registering online with a company or brand Web site.

If marketers refuse to consider consumers’ wishes, Hayward anticipates four possible future outcomes in online marketing.

1) Offer anarchy
For consumers checking their email or browsing their social media accounts, it can seem like a deluge when marketers flood them with messages about their promotions. This is what Hayward calls “offer anarchy” – when marketers get over-enthusiastic about using all of the online tools at their disposal.

“What tech has achieved for us over the last few years is that it is now, theoretically, for marketers to both understand the potential customers out there … and it’s also much easier for marketers to contact those consumers,” he says, adding that wasn’t the case when marketers could only advertise via TV commercials, in the newspaper, or on the radio. But he cautioned marketers to be wary of overdoing it.

Among all of the survey’s respondents, 86 per cent said they received marketing emails, with 46 per cent of them saying they feel they receive too many. Among the 28 per cent of respondents who get marketing texts, 44 per cent said they get too many. This was also apparent in Canada, where half of the people polled said they felt getting 20 or more emails each week is overkill.

Twenty-two per cent of Canadian respondents said they have regretted liking a brand on Facebook.
Twenty-two per cent of Canadian respondents said they have regretted liking a brand on Facebook.

Hayward anticipates at some point, consumers may become so fed up they refuse to engage in further dialogue with marketers, shutting down the conversation by unsubscribing to their email lists and social media pages – a worst-case scenario for anyone hoping to build a connection to a consumer.

2) Pay to play

While marketers want to feel in control of consumer data, in the future, consumers may not want to give out something considered valuable for free.

Hayward says he can picture consumers becoming mercenaries, selling their data to the highest bidder, especially with the media and governments paying closer attention to how companies are storing and using consumers’ personal data.

Marketers want to monetize data, but consumers aren't as eager to share it.
Marketers want to monetize data, but consumers aren’t as eager to share it.

“Ultimately, the idea is that individuals become the custodians of their personal data, rather than at the moment, there’s a lot of data about you and some of it is owned by Apple and some of it is owned by Google and you have no control over it,” he says.

“We may very well see higher-value consumers who will say, now hang on, that’s my data … and only allow companies who will pay me to see what I’m up to and what I’m interested in.”

For example, a consumer may demand compensation for sharing information, like whether he or she is about to purchase a new car, Hayward says. Companies who have bought that information can then sell it to auto companies, who will then try to gain direct access to that consumer.

3) The hunt for affinity

Failing a more mercenary type of consumer, it’s possible consumers may someday jump from brand to brand.

Right now, many marketers are considering offering behavioural pricing, which means they target prices to individual consumers based on looking at their past shopping and browsing habits.

But if a consumer sees a friend has gotten a better price for something, he or she may jump ship and hunt for another brand that will also go lower on the dollar. Consumers will eventually become increasingly jaded and not want to engage with any particular brand or company, Hayward says.

4) Real relationships

In Hayward’s mind, this is the ideal outcome for the future of digital marketing.

“I think the best thing marketers can do is work with their consumers, to make sure that what they’re doing is the right answer, [which means] working with consumers and understanding what their preferences are, which data they’re happy to share, and what are their privacy concerns,” he says.

“We have to use technology to do for things for and with customers, and not do things to them, which is quite an important distinction.”

Four possible outcomes for the future of digital marketing.
Four possible outcomes for the future of digital marketing.

For Hayward, that means marketers need to get away from throwing deals and offers at customers, and instead focus on clearly defining their brand so consumers know to expect a high level of service from it.

This all applies to small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) as well, Hayward says. With today’s technology, many of them now have a similar reach as bigger companies, without needing as big a marketing budget.

He adds it’s as simple as asking what customers want – whether they would like to be contacted, what kinds of messages are they interested in, and how often they can be contacted. For SMBs, it may be as easy as sending an email out to its customer base, while a larger company can create a page on its Web site for consumers to list their preferences. Marketers should also be transparent about what they plan to do with customer data, Hayward adds.

So with many consumers on the cusp of marketing fatigue, and governments poised to legislate how businesses take care of personal data, he says this is the time for marketers to patch up “broken relationships” with consumers.

“[Technology is] a fantastic step forward for our ability to talk to and understand consumers … but it’s so easy to overdo it,” he says. “We need to tread very carefully.”

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