As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That seems to apply to a lot of digital marketers who, having gained a specialism, view it as the only or ultimate solution to any given brief. It's not new - marketers have always tended to adopt the dominant medium of their time.
Trouble is consumers tend not to change their preferences that quickly. As the fast.MAP Marketing Gap survey revealed, it is easy to assume that consumers are more involved in social and mobile than is actually the case and to underestimate their interest in physical media.
Fresh evidence for this gap in thinking was found earlier this year in a YouGov survey carried out for Steria UK. It compared the levels of influence of different media on consumer buying decisions. Guess what? Physical media were cited by consumers as having more impact on their choices than digital media.
The impact of physical media
In-store advertising and press ads were the biggest commercial influences, at 28% and 27% respectively, whereas 18% of consumers named online advertising. Ads on social networks were said by shoppers to persuade them of what to buy in just 9% of cases, while mobile ads were down at 7%.
Proving what really influences a consumer is notoriously difficult, of course, since much of the processing goes on subconsciously. Decisions may be made well ahead of a shopping trip or within a bare few seconds when in front of a shelf. Habit also plays a much bigger role than marketers like to acknowledge, while price can never be ignored.
The social influence
What Steria did find out is that social influence is the really big component in shopping decisions. Friends were given as the key influence by 57% of consumers. Notably, 40% said they took on board the views of people even if they were only online contacts.
That is where digital marketing can start to reconnect with the decision making cycle, but in an indirect way. If the ads in social networks have relatively little influence, messages that network members pick up and repeat rate much more highly. So that classic goal of digital - to go viral - remains crucial.
Just remember that the material which gets picked up on does not only have to be a video, email or tweet - there is every possibility of gaining word of mouth through clever point of sale or press ads. Good news if you believe that great marketing is all about understanding how consumers think and using that insight to change their behaviour. Bad news if you think the only way to do it is with SEO, Twitter, Instagram or whatever today's special flavour is.