The 6 Factors that Determine How to Market to Customers

- July 4, 2012 4 MIN READ


Just a little over two decades ago, consumers had only two options to communicate long distance, telephone and mail. In today’s mobile, post-PC world, consumers have countless ways to communicate instantly with both each other and brands. With so many different marketing channels available, it is increasingly difficult to know which channel a consumer would prefer to be contacted on and what influences that preference.

Jeff Rohrs, vice president of marketing research and education, ExactTarget, said “Post-PC devices have accelerated the fragmentation of once-reliable direct marketing channels. Marketing communications are now a 24/7 affair in which consumers serve as gatekeepers to channels that can amplify their praise – and complaints – in unprecedented ways. 

“As businesses seek to maximise their marketing ROI, it is crucial to stay in tune with what consumers want, as they can make or break a brand’s prosperity.” 

It is important for Australian businesses to keep abreast of the latest trends across all channels as consumer’s messaging habits continue to evolve. ExactTarget’s Digital Down Under* report showed that 84 per cent of Australian consumers check their email at least once a day and 71 per cent check email the first thing in the morning. Checking Facebook is much more prevalent at night (27 per cent) than in the morning (17 per cent) and while young adults (18-24) are more likely to interact with brands on social media (68 per cent), this drops to 30 per cent as the age-range increases to 65 and older.

It is clear therefore that different channels fulfil different purposes and needs. Brands should keep this in mind and monitor usage, but it is not the only consideration when choosing a communication channel. Just because an increasing number of consumers are using a particular communication channel, like text messaging, Twitter or Facebook, doesn’t necessarily mean they want to hear from your brand in that way. 

So what are the factors that make a consumer choose one form of communication over another and how can a brand determine the right marketing channels for its customers?

ExactTarget’s 2012 Channel Preference Survey* * determined the six factors that dictate marketing channel preference for consumers. These factors should be front of mind for business owners and marketers for every message communicated to a consumer.

1. Content. Is this a marketing message? Consumers are much more selective about the channels through which they allow marketing messages than they are with personal or professional communications. Consumers don’t necessarily want to be friends with brands. They still draw hard and fast lines about when and where marketing communications are appropriate. 

2. Immediacy.  Do I need to send or receive this message right away? Consumers often select a communication channel based on how quickly a message must be sent or received. Text messaging, telephone, and instant messaging through social networks tend to be the channels consumers use most often when time is of the essence. If your message is imperative (from the consumers’ perspective) and you have permission, these “urgent” channels will perform best. If not, you should consider moving communications to less urgent channels.

3. Accessibility. Will my customer need to reference this message later? The ability to easily archive and access messages at a later time influences consumer channel preferences. While smartphones and tablets replicate much of the desktop messaging experience, many consumers purposely park messages to action later from their computers (which may have faster internet access, larger screens, full keyboards, etc). Email remains a powerful channel for its ability to bridge the three-device environment of smartphone, tablet, and PC.

4. Privacy.  Do I want the world to know about this message? Privacy remains a hot topic and a source of confusion for many consumers. Where privacy is crucial, consumers gravitate towards channels with an established track record of protecting conversations (text messaging, telephone, and email). Where privacy is not a concern, consumers happily embrace social channels such as Facebook and Twitter that provide them with the public opportunity to share, vent, or engage. This isn’t to say that consumers don’t send direct messages through Facebook and Twitter, just that they proceed with greater caution as these channels are best known for their more public communications.

5. Formality. Do I need to convey a level of professionalism with this message?  When a task such as job hunting calls for a degree of formality, consumers favour more established channels. Across all age groups ExactTarget surveyed, job seekers indicated a clear preference for contact through the company website first, followed by sending an email or making a phone call. Consumers tend to view this type of marketing message as formal communication and when given a choice, they tend to prefer to receive them through more formal channels. Facebook is first and foremost meant for socialising. 

6. Invitation. How did the conversation originate? This final factor is the one that can trump all the others. If the consumer initiates communication with your brand, then the channel they choose may be deemed appropriate for response. However, the nature of the conversation (and possibly laws regulating your industry) may necessitate that you move it from a public space (Twitter, for instance) to a private one (Twitter direct message or email) especially if the subject matter is of a sensitive nature.


The 2012 Channel Preference Survey by Exact Target (third study since 2008) is on the topic of consumers’ use of different channels for interpersonal communication and attitudes towards marketing communications. For this 2012 edition, a total of 1,481 respondents completed the survey between January 27, 2012, and February 1, 2012. Participants answered questions about overall internet usage, devices owned, personal communication habits, permission, and purchase behaviour related to marketing.