Survey Reveals Significant Differences in Consumer Expectations and Marketer Priorities in 2021

A study released today by R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company (RRD) (NYSE: RRD), a leading global provider of marketing and business communications, reveals that traditional marketing channels, including word of mouth, direct mail, and in-store signage, are largely untapped by marketers. The study, based on surveys of both marketing professionals and consumers, uncovers significant differences between marketer assumptions and what consumers say actually influences their brand awareness and purchase decisions.

After a year of volatility and transformation, consumers value traditional marketing channels. For nearly a third of consumers (28%), word of mouth is the preferred method for learning about a new brand, product, or service — outpacing social media (23%), cable TV (12%) and online/digital ads (11%). At the same time, a mere 4% of marketers identified word of mouth as a consumer preference for learning about new brands, products, or services. The study also revealed that word of mouth has a higher research-to-purchase ratio (40%) than social media (30%), online/digital ads (27%), or print ads (16%).

“In a tumultuous and challenging year, consumers embraced traditional marketing methods as they sought to discover, research, and ultimately purchase from new brands,” said John Pecaric, President of RRD Marketing Solutions and Business Services. “Based on our survey results, marketers may need to revisit their strategies and assumptions about what customers are looking for and adjust accordingly in order to meet their expectations.”

The survey results underscore four key themes that all point to the power of traditional marketing methods and how social and digital marketing continue to evolve:

Theme 1: It’s time to redefine (and re-engage) word of mouth – Word of mouth traditionally refers to consumers sharing product and brand recommendations with one another verbally. Today, this has evolved to include interactions between acquaintances on social media.

Theme 2: Gen Y is most excited to receive direct mail – More than half (51%) of consumers were more excited to receive direct mail in the past year than they were in the year prior, with the highest levels among Gen Y (65%), Gen Z (57%), and Gen X (53%).

Theme 3: Dear retailers, are you ready to return to normal? The good news for the retail sector is that 62% of consumers are eager to return to their pre-pandemic shopping habits. More than a third (35%) of consumers admit that the changes they made to their shopping habits due to the pandemic will only last less than 6 months.

Theme 4: Pinterest and TikTok on the rise while influencers wane – While consumers indicated their preference for some forms of traditional marketing channels, their engagement with brands online and via social media continues to evolve, posing additional complexities for marketers looking to connect with their audiences.
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