Study: Email Beats the Pants Off of Social Networks for Marketing

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From the “Research that Makes Spammers Giddy” department, Jordan McCollum over at Marketing Pilgrim points to an interesting new study from Ball State University’s Center for Media Design and ExactTarget. The study, Messaging Behaviors, Preferences, and Personas looked at how different groups of people interact with media and which sales channels work best to reach them.

The researchers found that almost universally, direct mail and email marketing were far more persuasive at getting people to make purchases than any sort of social network advertising.

“One of the key findings in this research is that 18- to 34-year-olds claim they are more likely to be influenced to make purchases based on email marketing messages and direct mail than marketing messages on social networks,” Mike Bloxham, the director of insight and research at Ball State University’s Center for Media Design, said in a press release. “It is too easy to assume that the media consumers choose for their own news, information and entertainment are, by default, the best media to use for marketing messages. This is a dangerous assumption to make in a time when consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their level of control over their media experiences.”

That’s terrible news for social networks. They’re the preferred hangouts for those in many of the market segments that the study looked at, including teens, college students, and “young homemakers,” but sales messages on social sites just don’t resonate with consumers. In some cases, advertising on social networks is actually offensive to users, who feel that it is a violation of what they look at as private sales channels. It’s also bad news for our inboxes, as this sort of study validates spam as a effective tool for unscrupulous marketers.

Some key findings from the study below about their six persona types:

  • Wired Consumers – 20% have subscribed for marketing communications via SMS, which is a higher rate than any other group. However, they only want to be bothered with urgent customer service issues, not sales pitches.
  • Young Homemakers – More than 50% use social networks and SMS, but respond better to direct mail and email marketing.
  • Retired Consumers – 81% have purchased online and 94% have been influenced by some form of direct marketing to make a purchase. Read: the target market for sleazy spammers.
  • College Students – The study found that college students are very spam-savvy and thus think that private communication channels such as SMS and social networks should be off limits for marketers. This is perhaps the most valuable demographic, but good luck reaching them where they live.
  • Teens – Use social networking more than any other group but surprisingly, they’re more likely to make a purchase from direct mail, followed by email, SMS and then social network sites.
  • Established Professionals – Among the members of this group, women are more likely than men to use new digital media channels such as IM, SMS and social networking, but both genders are heavy online shoppers, with 92% having made an Internet purchase.

Where do you fall among those groupings? Are you more likely to respond to a direct sales pitch, email marketing, or marketing that comes via social channels like IM or social networks? Should social networks be off limits for marketers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Josh CatoneJosh Catone
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Before joining Jilt, Josh Catone was the Executive Director of Editorial Projects at Mashable, the Lead Writer at ReadWriteWeb, Lead Blogger at SitePoint, and the Community Evangelist at DandyID. On the side, Josh enjoys managing his blog The Fluffington Post.

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