COVID-19’s Impact on Millennial and Gen Z Media Habits — And How Marketers Should Pivot

Within a very short period, the way Millennials and Gen Zs buy products and consume media also has changed dramatically. And while many of these shifts — such as the changes to their media habits — can be attributed to the global pandemic, some of them may be here to stay.

Depending on their age and stage of life, the nation’s two youngest generations are getting a first taste of what it’s like to be a remote worker, home-schooling parent, or web-only shopper. Within a very short period, the way Millennials and Gen Zs buy products and consume media also has changed dramatically. And while many of these shifts — such as the changes to their media habits — can be attributed to the global pandemic, some of them may be here to stay.

“When U.S. advertisers pulled back spending dramatically in March, one of the earliest noticeable effects on the display ad market was falling CPMs (the price of 1,000 advertisement impressions on a single webpage),” eMarketer reports. Concurrently, marketers were lowering their demand for ads and consumers were spending more time on social and traditional media properties, thus increasing the supply of impressions.

“Where we’re getting the demand right now is from people who are driving sort of more online conversions, direct response, so it’s not like we’re seeing a shift of reach and frequency dollars to us,” Facebook’s Dave Wehner said in an April earnings call. “I think what we’re seeing is people who are driving the kind of direct response actions taking advantage of low prices.”

Feeling the Impact

With COVID-19 affecting all facets of everyday life, it’s no surprise that marketing is also seeing the dramatic impacts of the pandemic. And while some of the changes simply solidify what was already happening in the market, COVID is definitely adding more fuel to the fire. For example, TikTok has become a household term in a world where just a few months ago the typical parent was unfamiliar with the short-form mobile video platform — a platform that  has become a viable channel for reaching younger consumers. The youngest Gen Zs are likely getting as much socialization as possible on platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, all while binging on Netflix as they wait out the COVID-19 threat and state shutdowns.

The crisis is going to change consumers across all age groups, and no one knows for certain what the total impact will be. What we do know is that the shifts are already starting to happen, as evidenced by the TikTok videos featuring parents and their children dancing together, and the fact that Instagram Stories usage is up 15% since the outbreak. These and other platforms are keeping people connected, and they’re also presenting new opportunities for marketers that need ways to reach their youngest consumers.

TikTok added over 12 million U.S. unique visitors in March, reaching 52.2 million, according to eMarketer. “TikTok has been on a growth spurt for several months, even before the pandemic,” the firm points out, adding that as of October 2019, TikTok’s app and websites had 27 million unique visitors, with the app alone accounting for 18.6 million. “But the month-to-month growth between February and March was particularly notable in comparison with previous monthly gains.”

What Are Gen Z and Millennials Up To?

In surveying Gen Z about its routines, media habits, and lives during the viral outbreak, Brainly found that most are turning to social media to pass the time and stay connected, with Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook getting the highest marks from this generation.

Here are other important, COVID-related trends that Hawthorne Advertising has been tracking internally:

  • In terms of social media, Millennials are gravitating toward Instagram and Reddit.
  • There’s also been a big uptick in Twitch usage over the last two months, with live performers among the most active participants on that platform.
  • More Millennials are using YouTube as an information source during the pandemic.
  • Zoom has emerged as the videoconferencing platform of choice for Millennials.
  • Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are popular “binge” targets for both Gen Zs and Millennials.
  • Fans of Instagram, TikTok, Hulu, and the Amazon Firestick, Gen Zs are receptive to pre-roll ads and other targeted advertising approaches on these platforms.
  • Gen Zs are also using GoToMeeting, Zoom, Houseparty, Facebook Messenger, and FaceTime to stay in touch with friends and family during this period.

In assessing Gen Z and Millennials’ post-quarantine media habits and content consumption, YPulse says Netflix will be their must-watch TV platform of choice, but notes that social media content could begin cannibalizing the time these younger generations spend on streaming services.

“While streaming services are reporting massive numbers of new subscribers, our data indicates that the real winner of quarantine viewing is social media,” YPulse reports, noting that a recent survey found that 48% of 13 to 39-year-olds are watching more videos on social media during quarantine, and 40% are now watching videos weekly or more on Instagram (compared to 34% in November 2019).

Get Ready to Turn on the Dime

For marketers who are trying to wrap their arms around these shifts, the best strategy is to embrace the changes and take careful note of their pace of acceleration.

Understand that when we emerge from this crisis — whenever that occurs — you’re not going to be operating in the same world that was put on pause in early-2020. Marketers also need to consider more targeted and customized messaging, as well as dynamic creative optimization, to maximize the engagement with Millennials and Gen Z audiences.

Consider this: In a recent DoSomething survey, 75% of Gen Zs said the top action they wanted to see from brands was ensuring employee and consumer safety, with 73% wanting brands to protect their employees financially. Brands that share positive messages on social media while failing to support their staff are being noticed, Vogue Business reports. “If you’re not authentic, Gen Zs will be the first to raise a red flag. If you are trying to take advantage of the moment, you will lose them so fast.”

Educate yourself on these changes, test out some new strategies, and strap yourself in. It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride filled with both challenges and opportunities, the latter of which will be most available to the companies that stay flexible and fluid enough to turn on a dime right along with their target audiences.

WWTT? Draper James’ Free Dress for Teachers Giveaway Debacle

Sometimes well-intentioned plans can land a brand in hot water with customers and prospects, especially when there is a fail regarding the plan’s execution. Such is the case of Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James fashion line and the debacle it’s facing with the free dress for teachers giveaway launched earlier in April.

As I began to work on this week’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I dug through my inbox, looking for a campaign that celebrated solidarity, creativity, or just something worth talking about this week in the world of marketing. Then I saw an email from Target Marketing friend and blogger, Chuck McLeester, and down the rabbit hole I fell as I read The New York Time’s article, “Reese Witherspoon’s Fashion Line Offered Free Dresses to Teachers. They Didn’t Mean Every Teacher.” with my morning coffee. The debacle involving a free dress for teachers giveaway brought this to mind:

The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew

Who knew that on Day 36 of quarantine/isolation/social distancing/THIS (gestures wildly), I’d be quoting a Robert Burn’s poem in a “What Were They Thinking?” post, but here we are. So let’s look at the issue of not thinking through your well-intentioned plans enough, and the kind of havoc that can cause your brand, your marketing team, and your reputation in the long run.

On April 2, Reese Witherspoon’s fashion line, Draper James, shared the free dress giveaway via the following Instagram post:

Draper James Free Dress Instagram Post

Now, as my Mom has always said “It’s the thought that counts …” and while it certainly is a nice thought to offer a free dress, there are NO expectations for giveaway applicants set in the post. The post reads:

Dear Teachers: We want to say thank you. During quarantine, we see you working harder than ever to educate our children. To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress. To apply, complete the form at the link in the bio before this Sunday, April 5th, 11:59 PM ET (Offer valid while supplies last – winners with be notified April 7th)

Yes, the post states “while supplies last.” But c’mon. If there are a set amount of dresses, SAY IT. Especially when the line before reads: “To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress.”

What did most of these people see? “To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress.” Their expectations soared, and while most people would realize that there probably weren’t enough for all applicants, there also wasn’t a single expectation set. A lot of teachers — who have been working their butts off, are most likely exhausted, burnt out, and worried about their own host of concerns — got their hopes up.

What would I have done, had I written the copy? Made it really clear. Maybe something like: “To show our gratitude, Draper James is offering 250 free dresses to teachers who apply to this giveaway as a thank you. If you are not selected as a free dress recipient, we will be providing discount codes, should you want to purchase a dress from Draper James.”

Because without setting clear expectations, you have these sorts of conversations and complaints cropping up:

That’s right … when teachers signed up for the giveaway, they had to include their email address (that’s standard for most giveaways, so no issue there) … however, my question is will Draper James be using them to market to these teachers now? In most cases of giveaways, this is not a big deal because it’s in the fine print (and I’m sure it was included here, too). But the way this was executed has really turned off a lot of individuals.

In an attempt to address this and apologize, Draper James did reach out to those who applied for the giveaway and added the following messages to its Instagram story (now a highlight called DJ <3 Teachers):

Draper James Free Dress Instagram Story Part 1Draper James Free Dress Instagram Story Part 2Draper James Free Dress Instagram Story Part 3It’s something, but honestly, it feels a bit too late. There are a lot of disappointed teachers right now, and the partnership and offering of funds to the nonprofit might not be enough to completely remove this scuff from Draper James’ brand reputation.

Look, it’s hard right now, and there are so many people at brands who want to do good things for others; that is a great mindset and spirit to have. Fashion designers have shifted over to creating masks for healthcare workers; meals are being donated; there is a lot of good being done. And I think the decision makers at Draper James had very good intentions. Quoted in the New York Times article I mentioned above, Draper James SVP for Brand Marketing and Creative Marissa Cooley said:

“We felt like we moved too quickly and didn’t anticipate the volume of the response. We were really overwhelmed. It was way more volume than the company had ever seen. We expected the single-digit thousands.”

Even when you want to help, you still need to stop, think through the plan, and figure out the best way to execute it in a sustainable way.

As Chuck said to me in our email exchange about the story:

“My take on it was purely from a metrics standpoint. 3 million teachers, 77% female, 2.3 million prospects, a free offer of a valuable item — even at a paltry 1% response rate that’s 23,000 responses or 100x the number of dresses that they had to give away.”

This could have been avoided, and I bet if applicants had known there was a limited amount, it would have been received in a much better fashion. But what do you think marketers? Drop me a line in the comments below.

How Brands Should Communicate During Uncertain Times

Today, every company is dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak in some way or another. Companies need to be thinking about their brand communication with stakeholders and how they manage their reputation during these challenging times.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the greatest reputation risks brands face in 2020. At the time, the threat of COVID-19 — the 2019 novel coronavirus — wasn’t prevalent, as it is globally today. I emphasized in my post that compromised health and safety poses a threat to brands, and negligent companies will face devastating reputational consequences.

Today, every company is dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak in some way or another. And it has nothing to do with negligence.

For starters, the coronavirus has an impact on employee well-being, leading many companies to put travel restrictions in place and encourage remote work. Additionally, there is significant impact on customer relationships and financial performance. Therefore, companies need to be thinking about their brand communication with stakeholders and how they manage their reputation during these challenging times.

Start by Communicating. Period.

Now is not the time to stay silent with your employees, customers, and other stakeholders. While you may not have all the answers, rapid and regular communications can help alleviate potential concerns. If you don’t let your employees and customers know how you’re handling the current state of affairs, they will wonder if it’s a priority to you at all. Reassurances matter.

Employees will want to know how expectations are changing and about accommodations to keep them healthy and safe.

Customers also will want to know how brands are addressing the risk of COVID-19, at brick-and-mortar locations, with their employees and otherwise.

Make Responsible Decisions

My inbox is flooded with communications from companies I have relationships with providing information about their new protocols due to the coronavirus.

For example, my local health club shared information about how they’re increasing their cleaning and sanitization procedures. I received a similar communication from a transportation company, highlighting the precautions they’re taking with their vehicles and drivers.

Near-term expenses, such as additional cleaning, added resources, and paid leave for sick employees, will ensure the health and safety of customers and employees. These investments will also help to maintain and improve brand reputation and increase customer retention and loyalty.

Use a Variety of Brand Communication Vehicles

Brands tend to over-rely on email because it’s inexpensive, and production times are short. However, consumers’ inboxes are overwhelmed with marketing messages. To ensure you reach your audience with time-sensitive, developing information, leverage a variety of owned, paid, and earned channels.

Post updates on social media and create a destination on your website to reflect the latest information. Train your employees on the front lines so they can deliver reassurances to customers directly.

Be Earnest, Helpful, and Sensitive — Don’t Exploit the Epidemic

I’ve written about Elon Musk’s poor judgment as a brand spokesperson, but continue to be shocked by behavior like his insensitive coronavirus tweet.

For most people who contract COVID-19, it will be like a mild flu. Some populations, however, are particularly vulnerable, and brands need to be sensitive to the fear, anxiety, and threats many people currently face.

Certain brands and categories, such as hand sanitizer, are subject to strict FDA regulations in terms of how they communicate and market concerning the coronavirus, so it’s essential to understand what’s appropriate and permissible.

Now is not the time for coronavirus discounts or apocalyptic sales. Brands should focus on providing helpful information and reassuring their stakeholders. Clorox, for example, has created valuable educational content on its website.

Leverage Reliable and Credible Sources

It’s always important to present factual and accurate information — but right now it’s crucial. The speed and availability of information in times like these is unprecedented, thanks to social media and digital platforms. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of misinformation circulating. Corona beer has nothing to do with coronavirus. Lysol didn’t know about the outbreak before it happened.

The CDC and the World Health Organization  (WHO) provide the most accurate and timeliest information.

As a brand, take this time to commit to a communications strategy that informs, educates, and provides reassurances. It will make a difference.

Customer Control Creates New Phase of Apologetic Marketing

In a customer-centric marketing ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. Brands must accept that customers control their reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

In a customer-is-in-control ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. They need to open up honest, meaningful conversations with their customers — and understand that we no longer push advertisements to customers through media, but rather engage and communicate with them. Brands must accept that the customer controls a brand’s reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

For years now, customers have controlled the way brands are perceived in the marketplace. Today, that leverage is only growing. Companies can no longer hide behind big brand campaigns, just as marketing can no longer put a good spin on a problematic or dated company. If they try, consumers will either ignore it altogether (because they recognize the idealized corporate-speak) or, worse, they’ll attack in social media. Then, what started as a small problem can get out of control quickly.

Marketing executives need to work with the entire c-suite to make sure brand promises and customer experiences are consistent throughout the entire journey. They need to ensure the brand pillars are not only communicated, but also embraced across every component of the organization. And they have to make sure every team in the company can live up to the vision presented in the marketing.

Over the last year, we’ve seen the disconnect play out on a grand scale for companies like Uber, Wells Fargo, Facebook and unfortunately many more. By not aligning the brand platform with their internal values and customer experience, these companies have had to publicly recognize their faults and apologize for missteps. They each faced distrust among their customer base and, even though that trust was lost in a second, it often takes years to gain back.

So How Can Companies Learn From These Brands?

In today’s marketplace, companies need to do three key things:

  • Be transparent. Customers don’t expect companies to be perfect. But today, customers aren’t just immune to, but are also appalled by corporate-speak and over-hyped, insincere brand promises. Customers want brands to be real, to mean something and to associate with their beliefs and values. Companies today need to be humanized so customers can connect with them.
  • Align departments across the organization. Customers perceive companies as one entity and they expect that, whether they’re in a store, on the site or calling customer service, they’ll have the same experience across the board. Companies, however, are made up of different departments, with different bosses (who have different beliefs), and are often measured against different (sometimes opposing) KPIs. Today, corporate structure needs to embrace customer expectations. Politics and personalities have to take the back seat to the unified brand vision.
  • Companies need to embrace their customers. They can no longer lay out their corporate vision and marketing plans without fully understanding what the marketplace needs — both today and tomorrow. They need to understand what customers are looking for and shape their products and their company accordingly. Most companies hate hearing this, but they also need to narrow their audience and focus their company. Very few brands can and should appeal to all consumers. Too many brands try to satisfy everyone, remaining conservative so they don’t alienate any prospective customers. In doing so, however, they don’t resonate with anyone. Brands that take a stand, know who their audience is and what they want, and mold their company around that always win. Even if they outrage a part of their base, they inspire and resonate with their core, turning them into passionate advocates who reinforce the brand and allow more organic growth.

What Can You Do When It’s Too Late and You’ve Lost Consumer Trust?

While it’s a situation nobody wants to be in, companies need to be honest, fall on their sword and open up to the gaps they have. Just like Facebook’s WSJ ad and Wells Fargo’s TV campaign, they need to promise to do better. But again, it needs to be more than a marketing promotion; it needs to be a genuine re-set, one that all departments and the entire c-suite embrace. If it’s not, it’s only a matter of time until you’re back in the hot seat.

Indecent Exposure: A Brand Nightmare of Reputation Proportions

Into every marketer’s life, a brand nightmare must come. It starts with an old tale about a PR executive explaining to a client that the client has to make some more public and press appearances to get more exposure. “If I had any more exposure,” says the frustrated client, “I’d be arrested for indecency.”

Into every marketer’s life, a brand nightmare must come. It starts with an old tale about a PR executive explaining to a client that the client has to make some more public and press appearances to get more exposure. “If I had any more exposure,” says the frustrated client, “I’d be arrested for indecency.”

“Indecency” is about the mildest thing you can say about the events of the past few weeks, as the media has overflowed with stories about the brutal murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Turkey. Reports are that a hit squad of Saudis apparently flew in on private jets for their grisly purpose and then rapidly out again, perhaps with Khashoggi’s dismembered body in their hand luggage. For Saudi Arabia, a nation expensively trying to change its worldwide repressive image, and for the agencies serving it, it is a public relations nightmare. Crisis communications can hardly encounter a deeper brand reputation challenge.

If the business of public relations is to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and the public on whom their success or failure depends, the good news for the Saudis was that the exposure they were gaining pre-Khashoggi appeared to be effectively promoting positive change in the perception of the kingdom.

The bad news is that classic PR problem: If the client demonstrates he is not what he has been expensively pictured to be, the backlash can destroy all of the previous goodwill, and then some. The image management crusade becomes a shambles.

When the young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emerged as the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia in 2017 and announced his mission to modernize the country and make it an important part of the international community, no longer only recognized for its petroleum output, not surprisingly, voracious, business-hungry PR firms grabbed the next flight to the kingdom to share in what was certain to be a bonanza of fees.

The Financial Times reported in September that the kingdom’s information ministry was seeking “to promote the changing face of KSA to the rest of the world and to improve international perception of the kingdom.”

Although the world’s largest PR agency, Burson-Marsteller, already had a big contract with the Saudis, according to Media Group RT, other companies including The Harbour Group, Hill & Knowlton, King & Spalding, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, Fleishman-Hillard Inc. and Hogan & Hartson, all managed to get a piece of what was a lot of action. Some have already ended the relationship.

The resulting effort was a generally successful zillion-dollar “charm” campaign earlier this year. The brand reputation effort’s star attraction, Prince Mohammed, visited the U.K. and then extensively toured the U.S., meeting with President Donald Trump,  government and business leaders, dot.com and showbiz celebrities, and pitched the benefits of investment in his new liberalizing country. There were some anti-Saudi demonstrations. But generally, the reception was surprisingly good.

In addition to promising giant business contracts, the prince handed out invitations to the Oct. 23-25 Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, nicknamed “Davos in the Desert” and intended to be, as Khashoggi’s Washington Post commented; “a magnet for financiers, corporate titans, technology executives, government leaders and media bigwigs. It once boasted a list of attendees that resembled the crowd that converges each year at the Alpine playground for the global elite.” The PR companies must have been jubilant at the success of their efforts and all the positive media coverage.

Until the Khashoggi disaster, that was.

Suddenly, Prince Salman and his cronies have become toxic. With the tsunami of withdrawals by speakers and participants from the Future Investment Initiative, it looked to be a very lonely conference, anything but a Davos look-alike.

How now for the PR firms (if they are still willing to serve the Saudis) to unscramble these eggs? How are they to manage the reputation of the Saudi brand and of themselves? The PR textbook teaches us that crisis management is built on taking quick, honest, transparent and direct action. Admittedly, this is an exceptional circumstance. But by all accounts, the Saudis have been anything but quick, honest, transparent or direct. Feeling the blowback, they will now have to keep their heads down, find a believable narrative of accountability and take appropriate action.

At this point in time, the PR agencies, which generated lots of exposure for the kingdom and no doubt formerly wished for a long and profitable relationship with the country, are now having to deal with indecency and some at least are having second thoughts.

Capital Communicator reports that as a result of the Khashoggi incident, “The Harbour Group has ended its $80K per month contract with Saudi Arabia” and “WPP’s Glover Park Group and BGR Government Affairs have also severed ties with Saudi Arabia.” All who so recently had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads should be reminded of the wise adage: Be careful what you wish for.

Netflix Causes Customer Freakout

Let’s cut to the chase: Why hasn’t Netflix recently informed me, and its 75 million other subscribers, that there’s a price increase on the horizon?

Netflix Binge Watch memeI “cut” the cable cord back in 2010 and have relied heavily on streaming video to get my TV fix, with Netflix being my main squeeze since 2007. And who can beat $7.99/month, especially when compared to most people’s cable bill?

But I’m not here to profess my deep love for all things Netflix … instead, I want to ask this question:

Why hasn’t Netflix recently informed me, and its 75 million other subscribers, that there’s a price increase on the horizon?

There’s plenty of coverage on the subject of the price increase on Twitter:

Netflix tweetsBut what finally did it for me was the Marie Claire e-newsletter I received yesterday.

Marie Claire e-newsletter with Netflix articleNothing against Marie Claire, because I love those #LadyBoss slideshows, but this should not be my news source. Why haven’t I received ANY emails from Netflix about the increase? I searched through my inbox to see if there had been any, and I can’t find a single one.

Google the phrase “Netflix prices going up,” and you’ll receive 39 million results, with top hits coming from USA Today, ABC News, Huffington Post, Business Insider, but nothing from Netflix. I checked out the top story, from USA Today, which shed a bit more light:

This isn’t a new price hike for Netflix. Two years ago, the company announced it would raise the price of its standard plan to $9.99. At the time of the announcement in May 2014, Netflix said existing customers could maintain the older $7.99 price for two years, which is expected to expire this May.

Okay, so Netflix announced the increase in 2014 … but it’s 2016. Why not send an update?

Netflix could have cast the increase — which is $1 to $2, depending on if you were a new or existing member when the hike was unveiled — as something completely positive.

Netflix: Do you like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?

Me: Uh … I love it.

Netflix: Great! Well there’s a second season coming out April 15, not to mention Season 4 of OITNB in June, Gilmore Girls in the Fall and a lot more awesome stuff! And because we’re focused on creating fantastic original shows, we’ve found we need to increase the monthly subscription fee.

Honestly … Netflix would have had me at “second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Take my money, and give me more music videos starring Titus. But that hasn’t happened.

Instead, Netflix seems to be sitting back and letting everyone else cover the price increase. After doing some googling I found this Engadget article from Jan. 2016. Within the article, I came across the 4Q letter to shareholders announcing the increase.

Protip: Your customers, subscribers, readers should not have to google to find out about necessary information, like a price increase.

The reality: Most won’t. Instead, they’ll take to social media to express just how annoyed they are.

Netflix dropped the ball, and there’s a good chance some subscribers will cancel. Or, they’ll opt to downgrade the service to SD — instead of HD — and only have the capability of streaming to once device at a time for the lower price of $7.99.

Troll the Respawn JeremyFor me, this isn’t about the increase. It’s about Netflix’s poor handling of its customers and lack of messaging.

If Netflix can email me about a new show it just added, it can email me about a potential price increase. Letting the media run with this story — and have a fun time with the headlines — is just bad marketing.

Use Market Research to Tie Brand Awareness and Purchase Intent to Sales

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement. Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc.  But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement.

Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc. But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

Even though consumers engage with brands on their own terms across multiple platforms, many marketers are stuck measuring the results of individual tactics rather than taking a holistic view of measurement. So when a single email or display ad fails to achieve the target level of attributable sales within a specific period of time, then they consider it a failure. Even though the communication has made an impact on those who didn’t respond, they can’t measure it, so they don’t count it.

And while many direct marketing practitioners now embrace the idea that their advertising has a cumulative effect of building a brand over time, most fall short of being able to quantify that ROI with meaningful metrics.

That’s where market research can help.

Consider the following word equations in light of how awareness contributes to sales for the top direct marketing companies:

Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + need = purchase intent
Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + immediate need = purchase

So it follows that if we can monitor awareness and reputation over time and index it to sales, then we can quantify the effects of those elements on sales revenue.

Start by surveying your prospects blindly—either through mail, email or search ads using relevant keywords. Offer an incentive that’s consistent with your product offering, e.g., “Save $$$ on cell phone accessories.” Ask respondents the following questions to determine the levels of unaided and aided awareness:

  • Which brands first come to mind when thinking of “category X”? (unaided awareness)
  • Which of the following brands (list) have you ever heard of? (aided awareness)

Get a better picture of the respondents’ product usage by asking:

  • Which brand(s) within category X do you “regularly” purchase?
  • Which brand is your favorite?
  • Which brand did you last purchase?
  • How often do you purchase this type of product?
    (Light, medium, heavy user?)
  • What percentage of “category X” purchases that you’ve made (within a certain timeframe) were “brand A”? (your share of customer)

For those who have used your brand, quantify purchase intent with the following question:

  • The next time you need this product, how likely are you to purchase “brand A”?

Next, index awareness levels to sales to sales revenues. Be sure account for category sales within the same time period. Your actual sales may have gone down, but the entire category may have gone down as well, and you may in fact have gotten more than your previous share of the category sales.

As you track these metrics over time, you will be able to quantify what a point of unaided awareness is worth in sales revenue. It’s one tool that will help you understand the effect that your communications have on sales beyond the responses that you can count directly.