Celebrity endorsements run out of steam.

“Paid product endorsements are meaningless. I want to learn about the product from experts who are advocating for it – not just some random person who happens to have a job that makes them well-known.” 

— Consumer panel participant, ExpertVoice, May 2018.

The next time you see a celebrity spokesperson speaking about a product or a service … don’t think much of it.

Chances are, the celebrity isn’t doing a whole lot to increase a company’s sales or enhance its brand image.

We have affirmation of this trend in a report issued in June 2018 by marketing firm ExpertVoice, which recently investigated a Census-weighted audience of ~500 U.S. consumers on the issue of who consumers trust for recommendations on what to buy.

The findings confirm that while celebrity endorsements do raise awareness, typically it fails to move the needle in terms of sales. In fact, just ~4% of the participants in the ExpertVoice research study reported that they trust celebrity endorsements.  (And even that percentage is juiced by professional athletes who are more influential than other celebrities.)

As for the reason for the lack of trust, more than half of the respondents noted that their greatest concern is the monetary compensation given to the people from the brands they’re endorsing. Consumers are wise to the practice – and they reject the notion that the endorser has anything other than self-dealing in mind.

By way of comparison, here are how celebrities stack up against others when it comes to influencing consumer purchases:

  • Trust recommendations from friends/family members: ~83% of respondents
  • … from a professional expert (e.g., instructor or coach): ~54%
  • … from a co-worker: ~52%
  • … from a retail salesperson: ~42%
  • … from a professional athlete: ~6%
  • … from any other kind of celebrity: ~2%

A big takeaway from the ExpertVoice research is that more people are influenced by individuals who are making recommendations based on actual experiences with the products in question. Moreover, if it’s people they know they know personally, they’re even likelier to be swayed by their opinions.

In a crowded marketplace full of many purchase choices, consumers are looking for trusted recommendations. That means something a lot more authentic than a celebrity endorser.  Considering the amount of money companies and brands have historically had to pony up for celebrity pitches, it seems an opportune time for marketers to be looking at alternative methods to influence their audiences.

Click here for more information regarding the ExpertVoice research findings.

Where Print Advertising Still Reigns

city-and-regional-magazine-survey-2014-FOLIOPrint advertising may be atrophying, but it’s still important enough to be the overwhelming revenue stream for city and regional magazine publishers.

According to the latest annual survey of media in this category, conducted by FOLIO last month, most publishing titles continue to rely on print for the vast bulk of the revenues they generate.

But before we look at FOLIO’s figures today, let’s see what’s happened over the past decade or so.

Print advertising revenues in this segment of the publishing industry represented over 95% of overall revenue as late as 2005. It’s dropped since then – but it hasn’t declined all that much, all things considered.

Here’s what FOLIO’s research findings are showing today:

  • Print advertising: Represents ~75% of all revenues
  • Paid subscriptions: ~6%
  • Custom publishing: ~6%
  • Digital media: ~5%
  • Events: ~3%
  • Mobile products: ~1%
  • Mercantile data (e.g., list rental): Less than 1%

Compared to Folio’s 2013 survey, print advertising has declined slightly (from ~77% of overall revenues in 2013), but paid subscription revenues are down sharply (from about 10%).

Within this publication category, there are some differences between large and small publishers. Larger brands (those generating more than $5 million in revenues) rely less on print advertising; it’s only about 65% of their earnings.

With smaller publication titles, it’s been significantly more challenging to diversify away from print. They’re still relying on print ad sales to generate more than 80% of their revenue.  And that percentage hasn’t changed in five years.

Right now, digital media accounts for only about 9% of total revenues generated by the larger media properties in this segment. But managers at these publications anticipate that revenue from digital platforms will continue to grow at a faster clip.

In fact, they foresee a jump of nearly 30% in digital media revenues this year alone.

The FOLIO report notes that the increase in digital revenues is coming from better monetization strategies for existing products, rather than the introduction of new ones.

City and Regional MagazinesConsidering why publishers in the city and regional magazine category continue to rely on print versus other revenues, I think it goes back to the idea that consumers don’t consider these properties strong sources for “instant” or “breaking” news.

Behaviorally, there’s more of a propensity to browse through story topics in a more “linear” fashion. The emphasis on human interest and region-centric news also aligns more with a more traditional approach to journalism, where most every news story tends to have some sort of a “human” dimension.

Quite a few stories are long-form journalism, or ones that feature high-quality photography.  Far fewer of them are time-sensitive.  They lend themselves to a more leisurely perusal.

Even so, it would seem that broader trends regarding the way consumers are interacting with media — and the platforms they’re using to consumer them — destined to overtake the city/regional magazine category.

Eventually.

More details on the FOLIO research results can be found here.

Couponing Practices: Tradition Trumps Technology

couponingWith big changes happening every day in the way that consumers are interacting with brands and products, a big question is how quickly they’re changing their habits when it comes to the use of coupons.

Perhaps surprisingly, the results of a new 2014 Simmons National Consumer Study conducted by Experian show that “traditional” couponing activities remain far and away the most prevalent consumer activity.

First of all, the proportion of U.S. households that uses coupons of any sort is right around three-fourths (~74% according to the recent Simmons survey).

And we all know the single biggest reason why people use coupons:  to save money.  That rationale dwarfed any other among the survey respondents:

  • I use coupons to save money: ~64% of respondents mentioned
  • I use coupons to try new products: ~23%
  • Coupons incent me to try new stores: ~7%

But then the data points begin to deviate from where marketers may think their consumers’ minds are at (or where they might wish them to be).

Consider how many of the following popular couponing practices are distinctly “old school”:

  • I use coupons from in-store/on-shelf coupon machines: ~55% of respondents cited
  • I take advantage of rebates on products: ~50%
  • I use free-standing inserts from newspapers: ~46%
  • I use on-package coupons: ~37%

coupons on smartphoneCompare that to the far-lower engagement levels with “new school” couponing practices:

  • I use coupons delivered by Internet or e-mail: ~30% of respondents cited
  • I use my smartphone to redeem coupons at the store: ~17%
  • I have used a smartphone coupon app in the last 30 days: ~9%

These results show that if companies decide to embrace coupons as part of their marketing effort, they’ll need to pay as much attention (if not more) to traditional couponing methods than to newer practices.

Old habits die hard … at least in this arena.

“Surprise & Delight” vs. “Tried & True” Branding

All the emphasis on having consumer-facing brands “surprise and delight” their customers isn’t what many people are looking for at all.

surprise surpriseIn the interactive age, what we hear often is that companies and brands need to go beyond simply offering a high-quality product.

Many companies and brands have the notion that they should strive to engender a kind of “personal” relationship with customers – so that consumers will develop the same kinds of feelings for brands as they have with their close friends.

How true is this?

One marketing company decided to find out.  Toronto-based virtual agent technology firm IntelliResponse surveyed ~1,000 online consumers in the United States earlier this year.

When asked what sort of relationship they would prefer to have with the companies whose products and services they purchase, here’s how the percentages broke for these respondents:

  • Prefer a “friendship” where they get personalized service:  ~24% 
  • Prefer a “transactional” relationship where they receive efficient service and that’s all:  ~59% 
  • Prefer both equally:  ~17% 

Evidently, “boringly consistently good” beats “surprisingly delightful” far more often – assuming the company is minding its Ps and Qs when it comes to product quality.

Here’s what else consumers are seeking:  They want to be able to get the same information and answers from a company’s desktop or mobile website … online portal … or social media sites as they do from speaking with company representatives over the phone.

The IntelliResponse survey found that two-thirds of the respondents will go to a company’s website first when seeking out information regarding a product or service – so the answers better be there or the brand risks consumer disappointment.

The takeaway is this:  No matter how much breathless reporting there is about this “surprising” social media campaign or that “delightful” interactive contest … the majority of consumers continue to view companies and brands the way they have for 100 years:  Companies are merely the vehicle by which they can acquire the goods they need.

Puzzle piecesRather than spending undue energy trying to make the interactive world “fun” or “sticky” for customers, companies should focus on the basic work of delivering products, information and answers that are easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to act on.

And related to that — make sure support systems (and support people) are in place so that customers can get any problems or issues solved with a minimum of time or hassle.

Do those things well, and companies will naturally please the vast majority of their current and future customers.

Everything else is just window-dressing.

Boomers and Millennials: Destined always to be different … or on the same trajectory?

NeuroWhen it comes to advertising, it turns out that the Baby Boomer generation sees things quite a bit differently than the Millennial generation.

In fact, based on neuromarketing research conducted last year by Nielsen NeuroFocus, generational differences account for some interesting neurological contrasts between Boomer and Millennial brains.

The research results also point to how companies might find it wise to tweak the design and presentation of their advertising based on the age levels of their audiences.

Consider these distinct differences found by Nielsen NeuroFocus in its research:

Brain Function: The Boomer Brain likes repetition. Boomers also tend to believe that information that is “familiar” is true. On the other hand, the Millennial brain is more stimulated by dynamic elements such as rich media, animation, and lighting that cuts through their “perception threshold.”

Distractions: Boomer brains are more easily distracted, whereas Millennials are adept at dealing with “bleeding-over” communications such as those found in dynamic banner ads and in contemporary magazine layouts.

Attention Spans: Boomers have a broader attention span and are open to processing more information, whereas Millennials prefer at-the-ready, multi-sensory communications. (And “impatience” is their middle name.)

Colors: In advertising, contrasts gain the attention of Boomers in advertising. With Millennials, it’s more the intensity of the color palette overall rather than contrasts within it that does the trick.

Humor: The Boomer generation prefers lighthearted, clever humor in advertising messages – positive and not mean-spirited. Boomers also like relatable characters that aren’t much younger than themselves. Millennials tend to prefer offbeat, sarcastic or slapstick humor – basically, the kind of humor that many Boomers find offputting or even offensive. Making special effects and other visual hi-jinks part of the shtick attracts the attention and interest of Millennials, too.

It turns out, there’s some real science behind these findings, too. Nielsen NeuroFocus reports that when people are in their mid-50s, distraction suppression mechanisms tend to weaken. Even as early as the mid-40s there are dramatic declines in neurotransmitter levels – particularly serotonin and dopamine.

How does that manifest itself in situations where we see “Boomers behaving badly?” Dopamine declines can lead to thrill-seeking behaviors to compensate. And a drop in serotonin levels can lead to the feeling that “something is missing” – thereby leading to classic midlife crisis behaviors affecting a person’s professional life and personal relationships.

… And as we know, that often doesn’t end up particularly well.

But here’s the more central takeaway from the research: Boomer-Millennial differences don’t turn out to be so much a function of differing world views; it’s more a function of the aging process itself.

So look for the Millennials to begin responding more like Boomers in the coming years.

What people say: More believable than what brands say.

Word of mouth and review/ratings sites trump branding activityWord of mouth has always been a powerful influencer over the success or failure of a product in the market. So when surveys show that consumers value the opinion of their friends most when it comes to the value of a product, there’s nothing particularly unusual about that news.

But consider the explosion in the popularity of review sites like Angie’s List and Yelp, plus other sources of information and opinion in cyberspace over the past few years. These have made it possible to access the opinions of significantly more people than ever before.

Nielsen’s most recent Global Trust in Advertising Survey, which queried ~28,000 consumers around the world in late 2011, found that ~92% of respondents trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family members.

Interestingly, that percentage is actually up from 2007, when Nielsen found ~75% of respondents trusting their friends as a good source of information.

What about online consumer reviews written by complete strangers? Consumers’ trust levels in those information sources has also gone up; it’s ~70% today compared to ~55% back in 2007.

The picture is different with branding and advertising, however. Trust in traditional advertising (TV, radio, magazines and newspapers) has dropped in recent years. Today, only about 47% of Nielsen survey respondents say they trust those sources of information.

Online advertising has actually improved its standing with consumers, but trust levels are still mired in the 30s: 36% trust online video ads … ~33% trust online banner ads … ~39% trust paid search engine advertising.

And when it comes to branded content like company websites, consumer trust in these “owned media” is running below 60%, while e-mail communiqués are scoring even lower on the trust scale (around 50%).

The Nielsen survey results underscore why developing a robust social media presence has become such an important strategy for so many brands. Clearly, recommendations and reviews from friends and strangers alike is having the strongest impact on the purchase decisions that are being made.

Of course, building a social media presence is only half the battle: Whether the content is positive, neutral or negative has huge implications as well. A few negative reviews or ratings can stop a purchaser dead in his or her tracks. Just ask anyone in the hospitality industry, whose establishments are in some senses almost held hostage by TripAdvisor and other rating sites.

Social Couponing and “Daily Deal” Sites: Storm Clouds on a Blue Horizon?

Daily deals and other online couponsI’ve blogged in the past about the risks and rewards of social couponing. Recently, we’ve been getting some conflicting reports about the online couponing phenomenon.

On the positive side, according to a new market forecast by local media expert and advertising firm BIA/Kelsey, American consumer spending on coupon “deals” – including daily deals, instant deals and flash sales – is expected to grow at a healthy compound annual growth rate of ~37% between 2010 to 2015.

That would mean that Americans will be spending ~$4.2 billion in this segment by 2015. And that’s an increase of ~$300 million over BIA/Kelsey’s earlier 2015 forecast, released by them just this past March.

The BIA report also makes the following observations and prognostications about the segment:

Groupon and LivingSocial – the leading players in this market – have expanded rapidly. With low barriers to entry, more participants have entered as well, including vertical sites and local media companies.

 There’s been substantial growth in the number of registered users who are active in buying coupons.

 More specialization in deal sites – by market segment and by geography – is leading to more activity by registered users.

 An increase in both the number of transactions and the average price per transaction will occur.

Counterbalancing this rosy report is the experience of market leader Groupon in its attempts to take itself public. That endeavor has been accompanied by the release of financial figures that show company performance well below expectations.

And the challenges go well beyond Groupon: The Wall Street Journal’s Shayndi Raice is reporting that a shakeout has already begun among the ~530 daily deal sites that have been formed in recent times. So far in 2011, nearly one-third have shut down or been sold (~170 of them), according to daily deal site aggregator Yipit. Even sites like Yelp and Facebook have pulled back from their daily deal coupon activities.

According to reporter Raice, at the root of the challenge is the cost of acquiring registered users for the couponing services. At the outset, the novelty of the segment and the resulting PR buzz made it relatively easy to attract “early adopter” consumers and participating merchants, so only a relatively modest sales promotion budget was needed.

But, Raice notes, “It now takes more spending to get to remaining consumers and to cut through the noise created by so many competitors.”

Groupon’s own statistics from regulatory filings in connection with its bid to go public illustrate this dramatically. Here’s how the average cost to acquire a new custom jumped over the span of just one year:

 March 2010: $7.99 average acquisition cost-per-customer
 June 2010: $20.93
 March 2011: $30.74

Groupon was forced to spend nearly $380 million in marketing initiatives during the first half of 2011, compared to only around $35 million a year earlier. In the heightened competitive environment, not only must companies vie for new consumers, they need to sell new merchants on the program as well.

Those marketing and selling requirements translate into nearly 1,000 Groupon sales employees in North America alone, while second-ranked LivingSocial has ~700 … each of whom earns an average $100,000 in salary plus commission.

Considering these daunting dollar figures, it’s hardly a surprise that there’s a shakeout happening, with the less-heeled participants having to exit the market or sell themselves off.

In hindsight, it appears that many entrepreneurs and investors may have been tempted by the deceptively low barriers to entry into the “online deals” coupon game – basically a website … a few merchants offering coupon discounts … and some e-mail offers to consumers. But the real costs come with trying to scale operations so that the individual coupon offers result in sufficient income and fees that will offset the relatively labor-intensive operating model.

Obviously, many have yet to find the sweet spot in this business.