Exact Target

Living in a Digital Age

People communicate more frequently and via more channels than ever before. They are also using a wider variety of media, whether it is messaging friends or reading and responding to communications from their favorite brands. Using multiple forms of media concurrently has also increased significantly. In fact, it’s not uncommon for teenagers to listen to the radio, watch TV, and surf the net at the same time—all while text messaging their friends. For marketers, this means that consumer profiles and habits are changing, and we need to pay close attention just to keep up.
In ExactTarget’s 2008 Channel Preference Survey, we asked 1,500 internet users (ages 15 to 65+) a number of questions regarding their general attitudes and usage of one-to-one communication tools, such as email, phone, text messaging (SMS), and social networking. We learned that there are marked differences between age groups not only in the usage of media, but also their acceptance of and attitudes towards each type.

Some of what we learned was not surprising, such as the fact that a majority of people prefer to communicate with friends and family via the phone rather than email. This preference is positively correlated with age. However, other data was quite surprising, such as the survey results showing that 8% of those over 65 use SMS, and 4% subscribe to social networks! Another surprising data point is that 42% of teens prefer to communicate via SMS, yet 62% prefer to receive promotions via email vs. only 1% via SMS.

Early in 2008, ExactTarget introduced a concept called SUBSCRIBERS RULE! As marketers, we need to recognize that the subscriber is in control. SUBSCRIBERS RULE! is a call to communicate with each subscriber with content, frequency, and media selection that meets their stated preferences. SUBSCRIBERS RULE! is truly about listening to the wants and needs of each customer, and doing your best as a marketer to honor them. But subscribers aren’t the only ones to benefit—Marketers receive a greater level of engagement with their communications, lower customer attrition, and higher ROI.
For the past 30 years, direct marketers have focused on demographic data to help determine what each segment of subscribers might like. This strategy clearly worked. However, it fails to meet the complexity of the current market landscape, with ever-increasing brand choices for consumers and a growing number of ways to consume and digest information. We’ve set out to show how success can best be realized by asking customers their preferences and using behavioral observations to catalog and respond to their habits and sensibilities.
Usage Patterns of Email
One of the questions asked most often in the email industry is, “What is the best time of day to send an email?” The answer we typically provide is, “There are several variables that determine the best day to send email. Success will depend upon your industry, permission level for communication, communication type, etc. Given these factors, we recommend you conduct some testing to determine the best time of day to send for your business.”
Self-reported data can certainly be suspect, since individuals tend to report themselves in what they believe to be a positive light, or they respond in a manner they believe consistent with the surveyor’s goals. But behaviors don’t lie. As it relates to usage of different communication vehicles and marketing channels, understanding the habits of our consumer base can be quite insightful.
The chart below shows the results of observations of consumers using email throughout the day, and highlights four variables: Share of Hour, Reach, Episodes per Hour, and Minutes per Episode.

An email episode represents an uninterrupted period of time in the inbox. Users may view multiple emails during this time, but their attention to the inbox remains constant. For example, if a user spends 20 minutes straight working in Outlook, they have one 20 minute episode. If the user does something else, such as switching to another application or answering the phone, and comes back to Outlook in the same hour, this is counted as a second episode.
The chart shows that not only does email reach its peak in the morning hours, consumers spend much more time per email episode (up to nearly 13 minutes on average) in the morning vs. just an average of 2 minutes per email episode late in the afternoon and evening.
What are the implications to a marketer in light of this data?
In the morning, consumers tend to dive deeper into email, where in the afternoon they are consistently in-and-out of their inboxes. Perhaps marketers sending newsletters or pitches that require more consumer involvement should consider sending them earlier in the day, when the consumers are more likely to spend the necessary time. Also, marketers relying on promotions with a “quick and clear” call to action could not only survive, but thrive later in the day when consumers are in quick-hit mode.
Blended Media and Communication Personas
Subscribers are individuals, each having distinct habits and preferences for media and communication. Even so, there are clear patterns. We know that younger consumers are more likely to use newer technologies such as SMS, social networks, and IM. Does this mean that marketers should turn to these channels to communicate with teenagers? Not necessarily.
To better understand the unique characteristics of different types of consumers, ExactTarget and the Center for Media Design (CMD) at Ball State University partnered to develop personas of common target audiences. Persona development began with seven groups identified through cluster analysis of behavioral data from Middletown Media Studies II (MMSII), conducted by CMD. MMSII data was collected by observing 350 study participants throughout the day and recording their use of and exposure to different forms of media in 15 second increments. Throughout the day, observers recorded what media participants were using, where they were using it, and for how long. When analyzed, CMD identified seven distinct groups, each of which has clear patterns regarding their use of media. Thus, these groups started from a behavior-based foundation.
From these groups, demographic and behavioral markers were used to align CMD’s seven audiences with data from ExactTarget’s Channel Preference Survey. By layering on attitudinal data collected in the survey, we were able to augment the media utilization data with information about consumer attitudes toward various marketing messages via distinct channels. In this process, we’re able to create six distinct personas, which represent identifiable target audiences of interest to direct marketers with unique media utilization habits and attitudes toward direct marketing communications.
The findings may surprise you. Though the personas do not represent a comprehensive view of all consumers, they do provide a glimpse into how you might structure a campaign targeting these types of consumers, with the ultimate goal of developing a profile and one-to-one communications targeted to each individual subscriber.