Marketing communication becomes risky in newer media

By Todd Bacile | July 9, 2012

Social Media Risk

Think about watching a television commercial, listening to a commercial on the radio, driving by a billboard, or having a banner ad appear in your web browser. Do any of these encounters with marketing messages sound risky? Most consumers would say no. For the most part marketing communication and advertising is annoying, yet consumers largely view this as a risk-less act. Traditional forms of advertising and promotion occur in the background and out of focus.

Newer emerging media is changing this view. Technology is evolving to become more personal and more important to consumers – think mobile devices and social media here. Consumers are sensitive to intrusive and annoying marketing communication in these important, personal channels. Mostly because these communication channels were originally designed to communicate with friends and family. When marketers enter “my” (i.e. the consumer’s) personal network of friends and family, this may cause problems. Potential concerns include unwanted messages, irrelevant messages, or too many messages in what consumers have become conditioned to as their own personal networks. A cause for concern or worry, an uncomfortable feeling about an unknown consequence, or the general belief that an undesirable outcome will occur all fit within the classic definition of perceived risk. A marketer who potentially can intrude upon a person’s social media news feed or send repeated text messages is a genuine concern for some, who would prefer to avoid such an undesirable situation. Sure, the ability to opt-in or opt-out exists, but this is a very low-level safeguard.

I decided to run an experiment at Florida State University to assess the possibility of marketing communication becoming risky in newer media. Over 800 respondents completed an online survey, of which half were randomly exposed to a scenario where they would be given a traditional paper coupon for a local restaurant; and the other half were exposed to a scenario where they would receive a mobile text message coupon. All the details were the same except the medium: print versus text message. The results were as expected: consumers experienced a significantly higher level of perceived risk when exposed to a text message promotion compared to a traditional print media promotion.

What does this mean? Companies must assess which risk-reducing mechanisms are applicable to use with emerging media marketing communication. Some point to the option to opt-in: “If I choose to receive messages then I am in control.” Not quite. Think about opt-in: after a consumer decides to become a member of a marketing audience, all decision making and control ceases. Firms must offer more options for consumers’ risk to be alleviated. Risk reducing strategies exist in many business encounters, yet have never been associated with marketing communication. In service encounters, one mechanism is to make the intangible become tangible. Another goods and services technique is grant the consumer more control. Yet another: present information about expected outcomes upfront to minimize ambiguity. These strategies and many others may soon need to be retrofitted to marketing communication via mobile and social media. The juice is definitely worth the squeeze: at stake is a billion dollar market several times over.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. His research on mobile marketing topics has been presented and at numerous national marketing conferences and published in the Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing. Please visit his website for more information regarding his research within e-Marketing and services marketing topics. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile

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