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August 31 , 2010

Young adults prefer offline marketing offers

ICOM survey yields surprising results

Six years after the launch of Facebook, North American consumers in the valued 18-34 year-old demographic prefer by a wide margin to learn about marketing offers via postal mail and newspapers rather than online sources such as social media platforms, according to national survey research from ICOM, a division of Epsilon Targeting.

Additionally, the research shows that preferential attitudes about the trustworthiness of mail strengthened for consumer respondents in all age groups from 2008 to 2010. The 2010 study of 2569 US households and 2209 Canadian households focused on consumer preferences in regard to the ever-expanding array of communications channels for the delivery of marketing information, offers and promotions. Responses came from consumers ranging in age from 18 to 55 and above.

By the numbers, here are some of the key results from ICOM’s 2010 study of North American consumers’ marketing communication channel preferences –

  • For household and health products, the preference among 18-34 year-old Americans for receiving marketing information from offline sources led by mail and newspapers is 2 to 3 times greater than online sources such as social media. Examples of consumer preferences for offline versus online are:




Personal Care



Food Products



Cleaning Products



Over the Counter Medicine



Sensitive Health Products



Prescription Medicine



  • Travel was the exception, where 18-34 year-old Americans preferred online to offline information by a 42% to 35% margin, however, Insurance and Financial Services followed the overall trend, with the 18-34 age group preferring offline sources 43% to 21% and 44% to 19%, respectively.
  • The trust pendulum is swinging in the direction of mail for survey takers in all age brackets:

36% of US respondents in 2010 said information is more private if sent through the mail vs. email or online, up from 29% in 2008; corresponding responses in Canada were 38% and 35%

25% of US respondents in 2010 said a lot of online information can’t be trusted, up from 19% in 2008; corresponding responses in Canada were 28% and 24%

20% of US respondents in 2010 said they trust information received by mail more than online, up from 12% in 2008; corresponding responses in Canada were 25% and 18%.

  • For health information, consumers favor doctors and nurses (80% US, 83% Canada), but for general products they rank as most trustworthy friends and family (57% US, 52% Canada), newspapers (26% US, 26% Canada), company web sites (22% US, 20% Canada), television (20% US, 21% Canada) and brochures and flyers (18% US, 18% Canada). The numbers for social media sites, by comparison, were Facebook (8% US, 6% Canada), YouTube (7% US, 5% Canada) and Twitter (7% US, 5% Canada).

“A key take away from this research is that marketers targeting coveted 18-34 year olds who are tempted to invest solely in social media could be missing a significant portion of their audience,” said ICOM, a division of Epsilon Targeting Vice President Warren Storey.

“For example, a consumer goods company that relies heavily on a female audience, especially moms, could fall short of expectations if it uses only the social media channel,” Storey said. “Companies need to employ a multi-channel approach to gain maximum engagement with their customers.”

Other key findings from ICOM’s survey about channel preferences include the following:

  • 45% of US men and 35% of Canadian men do not have any social media accounts, 36% of US women and 31% of Canadian women do not have any social media accounts
  • 25% of respondents, US and Canadian, said they get more postal mail versus a year ago; 72% US and 66% Canadian said they get more email versus a year ago   
  • In both the US and Canada, women are more likely than men to prefer addressed or unaddressed mail for many product categories, and men are more likely to prefer the Internet or email as a mode of receiving marketing information.

The factors driving consumers to certain channels – according to the ICOM research are trust, convenience, richness and relevance of information and environmental concerns.

“The finding that only 25% of respondents perceive they’re getting more postal mail compared to a year ago, while nearly three times that amount say they’re getting more email is telling, and signals to marketers there is an opportunity to gain key consumers’ attention and interest by using the direct mail channel,” Storey said.

“Overall, our research confirms the proliferation of channel choices but shows that a unique combination or balance of favored channels needs to be identified, and that combination likely includes direct mail and other offline options, despite the notion by some that offline is no longer effective,” he said.

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