A comprehensive survey of media usage by consumers and communication professionals challenges several major myths, including the growing belief that traditional media—local newspapers and television news, in particular—are dead.
The survey by Ketchum and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center found that consumers still rely heavily on their local newspapers and local TV news while, increasingly, also using web logs, or blogs, and other emerging new media to gather the information they need to make purchases and explore issues.
The Media Myths & Realities survey compares the media-usage habits of 1,490 adult Americans and 500 communications industry professionals. In general, the survey revealed that significant gaps exist between the two groups. While heavy users of all media, industry professionals often don’t seem to go beyond their corporate websites to dispense information even though most consumers don’t visit those sites that frequently.
The results underscore the need for companies to establish a balance in their media mix.
The strong “traditional media is not dead” finding comes at a time when the circulation and viewership numbers for traditional publications and television continue to slide and commentators are sounding the death knell of newspapers, especially. But the Ketchum/USC Annenberg survey looks at media-usage habits and not whether consumers are subscribing to publications or viewing TV news less frequently.
Many consumers undoubtedly are looking at newspaper and TV stations’ and networks’ websites and considering them to be part of the traditional media umbrella. “What’s clear is that consumers still rely heavily on traditional media for the information they need to make purchasing decisions and to consider issues,” say the study’s authors.
According to the survey, nearly three-in-four consumers (73.6 percent) rely on their local TV news while nearly 70 percent (68.9 percent) depend on their local newspaper, and this heavy reliance cuts across all generations. As for new media, just 13.4 percent of the general public use blogs while only 4.8 percent use podcasts and 4.5 percent get media via their cell phone. However, usage of new media varies significantly by age.
The survey also discredits five other common media myths, including:
• Blogs dominate. The survey revealed that just 13.4 percent of consumers rely on Internet blogs and only give them a 5.2 rating out of 10 for credibility, while nearly 69 percent of consumers read their local newspaper and give it a 7.2 credibility rating and 73.6 percent rely on local TV news and give it a 7.4 rating.
• Social networking sites are just for kids. Reflecting growing interest toward personal relevance, the survey found that online social networking sites such as myspace.com and friendster.com attract people of all ages, not just the young. Overall, 17.1 percent of the survey respondents ranked them highest in usage among new media. While adults ages 18 to 24 (41.9 percent) and 25-34 (30.9 percent) use social networks the most, 15.1 percent of adults ages 35 to 44 and nearly 10 percent of those 45 to 54 also use them.
• Young adults don’t read the newspaper. More than half of adults 18 to 24 read local newspapers, the survey shows, with 16.4 percent reading a national newspaper or newspapers. Young adults are the most well rounded in their media habits, making significant use of all types of new and traditional media.
• Word of mouth cannot be managed. The study proves that word of mouth can make or break a communications campaign. Advice from family and friends is used by 43.7 percent of consumers when making purchase decisions, and nearly one in four follows advice from coworkers. Credibility is high for both groups. And while word of mouth can’t be controlled, it can be influenced by communicators who understand the informational needs of consumers and those who influence them by providing the information accurately and creatively.
• The company website is the best way to communicate. Industry professionals often rely too heavily on their Web sites to convey corporate information while consumers view them as just one of many pit stops for such news. For instance, while nearly half of industry professionals use their company Web site most for company announcements, only 6.8 percent of consumers look to the Web site for such information. But consumers often use company Web sites to gather information before making major purchases, such as a car, consumer electronics and stock.
“The Ketchum/USC Annenberg study clearly illuminates several critical findings, particularly that industry professionals must customize their media mix as consumers’ needs vary and they use a multi-channel approach for their information,” says Raymond Kotcher, senior partner and chief executive officer of Ketchum. “The survey also makes plain that traditional media live as drivers of consumer attitudes and choices, that new media have a definite place in the mix and that the human channel increasingly spreads the message through word of mouth.”
“The study also tells us a lot about influencers – those people who are society’s informational editors and who shape consumer attitudes,” adds Jerry Swerling, founder and director of the USC Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center. “Influencers devour all media all the time, including word of mouth, and they adopt new media earlier than others. They typically use media at higher levels than the average consumer. As a result, companies must master how to participate in this cycle of influence, and new media channels may well provide the answer.”
The study demonstrates that consumers use a multi-source approach when seeking guidance about various purchases. For example, when considering the purchase of a new car, 35 percent of consumers—the highest percentage—rely on advice from family and friends, but when thinking about purchasing stock, 26 percent look to business news Web sites and 20.8 percent visit company Web sites. When choosing a brand name prescription, the top choices are major TV news, at 14.3 percent, and manufacturers’ Web sites, at 11.7 percent.
The survey identified what appears to be a disconnect between consumers’ lack of reliance on corporate Web sites for information and industry professionals’ strong use of them to convey corporate information compared to other channels.
“The survey shows clearly that the best approach for corporate communicators involves employing a real marketing-mix mentality and using a variety of media channels when communicating with consumers and those who influence them,” says Nicholas Scibetta, Ketchum senior vice president and global director of the agency’s Communications & Media Strategy Network. “This captures the intersection of traditional and new media and of the human element that of word-of-mouth communications provides. Consumers and influencers increasingly are navigating to that intersection for the information they need.
“What communicators must do, however, is understand which medium works best with which audience. And that’s why employing a media mix is so important today.”