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Marc Mascara, Eve Padula

COVID-19 Accelerates Channel Fog and Channel Fatigue

Consumer Preference Takes Center Stage in Today’s Uncertain Times

Apr 21, 2020 12:22:28 PM


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In the latter half of 2019, Keypoint Intelligence identified an emerging trend in the consumer space that affected the areas of transactional communications and marketing communications. Contrary to many assumptions and preconceived notions, the share of transactional communications that consumers accessed electronically declined steadily over the past three years. Data from our Annual State of Transactional Communications consumer surveys uncovered a 5% year-over-year drop in this share. It is also interesting to note that the share of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 who accessed their transactional communications electronically declined even faster than the other age groups.



Although younger consumers do access a greater share of their communication electronically, this share has not increased as originally expected. Regarding paper-only and both digital and paper preferences, the year-over-year trend was an increase of about 2% to 3%. This suggests that digital as well as printed channels are both flattening. Print is no longer falling off the cliff, but digital communications are not on a steep growth trajectory either.


Channel Fog vs. Channel Fatigue

To better understand this change in consumer channel preference, we performed a deeper analysis of our survey data and uncovered two phenomena that we call channel fog and channel fatigue. These forces are defined as follows:


  • Channel Fog is the uncertainty consumers have surrounding the task of determining which communication channels to use in today’s multi-channel world. Concerns about the security of personal data, near-constant media reports of fraud and identity theft, and personal experience with digital channels being hacked are the primary contributors to channel fog.


  • Channel Fatigue refers to the mounting difficulty associated with managing massive amounts of digital data from an ever-widening pool of consumer and business information. This fatigue is driven by the overwhelming amount of communications that can come from a single channel, as well as the day-to-day maintenance of multiple accounts and passwords.


Brands and enterprises are beginning to understand that when it comes to communication channels, consumer preference is paramount. Businesses that ignored customer preferences about how they wanted to be communicated with saw a decline in loyalty and increased attrition. Mounting channel fog and fatigue have only contributed to these trends.


During a recent webinar with Doxim, a leading CRM provider, Keypoint Intelligence learned about a recent trend—on a global basis, some businesses are accelerating the transition to paperless in response to COVID-19. Some businesses make the paperless option a default or even go so far as to make it the only option. Although this strategy can help during times like these when COVID-19 puts a spotlight on digital communications, Keypoint Intelligence’s most recent transactional communications study shows that this may not be the best long-term strategy. Over three-quarters of consumers in North America agreed that they wanted to decide which channels their providers used to communicate with them, and nearly half (47%) wanted printed versions of their bills and statements. In addition, 64% of respondents agreed that when they switched from one provider to another, it was often due to a bad experience—like a disregard of customer communication preferences!


COVID-19: The Great Accelerator

For enterprises and brand owners, the presence of a captive audience and a means to broaden digital communication channels are viewed as positives. On the consumer side, however, the exponential acceleration of channel fog and fatigue (particularly in the digital realm) have created a significant burden. According to Sophos, the coronavirus already accounted for a significant share of spam traffic by early March. In some cases, these scam communications included calls to action like “you have an email about your credit” or “you have received a fax about your loan.”



Current data from the FTC indicates that total losses thus far are valued at about $4.77 million, with a reported median loss of $598. Fraud complaints have doubled in just a few weeks, so much that the FTC has publicly launched its Scam Bingo card.



We are about two months into the pandemic in the United States, and Keypoint Intelligence’s Annual State of Marketing Communications Consumer Surveys (North America and Europe) have just exited the field. Interestingly, results from this research indicate that the share of consumers who prefer email for marketing communications is roughly the same as that for direct mail. When respondents were asked about the factors that would prompt them to read/review direct mail or marketing communications, the top responses (“personalized & relevant content” and “familiar & trusted sender”) were the same for both channels. Although the analysis for this research is still underway, more information can be obtained by emailing deanna.flanick@keypointintelligence.com. Preliminary analysis indicates an acceleration of omni-channel communications, including printed messaging from a familiar and trusted sender and digital messaging to facilitate execution of the action.


The Bottom Line

Although many predicted the demise of print due to increasingly widespread digital communications, research from Keypoint Intelligence’s Customer Communications Service suggests otherwise. In fact, early indications are that the COVID-19 pandemic will only serve to accelerate consumers’ demands for providers that communicate with them via their desired channels. Print service providers and customer communication solution providers will likely feel the effects of this acceleration, which will fuel an ever-greater need for omni-channel communications. Enterprises and brand owners will also need to increase their artificial intelligence capabilities to accommodate the need for personalized, relevant content from printed as well as digital communications.


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