Cover Story: Media Usage Forecast 2011

Have marketers finally found the new normal?

“At least it doesn’t look like things got any worse.”

That was my initial reaction to Target Marketing‘s 2011 Annual Media Usage Forecast survey results. But looking more closely at the numbers, budgets appear to have stabilized and are even beginning to turn upward. It’s a slow turn, but unlike last year—when only B-to-B saw a significant rebound—it appears to be across the board.

Half of all respondents, exactly 50.1 percent, expect their 2011 direct response media budgets to remain the same as in 2010. Comparing that to last year (when 43.5 percent of respondents reported flat budgets) and 2009 (40 percent), we can see that media budgets have finally escaped their multiyear decline. This is the highest percent of flat budgets Target Marketing has ever seen in the survey.

Are budgets just stagnant? No. In fact, 28 percent of all respondents are increasing media budgets in 2011, and only 16 percent report decreases. In 2010, 29 percent of reported budgets decreased, and 35 percent decreased in 2009. We’re not looking at the “boom times” of 2008, when 38 percent of respondents increased budgets and only 16 percent decreased, but we’re not seeing the standstill of ’09 either.

Similar signs of stability with some specks of encouraging increases pervade this year’s survey results. There are some new trends—social media may be this year’s email, SEO has only gotten hotter—but the overall balance of direct print to digital seems to be stabilizing.

Along with the multiple choice polls, we asked one open-answer question in the survey: “What factors have influenced changes in your direct marketing media allocations from 2010 to 2011?” For every respondent who cited the terrible economy, there were two who explained their budget shifts in terms of shifting media consumption among their target markets.

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