There is a common misconception in modern post digital marketing, which stems from a view that because it is difficult to track which media and devices a consumer uses, it’s difficult to ensure they’re always getting the same message.
This is not the case, however. The functional implication of this is that brands need to extend the notion of “brand consistency” into “communication universality”. In other words, you get the same message in the same style no matter how or where you receive it. Multichannel seems to equate to the “same message on every medium”. Pervasive marketing, put another way.
A practical example of this is those supermarkets that have a TV screen above the entrance, showing either their TV advertisements (ads) or their point of sale (PoS) promotions. You may have seen the crowds of people stopping at the entrance to watch the latest commercial. You haven’t? Well, there’s a reason for that. Every channel is different and each has its strengths. When not playing to their strengths, it manifests as a weakness. There is, in my view, absolutely no point whatsoever in trying to make any communication universal. TV ads work when on TV – they don’t necessarily work in a four-centimetre box in a browser window.
Even if you could devise one that did, how would it work at PoS, or on a mobile without sound? By trying to make a piece of communication platform-neutral, we neuter platform-specific creativity – we render the advantages of each venue, medium or device redundant. Multichannel is therefore a much-abused term in common marketing practice. What multichannel means, when it is not a catch-all for “make it all look the same”, is “use every channel to its best advantage”. Taking this one way might imply a fragmented, incoherent collection of messages. And again, that’s not ideal. So what is?
Multichannel marketing done properly requires a genuine understanding of customer lifecycles and framed within that, customer journeys. Customer journeys are the articulation of researched cycles within awareness, prospect, engagement, consideration, conversion, retention, advocacy and win-back phases of the lifecycle. Data, (Big data sometimes, but not necessarily always) provides the information, data planning – especially CRM planning – provides the insights, and customer journey planning converts this into a series of sequences. Attach to each point in the sequence a trigger, information, value exchange or call to action and we have a plan we can use to map the customer’s engagement from each phase of the lifecycle, leading to the next.
And this is where multichannel comes into its own. With this map in hand, and the data and validating research into the behaviours, preferences and attitudes of the customer, (each map will look different according to the segment defining a particular type of customer and their interactions with the brand), a start can be made on defining how each touchpoint should be executed. For example, if we know that a shopper always shops on a Saturday at 10am in Warwick, and buys a basket of produce, which we can predict, for their family (which we know about), then we might want to increase their loyalty by delivering some real value – in this case, in the form of genuinely relevant vouchers.
We have several possible touchpoints, we could send them a mobile message, for example. Or e-mail. Or in the post. Or at the till. You can see that by approaching multichannel in a simplistic way the answer would be “all of them”.
To make it effective, we need to understand the sequence involved:
“Thanks for shopping with us” – printed on the receipt, same day as last shop.
“Here’s a voucher based on your last-but-one shop” – sent by e-mail, two days before the next shop (which our research shows is when a shopping list is planned ).
“Did you print this week’s voucher?” – a targeted ad on Facebook, Friday afternoon.
“In case you forgot, use this code” – SMS, Saturday morning.
“Do you have any vouchers?” – sales assistant.
This is true of multichannel marketing, albeit using a microscopic sequence to illustrate the principle. It requires coordination of course, which is why most people don’t bother doing it. But the rewards can be staggering – it’s generating an extra £5.75m a year for one of the brands we work with, and it has barely scratched the surface. With an understanding of what multichannel truly means, customers can be engaged to an astonishing degree. Multichannel isn’t about pervasiveness after all. It’s about persuasion.