Multi-channel madness

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Never before have marketers had so many ways to reach consumers and, in turn, consumers so many ways to access information. Direct mail, e-mail, banner advertising, blogs, search, television, stores, radio, billboards, websites and mobile—these are instruments of marketing, but collectively how on earth does one orchestrate the music?

Consider this scenario—you’re watching TV one evening and a commercial for a flat screen monitor catches your attention. Two days later, as you are looking up your local weather online, another advertisement is displayed, but for different brand. Later that day, you visit the Web site of your favorite electronics superstore and begin loading your shopping cart with the products you saw so you can compare prices and features. It’s a big dollar item, so you decide not to buy online, but rather go to the closest physical store to see the products firsthand. Before leaving the house, you remember to bring that coupon you received in the mail, and you proceed to the store and purchase your preferred big screen.

For the consumer or small business, this is an empowering cycle of product and price comparisons that yield the best individual result. For the marketer, it’s multi-channel madness. How does the marketer know whether the original TV ad helped close the deal? Or link the visit to the online store with the purchase in the physical store? Or analyze the sequence of channels that produced the sale as a benchmark for serving like-minded consumers? Or even whether to treat the visit to the online store as a failure when clearly the customer visited the site as a step in his/her buying decision?

Today’s shoppers do not abide by any channel rules. Instead, they hop around between store, Web, mobile or call center, using each channel to advance their purchase and/or educational goals.

Our job as marketers has never been more exciting or more daunting. This new paradigm of one-to-one marketing in online channels is ironically similar to the paradigm within direct mail marketing where the importance of technology, data, analytics and data warehousing more closely integrates with the creative and messaging components of an overall marketing program.

The old adage “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” could not be a more perfect battle cry for marketers in this new multi-channel age. The lessons of the past become the beacon for the future: 1) First ask yourself how you plan to measure the results.
2) Clean up your data and establish a process to keep it clean.
3) Integrate your data within the enterprise and across the channels.
4) Make analytics and reporting both within and across channels critical.
5) Build your core internal applications with re-usability in mind.
6) Bring your offline direct marketing approaches to your online channels.
7) Pick an infrastructure that is scalable, particularly processing and storage.
8) Make continuous learning a key component of your campaign and operational strategies. 9) Select a marketing/campaign/automation software platform last.
In an ideal world, an organization would communicate consistently throughout its channels, understanding the individual dynamics of each channel and the interrelationship among all channels. In the real world, however, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the proliferation of these channels and the optimization of their marketing programs across any one of them, let alone all of them.

Currently, many companies are talking about multi-channel, but very few are actually measuring analytically and continuously the effectiveness of the overall strategy so they can adapt both within and across the channels. Competitive advantage in this new age of marketing will go to those companies which let the facts and measurement drive the marketing program.

Rich Howe is chief marketing and strategy officer for Acxiom Corp., a global leader in customer information management.

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