Many marketers resist integrating their customer communication efforts across online, offline, and retail sales channels. Why? They fail to see the value of integration or fear it muddies their message. Some believe it cannibalizes sales from one channel to another.
Looking at it from the perspective of the consumer, however, choosing which channel to use when communicating with a marketer is entirely situational. An urgent request or need is likely to prompt a phone call. When in research mode, many look to the Web as their preferred source. And when a customer is ready to make a purchase decision, there typically is a need for some sort of physical interaction in the form of literature (such as a direct mail brochure) or contact with the product or service.
How well a marketer integrates its mix of channels for prospects and customers will determine how well it delivers incremental benefit for all parties. To that point, here are current data to debunk common channel integration myths.
Myth #1: Most loyal customers still prefer interacting via one channel. A marketer’s most loyal customer now uses at least two channels. An August 2004 report from Jupiter Research revealed that “consumers are influenced to spend $6 offline for each $1 they spend online,” indicating that loyalty can and does migrate across channels. It is a marketer’s mission, then, to use known information about individual customers (with proper opt-in methods) to meet individual channel preference needs.
Myth #2: Most people shop and buy via the same channel. People use different channels for different reasons. Consider that, again according to Jupiter Research, “43% of Internet users bought products from a retailer’s offline store after viewing them on the seller’s Website.” Additionally, experience shows that television support for a direct marketing campaign can improve direct marketing response rates significantly. Each channel influences the others.
Myth #3: Most people do not like direct mail. While each medium has its own strengths, surveys continue to show that consumers prefer direct mail over other forms of communication, including e-mail, telephone, and personal contact. Mail is considered less intrusive than other media. In a world where consumers are exposed to thousands of marketing messages daily, often it’s the message in the mailbox that has the power to rise above the chatter. The lesson here is not to be afraid to test direct mail to reach out to consumers and prospects alike.
Myth #4: Online marketing cannibalizes offline efforts. An individual’s media preference influences receptivity to any given channel. The reality is that multichannel contact can yield better overall results. People now regularly use a combination of media when considering and responding to an offer. Adding a response channel (such as the Web) can dramatically improve results. Remember that direct marketing buyers are more likely to have Internet access. The Internet has changed the face of direct marketing, but not by displacing channels or making them obsolete.
Myth #5: Becoming a multichannel company does not require internal restructuring. Many companies are “siloed” when it comes to their marketing channels, making the sharing of information difficult, if not impossible. When embarking on a multichannel infrastructure, marketers must work to establish a customer-centric point of view and develop common offerings, transaction processing, customer service, messaging, and themes. There must not be conflicted branding and communication elements if a marketer is to drive a singular message home successfully.
Myth #6: The 55-plus audience is not Web savvy. The Web can be a viable channel for reaching audiences up to 69 years of age. “Young seniors”–those ages 55 to 59– have a huge online presence, and “retiring seniors” (ages 60-64) experienced the birth of the Internet at their places of employment. These two groups alone accounted for more than 15.5 million Internet users as of 2003, according to an October 2003 Nielsen/NetRatings report. Additionally, “retired seniors,” those 65-69, have good discretionary income, and most own computers; that same Nielsen/NetRatings report indicated that some 9.5 million of them were using the Internet by 2003. Clearly the Internet can be a powerful tool for reaching senior audiences with a wide variety of messages.
Myth #7: Each channel is a separate user experience. The opposite is in fact true: Multiple channels converge into a unified user experience. That said, if channels fail to offer a unified voice, look, and feel, a marketer is not acting as a multichannel company and may disappoint or frustrate customers. A multichannel user expects an integrated experience across all touch points with a brand or information source, and delivering on this expectation is the challenge for marketers.
Michele Fitzpatrick is chief marketing officer for Harte-Hanks Direct, a San Antonio, TX-based marketing services provider.