Multichannel is the glorious dream of marketers. Synchronized messages, brand identity, experiences, and offers, across every single channel, tailored to each customer. A combination of cross-channel integration, big data (and big data analytics), timely brick-and-mortar offering and messaging, multichannel is essentially the entire marketing arsenal concentrated in one place.
The goal? A consistent marketing experience across every touch point.
But how much of this is a rapidly developing reality, and how much of it is just a pipedream? We looked at what multichannel marketing is, some of the challenges associated with it, and why email might just be the solution everyone’s been looking for.
Multichannel marking crash course
Before we crack on, it’s important to fully understand what on earth multichannel marketing actually is. Definitions abound, from Hubspot’s:
“Communicating with and marketing to prospects and customers across many channels, including online and offline”
to Wikipedia’s more generic one:
“[it’s] the ability to interact with potential customers on various platforms”.
I’ll define it as this: multichannel marketing is using every possible avenue together to reach customers with highly focused, tailored messaging in order to drive sales.
What this means is that if a company has a website, an app, and an actual store (let’s say it’s Wal-Mart) then they need to engage their customers across all those channels in a really cohesive, complimentary way. So in Wal-Mart’s case, they might:
- Send an email offering an in-store special, tailored to the customer based on previous sales and website browsing data
- Publish that same information via social media, along with a blog post a how-to guide to using the product
- Send a push notification via their app when the customer is in store about that special
- Using geo-locators in store to text the customer to remind them to buy batteries for the product (when they’re in the battery aisle)
Obviously, this is a little exaggerated, but that’s the objective of multichannel marketing – engage lots of different channels in a complimentary way.
(Some) of the challenges
While it’s great that marketers have so many new and wonderful ways to reach customers, whether it’s an app, an email, social media, search, or in store locators, there are still major challenges to overcome in uniting them into a cohesive and effective multichannel strategy.
Challenge 1: Multichannel is expensive
It doesn’t have to be, but it almost always is. It’s really hard to get everything to work, at the right time, for the right effect, every single time. And that’s what multichannel is all about. It’s like building any complicated machine – it’s gonna cost some dough (although there are some savings – more on that later).
Challenge 2: Silos
Silos are a huge problem for multichannel. ‘Psshhh… silo’s… so 1990s…’ I hear you scoffing. But no! Silos are still a major problem today, and a very difficult challenge to overcome. Part of it is that the investment for ecommerce early on was reasonably low in comparison to opening a new actual store, so it has been prone to being slapped on without adequate planning or execution. The result is very little forethought into how it’s going to integrate with sales or even with other marketing efforts. Silos are also a problem because 99.99 percent of customers don’t use them! The idea of a siloed organizational structure only makes sense from the perspective of the organization. In a customer-centric world, where (obviously) customers are going to move across them, going from social media to email to an app to in store to back on a desktop searching for another product, silos come across seem downright archaic.
Challenge 3: Data analysis
Big data is wonderful – but data without analysis is just numbers without meaning. Part of the issue is a resource one – there are simply not enough data analysts working out there to cope with the enormous demand of companies. However, there are other issues as well:
- Poor integration between different software programs and platforms
- Misuse of data determining resource distribution (especially last click attribution, even when it’s clear other clicks did a lot of the work)
Oftentimes, companies have a lot of information, but they just don’t know what to do with it.
Why email will save the day
So that’s the current(ish) state of multichannel marketing. And here’s why email is going to be the spoke to the multichannel wheel:
- Email is great for mobile engagement because of customization
- Email bridges the online/offline divide
- Email is easy (and inexpensive) to automate
Let’s look at these in a little more detail.
Email is a great tool for mobile engagement
When you say mobile engagement, the first thought most marketers will have is social. But for the past few years, there has been a clear shift over towards mobile devices opening email, finally passing half way (53%) in Q3 last year.
Suddenly, email has gone from a stale desktop channel, great for B2B and not much else, to an awesome mobile channel for multichannel marketing efforts. What’s more, email has a number of advantages as a mobile channel over competing options. First, you can target and customize your message to the user far easier and on a far larger scale than you can with social media. Plus, any social media post is going to compete against a wild torrent of high-end content from hundreds and hundreds of sources. And so is email in the inbox, but with customization, the challenge for companies is at least mitigated.
For example, imagine you’re a clothing company, and Phil just bought some shoes off you. Now, if you’re using social media to engage with Phil, the best you could do is a tweet saying something like ‘30% off socks! Goes great with our shoes’
Probably not that effective.
But with email, you can send Phil a message with the subject line: ‘Phil, you know what’ll go great with your new boots? Some colourful socks!’
Which one do you think is going to connect with Phil?
The ability of email to be quickly and efficiently tailored to individual customers, and more importantly to do it easily and on an enormous scale, make it a crucial avenue for companies today.
Email bridges the online/offline divide
One of the core challenges to implanting a really excellent multichannel strategy is how to unite online and offline marketing efforts. For example, legacy systems often mean there’s a technical disconnect between inventory for ecommerce and brick-and-mortars. Another problem is uniting personalized information from in-store or online. For example, if a customer pays with a credit card in store, and then browses online with their account, there should be a way to unite those; unfortunately, this is often not the case. And while loyalty programs can help resolve this, a far simpler way is email.
Email is seen as an online identity. From B2B companies gathering leads, to Club Monaco’s loyalty program, an email address is a superb online ID. It doesn’t have the security problems of using a credit card, or using personal information from a call centre. Plus, social media usually requires an email address to access, further deepening the potential integration, customization, and engagement.
Finally, email is easy for organizations to capture at the check-out. It’s fast, it can be tied to a loyalty program, and customers are more willing to divulge their email addresses than other personal info (phone number, for example). Right now, email is checked frequently, used for personal things (like family), but is still given out without a lot of hesitation.
Basically, it’s positioned in the customer mind as a good way to communicate with both corporations and their Aunt Mildred.
So with social media, apps, and other digital engagement on one end, and actual stores on the other, email is the only technology that can sit nicely in the middle right now. In the future, Facebook, mobile phone numbers, or other communication channels might open up that change this, but currently email is the only one.
Email is easy (and inexpensive) to automate and customize
This is why I think it’s the best channel to lead a multichannel marketing effort. Multichannel marketing is all about providing exceptional experiences to the consumer no matter how they choose to engage with you. By customizing you offering to speak directly to the individual, you enormously improve the user experience and make multichannel marketing a little bit easier.
Speaking of easier, nothing is easier than automation. As mentioned, one of the core challenges to implementing and executing a multichannel strategy is the prohibitive cost. Email is not only inexpensive to set up as a channel in its own right, but it’s also an easy one to automate. The result is that you can take a small investment and build a large and complex system with it. Let’s go back to Phil with the shoes. Once he does that, his info is fed automatically into the ‘shoe’ cycle. He’ll get promos for socks straight away (potentially while he’s still in store). But then, say in three months, Phil gets an email promoting shoe cleaning products and boot cut jeans! Easy marketing, and great information that highly relevant to the consumer.
Multichannel marketing is going to be a huge part of the future for brands and small and medium enterprises. Customers are shifting towards digitally-forward companies, and already there’s an expectation that the experience online matches the experience in store, beyond just having the same colour palette.
Email is the crucial link in the chain between brick and mortar and digital marketing. It’s easy to customize, it’s easy to automate, and increasingly, it’s a great way to engage people on mobile. These three things make it the frontrunner for the multichannel marketing leader.
And it was under our noses all along.
I hope you enjoyed the read and stay tuned for my next article,