Customers Can Handle More Than One Channel, so Why Can’t You?

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Businesses are slower than their customers when it comes to traversing multiple channels. Customers, says Akin Arikan, a senior manager for Internet Marketing at Unica Corp., think nothing of responding to a TV commercial by purchasing the advertised product online. In his new book, Multichannel Marketing: Metrics and Methods for On and Offline Success (Sybex April 2008), Arikan tells how you can use multichannel marketing to catch up to your customers and target and streamline your communications. CustomerThink founder and CEO Bob Thompson talks with Arikan about the key points in the book.

Bob Thompson

What is multichannel marketing?

Akin Arikan

Multichannel marketing refers to marketing communications delivered on multiple media in parallel and, hopefully, in a coordinated fashion. The term also implies that responses to marketing initiatives are accepted from multiple channels. The term “cross-channel” is often mistakenly assumed to be interchangeable. However, a more precise definition of “cross-channel” refers to the act of beginning a communication, or buying cycle, on one channel and crossing into another channel to continue it there. Cross-channel marketers are able to consistently continue the dialog with individuals as it crosses channel boundaries. They are also able to measure outcomes. I think of cross-channel marketing as a subset of multichannel marketing.

Bob Thompson

Why did you write this book?

Akin Arikan

In our daily work (at Unica), my colleagues and I are in touch with marketers from both online and offline disciplines. As most marketers know, these two camps have traditionally not worked very closely together with each other. But from our angle observing both of them, we saw that each camp has developed sophisticated methods for dealing with cross-channel marketing issues within their own confines. But they just have not shared these methods with each other across camps. So it felt as if somebody neutral (like me) had to come along to help break the ice. Hopefully, the book will do just that.

Bob Thompson

How does multichannel marketing help an enterprise to be more customer-centric?

Akin Arikan

As customers, we are already ahead of most companies. We easily integrate multiple channels into our customer relationships. Multichannel marketers will make our lives easier because they will expect our cross-channel behavior. For example, if we see something in a TV commercial, they will already have made sure that their web site and call center are shipshape to help us find the item easily. And then cross-channel marketers will be even more helpful to us. For example, they may ensure that store personnel can register a TV that I am actively considering under my cell phone number. When I go home I should be able to just pull the item up under my account along with all the documentation, reviews, etc.

Bob Thompson

How is the role of web analytics evolving in enterprises today?

Akin Arikan

In the early part of this decade, web analytics changed from something that IT was looking at to something that the web team studied for more effective web marketing. But at clever companies today, web analytics reaches much further than just the web team’s confines. For example, one of our web analytics customers at Unica is AIRMILES in the U.K., a travel-related loyalty program. They use web analytics as a sort of giant focus group. For example, when they see a spike in searches for travel to Italy, they will quickly shop the market for attractive travel packages to Italy. Making these available from their web site, they are able to capitalize on emerging market trends. One of our U.S. customers, Collette Vacations, takes that idea further to the one-to-one marketing level. Say, Italy vacations are on sale. Instead of spamming everyone with that news, they may send a promotional offer to just those that had previously shown interest in Italy vacations on the web site.

Multichannel metrics later showed that 40 percent of their responses came in via the Internet and from a demographic that they weren’t even targeting.

Bob Thompson

Who should own multichannel marketing and why?

Akin Arikan

That question may be the most important for success. For example, the reason why Collette Vacations thought of fueling multichannel marketing with the help of web analytics is that their leader of interactive marketing, Diane Gorine, is in charge of both online and relationship marketing. She has the experience and education of traditional marketers but has access to the rich behavioral data from web analytics.

So she put one and one together. She doesn’t need to be an expert in the technical intricacies of web data. Her subject matter experts can take care of that. The key, however, is to lead the company as to what should be done with the data. Offline, relationship marketers have had more time and need to develop methods for the latter. So often—though not always—they may be the people in the company that could take the lead on multichannel marketing.

Bob Thompson

Can you share a brief example of how a company used metrics to improve the success of a multichannel marketing program?

Akin Arikan

One of my favorite writers on multichannel marketing is Jack Aaronson, who has a column on ClickZ (an online interactive marketing resource). He often cites the analogy of an architect who once built a college campus without sidewalks. The architect waited to add the sidewalks a year later, based on where students’ footprints marked their preferred paths across campus.

While writing the book, I interviewed a marketing leader who unintentionally did the same. This was at an insurance company that launched a new product by concentrating 99 percent of their marketing spend on TV commercials with a call to action via call center. But to their surprise, multichannel metrics later showed that 40 percent of their responses came in via the Internet and from a demographic that they weren’t even targeting. Learning from that, this marketer is bringing the advertising and web teams together to be better prepared next time. For example, they are looking to use the same actor for both the TV commercials and the web site. For a taste of what that could look like in theory, check out the work of another talented company, DME, from Florida on their demo web site: dme-finehomes.com. This is a mirror of an actual site that DME is running for a client of theirs.

Bob Thompson

What’s the first thing a CMO should do to move the marketing organization toward a truly integrated marketing team (no silos, no finger pointing)?

Akin Arikan

Knowing the reality that marketers from online, direct and brand marketing disciplines have not been working together in the past at most companies, Job No. 1 is to bring these teams together. Get the marketers to talk with each other regularly, and internalize that they are working for the same company and for the same customers. They will soon discover that they have much to share and coordinate. A desire for integrating their projects and data will probably grow from that over time.

I beat myself for not persuading the book publisher to include pizza coupons in the back cover to kick-start these cross-team meetings.

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