3 reasons for smart retailers to use multichannel tactics

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The most recent postal rate increase isn't a shock to anyone. But it should be a wake-up call for retailers who aren't taking a well-integrated, multichannel approach to marketing.

The glory days are over. Retailers can no longer simply raise prices to cover rising costs. Competition is increasingly fiercely and coming from online players with incredibly low overhead. No consumer shops in a bubble. Many people flip through catalogs to get ideas, then compare prices and buy online. To get that purchase you've got to keep prices competitive; be there when the customer comes looking; reach out in innovative ways; be consistent across all channels to minimize confusion; and squeeze more from your marketing spend.

Integrating online channels with your current marketing strategy is a cost-effective, practical way to achieve those goals. Online channels put you in the right place at the right time, provide more relevant and timely messaging, and deliver higher returns. So how can you take full advantage of these powerful relationship builders?

E-mail: Trackable, budget-friendly one-to-one marketing

E-mail saves postage, is easily personalized and can be executed in just days. Even more important, it's effective. According to the Direct Marketing Association, e-mail is now responsible for more than $16 billion in sales - and influences more than $100 billion. It should be a pillar of any multichannel plan.

But many marketers who use sophisticated analytics to drive mail strategies neglect to apply those same principles to e-mail. It doesn't make sense. E-mail is a powerful one-to-one channel and an excellent data source. It can benefit from the same analysis and campaign optimization processes you use offline. What's more, the marketing services industry now offers applications that fully integrate online and offline intelligence.

When using e-mail, be sure to capitalize on its most important characteristics. E-mail is dynamic. Use event-triggered messaging to create a complex yet easy-to-manage and cost-effective program. Or change offers midstream. If a product isn't pulling, or you're running out, switch it.

E-mail is variable. Segment content and offers by purchase behavior, demographics or testing needs. It's inexpensive to segment the data in this way and it works.

E-mail is immediate. Capture instant feedback and insights on every customer, and use this up-to-the-minute information to improve communications across all channels.

E-mail is interactive. Where should you look for insights into what your customer wants? Your customer. Ask questions, capture the answers and use that information to increase loyalty and satisfaction.

E-mail is connected. Getting from an e-mail to your Web site takes just a click - not too much to ask.

The Web: Complete the picture with measurable tools

Your Web site is the perfect partner to catalogs, promotional mailings and your e-mail strategy. Customers can find you when they're ready, and you can keep the messaging fresh.

Today, you can do better than basic aggregated user statistics from a hosting company or IT. A Web site can be relevant. Offer a live RSS feed so customers can request news and promotions on whatever interests them most. This is a great way to make the Web trackable - specialized tools tell you what content is being pulled and even more about your audience.

A site can be individualized. Send direct mail or e-mail respondents to individually generated or promotion-specific landing pages.

A site can be fresh. Expand the relationship with a blog that offers opinions on fashion, health, home decor - you name it.

A site can be insightful. Capture deeper customer, and user, behavior data. Track preferences. Solicit information and learn. Just be sure to use the information you gather, so customers don't feel like you've wasted their time.

Make multichannel marketing work for you

Online marketing isn't the only answer - no single channel is. Catalogs, direct mail and print deliver credibility that will always have value. But e-mail and the Web each play an important role in customer-focused marketing. They just have to be well integrated with your offline efforts to earn the real benefits.

As part of a multichannel effort, online tactics can make a big difference in your return on investment. The DMA suggests that mail averages an $11 return per piece, while e-mail runs as high as $54. That can go a long way toward offsetting a postal increase.

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