E-Marketing: Here I Am; Now Deliver It

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Place, a proud member of the original four Ps, is undergoing a radical makeover thanks to the Internet and the growing acceptance that businesses will operate across multiple channels and geography - or, more popularly, across clicks-and-mortar. What does a future of roving customers mean for direct marketers?


Where are you? Are you at home, at work, at school, in your garden, on vacation, at a movie or are you out shopping?


Wherever you are, the Internet is near and, perhaps soon, everywhere, thanks to a combination of industry forces and a new generation of Web-enabled systems, such as personal digital assistants, vending machines, gas pumps, pay phones, cell phones, point-of-sale terminals, electronic books and shelf advertisements.


These Internet technologies enable marketers to deliver their messages across the Web to a physical store, to the call center and to the points of service.


Well, here I am, deliver it! We are not there yet. Multi-channel marketing is still in its infancy and consumers have yet to experience the killer multichannel message that becomes part of pop culture or a rap song. Agencies striving to change that are building the creative and technical attitudes needed to design campaigns that span from the Web, to the mailbox, to the store shelf and to the seashore. They also are trying to figure out how to manage a future filled with segmented content.


You will need to create subsets of the offer. Not more content? Yes, it's true, to avoid being a nuisance to your customers and turning them off to future opt-in programs, you'll have to create cool audience, product, seasonal and location-specific subsets of your offers. Marketers can get started quickly by identifying a limited set of themes oriented around place and customer - themes that connect with the context or with a community.


You will need to develop a business infrastructure that can deal with the media speeds of the Web. To prepare for this rich and complex content ecology, firms should review how content takes shape in a world where products shown on Rosie O'Donnell's morning show become e-mail recommendations by noon. Firms should know and try to improve the process behind the identification, collection and the flow of content from the creative agency to the customer's Web browser.


You also need to get smart about your products. You'll need product-level knowledge in the form of rich attributes or product-level data. This data will drive the semi-automatic delivery of specific offers, images, content and service information to an individual or group of customers who are part of a community. These attributes also will help customers navigate their way to your product, get answers regarding product use, ascertain issues relating to the product-ownership phase and tap into knowledge from other customers in your trading community.


Delivering these contextually relevant customer interactions, however, requires a new depth of item information - a content-development problem that is getting a lot of water cooler time. Look to industry developments this year relating to making merchandise more Web-ready. You will need to follow the meandering customer; multi-channel campaigns, by nature, involve shopping patterns that weave through a variety of times and places.


Consider the following scenario: A customer is motivated to review your product thanks to a direct mail piece, an outdoor advertisement, a magazine advertisement or an e-mail alert. The customer visits your Web site and enters a reference to the original offer to begin a custom and individualized learning experience. During the visit, the customer elects to interact with members of your call center. The call center staff further qualifies the needs of the customer and, in real time, develops a relevant set of products or services delivered to the customer using shared-browser technology.


The customer selects your product as one of the finalists in his choice of brands and elects to make his final decision at a retailer who has a local presence in his neighborhood. The customer opts to have a reminder sent to her e-mail account regarding the offer.


He visits the local store, decides to purchase your brand and is offered a complementary service during checkout, at the point of sale. The offer includes tailored services performed by a popular neighborhood shop. Forty-five days later, the customer is contacted through one of the channels with an offer to purchase a complementary product, or sign up for an extended product-care plan.


The techniques and possibilities outlined are, in many cases, the Web version of issues and opportunities that have been around for decades. But only over the last year have systems and infrastructure come into play that make multichannel programs feasible. Direct marketers who understand this dynamic stand the best chance of responding to growing demands by brand marketers who are telling marketers: It is not just about who you are, it's about where you are.


Vahe Katros is retail specialist at Blue Martini Software, San Mateo, CA. His e-mail address is katros@bluemartini.com.
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