Formulating the ideal marketing mix

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Illustration by Derek Bacon
Illustration by Derek Bacon

There is no one formula for multichannel marketing. Each organization needs to experiment to find the ideal blend of channels for their business and customers. This begins with trial and error, testing and measurement—and should end with engaged customers and increased sales. However, finding the right chemistry with customers is complicated. Customers toggle between desktop, mobile devices, email, and social media. Often, their exploration and interactions are prompted by traditional media. Conducting a single-channel marketing campaign in this environment is like medieval alchemy: outdated and inefficient.

The most effective marketing today is integrated and multichannel, supported by customer data that's shared across touch points. It enables businesses to better target and engage consumers, create and sustain a community of brand loyalists, and improve the ability for individuals to interact with the brand. All this leads to increases in marketing performance and revenue growth.

Although there's no one perfect formula for multichannel marketing success, experimentation can uncover the optimal approach for an individual organization. Godiva, Rock/Creek, Charlotte Russe, and Vegas.com are four examples of companies that have successfully endeavored to find the blend of marketing channels that's right for their business and their customers.

Multichannel integration for a dynamic e-commerce site

Chocolatier Godiva's integrated marketing strategy is designed to mimic a mom-and-pop experience through its digital channels. This begins with a personalized Web experience. Godiva draws information from a number of channels to create a customer-specific interface on its e-commerce site. Using a marketing solution from Monetate to test and target merchandise, Godiva is able to insert promotional items onto its website based on that multichannel and test data.

“[It's] just like an old-world experience in a store where you know the customer and you say, ‘Hey, here are some sweaters you might like,'” says Monetate CMO Kurt Heinemann.

Godiva has three sales outlets: department store, drug store, and general merchandise resellers; its own brick-and-mortar retail boutiques; and direct sales for B2B and B2C customers via online and its contact center. The marketing to support the latter two sales channels includes email, a loyalty program, print catalogs, search engine marketing, and social media outreach, says Mahender Nathan, Godiva's VP of direct. The chocolatier's challenge is integrating information from these disparate channels, as well as its different sales outlets, to personalize a customer's shopping experience on its website.

Godiva's loyalty program, Chocolate Rewards, which has 5.3 million members, is the key to powering these endeavors. “I'll put it this way: If we didn't have our loyalty program, it would be exceptionally hard [to integrate multichannel data],” Nathan explains. “From a loyalty perspective, it's easy for us to understand if our customers are shopping in our retail stores or our website.”

Godiva uses its data pool of past customer purchase behavior and on-site surfing activity to drive promotions through its e-commerce channel. “When we think about targeting, if you come onto the Godiva site and make a consumer purchase, you might have different promotional interests than someone at the business gifting section,” Nathan says. In addition, Godiva detects whether a consumer is a loyalty program member or a new customer.

Ultimately, this data affects the messages each individual sees on the site.

Recognition of mobile devices is also a major component of Godiva's integration efforts, and the chocolatier uses information coming from specific devices to tailor the on-site user experience.

“When we identify if [customers are] coming from a smartphone or tablet, we can tailor the experience,” Nathan explains. “If you're coming from a tablet, there's no such thing as a rollover with your finger. Creating the user interface so when it comes from the tablet, it doesn't have rollovers, creates a better user experience…. It's more economical and makes a lot of sense—tablets are great purchasing experiences.”

The email component

While Tennessee-based outdoor retailer Rock/Creek doesn't have to contend with the various sales outlets Godiva has, personalization through data and channel integration is crucial to engendering loyalty from a diverse range of customers.

“One of the reasons why personalization is a big deal is we have a wide catalog,” says Rock/Creek's e-commerce director, Mark McKnight, referring to a clientele that consists of steep creek kayakers and rock climbers. “Those two customers have nothing to do with each other. They could, certainly, engage in more than one activity. But by and large if you're a climber, you're a climber. If you're a boater, that's your obsession.”

Much like Godiva uses its loyalty program, Rock/Creek uses sponsored events like trail races—last year's attracted about 3,000 participants nationwide—to engage customers, enticing them to sign up for email lists and driving them to the retailer's e-commerce site.

Though Rock/Creek's multichannel approach features SMS and social media, McKnight says email is the retailer's top marketing channel. “It's the most trackable [and] the most responsive channel that we have,” he says. Rock/Creek uses tools from email marketing solutions provider Bronto, along with Art Technology Group, Inc.'s e-commerce platform. “We can see what people are doing when they open, when they click, what day they click—and that's actionable. We can and do trigger messages based on email activity,” he adds.

Along with the ability to track the browsing habits of current customers, the integration of email and e-commerce data allows Rock/Creek to zero in on newcomers' interests. McKnight describes a simultaneous climbing and footwear sale the company had: “We did this message where we [broadcast email] to people whose interests we didn't really know. There was a smattering of products and we watched what they clicked.” Individuals who clicked on climbing products would a few days later receive climbing-related Rock/Creek emails. Individuals clicking on running products got emails related to running.

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Rock/Creek also taps into social media to attract new customers and to further engage its existing base, offering content that helps them sign up and prepare for events like trail races. Rock/Creek captures these social media interactions using Bronto software.

“Anyone that tweets to or about us is automatically inside of Bronto,” McKnight says. Yet he concedes some limitations—namely in linking a social media handle with a real customer. “We don't have a way to link those to the email address,” he adds. “We just have [a customer's] Twitter handle.”

Socializing sales and applying content

By contrast, when Charlotte Russe, a clothing retailer catering to 18- to 25-year-old fashion-forward women, commissioned digital agency Fluid to redesign its e-commerce site, the company put a premium on deep integration with social media—namely its Facebook feed—to drive transactions. While brands commonly slap a Facebook feed onto their websites, Charlotte Russe's BFF (Best Fashion Friend) feed, located at the bottom of its e-commerce website, displays comments from Facebook fans about specific clothes and accessories available for purchase on the online store.

“On most sites, Facebook integration is a feed from Facebook—the voice of the brand that just republishes what the brand posts on Facebook,” says Fluid's VP of client strategy Bridget Fahrland. “That becomes a brand-talking-to-you experience. We didn't want that.”

Paul Hollowell, Charlotte Russe's director of store and online marketing, says that the inherently social nature of the apparel retailer's customer base and its desire to have a streamlined purchasing experience influenced Charlotte Russe's thinking when combining social media with e-commerce. “For instance, our customers told us that they'll text with their friends about their latest purchases from the mall,” Hollowell explains. “We took that experience online, but integrated it organically without requiring customers to visit a special ‘social' section of the site or sign up for a new program or service.”

While Charlotte Russe uses social to drive engagement and, ultimately, purchases, online fashion store ASOS—which has a similar target demographic to Charlotte Russe—uses iPhone and iPad apps, designed using Adobe's Digital Publishing Suite. The apps are heavy with images and articles to inspire its customers to eventually purchase on the company's website.

According to Duncan Edwards, editorial and design director at ASOS magazine, although both tablet and mobile phone apps enable purchasing via connections to the e-commerce site, few conversions actually occur via app; as such, the apps, which allow users to save items in a shopping cart, are designed to inspire customers to purchase later.

“We know [customers] want to be inspired, but not necessarily at the point of purchase,” Edwards explains. “There's a mind-set difference between browsing and purchasing.” If the app is to inspire via handsomely-produced articles and images, the ASOS website is primarily for purchasing. “On the desktop site, people skip past the content,” he says. “They're going straight to the nav to buy something, and off they go. It's as if they've made up their mind [about] what they want.”

Integrating convenience

Ultimately, as demonstrated by Charlotte Russe and ASOS, marketers who want to develop integrated campaigns must also define the use-case for each channel. Vegas.com, an online travel hub focusing on Las Vegas vacations, uses interactive marketing solutions from ExactTarget to improve last-minute travelers' access to deals on the company's website. Like Charlotte Russe, Vegas.com wanted to simplify the customer experience. Instead of social media, however, Vegas.com optimized for mobility by integrating SMS and a revamped mobile site into its marketing strategy.

“We didn't used to have a way to reach people for that last-minute availability,” notes Vegas.com's director of marketing Paul Mello. “That's where our mobile strategy came in. We noticed, with mobile, most bookings—about 75%—were within three days, many within a day.”

Additionally, integrating mobile allowed the travel hub to improve customer engagement without going into bankruptcy. “We don't have the money that our competitors have,” Mello says, who notes that the midsize company has less than 500 employees. “We can't buy Super Bowl commercials.”

To reach spur-of-the-moment vacationers, Vegas.com promoted SMS coupon codes in its Los Angeles Times newspaper ads, outdoor billboards placed along interstate highway I-15, and ads in the Burbank, CA airport, which has dedicated gates for Vegas-goers.

“We bought a lot of advertising throughout the airport, focusing on a visual message that's outbound to Vegas,” Mello says. For example, individuals could text “SHOWS” to a short code in the ad and receive a promotional code for 20% off a certain package, as well as a link to Vegas.com's mobile site.

Ultimately, Mello says, channel accessibility is essential to making airport and billboard advertising—which is particularly expensive along the Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas interstate—a positive investment.

In the case of airport travelers, enabling a clean link from poster advertisements to SMS to the mobile website drives engagement from a captive audience. “You're waiting for an hour or two, thinking about Vegas and this gives you a way to book [events],” Mello says.

Since October 2011, Vegas.com's gamble on mobile marketing has resulted in a 250% revenue increase from smartphones. “We're continuing to build out our platform to make the transaction process easier and easier,” Mello says. “That's always our goal.”

When channels don't mingle

Despite the overall net positive of brands' integrated marketing efforts, developing a campaign is not simply a matter of stacking channels together like Legos. Streamlined, customer-friendly interfaces often belie complex planning and back-end integration. Marketers frustrated by all of the hurdles involved must accept that integration is rarely seamless.

Some issues can be overcome through careful planning. Having redundant content across channels is an easy trap for marketers to fall into. Yet, Charlotte Russe was able to avoid this pitfall by designating a particular role to each marketing channel.

“I think what Charlotte Russe does incredibly well is not just repeating the same thing across channels,” Fahrland says. “They'll call out promotions across channels. When you look at Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest—you don't see the same thing repeated everywhere…. So they'll do promotions on Twitter, use Facebook to engage more with questions, and use the site—the digital hub—to bring the conversation into one place.”

Vegas.com's issue was deciding the extent to which it would continue interacting after a transaction and after, presumably, the Vegas vacation ended. Mello states that the short-lived nature of Vegas.com's products creates unique problems with engagement strategies.

“Our challenge has always been: You have someone who signs up for weekly email offers who just stayed,” Mello explains. “They're getting the typical stuff, [like] a survey afterward making sure it all went well and if we can improve. But then, after that point, our question is: What do we do from there?”

Ultimately, Vegas.com continues to send deals. “The interesting thing is that open rates aren't great until they're ready to come to Vegas [again],” Mello says. “Suddenly…they're interacting again. We need to predict that and that's one of the challenges for us.”

Like Charlotte Russe, Vegas.com's various channels serve specific goals: SMS and the mobile site for last-minute travel preparation; email for continuous consumer engagement.

And by designating each channel to fulfill a particular goal, marketers can avoid repetitive messaging, thereby encouraging customers to explore other channels, and create a fuller picture when analyzing overall engagement trends.

For ASOS, the challenge of integrating apps with its desktop site was ensuring product availability. The issue was that ASOS's iPad and iPhone apps were different; the former features monthly content, the latter updates weekly.

“With the monthly, we have to be quite skilled with predicting when products [shown on the app] will be live on the site and in sufficient quantities to not be sold out,” ASOS's Edwards says. “With the weekly, we can be more tactical.”

Other issues, however, cannot be overcome with strategy alone. The familiar problem around siloed data can limit a marketer's integration efforts. In the case of Rock/Creek, investments in legacy technology that simply doesn't play well with newer solutions is a confining factor.

Rock/Creek's McKnight describes the outdoor retailer's outdated point-of-sale (POS) system as the brand's Achilles' heel because of the solution's inability to communicate with newer technological investments.

“We had a POS we used for a long time in stores. It's not very accessible,” McKnight says, adding that a promised software update that would supposedly improve data transference has been continuously delayed. “What that means for us in our current challenge…[is] our POS doesn't communicate well with anything outside. It's a closed, proprietary database.”

Ultimately, there's no magic formula for multichannel marketing. Blending a bit of social media with a splash of email and shaking up the mix with SMS won't automatically create engagement or boost sales. And while such brands as Godiva, Rock/Creek, Charlotte Russe, and Vegas.com are benefitted from establishing more narrowly defined target audiences, more active online communities, and easier and more accessible transactions, these benefits might not be the same outcomes every company seeks.

It's paramount for companies to determine what benefits they're looking to get out of an integrated campaign and to select marketing channels that are not only desirable, but also accessible for customers. Businesses must also prepare a plan B, in case their channel integrations react like Mentos dropped into a bottle of Diet Coke. Whether it's avoiding redundant content, dealing with old technology, or fighting to maintain customer relationships, it's imperative that companies have a back-up plan to overcome the challenges ahead.

Not every multichannel marketing mix will be the right one, but find the one that works and loyalty and revenue will follow.

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