Applying Basics to a New Channel
Businesses are finding the appropriate mix the Web will play in their overall communications plans, much in the way marketers have evolved their broadcast, print and direct marketing spending through the years. One key difference has been the investment. Many have installed a Web infrastructure, which either created expectations of unrealistic rates of return or drove significant effort against the medium simply because so much effort had been put into its construction. With that behind us for the most part, many are able to take a more clear-eyed view of the role that the Web needs to play in their respective businesses.
The following are a few ideas, some quite obvious, to consider as you weave an integrated multichannel plan for your business:
Create specific, tangible reasons for people to visit your Web site. Simply "for more great products, visit us at www. ..." will not work in a crowded marketplace. You can provide service-oriented drivers such as tracking order status or reviewing purchase history. You also can provide price-related motivators, such as clearance-priced items or last-minute specials. Create editorial content drivers, such as recipes, decorating tips or stories to incite traffic. Finally, you can identify product reasons, such as limited-edition merchandise, to activate interest.
Create registration opportunities that softly gather data (with permission, of course). The information you gather should be important to segmenting your customer file. Whether you have an e-mail marketing program in place offering regular communication, a birthday/holiday reminder to trigger occasion gift-giving or a sweepstakes giveaway tied to a certain promotional event, you have created natural Internet interactions with your customers that not only provide you information but also give them a broader experience with your company.
Incorporate Web marketing intimately into your marketing planning cycle. In the same way that catalogers were challenged to plan in light of the long lead times of certain merchandise categories, multichannel planning requires the discipline to understand the different timing horizons. Even if Web design and promotions can be executed on short time scales, it does not mean they should lack a connection with the graphic design and copy voice of your broadcast and print media. While Web content can be more timely and event-specific, the planning of the customer's experience in stores, on TV, in catalogs, in magazines and on the Web should be done together, even if executed on very different timelines. Creative collaborations across your internal departments and among your agency partners are key to achieving an integrated message.
Keep Web content fresh while maintaining marketing strategy continuity. This may almost contradict my last point, but you need to ensure that within an agreed-upon customer experience and message there must be a "living Web" presence that other media are not expected to maintain. Therefore, whether it is through the personalization of your home page for customers based on buying habits or simply the changing splash page to reflect new features or stories, the dynamic Web presence reinforces it as a medium unlike your other forms of customer interaction. Depending on how robust your back end supports that customization, it can provide you with the purest form of one-to-one marketing available.
Measure business performance by customer, not channel. Though this transition has been happening rapidly, I find it worthy to repeat to ensure that any "functional silos" that may still exist be forever abolished. The key is that your business is never as you see it but always as your customer experiences it. Stores that make it easy to accept Web returns or, conversely, are able to make online orders for products that are out of stock are looking at their customer, not their specific channel. I still remember one large retailer having a major internal battle to get its Web address printed on retail shopping bags. The data have proved that your most valuable customer will be so across all shopping channels. The seamlessness you create in transactions across all channels will maximize the brand equity you have invested in with your customers.
Rotate personnel through your Web marketing area. Though this is somewhat an internally focused strategy, I think it is an important one for some companies to consider. During the past year, not only had we made the mistake of often having the people least knowledgeable of brands involved in shaping Web strategies, but we also closed off important career-enhancing positions to people perhaps most equipped to address the multichannel strategies. This caused turnover at many firms where talented "old economy" marketers were lured by options and opportunities that fortunately, for established companies, no longer are worth what they once were.
Though none of these concepts is new or revolutionary, they do represent a good starting point upon which to remind you as a multichannel marketer. Competition remains fierce, so those that can reinforce their brand attributes through consistent communication across all media will prevail over time.
Again, as direct marketers we share the luxury and curse of being able to measure the success of our efforts and the responsibility to make corrections as needed. The Web provides us a responsive mechanism and therefore an excellent marketing opportunity.
• Andy Russell is president/CEO of AGA Catalog Marketing & Design, a catalog and Web design agency with offices in New York and London. His e-mail address is AndyRussell@aganet.com.