Marketing technology: the bridge to multichannel success

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Here's a message to catalogers, e-commerce merchants and retail store owners: You aren't who you say you are.

Maybe a few years ago, those old-fashioned distinctions still suited you. But today's complex selling environment no longer allows for such strict definitions. Catalogers have turned to the Internet as an order-taking channel. Bricks-and-mortar retailers are adding catalogs to reinforce their brand and increase customer touchpoints. And even pure-play online retailers have moved offline in a move to broaden their product footprint.

In such a dynamic environment, virtually all retailers are multichannel retailers. And given the growing sophistication of today's consumers, a group whose mastery of information and technology helped garner it Time magazine's 2006 Person of the Year honor, achieving meaningful differentiation requires a coordinated, strategic approach to sales and product promotion.

Increasingly, that multichannel solution is rooted in technology. Driven initially by the introduction and advent of customer relationship management tools, the technological landscape has expanded significantly over the last two years. From the marketer's perspective, today's opportunity can broadly be divided into three functions:

• Customer relationship management tools organize customer and prospect contact efforts and govern the usage of applicable data across the sales process

• Database segmentation tools provide a foundation for the storage and profitable use of customer and prospect data, whether for prospecting or predictive modeling purposes; and

• Marketing automation platforms serve as a "highway" that organizes the flow of data, resources and strategic intent throughout the marketing process.

Many of these newer technologies have been developed to serve the same compaanies and industries as the early platforms.

Whereas the first CRM applications, for example, were reserved for large companies in "high lifetime value" industries like the automotive and financial services sectors (where a single customer acquisition may generate a significant flow of profits over the long term), software products today are allowing small and large companies across many industries to enhance the sophistication of their analysis, targeting and offer development efforts.

The challenge facing today's marketers is to use these tools in such a manner that generates true incremental value.

Recent research compiled by Winterberry Group indicates that while a vast majority of direct mailers - approximately 89 percent - have increased their usage of personalized messaging in the past year, as many as two-thirds of those efforts include nothing more targeted than a customized greeting or name on an envelope.

In the multichannel sales environment, gaining the attention of offer-savvy consumers demands more. Technology will play a role, but taking that last step toward profitable relationships will require marketers to build the strategies, initiate the campaigns and react constantly and proactively to marketplace demand.

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