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Common language for multichannel marketing

In the rapidly spinning world of multichannel marketing, both the marketers and the service providers are struggling to define what multichannel marketing means and how it applies to them.

The one point most seem to agree on is that this is a world without channel walls. It’s a world where communicating directly with people in the most effective way, and allowing them to respond the way they want creates the most trusting, enduring relationships. And performance bears this out every time.

But what is multichannel marketing? How do you define it? Are you truly a multichannel marketer?

We found it interesting that the debate starts with how to spell “multichannel.” Is it “multi-channel” or “multi channel” or “multichannel”? Or do we take the easy way out and just say “MCM”?

At ParadyszMatera, we have chosen to use the term “multichannel” as it symbolizes integration, without walls or barriers.

We did not set out to write the book on who is and who isn’t a multichannel marketer. But with so many marketers searching for a common language to communicate internally as well as externally with vendors and consumers, our hope is that we can provide some leadership in defining just what “it” is. Try discussing what is a “comprehensive marketing program,” an “integrated media plan” or a “cross channel marketing strategy” and you can only imagine the countless interpretations of what any of this means.

And when we as marketers are responsible for squeezing the juice out of every dollar, we have to be clear about goals, but also of our intent.

So to help bring clarity for productive conversations, we crafted three definitions that have been most helpful in our client and business development discussions.

A single channel marketer is an organization using only one channel to market its products or services. A company that only uses the Internet for commerce and that drives consumers through a Web based shopping cart because this is its only channel is just one example.

Have you ever tried to place an order over the telephone with Amazon? Another example is an outbound telemarketer that only sells and closes its transactions over the phone.

A multiple channel marketer is an organization that uses more than one channel to market its products or services. Each channel markets to a select consumer base using a particular media with the intent to drive consumers back into that specific channel to shop/buy or into a channel the marketer chooses, not the consumer.

A good example is a company that communicates to consumers via direct mail, e-mail and television. The direct mail, e-mail, and television channels each target a select group of consumers. For each channel, the marketer typically strives to get the consumers to respond to the channel from which the communication or offer originated.

A multichannel marketer is an organization that executes a marketing strategy leveraging a combination of direct and indirect communication channels to market its services, allowing consumers to take action in the channel of their choice.

Let’s take the example above, again a company that communicates to consumers via direct mail, e-mail and television. Though each channel may communicate to a select group of consumers, they are invited to respond in the channel of their choice. Consumers can, “call, click or visit.” The shopping experience addresses the consumer’s need to find what she wants, where and when she wants it, and at what prices she is willing to pay.

While many may embrace this direction, we recognize our definitions are not one-size-fits-all.
The definitions are not action plans, and do not answer questions about budgeting issues or who gets the credit for the revenues generated. That science experiment is still under way with many hypotheses and yet little clarity about how best to allocate demand and customers.

While we believe each organization will set its own business rules, there should be cooperation throughout the industry to crisply identify the definitions behind how we market. Otherwise, effective benchmarking and new techniques will be difficult to scale: math and ambiguity do not get along well.
So, whether you’re a single, multiple or multichannel marketer, remember the consumer is in charge. They themselves knocked down the channel walls quite some time ago and, as marketing and media professionals, we get the chance to figure out this new complex world.

Direct marketing is finally having its day on the stage. Read any industry or national business publication: there are millions of dollars being spent to justify it. But the bets are being made on our ability to understand and leverage our knowledge, not just to reclassify what we already do.

(This article was originally published in the January 15, 2007, DMNews Essential Guide to Lists, Database Marketing and Data Services.)

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