The Multichannel Juggle
Balance media options for a robust marketing plan
By Stefanie Pont
Marketing to prospects through multiple channels isn't a new idea--mailers have been using various communication streams for years to get their offers out. So why has multichannel marketing suddenly become the hot "buzz" term? And how can you apply the concept to your business and make it work?
The short answers: It can be a sound marketing strategy; breakthroughs are what you make of them; and any mailer can make this work if you plan ahead.
It might be helpful at this point to really define the term multichannel marketing as we're going to consider it here. I define it as the practice of testing and managing a variety of communication vehicles within the same campaign or overall marketing strategy, giving each their appropriate weight, budget and reach. Simple, right?
The Evolution of Multichannel
Before we explore the how and why, let's take a step back. Historically, as new marketing channels and vehicles were uncovered or created, mailers would incorporate them to increase their reach to the prospective audience. Traditional direct mail was supplemented by insert media (package inserts, statement stuffers, ride-alongs, bangtails, etc.), space advertising, co-branding, e-mail and a host of other options. For the most part, these additional channels were used in isolation, often to utilize extra budget. The mailer would either push the planning for these channels under the direct mail manager, or have someone on staff to manage these other sources. And of course, there were corresponding media vendors who specialized in specific channels.
Two things happened to change this metric.
The first was that mailers began to look seriously at budgets. Increases in mailing costs and competition in the marketplace forced them to review their marketing strategies and costs. This often meant cutting or consolidating staff as well. As responsibility for managing various marketing channels was merged, it became clear that there was redundancy in communication. Simply put, mailers weren't getting the most "bang for their bucks." Audiences were being bombarded with messages from the same source, through different delivery vehicles, with little or no coordination.
The second change was that media brokers and specialists began to see the benefits of being able to offer multiple channel placement and expertise. It allowed the vendors to bring added value to clients, while creating opportunities for additional revenue. It also increased the value of the broker/specialist offering--they could function more as partners and less as replaceable vendors.
As mailers began to look holistically at the various media channels being used, it became important to consider how to combine, consolidate or balance the overall spend against marketing goals and budgets. Were there benefits to using all of these channels? The answer in many cases was, plainly, yes.
Multichannel Marketing's Advantages
There clearly are a variety of benefits to effective multichannel marketing, but to highlight a few:
*The quantity and frequency of prospecting touches can be controlled, measured and mixed. For example, package inserts can be used to deliver marketing before the same prospect comes up as a rentable list hotline name.
*Communication with prospects can be conducted in the way that they find most acceptable. Subscribers to a hard copy magazine may have ordered their subscription on the Web, but continually renew by e-mail. So although the mailer has their postal address, it's clear these customers prefer to transact electronically.
*Varying marketing tactics can be tested to the same control audience. Mail to the target audience, and then re-mail half of this group, and e-mail the other half. There is opportunity to not only test messages and offers, but channel response as well.
*Costs can be negotiated and controlled based on total volume of business.
These are great benefits, and might coerce some mailers into plugging as many channels as possible into a mail plan and marketing the the heck out of them, right? Well, not quite.
Doing Multichannel Contact the Right Way
There are some general guidelines to consider when creating a multichannel plan, or purchasing multiple media vehicles:
Research what is working: Take a look at the lists or vehicles that currently are working well for you. If it's a direct mail list, does the list owner offer other channels you could test? If you've got a stellar insert program, have you considered the list that is generated from the buyers? If you're a mailer, your broker or brokers regularly should be identifying all of the opportunities possible. Or create some of your own, and see who's interested in partnering with you.
Collaborate: If you are using different media brokers for your various channels, it's time to introduce everyone on the team. Your list, e-mail and insert brokers should be aware of what's in the overall mail plan, so they can recommend media that fit with an overall testing strategy. If you're running in other media as well (e.g., magazines, DRTV, etc.), share that information, too.
Check your measurements: All media is not created equal. Each channel has its own response curve, cost, reach and average response rates. Direct mail responses cannot be measured equally against package insert responses--they each have their own level of success. It's critical to plot out the metrics for each channel separately and determine success benchmarks for each. Then you can balance each channel in the mail plan for its best impact.
Keep an eye on ROI: Low response does not mean the channel has failed, and high response doesn't mean it's ultimately effective. All media channels must be analyzed in the context of your goals. If you have a 0.15 percent response on a space ad, but that response pays for all of the ad's incremental marketing costs plus profit, then it's a successeven if the actual number of responders seems low.
There are deals to be had: If volume discounts work in one channel, they should work across channels as well. If you're using multiple channels from one list owner, push for better deals on all the channels you're utilizing.
Balance the mix: There's a big difference between touching a prospect via different channels over time, and hitting the same guy over and over with everything you've got. If you are using more than one channel from a single list owner, confirm the population is as distinct as possible. Mailers who use hotlines and package inserts simultaneously need to be particularly aware of this fact.
Consider a second touch: This actually doesn't contradict the point above. Instead of remarketing to a prospect in the same channel, you can execute a remarket strategy in different channels. Send prospects an e-mail, and then follow up with a last-chance postcard. Just be aware of the number of prospect touchpoints.
Plan for volume variances: Every channel doesn't have the same reach every month. Create a media plan that can be fluid across channels, so if the list universes are lower in certain months, you are able to supplement your plans with a mix of other channels. Much of this will be a seasonality issue, but be aware and able to react to outside influences that can impact quantity or response (natural disasters, political developments, or even ABC or BPA regulation changes).
Keep the message consistent: It is important to test different offers and creative, but always make sure that your brand is easily identifiable. Having one tone for mail and a completely different voice for e-mail can defeat the purpose of using multiple channels--your so-called multichannel effort becomes two entirely different campaigns.
Respect the opt-out: If a prospect is on the Direct Marketing Association's do-not-mail file, is it OK to e-mail her? This is really a judgment call, but if someone is telling you in one or more channels that she does not wish to hear from you, then you may want to consider halting all messages.
As new channels and options for reaching prospects come into play, mailers who can manage the mix will find that they see benefits in their businesses. In the final analysis, balancing the selection and use of various sources will make your mail plans stronger and your prospect marketing more resilient.