Cross-Channel Marketing: Making It Work for You

In “Data Smog,” David Shenk states the average American encountered 560 daily advertising messages in 1971. By 1991, that number increased to over 3,000 per day. With the proliferation of online advertising, that number’s estimated to be much higher today. Although no one is certain what the real numbers are, we know they’re significant.

Consumers have a well-stocked arsenal to keep these ads at bay: TiVo, spam filters, do-not-call lists. More new products are launched now than ever. Marketers must hustle to get their messages heard. They have to hustle even more to inspire consumers to take action. Add to these challenges tough CFOs who watch every dollar and it’s no wonder our jobs are getting more… interesting… each year.

The first thing we marketers do when we encounter a difficult situation is invent a new buzzword. One of last year’s buzzwords was “cross-channel marketing.” This one’s no passing fad. It’s a smart way to speak to customers. The term’s profile was raised midyear, when the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released results of a two-year study that confirmed what many long believed: If you use a variety of media vehicles in a thoughtful and connected way to reach your target consumer, you have a higher likelihood of making the connection.

The IAB’s Cross-Media Optimization Study (XMOS) demonstrates how cross-channel programs work. The same marketing dollars, when effectively synchronizing on- and offline advertising, can lift brand awareness by 8 to 34 percent; increase purchase intent by 5 to 1,000 percent; and dramatically increase sales.

If this is intuitively obvious and proven to be effective, why haven’t we seen more truly cross-channel programs? The reasons are simple: budgets, organizational structures, and politics.

In 2004, we saw marketers successfully take a single big idea and neatly thread it through a variety of communication channels. Money didn’t always follow the strategy. Now, big-budget dollars are shifting to support cross-channel initiatives in which the Internet plays a central role. In 2005, the Internet channel, arguably under-funded in the recent past, is reaping the benefits.

So, what does it take to develop a winning cross-channel program?

Move in With Your Target Customer

To get our creative juices flowing for a major client’s new product launch, we researched the target consumer and created profiles, or personae, that represent that target in a very real way. We gave our personae names, faces, and life stories, then turned our conference rooms into bedrooms, living rooms, and home offices in these characters’ homes. Finally, we invited other agencies and our clients to meet the target customers and brainstorm about experiences we might create to introduce the new products in a rich, immersive way.

It worked. It helped us all develop a uniform view of the target. We then generated smart ideas that are threaded together through various media to provide a rich customer experience. The effort works because it starts with the customer. Try it.

Get the Team Together on Day One

The most successful cross-channel campaigns come from diverse teams who work together from start to finish. This means agency partners and clients must closely collaborate to set strategy, develop big ideas, and plan execution. Ideas must be fully leveraged, potential cross-channel conflicts raised early on, and all customer touch points addressed. Set clear boundaries between your agencies. Make sure they operate as one team, dedicated to your success.

I recently participated in a brainstorming session organized by one of our e-commerce clients. They did an excellent job bringing together sales, marketing, product development, merchandising, operations, and technology people. The client wanted opportunities to improve the user’s online experience (and thus drive sales and profits). The session was very effective. Great ideas were put forward, and implementation issues across channels and media were addressed instantly. The client is a leader in its category. This is one reason why.

Don’t Fixate on Any One Channel

Don’t allocate your budget to different media or programs without a clear-cut strategy in place. It helps to think about your product or service in the context of an entire experience. Apple does this so elegantly with iTunes and the iPod. Remember, the lines between channels are blurring. For example, email is increasingly accessed from mobile devices capable of downloading and running simple applications. MobiTV provided live updates of the devastating tsunami on cell phones. What medium is that? Who cares. Your customers don’t distinguish between on- and offline. Neither should we marketers.

After your team has a unified understanding of the target customer, storyboard the customer’s experience with your brand and product/service across all potential touch points. Consider what happens when you reorder the frames. Consider and factor in key triggers that may affect fulfillment, such as inventory levels, seasonal trends, and external events. Each interaction should reference the same relationship memory and present a consistent brand expression, regardless of where it occurs. Think total experience.

Give Customers a Place to Go

I’ve noticed an important shift during the last 24 months. Cross-channel marketing, particularly for considered purchases such as cars, mortgages, and consumer electronics, has become even more directive. TV, radio, print, direct marketing, and even packaging, all point consumers online. But simply raising awareness about your Web address is not enough to get people there. What’s your hook? What will make your online experience compelling enough for them to find you, give you their personal information, even buy your product/service?

New-car TV advertising often directs potential new-car buyers to learn more at designated brand sites. This is smart because six months before purchase, car buyers are busily researching their purchases online. Customers want more information than can be presented in a 30-second spot. Get them to a place where you can immerse them in your brand. That’s online.

Think about online use of information captured in offline promotions. If you conduct sweepstakes or events, ask your vendors about collecting names and email addresses. After checking with your customer database and legal teams, consider marketing to these previously unknown hand-raisers online. It’s surprising how many marketers miss this important step. Lead management and conversion rate improvement is a huge opportunity for marketers.

Measure and Analyze Your Customer’s Path Through the Experience

Marketing effectiveness can be quantified across multiple media, but how do you turn reams of data into keen insights about cross-channel behavior? Where are the points of optimization? There are no hard-and-fast answers.

Structure your metrics program with the entire customer experience in mind. When does an experience in one medium tend to lead to another? What calls to action are most effective? Where, exactly, are customers bailing out? You can use this insight to find the most important points of leverage for your business. Perhaps it’s increasing conversion rate by improving the checkout process. Or maybe it’s ensuring all leads captured online are converted offline.

Think about your product or service from the customer’s perspective. Put it in a context they know. Lay out the total experience before you start thinking about media, channels, budgets, and programs. Create a big idea that threads it all together. Then, measure your success.

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