Perhaps you, like many of our customers, are somewhere in the midst of your planning cycle. Hopefully, you are crafting an evergreen Marketing plan. Even the most basic outcome-based Marketing plan should in some way address Marketing’s fundamental mission to find, keep and grow the value of your customers. When the buying decision entails a complex consultative collaborative buying process, it’s imperative to understand your customers’ buying journey and synch your content and channels accordingly.
The rise of social media networks and sophisticated digital marketing platforms has forced many organizations to revisit their channel marketing approaches. In fact, an SAP multi-country survey found that 74% of businesses increased sales with a multi-channel strategy, 64% increased consumer loyalty/acquisition and 57% reported better customer experience.
Clearly, a multi-channel approach must be a part of your go-to-market plan. Multi-channel encompasses both mediums (digital such as social, search, website, email and offline such as trade shows and direct mail) and devices (such as personal computer, kiosk, smartphone). This takes us to a current debate about whether to take an omni-channel or channel specialization approach. Both of these approaches assume you are using a multi-channel approach to support your marketing programs.
Before reading on, know that I lean toward a channel specialization marketing approach for most B2B organization. If your business directly touches consumers (retail, hospitality, etc.) then omni-channel is the route to take. Here’s a quick overview of each.
While all omni-channel experiences use multiple channels, not all multi-channel experiences are omni-channel. For example, a cargo shipping company using outbound calls, email marketing and LinkedIn to reach customers is adopting a multi-channel approach, but unless the customer can start an interaction on one channel and then continue that SAME interaction over to another channel, it’s not omni-channel. This is the key premise of omni-channel: the idea that buyers may start on one device (a smart phone) and move to other devices (a computer) seamlessly as they progress through the buying cycle. Omni-channel suggests that all channels are created equal. The goal is to ensure customers receive the SAME experience and messaging through each and every channel.
As you can imagine, omni-channel can make a lot of sense in the world of retail and financial services. For example, your search for a new couch might commence via a mobile device, then move to a more in-depth review of a catalogue on a website via a personal computer, followed by a trip to a brick and mortar store to actually sit in the couch, touch the fabric, and review the color swatches, resulting in a purchase via a kiosk in the store, or via the store staff, or potentially back at your computer.
If you’re in the B2B world, where buying complexity and risk increases, be aware that channel complexity also increases. Therefore, you need to think differently about the touches (such as solution demonstrations, educational content, sales presentations, etc.) and the channels (such as social, email, events, etc.). Certain touches are more appropriate at different points in the process and some touches lend themselves better to specific channels. Hence the idea of channel specialization.
For example, the purchase of a talent management system may begin with an online search via your office computer that results in downloading several analyst white papers in your office, leading to a number of potential providers’ websites reviewed via a smart phone while traveling, that result in engaging in a quick Skype call or an online chat requesting more info, that arrives via email, that triggers the request for a phone call, leading to an in-person meeting at an upcoming trade show, followed by several virtual product demos, resulting in a proof of concept trial.
Channel specialization is different than multi-channel marketing which is designed to broadcast across as many channels as possible. The channel specialization approach suggests that because you have a deep understanding of your customer segments and their personas, which impacts their preferences and priorities, and their relative point in their buying process, you select channels based on what each channel does BEST.
What to Do After Choosing an Approach
Regardless of what approach you choose to use, at a minimum you will want to employ these three channel marketing best practices.
- Be selective. A study by the Aberdeen Group found that 70% of marketers use as many as seven different channels – including social media, email, and websites – as part of their marketing campaigns. Choose the channels that work best for your customers! While you may have channels that are easier for you to use, what matters is the channels that your customers prefer to use. This requires Customer Journey Mapping. Most companies don’t have unlimited resources, so identify the few critical channels and focus your efforts and marketing plan accordingly.
- Process before implementation. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks along with Yelp, WordPress, and Google have made it possible for almost every company to affordably expand the number of channels they deploy. Be sure you have the channel-specific processes in place for how you will use and deploy each channel before you move forward with your channel implementation.
- Establish clear performance parameters. Be clear about how you will measure the success of each channel in terms of its impact on your program, strategy, and objectives. For example, is the channel associated with a program designed to penetrate more deeply into existing accounts or connect with new prospects?
Your channel strategy should serve as source of competitive advantage and be reflected in your marketing plan. But you cannot define your channel strategy until you do Customer Journey Mapping. We’re already there. Here’s a video on syncing Content to the Customer Buying Journey.