June 04, 2007

Ten Ways We Will Save Multichannel Marketing

I once had a CEO tell me, "Don't tell me what is wrong, anybody can do that. Tell me how to fix what is wrong". With that in mind ...

Number 10 = Storytelling: One thing that was crystal-clear to me while attending my first NEMOA conference in March is that New England catalogers are better than anybody else at telling stories. This is a HUGE competitive advantage that catalogers possess over online pureplays, and for the most part, over retailers. When is the last time you felt romanced visiting Amazon.com? The further we progress down a technological path, the "colder" our world gets. Catalogers have always been best at being "warm", best at romancing a customer. Read the creative description of this product from Cuddledown of Maine. Use your eighty-four pages of catalog marketing to tell a story. Have what is on page nineteen relate to what is on page thirty-seven. Make the customer want to turn the page to see what is next. If the customer wants to go online and buy the product featured in a catalog, so be it. Online marketing is all about intercepting the customer at a time of need. As customers, we don't want to buy merchandise that way --- we buy the story as much as we buy the merchandise. Catalogers are great at "creating demand". We should exploit this gift we possess.

Number 9 = Band Together: Cataloging and Retailing have always relied upon healthy competition in order to grow. If you are Gap, you want to be in a mall where your competitors are, because a critical mass of popular apparel retailers fuels traffic. Catalogers have always partnered with each other, renting/exchanging each other's lists in order to facilitate growth. A sustainable version of this doesn't exist online --- we rely upon Google to parse traffic. If I were a charter member of the ACMA, I would build a shopping portal that features all member brands. I would construct the site to be search-engine friendly, so that customers searching for a dress shirt would arrive at this portal, and would be encouraged to shop Paul Frederick MenStyle. Use the collective interests of all members to raise the presence of the organization among search engines. Catalogers can band together, and leverage each other's strengths to grow their business.

Number 8 = Be Proud: If you are a cataloger ... BE A CATALOGER! You are not a "multichannel merchant". Conferences and publications invented that term for their own benefit. Retailers tell you over and over that they want to use the web to support stores. Their focus is ... guess what ... RETAIL! Be proud, you're a CATALOGER!

Number 7 = Creativity: We should be doing the exact opposite of "same look and feel across channels". We grow and evolve through experimentation. How else do we learn what works best? We don't improve by homogenizing our marketing, we improve by experimenting, by diversifying our marketing. So be creative, experiment, learn what customers want from us.

Number 6 = Let Them Do Their Job!: One channel is going to inevitably achieve greater sales than another. Multichannel organizations that have a retail arm frequently drive the majority of their sales via stores. In these cases, let the online/catalog folks do their jobs! Homogenization of business processes sub-optimizes the benefits of each channel. You don't have to adjust catalog in-home dates to match up with floorset changes in the store, unless that is what is best for your customer. You don't have to feature every store product online, you can have online-only merchandise, you can have merchandise only available in stores. Let the folks managing each channel do their jobs. Let these folks create demand. Don't stifle employees on the road to multichannel excellence.

Number 5 = Web Analytics: Have you ever sat down and spent an hour with your web analytics guru? Try it sometime. This person knows more about how customers are responding to your business at this moment in time than almost anybody in your company. Soak in everything this person says, don't let terminology issues taint the knowledge this person possesses. Once you've soaked in the knowledge this person has, apply the knowledge to your catalog and store marketing efforts. This person knows what is happening real-time. Don't put this person in a dark room, shine a light on what this person knows.

Number 4 = Web Analytics: Nobody wants to hear that 3.07% of visitors converted to a purchase. That makes us sound like we're failing. Merchants want to hear that loyal customers visited the website eight times last month, with a quarter of them purchasing at least once. That's a story that indicates we have a compelling website. Ironically, the metrics yield almost the exact same outcome!!! Our focus on converting a customer NOW fails to convey the rich experience customers actually have with the businesses we manage. Customers visit our site (and our competitors) multiple times before deciding what they want to do. Create metrics that actually mirror customer behavior, metrics that adequately explain our successes, not ones that beat us over the head with perceived failures.

Number 3 = Invest In Your Employees: Maybe this is old-fashioned thinking. We can save multichannel marketing if we simply invest in our employees. If you sell gardening supplies via catalogs, why not send your catalog and online marketing employees on a field trip to an online pureplay, to see how they think about their business? If you sell apparel, why not send your catalog and online marketing employees to a non-competitive retailer, to see how those folks merchandise a store? Invite a non-competitive cataloger to visit your campus, and create a workshop where they get to design a marketing campaign for you --- how do they approach your craft, what can you learn from them? Give your employees the tools to succeed. Even more important is the investment in line staff, the folks who are paid eleven dollars an hour to actually fuel our business. Give these employees incentives to do good. Pay a call-center employee ten dollars every time he solves a customer problem by using multiple channels. Pay a store employee ten dollars every time she solves a customer problem by using the website. Invest marketing dollars in your own employees, and see what happens.

Number 2 = Technology: There's a reason the term is called "Multichannel Marketing" or "Multichannel Merchandising". It's because marketing and merchandising create demand. Technology doesn't create demand, technology facilitates the interaction between customers and marketers/merchandisers. We need to let marketers determine the vision for our websites, we need to let the technology folks do what they do best.

Number 1 = Gut Instinct: Gut instinct plus timing equals innovation, innovation fuels future profits. Too much of online marketing is formula-based, Darwinian-style evolution, a reaction to "what is selling real-time". Catalogers have always been great at using gut instinct (the vision of the merchandiser or marketer) to fuel customer demand. Catalogers and Retailers create demand. Online Marketers adapt to response. Ultimately, creation and adaptation employed in harmony yields great outcomes. Too often, we focus on the cold science of measuring response. We need to save multichannel marketing by focusing more on the application of gut instinct to merchandising and marketing. We need to create. We need to lead. We need to innovate. We need to be "warm", not "cold".

Your turn, how would you save multichannel marketing? What are your ideas?