October 12, 2006

Taking Multichannel Marketing Too Far

Time to write something fun. I was working on my next book, and needed to find a way to communicate how multichannel pundits take suggestions about running a multichannel business too far. I conceived the following parable to make my point.

There are three fields (like catalog, retail and online) where cats (consumers) like to eat mice (merchandise). There are many different breeds of mice, including white mice, brown mice, black mice and mixed fur color mice. The fields are diverse. One has hills where the sun shines. One has a river flowing through it. The other field features beautiful valleys.
A multichannel pundit stumbles across the field, and immediately sees opportunities to improve the hunting experience of the cats (customers) in the field. He notices that there are big differences between the fields. As a result, the pundit contracts with a heavy equipment operator. All hills are removed from the fields. The soil from the hills is used to fill the valleys. The river that went through one field is diverted into the other two fields. The multichannel pundit smiles, realizing that all fields now have the same look and feel.

Next, the multichannel pundit looks at the mice (merchandise). Some fields had too many white mice, while others had too many brown mice. The multichannel pundit makes sure that each field has equal numbers of each breed of mice. If any field runs low on one particular breed, the multichannel pundit moves the remaining breeds between fields. At any time, the multichannel pundit knows how many of each breed of mice are in each field. He smiles, knowing his cats demand to have access to all breeds of mice, wherever his cats wish to hunt.

With each field looking and feeling the same, and mice evenly distributed across all fields, the multichannel pundit wants to make it as easy as possible for the cats to hunt mice. The multichannel pundit brings in flocks of hawks, who squawk messages to the cats each time a tasty mouse is in the vicinity of the cat. This works really well, at first, as the hawks make life easy for the cats. But then, competing multichannel pundits hire their own hawks, and before you know it, the cats are being harassed mercilessly by hawks squawking about mice in competing fields. Many hawks squawk about other things that the cats never wanted to hear about. They squawk about the needs that toads have, or how fish like the newly created river system. Eventually, the multichannel pundit promotes a permission program, where hawks must ask the cats for permission before squawking about the wildlife in their fields.

Having solved this problem, the multichannel pundit finally decides to do some research, to see what makes cats happy. He notices that a fat cat is a happy cat, and the fattest cats tend to hunt in multiple fields. Figuring that every cat could be happy and fat if they hunted in every field, the multichannel pundit hires dogs to chase the cats. Within minutes, dogs are barking at cats, cats are hissing at dogs, dogs are chasing cats into adjacent fields. The ensuing chaos does not appear to make the cats any happier.
In fact, some cats are completely exhausted. They no longer want to hunt in their own field, and they know that a dog will eventually chase them to an adjacent field.

The multichannel pundit brings in eagles. The cats are able to point out the mice they want to eat, the eagles search out the mice, kill them, and transfer the deceased rodent to an adjacent field, where the cat, after being chased into the adjacent field, has the freshly murdered mouse awaiting pickup, courtesy of the eagle.

The multichannel pundit looks down on his creation, and smiles. All fields have the same look and feel now, without topography. All fields have an equal distribution of white, brown and black mice. Hawks fly overhead, asking cats permission to share where mice are in adjacent fields. Dogs bark at and chase cats everywhere, pushing the cats into adjacent fields, because cats who eat mice in multiple fields tend to be the fattest and happiest cats. Eagles kill the mice for the cats, and deliver the deceased rodents to adjacent fields so that our exhausted cats, being chased by dogs, can order a snack from one field and eat the deceased rodent in the adjacent field.

What was a chaotic and unorganized ecosystem where cats had to hunt for mice, without the promise of ever finding what they wanted, where they wanted it, has been replaced by a world conceived by the multichannel pundit. The multichannel pundit smiles, watching his cats adapt to this brave, new world


  1. Anonymous6:15 AM

    I like it, but ... what's the conclusion?!?

  2. I conclude that online selling caused business leaders to make changes to business models without really understanding what they are doing.

    By creating sameness across all channels, and by pummeling the customers with advertising, sales and promotions, we are creating the unanticipated consequence of customer frustration, at a time when we, as business leaders, think we are actually leading our customers down a frutiful path.

  3. It is an interesting parable, but...

    Anyone who advocated that type of approach clearly does not understand the power of multi-channel marketing. The point is not to make the experience the same across all channels, it is to utilize the uniqueness of each experience to its fullest.

    So, following the analogy, the pundit should not have flattened the hills and valleys of the field (retail channel was it?) but enhanced the experience for the user in that field. What would have been nice is if the cat was looking for a spotted mouse in the internet field, the eagle could have said that it exists in this part of the retail field...oh and, by the way, if you want me to kill it for you and bring it here, I can do that. Now that is multi-channel hunting...er, I mean marketing. Pardon the Freudian slip.

    As someone who has been around this stuff for a while, I'm not sure who it is that is a propoent of making the shopping experience generic across channels. The point is convienence for the consumer and enhancing the channel with the strentghs of the alternative channels; not a similar experience across channels. Maybe that is the point that you are making.

    Here is my point. If it is true that the multi-channel marketing pundits have advocated a generic shopping experience, then yes, it is a solid parable. This point needs to be made in your book before the parable so that there is more context to the discussion.

    That is certainly not what I advocate to my customers and I have not heard that view before, but maybe other multi-channel guys do take that position.


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