iMedia Connection

Why our obsession with channels needs to end

Andrea Krohnberg

Year-end is always a scramble. We're busy evaluating and justifying in-progress programs, with high performers being carried into 2012 and underperformers being sent to the chopping block.
A common practice in our world is creating plans and measures around specific channels. This certainly is understandable considering the popularity of digital and social media, but it can be less than efficient when our attention is shifted away from how customers are utilizing them. If you're only looking at digital, direct mail, search, social, or in-store experiences, you're missing out on the full scope of what customers are doing. For example, they might use one channel for awareness, one for consideration, and another for purchase. 

Don't get me wrong; channel integration is an important part of the marketing mix, but it will only work when it is developed around your customers' actions and preferences.  After all, channels don't drive revenue; the customers who use those channels do.
So, take a customer-centric approach instead by first planning for interactions with customers and then worry about the channels. Here are five steps that will make it easier to build customer-centric plans.

Step 1: Know your customer
Through research (voice of customer, market, and company), create a multi-dimensional customer segmentation schema and incorporate transactional, behavioral, geo-demographic, attitudinal, and predictive insights. With this detailed map of the customer, you can begin to understand customer needs, pain points, emotional and rational drivers,  and channel utilization habits. 

Channel-agnostic tip: Don't get caught up in flavor-of-the-month channel myopia; remain open to reaching the customer through the most effective means possible.

Step 2: Address what matters to customers
Now you can develop plans and programs addressing key customer behavior. This includes tailoring programs and messages to maximize the relevancy of your brand to create greater levels of meaning and engagement with customers. A simple example is altering the overlay of imagery and content geared to reinforce your brand's ability to improve the customer's life based on identified segment attributes, such as common pain points or common measures of success. Customer preference should influence your brand's content, timing, frequency, channel, and just about every other variable.

Channel-agnostic tip: If you're trying to build brand loyalty, let customers see you in their preferred channels -- not yours.

Step 3: Identify your customers' channel habits
By leveraging insights you can identify the best way to communicate plans and programs to target your customers. Tailor the channels used to deliver the messages. In some cases this might result in changing channels for specific customer segments, or maybe it's the same channels but different messages depending upon the customer.

To take targeting to the next level, go beyond varying message and channel by customer segments, and also look at the customer lifecycle. Evaluate how their position in the lifecycle impacts their channel utilization habits. Make distinctions among customers, including:

Channel-agnostic tip: Challenge yourself to break out of your comfort zone with both channels and messaging.

Step 4: Implement
When implementing a program, let the customer response data talk to you; listen to its nuance. The customer-focused marketer evaluates the customer's experience and alters strategies to ensure optimal engagement based on real-time data. Challenge your assumptions constantly because customers may be changing their minds about you and your competitors. Every interaction with a customer offers an opportunity to collect voice-of-customer data that over time can be used to confirm existing notions, or showcase new trends.

Channel-agnostic tip: You can optimize communications in each channel -- or change channels quickly -- if you build data feedback mechanisms into your program.

Step 5: Measure impact on target customers
Throughout the life of the initiative, the customer-focused marketer will monitor and measure results against the specific goals set for each target customer segment. This not only includes standard metrics such as conversion rates, units sold, or return on investment,  but  also trends, hints, and gradations regarding customer engagement factors, such as response time or product advocacy behavior.

Channel-agnostic tip: In today's marketing world, if you can't measure it, it doesn't matter.

As you develop next year's plan, ask yourself: How will I maximize ROI -- by focusing on getting more out of each channel, or by focusing on getting more out of each customer?

Andrea Krohnberg is an engagement strategist for Bridgz Marketing Group.

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