This is a guest post from Simon Martin, MD of Digital at Experian Marketing Services
Today’s interactions between a consumer and their preferred brands have seen a fundamental shift in direction. Whereas once there was equilibrium between customer expectations and brand fulfilment, the balance of power has shifted in favour of consumers, with expectations often stretching way beyond what most businesses can deliver.
Consumers rarely identify with a brand in terms of single channel and demand a seamless experience regardless of how they interact with them. Meanwhile, brands have struggled to keep pace with the ever-changing consumer behaviour, creating a gulf between the demands of the consumer and the reality of what brands can feasibly deliver.
Over the last decade, the advent of social media, the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and new devices, and access to limitless data regardless of location have led to the always-on, connected consumer. Smartphone penetration in the UK has now exceeded 51% of the population, and data from Experian Hitwise showed that 25% of all product searches driving traffic to retail website over Christmas 2012 were for tablet devices.
Today’s highly-connected consumer holds huge power in the brand relationships, and expects brands to meet their demands and needs with consistency and reliability. Successful marketers know that customer centricity is key – but how many of today’s marketers truly achieve this?
The progression from multi-channel marketing
So many of the organisational structures and tools that we’ve used for years to connect with consumers have focused on single channels – whether that’s email, mobile, print or online. This has always been a big challenge for marketers, ensuring a presence across all of these touchpoints and aiming to offer a seamless experience for the consumer.
To some extents, multi-channel marketing aimed to address the issue of communicating across different channels. Marketers pushed themselves to produce targeted strands of campaigns that suited the individual circumstance – whether that is the device or the environment.
Most brands understand the need to have a presence across multiple channels and deliver this successfully - but very few have the sophistication to link these consistently and get their channel experts to collaborate and execute campaigns effectively across all platforms. It’s here where we begin to see the need for a new level of marketing; cross-channel marketing.
Cross-channel to no channel – marketing with a consumer mindset
Multi-channel marketing may be the norm, but many marketers are now striving to achieve true cross-channel marketing success. Traditionally, marketing teams are made up of either product or channel teams and within this structure, each team works hard to optimise their marketing efforts. Individual teams are often good at delivering their individual marketing programs and defending their individual marketing budgets, but the ability to work simultaneously with other marketing teams is still unachievable.
Despite the favourable move from siloed to integrated teams, the customer continues to receive a stream of potentially-confusing and sometimes competing, messages from a single brand. As we know, nothing irritates customers more than being offered products they have already refused or being contacted when they have specifically opted out of communications. An Experian Marketing Services survey conducted in April 2012 found that 84% of consumers would walk away from a company that doesn’t link up, understand and respond to their engagements across channels. It’s imperative for marketers to catch up with today’s consumer – customers don’t see in channels and neither should brands.
What today’s consumer really wants to see is something like this:
A brand serves a tailored ad on a social network to a customer with their latest offers on product X, something the brand knows to be of interest through preferences and past purchase history; the customer emails the brand to find out if the nearest store has availability; the store in question responds with information of stock levels and the customer calls to reserve; a purchase is made in-store and EPOS data collected triggers an outbound email thanking the customer for shopping and offering deals on related products.
For a brand, this covers a wide-range of customer touch points across channels. But for consumers this is just one buying interaction and a consistent voice across channels is what makes this a great experience with potential for a repeat purchase.
Data is the key to cross-channel success
In the digital age there is a proliferation of data available to marketers, which means we can understand our consumers better than ever before. Cross-channel marketing is underpinned by such data, and is the next stage in truly offering a seamless experience to consumers.
Traditionally, the challenge for marketers has been this bringing together of disparate data sets and tying everything back to a single customer view. With effective cross-channel marketing techniques and tools, the ability to manage all interactions through a single platform to gain a new level of knowledge and insight around who your customers are and how they interact with your brand across multiple channels is the paradigm brands should aspire to.
Only then can brands claim to have a 360 degree view of the consumer and truly understand their intentions behind purchasing habits, web visits and social interactions.
For too long, brands were of the opinion that consumers should adopt their marketing techniques to ensure an engaging experience. Nowadays, marketing is evolving to meet the needs of increasingly demanding consumers. Having a presence on multiple marketing channels is no longer enough when consumers demand a seamless user experience regardless of the channel they interact with. As marketers, we have the data and analytics capable of developing a customer experience that spans all channels and responds to the needs of the customer – making true cross-channel marketing a reality.