In Search of Multichannel Marketing

As I was preparing for a Web Analytics class I teach I noticed some of the text books used for this course and other Digital Marketing courses were defining multichannel marketing differently. Not surprising since I was comparing different authors, but also, this term has evolved over the last many years.

I knew what I believe multichannel marketing means, but the discrepancy caused me to go on a search to find the latest and most accurate definition (even though the text books were only a couple of years old). Which definition is right? What’s the truth? What’s the definitive answer?

Multichannel Marketing GraphWhat I found is that there’s no real clarity and the term’s definition is in conflict with authors, academics, bloggers, thought leaders, marketers, agency leaders and more. Heck, there doesn’t even seem to be consistency on how to spell it – is it multichannel, or multi-channel or multi channel? (Multichannel with no hyphen or space appears to be the preferred way, and MCM is the acronym often used as a short-cut for the term.) Further, some professionals use multichannel and cross-channel interchangeably. And to make matters more complex, there’s some who use multiple channel vs. multichannel with distinct differences.

Several sources define MCM exclusively as using more than one digital channel to target a customer – be it SEO, PPC, Social, Online Advertising, Blogs, Mobile, Email, etc.  It’s all about digital. And that’s where it got started – with the Web. As digital specialists were apt to do in earlier days, they defined multichannel marketing this way while totally ignoring offline or traditional marketing communications channels such as broadcast, outdoor, print, PR, collateral, trade shows, direct mail, sponsorships and more.

Looking elsewhere, another definition per SearchCRM defines multichannel marketing as “offering customers more than one way to buy something – for example, from a website as well as in retail stores.” Their definition goes on to point out that Eddie Bauer is sometimes used as an example of a multichannel marketer that offers “brick, click, and flip” – retail stores, website and catalogs.

PC Magazine says that multichannel marketing refers to using several methods to sell products and services. “The term has become popular since the advent of the Web, because it adds a prominent new channel to storefronts and catalog sales. One consideration of multichannel marketing is that each channel reinforce the other. For example, information taken from sales on one channel be used to help the customer when making a purchase on another channel of the same vendor.”

Multichannel AnalyticsBoth of these definitions sound like multichannel distribution vs. multichannel marketing to me. But then again, “place” is one of the “Four P’s” of marketing.

Another source combined concepts to define MCM: “multichannel marketing refers to the practice of interacting with customers using a combination of indirect and direct communication channels – websites, retail stores, mail order catalogs, direct mail, email, mobile, etc. – and enabling customers to take action in response – preferably to buy your product or service – using the channel of their choice. In the most simplistic terms, multichannel marketing is all about choice.”

Nothing wrong with that, but with the exception of direct mail, traditional offline channels were left out of this definition.

According to a year-old study conducted by Forrester Research for Sitecore, 87% of marketing decision-makers from around the world believe they will drive more sales and profit by evolving into effective multichannel marketing organizations. The same proportion (86%) agree that successfully integrating multiple channels under a single integrated marketing strategy is critical to their long-term success. Roughly two-thirds believe that a multichannel customer is worth substantially more than a single channel customer.

However, marketers perceive multichannel marketing as costly and difficult: 54% agree that multichannel customers cost more to manage than single-channel customers; and half believe that customer experience is negatively impacted by inconsistent treatment across channels. Slightly more than one-third feel that they lose business because they cannot integrate customer interactions across channels.

I could share many more definitions but where I’ve personally landed on this is that multichannel marketing is the convergence of offline and online marcom tools and distribution channels, and throughout the process everything is measured in terms of its value/contribution towards the end result, so how about this definition?

“Multichannel marketing is an integrated, offline and online, customer-centric process used to define, reach, and encourage target prospects to purchase a product or service, in whatever way is most convenient, followed by analyzing the metrics along the conversion path the consumer takes to refine the strategy, tactics and optimize the ROI.”

One last thought. Isn’t MCM basically the new offline/online integrated marketing communications, but with distribution and analytics equal ingredients? What do you think? How do you define multichannel marketing?

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Posted in Multichannel Marketing

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