Marketers have never had so many tools at their disposal. The Marketing Communications Mix offers marketers a rich landscape in which to communicate. But then, there probably has never been so much competition.
The availability of so many marketing channels comes as both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because the ability to reach potential and existing customers with your message in an effective way that suits their preferences has never been more readily available.
The curse comes in managing channel effectiveness. In a previous article I identified up to 9 individual channels (I don’t discuss web presentment in this article) via which a marketer can establish a communications loop with their customers. Choose the wrong channel for a customer and they may never see your message. Herein lies the importance of understanding the merits of each channel, and the importance of ensuring that the marketing communications plan is thought through carefully.
The advantages are that now, we have the technology to plan, execute and measure marketing performance across a myriad of customer communication channels using omnichannel software and platforms.
So lets take a quick look at those nine channels:
Marketing Communications through Direct Mail
Direct mail is one of the oldest channels used by marketers and it remains effective but costly to deliver. It is costly to deliver because it is hungry both in terms of human resources and materials. Many consumers still prefer direct mail as a means of communication and within certain market segments it is likely to deliver some of the highest customer acquisition rates.
But it is also an area that is coming under pressure. People are questioning the environmental impact of Direct Mail and there is pressure to improve the impact of Direct Mail. Already, we see postal providers bringing in schemes that encourage direct mailers to work in a more friendly way.
New technology such as the advent and cost effectiveness of excellent digital colour printing technology through products such as the Xerox IGen mean that companies do not have to acquire masses of pre-printed materials to mail to their customers. The Igen, its smaller sisters and other printing products like it realise an opportunity to market through the direct mail channel in a more effective manner.
An example of how this could work could be a catalog clothing company. Today, most companies still send out catalogs on a one size fits all basis. So regardless of your sex, your age and the types of clothes that you buy from that company, the consumer still receives a catalog two inches thick that costs say $15 to produce. So if we add that up across 100,000 recipients alone, we are looking at $1.5m to send the catalog – and that’s just the unit cost of the catalog!
Now, through the integration and convergence of data, high speed, high quality variable colour printing technology and the ability for software to create infinitely variable communications, drawing on content management systems there is an opportunity to reduce costs whilst at the same time more effectively targeting the consumer. So, a man who is 55 and single is unlikely to be buying a skirt for himself, is unlikely to be interested in childrens clothes. Previous data demonstrates that that man typically buys suits from the company.
So instead of a 2 inch catalog, he receives a 5 page document that clearly and in detail promotes the suits that the company sells. The back page may refer to other product categories that you offer, but do not go into depth on them and these are irrelevant to this consumer except perhaps when he buys a relations child a birthday present.
The difference is that your company has demonstrated that it understands what the customer wants. The customer will like this. The other difference is that the $15 production cost for the old catalog has now reduced to a $4 cost. If this applies across 15,000 of those recipients, we have saved ourselves $165,000. If a company is delivering many direct mail campaigns, it seems clear that the benefits of building the one to one production capability are profound.
In the context of the marketing communications plan, it is unlikely that direct mail will fall by the wayside. Simply because consumers are used to it and know how to work with it. It is low pressure selling but its physical presence in homes and workplaces give it a persistence that no other media can offer.
Marketing Communications through Transactional Mail
By transactional mail we mean documents of significance. Bills, Statements, Invoices, Contracts, Confirmations,Tickets, Coupons and a wealth of other relationship mechanic documents.
The notion of using transactional mail to communicate with existing customers is extremely powerful. Working on the basis of having a trust relationship in place, transactional mail allows the development of a communicate / feed back loop.
One the beauty’s of delivering marketing communications through a transactional mail approach is that much of the cost is already borne by the organisation. It is quite simply a legal necessity to send these documents to customers.
In designing a transactional document in this age, careful thought must go into the dynamics of that document. Think of it as a piece of real estate. One element of the document draws in money owed, another contains operational data – delivery address, date, terms and so on – whilst another part of the page is promotional real estate, encouraging the customer to invest more with your company.
People spend time reading transactional documents. They are as important to the customer as they are to you. Messages on these documents are unavoidable and if the messages are relevant have a much higher likelihood of encouraging the customer to place an additional order with you.
But this is not just about promotional messages, it is also an opportunity to get operational messages to the customer as well – to advise about change of call centre numbers or terms of service.
Due to its low cost, transactional mail it is not an opportunity that should not be ignored in devising the marketing communications plan.
Marketing Communications through Email
Email has in many ways been very successful for marketers. It as also failed in many ways, simply because there is so much of it.
The advantage of email in marketing communications is that it offers a very low cost of execution. Millions of people can be targeted in a few short hours.
Perhaps more acutely than any other medium, email must ensure relevance. Email has a short lifetime of visibility within an individuals inbox. Therefore if the message title does not grab the recipient, it will likely be deleted or ignored before it is opened. This means that there is a high probability of the customer blocking your email address or, opting out of receiving emails from your company – an opportunity lost.
Because of the mechanics and digital nature of email, it is a channel that offers easy measurement of results and thus, continuous improvement.
Marketing Communications Viral Email to Social Media
A new kid on the block, technology now exists that allows the sending of email and, if a consumer particularly likes the offer being presented to them, they can submit the offer to their personal webspace or other social networking sites.
This can cause a proliferation of your message to a world wide audience. It can create a buzz around your product and boost its esteem. It is a powerful exercise in brand development if executed correctly.
This is a new offer and perhaps suitable for a narrower range of products and to a narrower (techno savvy/younger?) audience than some of the more traditional means of communication.
The development of this marketing communications channel is currently at the early adoption phase but over the next two to three years I feel that we are likely to be reading some interesting results from this particular marketing tool.
Many companies are establishing networks within social media sites and through corporate blogs. They offer the opportunity to present a company in a more informal, less in your face fashion. The best examples draw customers in and provide the opportunity for a real dialogue with consumers, allowing both consumer and company to benefit from a deeper understanding of one another.
Content can be crafted to draw people in without the hard sell of a commercial website. The advent of the latest XML based customer support and messaging platform mean that content that drives out through the mail or email can be equally easily driven out into the world of social networks.
Marketing Communications through SMS
Whilst ‘interuptive’ as a form of communication, SMS is highly effective for letting people know about offers that they may need to take up quickly. It is not an effective channel for a sophisticated message but, should a limited number of tickets become available for a pop concert, it is the fastest, most effective way of letting people know about something they need to act on quickly.
Marketing Communications – Voice
Voice can be the great consolidator across marketing campaigns. For customers that haven’t responded to offers, but still have a likelihood of buying, voice can bring the opportunity to answer unresolved questions for customers and encourage them to buy.
Modern customer communications management platforms will populate CRM (customer relationship management) systems with campaign profile data. The CRM system can utilise this data to execute an outbound call program.
I like to think of voice as a sweep up activity. It closes a particular loop of conversation with the customer and provides the opportunity to collect further interest about the customers behaviours for future marketing efforts.
I personally like it less for direct, uninformed or cold sales activities. People don’t want their evening meals ruined by companies calling attempting to sell irrelevant product. I think that this can only damage a brand.
Marketing Communications – Mobile Communications
I see mobile communications (a separate entity to SMS) as a very powerful element of the marketing communications plan. WIth fast mobile connections now commonplace, it provides the opportunity to develop a highly permission oriented relationship with a customer.
Customers can be asked questions and responses can be garnered quickly and easily, allowing fast reactive tactical campaigning to a customer base.
Mobile communication also allow for pay services between company and customer. Valuable information can be given to individuals who are moving around to help them run their day better or to inform an activity that they are engaged in.
The power of mobile communication is yet to be exploited. But the opportunity for somebody to walk into a region and then get notification of the services available locally to them can be extremely useful both for local business and the consumer themselves.
Summarising – Impact on the Marketing Communication Plan
In conclusion, we have a range of channels that we must now adapt to. We can deliver one to one messages, offers and information broadcasts across each of these channels. Each has its own merits, groups of consumers who are likely to respond and each has differing level of maturity.
There is not yet that much data about how best to use and market within the context of all these available channels. It will come available over the coming years. Organisations do need to start learning to use these channels though. It is the data that they acquire this year that will bring insight. The following year will bring results and improvement. The next year will bring innovation and solid results.
Previously I have discussed the need for elasticity and flexibility in the development of the marketing communications plan. Be bold and try things out. But get the basics right. Be relevant. Be Timely. Communicate to your customers stated preferences if you have them, if you don’t, find out. Study your customers behaviour and grow the relationship through the method most suited to the customer and you.
Think carefully about your organisations use of the marketing communications channels. Those who learn to manage and control these capabilities will have massive competitive advantage over those who don’t.