Today’s customers are spread across increasingly diverse platforms and locations, both on- and offline. Thankfully for modern businesses, reaching the right customers, at the right place and at the right time (i.e. when they are looking to buy) is helped by sophisticated systems that help you track and evaluate your efforts across channels.
Here we’ll look at what it means to use multichannel marketing to reach customers – and touch on the multichannel sales order management, and multichannel inventory management systems you’ll need to underpin your sales and marketing strategy.
What is multichannel marketing?
The concept of multichannel marketing is relatively straightforward. ‘Multi’ obviously means more than one, and by channels we mean all the different ways of reaching potential customers, whether that be email, web ads, referral partners, mobile apps, chatbots or retail locations.
Multichannel marketing is about marketing and selling to consumers wherever they are.
The four core principles of multichannel marketing
While the theory of marketing and selling across multiple channels is simple, the actual practice can quickly become difficult. The following are four principles you should address to avoid making a mess of your multichannel marketing.
1. You need the right underlying systems
For effective multichannel marketing a multichannel order management system is key. We will talk about this in more detail further along in the article, but for now, it is worth briefly understanding its place as a core principle.
A multichannel order management system allows your business to sell across multiple channels, but uses a single platform to track and sync both sales orders and inventory. This removes the risk posed by incorrect stock levels, isolated distribution chains and manual consolidation between sales channels.
A good multichannel order management system lets you oversee the three key stages of an order:
It should also give you a unified view of the value of your sales, as well as your stock levels, so that you remain in control of your sales and inventory data regardless of where and how you’re marketing.
In short, multichannel order management – as well as multichannel inventory management – is critical if you plan to market and sell across multiple channels.
A good multichannel order management system will give you a unified view of your sales across channels – and track your inventory too.
2. Understand your target market at a channel level
Creating customer personas is an important first step in understanding who buys your products and/or services, and why. However at a high level, this creates generalisations about groups of people that won’t hold true in all circumstances.
For multichannel marketing to be successful, we need to drill down deeper to learn everything we can about the way different consumers use and interact with the channels where our business will be ‘meeting’ them.
It is important therefore to consider the scenarios in which people will have a need or desire for your product. Going through this process is about understanding context, helping to turn personas into real life people and providing a deeper knowledge of buyer behaviour.
Gathering this kind of detailed persona data at a channel level allows businesses to offer greater personalisation in their marketing. Which is often a deciding factor for consumers: according to a 2018 report by Accenture 91% of consumers say they are more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations that are relevant to them.
In summary: for multichannel marketing to work, businesses must know who they are selling to, in depth, so they can understand the circumstances in which potential customers make their purchases.
3. Match the service to the channel
There are many options when it comes to multichannel marketing, and it is easy to get caught up thinking that businesses need to be everywhere. But to get the best ROI, it is best to first consider the purpose of each channel. To do this, work backwards from the service offered, then to the messaging, and only then to the channel where this messaging will work best.
For example, a locksmith company is often required urgently by people who have misplaced keys or been locked out of their home – this is the service. Next comes the messaging – e.g. ‘locked out of your house, we can help’. Then finally, consider which channel will be best for this service and its messaging.
In this example the best channel is likely to be paid search ads on mobile devices: people searching on terms like ‘locksmith near me’ or ‘locked out of house’ etc, will likely click the first reputable-seeming result that they come across.
Once you’ve matched a service to a channel in this way you can look to other channels to support your activity – for example with brand recognition campaigns that improve your ad click-through.
This is a very basic example, with many businesses having far more complex paths to purchase. However pinpointing services (and scenarios – as in principle 2) before channels still applies. Because if you simply use every channel available, without a purpose, you won’t achieve the traction and response you are after.
Unlocking ROI in multichannel marketing depends on understanding the service first, and selecting channels to match.
4. The customer experience is rarely linear
Customers are (unfortunately) not always predictable. Most will interact with your business across multiple channels before making a purchase. Which is why the experience needs to be relatively seamless, whether they are on a mobile device browsing your website, using an app, on social media or in a retail store dealing with a representative face-to-face.
If you have an expectation on how a consumer will get from point A (thinking about buying something) to point B (buying it), and your multichannel marketing strategy is established with that exact journey in mind, your customers will be lost.
Because we can’t predict buyer behaviour. There are simply too many variables occurring externally to the ‘conversation’ we are having with them. For example they are talking to friends, looking at competitor websites and seeking information from other providers.
It is also crucial to maintain a single view of each customer across all channels with a multichannel marketing platform, so you can keep track of that sometimes convoluted journey to purchase. This is where a good CRM comes into its own. The right CRM will perform campaign management, provide advanced analytics, support response attribution and execute digital marketing activities to simplify your cross-channel campaigns.
Why is multichannel marketing important?
Traditionally, most businesses would have one or two ways in which they made sales. A retail store, usually B2C, would have people come in physically. A wholesale company, typically B2B, would distribute catalogues or have salespeople who made calls and took orders.
But of course, that has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 20 years. Technology has provided customers with so many ways to buy and many more ways to be marketed to – and perhaps most significantly, consumers are more in control of the process. So if a business isn’t engaging in multichannel marketing, they will struggle to match up against competitors who are.
From expanded reach, to increased engagement, interacting with customers on their preferred ‘channel’, greater awareness and consistent messaging – there are many benefits that afford businesses who engage in multichannel marketing.
In fact, one study claims that multichannel customers spend two for five times more than single channel customers.
A multichannel order management system will let you find your most valuable customers, and serve them on their terms.
What is multichannel inventory management?
When you’re selling stock through a variety of channels, things can get very confusing, fast. So an inventory management system is essential, even for small businesses or startups. A multichannel inventory management system should:
- Ensure you don’t have too little or too much stock
- Track expiry dates
- Show in detail what stock is in which warehouse, and what it’s worth
- Show you which of your suppliers are delivering on time, and let you track a true landed cost for each shipment
As a business selling through multiple locations, like online marketplaces, an ecommerce website, retail and wholesale, seeing real-time inventory as well as orders placed will keep your supply chain stable.
It also happens that over 60 percent of customers also want to see a retailer’s stock levels, but perhaps more compelling, 20 percent said they would never buy from a store again if their website said they had the product in store, but then found it was out of stock. It’s simply bad business to not have accurate stock information.
Inventory management allows you to scale your business when required, without the growing pains that typically go with it.
What is a multichannel order management system?
A good inventory management system will include a multichannel order management system that keeps you on top of preparing and shipping orders in an efficient and traceable way.
And as mentioned above, when you have multiple outlets selling your product, you need to know that orders are being picked, packed and dispatched when they should be. Why? Because of the ‘Delivery Economy’ in which consumers expect low cost, fast and highly transparent delivery of goods – 74 percent of customers say that when a package doesn’t arrive when expected, it hurts their impression of the company.
But of course order management doesn’t end with the delivery of a product – what about accepting and tracking returns, managing refunds and organising exchanges? Consumers today expect a lot – because there are the systems and technology to provide it. And if they don’t receive the level of service they have become accustomed to, they will go somewhere else.
A multichannel order management system, therefore, not only allows customers to have a great experience when they order from a business, but allows the organisation to function more efficiently and effectively when it comes to all aspects of the delivery chain – increasing productivity and minimising the costs that comes from more manual processes.
Two companies successfully using multichannel marketing
To inspire your own efforts here are two big brands who have nailed multichannel marketing. It’s interesting to note that while the companies below found their online purchasing was more profitable, they have kept their physical retail stores, but modified what is offered to customers through them.
Global fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff observed many customers in their physical retail stores were actually using their phones while shopping to read reviews about the clothes from past customers. They were also checking sizes and if they couldn’t find the stock in store, would buy online. This led the retailer to incorporate online services and digital tools, by way of interactive screens, into their retail locations.
This assisted customers in their decision-making process, helping them to make a purchase while they were already engaged with the brand. The screens allowed shoppers to see all the website details, reviews, availability and also send everything to their mobile devices, allowing them to complete purchases on their phones.
The result of this integrated marketing and sales activity was that ready-to-wear sales increased 7-fold within the space of six months.
Apple is one of the world’s best known masters of multichannel marketing. Most of their sales come through ecommerce, but Apple also has retail stores – so what is their purpose? To provide enhanced customer experiences. They observed that because there are no ‘pushy’ sales tactics, customers feel less pressure to purchase and in turn visit the stores more frequently.
Apple retail stores simply serve the relationship people have with the brand, by offering an easily identifiable aesthetic, and customer service representatives who are there to assist with any kind of questions or technical query. Customers can also use the merchandise before they decide to buy, or take a class.
The key takeaway here? There are similar products available at better prices, but people buy from Apple because it is more user-friendly, easy and desirable to buy from a brand that puts the customer’s experience first.
Apple supports their primary sales channel – online – with smart multichannel marketing.
How to measure multichannel marketing
For multichannel marketing to work there must be the right integrated systems and processes in place. Because with good data, you can measure almost anything.
But what do you want to measure?
Before you begin, you should be setting SMART goals. You need to know where you are now, in order to see what changes over a period of time when the business is consciously investing in multichannel marketing.
It’s also important to understand how attribution works, which refers to evaluating the marketing touch-points a customer has on their journey to buy. There are a variety of attribution models, from first interaction to last interaction, last non-direct click, linear, time-decay and position-based. By gaining insights from attribution, a business can learn how, when and where a customer interacts with brand messaging, and in turn, makes a purchase. This allows for greater transparency of ROI across each marketing channel.
It also helps to have the right technology on board. Unleashed’s multichannel inventory and order management platform accurately tracks the costs of goods – and the margins made by each channel and location – empowering the multichannel marketing campaigns of its users.
Article by Greg Roughan in collaboration with our team of inventory management and business specialists. Greg has been writing, publishing and working with content for more than 20 years. His writing motto is ‘don’t be boring’. His outdoors motto is ”I wish I hadn’t brought my headtorch’, said nobody, ever’. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with his family.