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Make multi-channel marketing a breeze
By Jeff Hassemer

Marketers and printers face difficult and new challenges every year, every month; every day, even. Consumers now have more ways to interact with companies than ever before, and they are demanding a consistent, personalized experience across channels.

Yet, it is difficult for companies to maximize the opportunity across this increasing number of channels, and we all know that maximizing the return on our marketing dollar is key. The difficulty is exacerbated by constrained resources, increasing competition, stagnant or decreasing response rates, and increasing regulation to how and when we get the consumer's attention.

Part of the issue is that traditional methods marketers use to communicate with customers do not enable them to adapt to new channels efficiently and effectively. The "batch and blast" approach to direct marketing is time consuming because marketers spend a lot of their time assembling the associated parts of a direct marketing campaign; that being the list, the offer and the creative.

Today's current process tends to involve a lot of detail and difficult work pulling a list of customers, putting together solid creative and offers, loading these into the marketing systems or moving them down to the print shops or call centers, and then assembling the messages. If the medium is email and dynamic content is involved, it often becomes even worse.

Once the list, offer and creative are assembled, then the marketer must go about the process of scheduling and executing the campaign. There is little time left for the high value activities such as analysis and planning, so marketers are forced to spend their time in this endless cycle of getting campaigns out the door.

In the meantime, the pace of technology adoption continues to increase. As direct marketers, we now not only have traditional direct mail, call centers and email at our disposal, but now we need to take into account such media as search engine marketing, mobile marketing, web offer management, behavioral targeting and social media. How can marketers adopt to these new channels when they are in a constant cycle to keep up with the current demands of their jobs? How can one innovate and accept new channels into the marketing mix? Why is it important to do so?

Multi-channel marketing is imperative
It is important to do so because we find ourselves in a world of consumer choice. Customers are now able to interact with companies in a multitude of ways, at their convenience, and in a way that is very personal to them. For companies to satisfy their customer base, they must be able to adopt the channels that the customers are using, or prefer to use, and meet that customer with the right experience. In addition, marketers now need to understand how these channels work together in their marketing eco-system so that decisions are not made in silos, which takes time, energy and knowledge of all channels.

Organizations must learn to orient themselves toward the ability to evaluate and adopt new channels with minimal disruption to the current workflow. Determining how these new technologies affect your customer base will become a key marketing discipline over the next few years.

Two paths to integration
There are essentially two ways marketing executives can begin to tackle this growing problem. One is to hire more people. This path is both time consuming and expensive. Additionally, hiring only works if you can generate enough revenue from the new channels to offset the cost.

The second way to increase innovation is to automate direct marketing efforts. Marketers must learn to take advantage of technology available today to automate what works in their marketing efforts and spend time innovating their customer experiences in order to be effective.

To become effective in today's world, marketing must evolve into a more streamlined approach; an approach that not only generates demand via outbound marketing campaigns, but also captures demand through automated messages that take into account who the consumer is, where he or she is in the customer lifecycle and what channels the person prefers.

A combination of campaign- and program-oriented approaches where messages to customers are automated based on a set schedule (such as a campaign), or triggered when a consumer begins to interact with the company (as in a program), can prove very effective. Within this environment, messages are individualized to the customer based on known demographic and behavioral information. It blends the disciplines of the traditional approach of targeting a message to the consumer with the processes of the real-time approach, which triggers a message based on specific customer behavior. This creates a cycle that is both more individualized to the customer and visible to the marketer, as well as delivers maximum value to the customers and the organization.

This all sounds grand, but you may be saying to yourself that it sounds like a lot of work; and you would be right…sort of. To execute this type of marketing strategy takes planning and technology. The great news is that the technology is available today. Even better, executing a strategy like this can increase time available for analysis and optimization of your marketing efforts, which is critical to the next planning phases of your marketing efforts.

So, the question is, where does a marketer start?