The Building Blocks of a Multichannel Communication Strategy

June 24, 2020 Sharon Smith

Communications is not the fashion industry. If it was, all your marketing pounds, euros, and dollars would be spent on the shiny and new rather than the tried and trusted —TikTok in 2020 and Myspace in 2005. Nothing wrong with either network, but channel marketing doesn’t work that way. As I’d like to explore in the first of a series of blog posts, when it comes to channel marketing, the lesson is simple: the more the merrier.

Whether the mission is to increase engagement, provide frictionless transactions, or raise awareness leading to future sales, a multichannel strategy must play to the strengths of each outlet in isolation but also consider how each works in tandem with the other.  That means, first exploring the benefits — and potential drawbacks — of each channel in turn.

Direct mail

Let’s start at the beginning. Physical mail is the oldest form of mass communication — now seen as slow and expensive, yet still widely used by many organisations and their customers. Why does it remain so popular? Because it continues to prove effective. Analysis by the Direct Marketing Association indicates that direct mail response rates — averaging 4.4% — are between 10 and 30 times higher than equivalent digital channels.

Beyond its efficacy; one must also consider its necessity. Paper remains the default for processes inside many organisations — think legal departments, change of address forms, or general complaints. As noted in a previous post, those that fail to embrace paper are misunderstanding modern communication.

To enable an effective physical channel that is both cost- and process-efficient, organisations should engage specialist partners that can digitise incoming paper,to speed up internal operations. Companies should also look at large print facilities that have the capacity, expertise, and desire to send the paper out.

Email

The next wave of communication came in the late 1980s and early 1990s when businesses started to adopt electronic mail, a shift that took firm hold by the late 1990s when usage became the norm. It is the oldest form of digital communication, one that continues to come with many advantages — it is fast and easy to use; it reaches customers in seconds and easily threads ongoing conversations together; and geography and scale pose no barrier to reach.

Overuse, spam filters, a lack of a universal address verification system, and limits on file size all serve to temper email’s overall efficacy. In addition, it is less likely to be used with frequency by younger members of the workforce, notably Generation Z,  born from 1997 onwards. Forbes clearly shows that companies should be looking to recharge their email marketing strategies for the 21st century.

SMS

Short Message Service — better known as SMS — is an underrated means of communication. According to Gartner, it boasts two key attributes: wide reachability (it works on virtually every mobile phone on the planet), and easy engagement (it doesn’t require a mobile app to engage directly and persistently). Today, 86% of the world’s population own a mobile phone according to Statista.

SMS started off as an alert channel, a form of one-way narrowcasting. It has evolved since then to accommodate embedded links, and can now be integrated into other channels — igniting chat bots, and providing text-enabled adjuncts to call centres.  

The downside of SMS? Cost — not just for the marketer but, potentially, for the message recipient, too.

Virtual Assistants

Virtual or Voice Assistants (VAs) are the newest of communication channels. Although voice-activated software is a 20th century invention, it didn’t hit the consumer mainstream until the 2010s. In 2011, Apple introduced Siri as a smartphone feature into the iPhone 4s. Three years later, Amazon introduced Alexa.

VAs are easy to use, mobile, and hands-free. They provide two-way communication and are now available on nearly every device from laptop, tablets and smartphones to cars and household appliances. In short, they remove some of the friction inherent in text-based channels. It is predicted that by 2023, there will be over 8 billion VAs worldwide, roughly equalling the global population.

Companies can use VA connections to allow their customers to pay or query bills. And they can be used as a gateway to chatbot or other digital communications. Voice technology is a game changer. It offers customers a quick and easy way to funnel and control customer requests. However, some users remain sceptical because of unfamiliarity or privacy concerns.

Social media

Social media changed the communication game in the first decade of the 21st century with high-end, speedy interaction levels for customers. We can date the beginnings of mainstream use to 2006 — the year Twitter launched and Facebook opened up beyond the college campus. It allowed one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many interactions all at once. Social media is quick, easy and works at scale.

Social media is an important channel to include in any customer experience strategy. Not only does it focus closely on the Millennials  and Generation Z but it also allows all subscribers a direct relationship with the company. Marketing messaging can be easily dispersed and it provides a platform for feedback, queries and complaints.

The downside? It can quickly become a platform for customer dissatisfaction and a challenge because organisations have much less control of the conversation.

The bottom line

These are the core channels any organisation should consider when looking to reach and engage an audience. These channels are not in opposition but complementary tools to be used in tandem. In my next post, we’ll take a closer look at how to bring a multichannel strategy to life.

About the Author

Sharon Smith is Director - OmniChannel Communication Services (Europe) at Conduent. You can contact her at sharon.smith3@conduent.com.

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