Successful multichannel marketing involves moving away from silo thinking

Source: CxO Magazine; April/May 2014 edition

Marketers are starting to find consumers increasingly elusive. These days, they are found on growing numbers of new channels. “Nonetheless, multichannel consumers spend more than the single-channel shoppers,” says Steve Muylle, Professor of Marketing at Vlerick Business School. How should you respond to the multichannel behaviour of your customers?

Steve Muylle is a business lecturer at Vlerick Business School. His company-specific course on multichannel marketing is highly acclaimed. “Multichannel is a reality. This is mainly the case for our participants from consumer-oriented organisations. They can see that customers are genuinely changing their behaviour. Given the huge rise in the popularity of tablets and smartphones, customers are entering their company through various different ‘doors’. They interact through various different channels for the same transaction.”

Number of multichannel customers on the rise

“Academic research into multichannel behaviour has been around for ten years or so. Studies from 2005 show that the number of customers who were using several channels for shopping was beginning to increase. The number of multichannel customers in the US was already fluctuating between 65 and 70% at that time. We can assume that a third of them used to buy on a monochannel basis: they only purchased items via a single channel, for example in a physical store. The ‘multichannel customer’, on the other hand, will first spend time browsing the internet, visit forums on social media and check out the product in the store before finally ordering online via the web or a mobile application (app), after which the item is delivered to his or her home.”

Consistent customer experience

“Research has also shown that multichannel consumers spend significantly more than single-channel shoppers,” says Steve Muylle. “This is why it's a good idea to take several dimensions of strategic marketing into account. For example, you must try to provide a consistent customer experience. The customer must get the feeling that he is in contact with the same brand and the same organisation via every channel. You should therefore think about the image conveyed by your brand and your organisation. Make sure that the customer experience is a good reflection of the brand. Although many companies are currently focusing on what is known as ‘customer centricity’, some forget to optimise the customer experience too. For example, if you consider it important to be customer-friendly and include a mobile app in your channels, you must also make sure that this app is as user-friendly as possible.”

The customer is not a channel

“You must be careful not to regard the customer as a channel,” says Steve Muylle. “The customer is not a channel. There is no such thing as the typical internet customer or typical store customer. However, you can evaluate his customer journey, which is the path he travels before making his purchase. Which channels does he use?

The challenge is to design the channels in such a way that they offer the most value to the customer. In other words, first take a step back, think about your strategic values and how your channels can implement them. Think about the design of your channels for recruiting and retaining customers and increasing their number.”

Analyse and study

It is essential to work on the basis of the customer's requirements. Steve Muylle: “The customers of a banking institution, for example, will interact via various channels such as the bank branches, the call centre, the internet, the cash machines, all kinds of direct marketing campaigns, text messages etc., but also via third parties such as brokers and insurance agents. Find out which combination of channels would best serve your customers.”

You need to perform studies and analyse data. “Based on customer search behaviour, you can find out which channel they used to become a customer and which channel they use for their transactions. In other words, map the customer journey and establish a relationship: which paths and steps does the customer take and what does he need along the journey?”

Overcoming silo thinking

“A multichannel approach involves an investment in system integration, as well as training employees to think strategically about customer perception and brand perception. What's the best way to support the customer on his journey through the various channels? What should you do if he is having doubts or drops out? How can you get him back on track?

“Major bottlenecks in this approach often include the ICT systems, which are not geared towards multichannel marketing.”

“In addition, the organisational structure of a company is often divided into single channels. People are used to silo thinking and compartmentalising things. However, this is at odds with the reality that we are evolving into a blended environment. When shopping, people jump from brochures to online reviews and mobile apps, from the website to the store, without giving it a moment's thought. In other words, multichannel involves the ICT departments as well as Sales, Marketing and Operations. The single-channel approach is still often seen in the conventional retail sector. Retailers often started from an office or store environment. Call centres came a little later, and the internet as a fully-fledged channel even later still. As a result, however, each channel had its own system and often also its own department and its own staff. These are not geared towards a seamless transition from one channel to the other. It's all about overcoming silo thinking and focusing on integration.”

Another golden rule in multichannel marketing is personalisation. Steve Muylle: “Adopt a personal approach to your customer. For example, make sure he only needs to register once so that he doesn't have to repeat the exercise every time he uses a different channel. Ensure a seamless overlap. Make sure you also focus on his information in order to optimise your channel mix. In other words, use the customer’s voice to bring in new ideas so that you can respond to them and improve the customer experience. To put it another way, keep the customer as satisfied as possible to ensure repeat business or increased spending and also to make sure he will recommend you and work with you to refine the multichannel customer experience as well as your range of products and services.”

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