Omnichannel Marketing: Integrated, Coherent And Consistent
Congratulations - your bank’s online customer portal or its mobile app on your phone has just informed you that you’ve been pre-approved for an auto loan.
A few days later, the same notice lands in your mailbox as a piece of personalized direct mail badged with a QR code that points to a landing page created specially for you. The persuasive momentum builds with the delivery of an email containing similar links to the loan offer. Finally comes the telephone call reminding you that you’re still eligible and that your new-car money is just a click or a “yes” away.
Whether you realize it or not, you have been the focal point of an omnichannel marketing outreach - and the bank behind it has taken full advantage of a manifold opportunity to make you a borrower.
Scott Hansen is the chief marketing and strategy officer at Harland Clarke, a San Antonio-based check printing company that runs campaigns like this for financial institutions. He says that for some of them, the multiplier effect routinely turns $1,000 spent on omnichannel marketing into $1 million worth of loan origination: an ROI of 1,000%.
Not every omnichannel marketing effort can quantify its success in this way, but all such programs aim at producing measurable results. The ones that deliver them have two things in common: consistency of messaging and customer experience in all channels used; and print as the engagement-driving catalyst of the process.
Marketers in all industries crave omnichannel experiences. Research this year by NAPCO Media’s Target Marketing - a sister brand of Printing Impressions - found, for example, that 80% of survey respondents in health care, travel, IT and financial services rated them as important to provide.
But, respondents also said that lack of budget, lack of cross-platform data and customer recognition, and lack of personnel with the necessary skills were holding them back from achieving the kind of omnichannel exposure they want.
This is where Harland Clarke and the four other omnichannel marketing service providers examined for this story come in.
All began as printers, but now, they’ve wrapped that still-vital medium in a rich mix of additional conduits to the audiences their customers want to discover, connect with, and sell products and services to. They speak a new language of tactical marketing, as when Brad Moore, CEO of Vision, in Bolingbrook Ill., describes searching data for “behaviors and actions that are more linear to conversion” as a first step toward engagement and response.
According to the Target Marketing survey report, omnichannel experiences can be difficult to define. But, these providers are clear about what they are and how to achieve them.
Well-crafted ones comprise “a never-ending circular series of physical events or triggers that are driven by data to effect a desired result,” says Rick Kropski, senior VP of supply chain and logistics at Arandell Corp., in Menomonee Falls, Wis.
He adds that, for Arandell, the center of the omnichannel experience is the catalog, which combines with other print and non-print media to create “an integrated and cohesive customer experience no matter how or where a customer reaches out.”
The objective, agrees Moore, is to “surround the customer with multiple touch points to increase the chances of conversion.” But, the “omni” in “omnichannel” doesn’t imply that every channel under the sun has to be used in every marketing campaign.
How, Not How Many
What’s more important, says Todd Meissner, president of Color Ink in Sussex, Wis., is that the right channels be employed “in a coordinated fashion,” enabling each of them to convey the same message and brand identification. Counted by Color Ink as a channel for this purpose is its specialty: visual display materials for retail locations and trade shows.
Jason Tews, executive VP of Kelmscott, in Berkeley, Ill., notes that the multi-channel marketing services his company has offered its customers “since the dawn of emails” became “omni” once mobile communications and social media entered the picture. He says “providing a holistic, consistent experience across all of the channels” is paramount, no matter how many facets the experience consists of.
Each of these companies shapes its omnichannel strategy by focusing on the outcomes its customers expect their marketing campaigns to accomplish. This determines the methods they use and underlies the special services they’ve developed to keep the marketing partnerships strong.
Arandell zeroes in on data hygiene - an urgent necessity, given that the company annually mails 1 billion catalogs, flats and postcards for its mid-tier retail customers. Kropski points out that details about the audience a list represents can change considerably between the time the list is compiled and the point at which the pieces go into the mailstream. By then, 4.5% on average of recipients may have become “very poor performers” because of late changes the list doesn’t reflect.
Arandell’s “Retail Advantage” list maintenance service precludes the difficulty by making last-minute adjustments that ensure accuracy right down to the wire. The result, Kropski says, is “just-in-time mailing list freshness” that improves the performance of the catalog and all the other events in the campaign.
Don’t forget telephony’s important place in omnichannel strategy, advises Hansen, noting Harland Clarke’s reliance on two U.S. call centers staffed by 1,000 people. These helpers provide proactive, outbound support for the various kinds of channel communications that Harland Clarke offers to the 8,500 financial institutions it serves.
Being explored for adoption are the conveniences of instant messaging and interactive chatbot programs that use artificial intelligence (AI) to facilitate dialogs between banks and their customers. Adding AI chat to the mix, says Hansen, acknowledges the fact that just as there are times when people want to interact with other human beings to get their questions answered, there also are times when they’d rather not.
If It’s a Trigger, Pull It
At Vision, says Moore, omnichannel is about more than delivering the messaging: it also spans identifying prospects and interpreting their behavior correctly so that they’ll receive just the right message, at just the right time. Since a credit application, for example, signals a general intent to purchase, it should be used as a real-time trigger to serve a mobile ad, send a direct mail piece, or take some other action to capitalize on the opportunity.
According to Moore, Vision refines its targeting by matching IP addresses to postal addresses, and vice versa, with up to 50% accuracy. The company is also growing adept at geo-targeting, a mobile technique that sends location-specific messaging to consumers’ phones in retail stores and other places where marketers want to reach them.
At first glance, Color Ink’s primary business: designing and fabricating in-store visual marketing materials, would appear to stretch the definition of “omnichannel.” But Meissner explains that as long as their brand communication is consistent, signage, structures and POP are as much a part of the omnichannel continuum as the emails, direct mail and social media messaging that the company packages them with in turnkey solutions for retailers and trade show exhibitors.
Color Ink is keeping an eye on augmented reality and holographic imaging as tools for extending the reach of the branding vehicles it builds and distributes. Of particular interest, says Meissner, are beacons for proximity marketing: miniature Bluetooth transmitters that, by broadcasting to smartphone apps, enable retailers to track shoppers’ movements through stores and send them messages based on where they’re located.
Kelmscott, according to Tews, is doing very little that isn’t omnichannel. “We’re strategic, creative people, and we’re also technical people,” he says, adding that nearly all of its projects use some form of direct mail to help customers drive engagement.
“We’re going to be very smart about how we mail,” says Tews. That includes helping customers make the best use of their own technologies and resources to reach their omnichannel goals. Kelmscott will, for example, create email campaigns that customers can administer themselves, from their servers, if that is the most effective way to run them.
All agree that print remains a key ingredient for success in omnichannel outreach.
Hansen says a basic reason it belongs in the mix is that “adding a channel incrementally increases the number of responses” a campaign will get. Harland Clarke’s experience indicates that given a choice of direct mail, email and telephone follow-up, “if you do all three, the results are going to be better than if you only do two.”
According to Kropski, recipients of printed pieces in Arandell’s “Retail Advantage” campaigns may spend three to five minutes focusing on them: “a virtual eternity” compared with the time they typically devote to skimming non-print messages. He says that catalogs, the company’s specialty, are “gold standard” vehicles that claim a 70% viewership rate - far higher than the response to email, paid search, and social media or mobile communications.
The drawing power of print has prompted some significant equipment investment decisions by the providers, most notably Color Ink, which has retail customers needing customized printing for each of the hundreds of stores in their networks. These short runs, says Meissner, “really scream digital production”: a call the company heeded by installing a Fujifilm J Press 720S sheetfed inkjet press in February 2017.
Print Enhancement ‘Bling’ Is a Good Thing
He also believes that making print more sophisticated - giving it a “premium factor” with a dash of “bling” for visual appeal - lets it project a kind of value that other channels can’t duplicate. This is what Color Ink hopes to accomplish with its newly installed MGI JetVarnish 3D print enhancement system for foiling and spot-coated UV special effects. Customers are showing “huge interest” in what the device can do for signage and other in-store visual materials, Meissner says.
The providers are using all of the tools and techniques at their disposal, including some unusual ones, to execute result-getting omnichannel marketing campaigns for their customers.
Kelmscott, for example, has sent people pairs of socks as an inducement to purchase shoes online. It has also delivered virtual reality goggles to recipients selected by the client for an interactive experience. (“We have to help our customers stand out, and we do that really well,” Tews says.)
Moore describes how Vision, on behalf of a furniture retailing client, turned geo-targeting into a form of guerilla marketing by performing mobile intercepts of shoppers’ phones as they entered stores belonging to a competitor. This triggered real-time messaging from the client, followed by direct mail a couple of days later. A retailer in the pet business has asked Vision to intercept animal-loving shoppers in the same way, “as well as people hanging out in dog parks.”
Drives Beauty Products Loyalty Program
“Huge mass mailings,” ranging from 100,000 to 1 million pieces per month, are at the heart of a loyalty program that Color Ink operates for a beauty products supplier with a chain of 250 stores. Offers change continuously and may include special features such as sample packs tipped onto discount cards.
Color Ink coordinates everything with signage and other visual materials it produces for the retail outlets, driving what Meissner calls “a truly integrated and omnichannel” marketing effort.
If campaigns like these seem uncommonly ambitious and demanding, it’s because success in providing omnichannel marketing services requires nothing less than this kind of commitment. That’s a caution to would-be providers, because as Tews observes, “it’s hard for printers to be everything to everyone” in the highly complex environments where omnichannel marketing takes place.
A good way for a printing company to get a sense of what’s possible, advises Meissner, is to start using omnichannel techniques to promote itself. This can be explored in small steps with the help of easy-to-use tools such as Constant Contact for email marketing, he says.
When it comes to planning how to acquire omnichannel capability, says Moore, “be very thoughtful” in deciding whether to buy it, build it or partner with another business. Part of the thought process should be developing the sales and marketing support that will be needed to find customers for these solutions.
Customer: Not Omni? Not Interested
Whatever the strategy, cautions Hansen, don’t ignore the risks of staying a “pure-play printing” organization while the competition expands in an omnichannel direction. He says customers who want omnichannel services that you can’t provide won’t seek them from a third party - they’ll give all of their business, printing included, to a printer that can.
Not to be overlooked in any conversation about omnichannel marketing is the fact that underneath all the technology, it remains a form of marketing: a human activity. “People buy from people,” says Tews. “I like to market from beating heart to beating heart.”