Modern marketing is in need of an anti-channel mindset
Don't get sucked in by "channel obsession." Columnist Mayur Gupta explains why marketers need to move past channels and instead focus on the consumer and the consumer experience.
There’s no denying that the consumer has been at the center of marketing’s ecosystem for decades — but only in “theory.” As marketers, we haven’t been able to transform the theory into reality and deliver the most immersive and seamless experiences for the consumer.
In actual practice, we continue to put the channel, the technology or the technique first. “Mobile first,” for instance, is a great example of the channel-led approach.
In a discussion with Jay Wilson, VP of marketing technology at Healthgrades (my employer), we talked about the nuances of an omnichannel reality and the need for an almost “anti-channel” mindset within modern marketing to inspire behavioral change in a complex digital world.
Do you remember when having a mobile app was “the thing to do?” Or even when having a website was the thing to do? When some of the first killer apps came out, like Google Maps, Shazam or Angry Birds, every brand decided they needed an app of their own.
Remember AOL’s failed AIM app? Or Adobe’s first shot at the Photoshop.com for Mobile app that came out in 2009? No? Neither does anyone else.
The point is that everyone had to have an app of their own; they just knew it was the thing to do, regardless of the quality of the experience or the human need that had to be solved — they had to check the box.
In today’s digital world, new consumer touch points are emerging at a breakneck pace. Mobile apps weren’t the first or the last in our ever-evolving channel ecosystem. We are surrounded by a million black slabs of screens, each of which is a potential opportunity and channel to engage and drive participation.
Unfortunately, this explosion has led to a “channel obsession.” The entire ecosystem is based on a channel-led mindset.
Channels drive business models, incentivization structures and partnerships. We’re still paying agencies based on the number of emails sent, ad impressions and clicks within a certain channel.
Defining success (or not) in a channel-led marketing world
In a question to Wilson, I asked him how to measure success in a channel-led world. He explained: “The very nature of marketing by channel is to create multi-channel consumer experiences. The marketer typically needs the consumer to go engage in other channels to be able to measure any success. This isn’t new; it has been this way before the iPhone, before online advertising existed.
“The fact is that single-channel thinking defines failure in marketing, because if I, as a consumer, don’t engage in more than one method, I either wasn’t marketed to at all, or the marketing I did get exposed to caused no reaction, no engagement.”
With a channel-led approach, you’re creating a buzz, some noise and potentially some level of interaction and engagement at certain touch points at best. These are “random acts of digital” that will not drive behavioral change or consumer participation and loyalty at scale.
The marketing paradox: Fundamentally fragmented ecosystem for a connected experience
The underlying cause behind our inability to deliver channel-agnostic experiences that truly put the human at the center is the marketing paradox: We have been using a fragmented understanding of consumer behavior to deliver experiences; we’re operating on an extremely siloed foundation across the board:
- Organizational entropy: Both at a macro level (marketing, IT, Sales, Finance) and at a micro level (media team, CRM teams, e-commerce teams, shopper teams)
- Marketing planning: Most planning and strategies are within channels and not across.
- Technologies: Often disconnected, lack of integration and a connected ecosystem
- Data: Isolated technologies lead to isolated data and insights.
- Skill sets: Going deep in one area, either technology or marketing, or within marketing, very channel-focused skills
- Operating and engagement models: Overall operating model is driven by channel partners: media agencies, mobile agencies, CRM agencies, creative agencies and more.
Let’s admit it: Organizing and operating by channel is indeed easier. That’s what our muscles have memorized. Hence, most organizations, whether they’re brands, agencies or products, are organized by channel.
The channel-specific teams on the brand side will have channel-specific agency partnerships — a different partner for the brand’s creative strategy, brand strategy, CRM strategy, media strategy and more. These teams will often use their respective technology systems of choice. These isolated technology systems further create data silos, breaking down an individual into 20 different individuals, each having their own 360-degree view.
We structure, we partner, we hire, we allocate, we spend, we measure, we analyze and we optimize by CHANNEL. We view the consumer by CHANNEL. We reward ourselves by CHANNEL.
With these fundamental gaps and silos, with such a channel obsession, how in our wildest dreams could we ever imagine delivering CHANNEL-AGNOSTIC EXPERIENCES? Will that ever become a reality?
Natively digital consumer has raised the bar
The power of technology gives the consumer control, speed and choice. She has tasted success. She wants the best product at the best price with the best experience at a time, location and touch point of her own choice.
On one hand, this is the same mom who is now used to clicking on an Amazon Dash button and expects her next batch of Clorox to arrive in four hours. On the other hand, the same mom expects you to know when she may run out of diapers or to reminder her when she may have the next available appointment with her dermatologist.
You may not get a second chance if you’re not meeting those needs because the technology and information she now has at her fingertips is lightning fast — and so is the speed to her next choice.
She expects a “seamless journey.” She expects you to pick up exactly where she left off. She does not see the channel. She doesn’t see the difference between online and offline or digital and analog. All she cares about is the story, the value, the experience.
Omnichannel = contextual & progressive
Omnichannel is not just being consistent across channels. It’s about being contextual and progressive through the customer journey.
With the bar being raised, the consumer isn’t satisfied with an experience that looks and feels the same across various channels. She now expects it to be contextual and progressive as she continues to move ahead in her journey.
She doesn’t want her journey to be broken. She doesn’t want to go back and repeat herself just because you in marketing don’t engage with someone like yourself in sales.
She doesn’t want to share her SSN and her home address with a customer care representative when she already shared it online. In fact, she expects you to know that she bought something else from you last night and this time from your retail shop but was unable to redeem the coupon she got for her online purchase.
You may not have realized that it was the same person, but she expects you to. So it’s not limited to just the ad or the creative or the message being consistent across these mediums, but it’s about how well you as a brand marketer walk along with her through her journey.
Shifting gears: So is it real? Is it doable? Start with the culture!
Everyone in the organization should own the “consumer” and the “consumer experience.” We need to start caring beyond our walled gardens. No matter our role, our fiefdom, we should all care about the experiences we are creating, even if that means stepping outside of safety in corporate culture.
As Wilson told me, “Thou shall not create any experience I would not want to endure myself.”
Can the entire C-suite be measured against the same set of KPIs and goals? Some of these KPIs are centered around the consumer; it could be lifetime value impact, behavioral change, acquisition or retention or whatever else.
But regardless of marketing, sales, finance, technology — everyone is accountable for the same outcome.
Ted Rubin, a social and brand evangelist, wrote on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce:
[blockquote]To deliver a truly omni-channel, integrated experience, you have to connect the dots internally as well — which means connecting your employees so they can collaboratively deliver that seamless experience.” [/blockquote]
So in this quest to be ubiquitous across channels, we have often forgotten the real protagonist: the consumer and the need for creating consumer experiences that drive behavioral change and inspire participation.
This is not a technology-first or digital-first or mobile-first mindset, but a “human first” or “consumer first” culture.
Drive convergence: Break down the silos
So how do you drive convergence and break down all potential silos across the ecosystem?
- Organizational convergence: Establish a common set of goals and KPIs across marketing, sales, technology and finance, where everyone is accountable for consumer relationship, engagement and lifetime value.
- Data convergence: Have a truly universal view and understanding of the consumer across first-party, second-party and third-party, across paid, owned and earned, across social, shopping and behavioral data. Make data the glue that connects the consumer journey across the ecosystem, making seamless experiences a reality.
- Experience planning convergence: Shift from planning for channels in isolation; plan for holistic consumer experiences. Leverage behavioral science to understand behaviors that need to be changed, then follow with contextual content that influences that behavior wherever the consumer may be.
- Technology convergence: Have a connected ecosystem where data flows through the pipes (APIs) even if the consumer hops from one touch point and device to another.
- Skills convergence: Raise the skill set of the modern marketer, bringing art and science together to woo the consumer.
And beyond CONVERGENCE, adopt the remaining four Cs of modern marketing:
Drive CONVERGENCE within the ecosystem with the CONSUMER at the center; leverage real-time or just-in-time CONTEXT to inspire and influence every single piece of CONTENT and communication. When you do that, driving COMMERCE becomes an organic output and not an isolated tactic or goal.
We can’t forget that experiences are a human construct, mixing functional and emotional qualities at the same time. We could have the most well-built, tightly integrated and cohesive multichannel system in the world. But if we’re not connecting with people on a human level, then we are creating non-experiences.
If we develop human-first experiences with consumers at the center, stop worrying about the method of communication we’re using, and instead focus on telling the story to truly connect with the person on the other end of our communication, we’ll elevate our craft. We need an “anti-channel” mindset to create channel-agnostic experiences, where the focus on the human connection outweighs the mechanism.