As viable channels continue to emerge and be developed for retail marketers, a vexing questions continues to linger for retailers: Are we marketing to channels or customers?
In an obvious way, we know that all marketing is focused on influencing customers and prospects to engage and purchase retailers’ products and services. Conversely, our marketing departments are littered with marketing channel managers and scant few managers are focused on customer segments across all of the channels.
Why the conflict? Pretty simply, retail marketers have had to focus on channel marketing capabilities to build them to viable scale. No channel can be successful without specific focus on all of the dynamics that make each channel unique. Content development, personalization, data management, deliverability, message and offer effectiveness, management skills, vendor capabilities and more are all critical to making a channel viable to justify the investment of marketing dollars towards profitable sales.
The good news is that retailers have made great strides in developing high performing competency in many channels. However, performance improvements are slowing down and being challenged by channel conflict and competitive balance. That leads to the real fun. How do we take these well executed channels and coordinate them to a relevant, cohesive set of interactions that make sense to customers and prospects? That is where customer centricity comes in.
Customer-centric marketing puts the customer at the center of the marketing process. Targeting, measurement, analysis, and channel coordination are all focused back to individual customers aggregated into various customer segments. This drives the need for data integration and management at a customer level versus settling for channel level approaches. It is not uncommon for retailers to have 10 or more stacks of processes and technology supporting different marketing channels, including duplication in channels such as display advertising.
This is easy to talk about and much harder to execute on. The great news is that the marketing methodologies are well established from the early customer centered marketing in direct mail, telemarketing and, more recently, e-mail. Additionally, the technologies to integrate and manage data at a customer level across online and offline channels is now becoming well established. The trick is to apply those tools, build additional tools to automate coordination across channels, and to balance out organization goals and incentives to get the customer in the middle of our marketing.
Until we get serious about customer centricity in marketing execution, it will be very difficult to deliver on the omni-channel customer experiences that retailers envision will drive customers and prospects to perceive their brands in the dynamic and exciting ways they hope for.