A customer buys a fire-engine-red sweater from your Web site. Then that person exchanges it at your retail store for something more subdued, perhaps in mauve.
Is the experience seamless? It should be.
Direct talked recently with Marjorie Kalter, a professor of marketing and the graduate program director of New York University’s master’s program in direct and interactive marketing (www.scps.nyu.edu/msdm) about how a consistent brand image is essential across all channels.
DIRECT: What’s the biggest hurdle companies face in a multichannel environment where they’re trying to keep their brand image coherent for consumers?
KALTER: They tend to forget that customers don’t think in terms of channels. Because of that, customers have expectations of marketers, and sometimes marketers don’t see those expectations. The concept of a customer being in control goes back several years now, and it’s not going to change. The real challenge is how do we give them what they expect and ensure that they shop with us. In business-to-consumer direct, we eliminated the middleman long ago. If a business had an appealing product and an appealing offer, it could build a list of customers and never allocate budget to brand advertising. But that’s no longer the case. Today every functional area of a business needs to serve as a middleman and provide the kind of assistance a customer needs to make a purchase decision and become a loyal buyer.
DIRECT: Do a lot of companies still make the mistake of considering their Web site disconnected from their retail presence?
KALTER: Yes, and you would think they’d know better. Maybe they’re hoping they can maintain both channels and the customers will perceive synergy just because the same name is on the door. But customers don’t think that way. Now that customers enjoy shopping at a Web site and a retail store, they expect [both experiences] to be the same. On the surface, it doesn’t seem controversial. We’re all sophisticated marketers and we understand there has to be brand synergy across all channels. Yet somehow it isn’t happening with a lot of brands.
DIRECT: Are there any brands doing a really great job of this?
KALTER: In terms of a classic direct marketer, Gevalia. I think its experience in all channels is totally synergistic with the brand it shows online. As for a non-classic DMer I’ll say Apple Computer, because even its retail stores support the brand strategy. Everything works, everything is beautifully displayed. All the salespeople are great customer representatives.
DIRECT: Are you seeing more mainstream marketers shifting dollars to direct?
KALTER: We keep hearing about it, but we’re still not seeing as much as we’d like. Online spending has gone up, and we’re seeing that pull away from investing in television and print. But it’s still not as high as we’ll see in the next five to 10 years as everything goes online, including video.
Raising the Roof
Marketers building a strong brand strategy should keep these four pillars of multichannel success in mind, says NYU marketing professor Marjorie Kalter.
Access the non-retail channels as if they were literal storefronts and look at each in terms of how consistent the experience is for the prospect. What needs to be done bring the experiencein line with the positioning?
Develop the marketing plan so the business’s customer value proposition is supported across all channels. “A lot of companies don’t do that. [They] just think about brand strategy,” Kalter says.
Take the Web standard of usability and apply that to all channels so usability become an essential element of the brand experience.
Be innovative about the channels. Know how to grow the business beyond traditional DM methods like list and creative. In a multichannel environment, it’s necessary to understand what customers want as they go from channel to channel, says Kalter. “Use that knowledge to sustain growth in your current business, while building new business. If customers don’t think in terms of channels, you need to keep them from perceiving any silosa company might have. They expect consistency, and we have to deliver.”