Taking a Multi-channel Approach to Marketing

Digital marketing is king, right? Evidence is seen in the sea of heads bowed attentively to their phones, tablets and computer screens. Between all the social media, blogs and websites, people can seemingly do and find any product or service they need with one swipe or pinch of the fingers. But what about traditional marketing? Brochures, catalogs, newspapers and magazines are still around. I started thinking about their relevance in today’s marketing after the topic kept coming up during conversations with friends. Each said in their own way that print was alive and doing very well. 


But what does that mean? Newspaper advertising for instance isn’t the powerhouse it once was. I mean when a sporting goods store ad is placed on Page E5 of the Wisconsin State Journal Local section it will likely get little if any return on investment. It may help if there was an interesting story about hiking the Ice Age Trail on that same page, but chances of that happening are rare. So I am left wondering why my friends are speaking of this great print awakening?

To help me understand this I called my friend Scott Bockover. Scott’s a 33-year veteran of the print industry and general manager of Thysse Printing in Oregon, Wisconsin. One of the first things that he told me during our talk was that there is no silver bullet in connecting with your audiences. A multi-channel marketing approach that includes print and digital elements is optimal. So it’s not all digital and it’s not all print, but a thoughtful mixture of the two…or maybe more than two? I can’t think of any others but I could be wrong. Let’s read on. 

Multi-channel History

First it’s important to understand where we came from and how multi-channel marketing began. In 2008 as we were diving into the great economic recession and marketing was an early casualty. Marketing is often the first area that many companies stop when the economy falters, said Scott. “They say, ‘cut marketing budgets because nobody is going to buy it anyway.‘” This he says is the wrong approach. If you’re not continuing to put yourself out in front of your customers, you will eventually be overlooked which may amplify recession effects for you personally. Companies that continued to fund their marketing budgets through the recession and adapted their strategies to the new environment were often the ones who flourished. 

Print marketing started seeing a resurgence in 2013 as catalog mail numbers in the United States increased to 1.9 billion, according to the Direct Marketing Association trade group. That’s about 60 percent of its peak in 2007, but a 1 percent rise in mailed catalogs combined with specialization through target marketing showed indications of a print revival. 

The printed piece is the legs of a marketing campaign because it tends to catch more eyes than email or social media that are usually consumed only by their recipient. Scott expressed the reach of print using the example of his family. “I get a postcard and it sits on my counter at home. My wife picks up the mail, she sees the postcard and it may intrigue her. My kids may see it. It may be for a water park or something else fun for them to do.”  

There is a place for email as well in the marketing mix. Portability is its strength. You can share an email with others in a second. It’s also easy to take action through email if you are interested and would like to buy. The same holds true for social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as they allow information sharing among groups with similar interests. 

The Targeted List

Print and digital are handy tool on their own, but together they form a powerful marketing engine. Having that engine in tune with consistent messaging that is interesting and relevant to prospects is one thing, but how do you make it go? Fuel for a multi-channel machine is the targeted list. “Shotgun approaches for the most part do not work anymore,” Scott says. Marketing back in the day relied on large mailing lists that didn’t distinguish by any demographic beyond a certain geographic area. So if you were selling sweatshirts that said “I Love Cleveland” and your mailing list included all households in the Cleveland area you would be spot on. But if that sweatshirt read “I Love Cleveland Cavaliers Power Forward Lebron James’ Blaze Pizza Franchise” your Cleveland ZIP code list will be more miss than hit. 

“The key to effective marketing is understanding your [prospect] database and marketing to the right people,” says Scott. Getting the demographic details (age, race, gender, education, income, spending habits, etc.) are critical to understanding potential customers. What happens with a lot of print campaigns, Scott says, is that they print and mail however many direct mailers, they don’t get the anticipated response rate and they never print again. “They say print doesn’t work where the reality is that your list doesn’t work.” And this isn’t specific to print. Targeting the wrong audience with the wrong email list or social media group will bring the same poor returns. 

A good target list takes plenty of time to create and can be expensive, but the return on your investment can be worth it if you take time to connect with your customers on all levels of your print and digital platforms. The American Marketing Association shared a report from fashion retailer Nordstrom stating that customers who have a multi-channel relationship with the brand spend four times as much as those who do not.

It’s About the Experience

Getting engagement through social media platforms and relevant content through blogs, emails and on your website is important in hitting all the digital channels. On the print side, catalogs are making a comeback. But not the giant 500-page monsters your grandma used to get. These are much smaller and chances are the one you get and the one your spouse gets from the same store will be a little different. This gets back to those target lists. Customized catalogs featuring products specific to a smaller demographic are replacing the larger, general books. This hyper targeting featuring a few carefully selected products is effective, too.  Tie in some high quality art with short stories, fun facts or other related content that appeals to your audience and you have the makings of a good experience. REI is a master at this with their use of brief stories of outdoor adventures in exotic places that appeal directly to their customers. Getting your product out there is good but if you have quality content at its side it’s like having a salesperson right there on the page delivering the experience. The end game is getting them to the checkout but it’s often the experience that gets them there and building those experiences makes for strong followings. The product may be the lure that attracts a prospect but it’s the experience that hooks and keeps them. 

The beauty of an experience is that it can be shared in print, digital and of course between people. For Fleet Feet Madison & Sun Prairie Owner Jessica Anderson, the customer experience starts with her employees. Creating a happy and positive work environment extends into their Madison and Sun Prairie stores and to their customers. “If we have happy staff we will have happy customers,” says Jessica. 

Building the experience goes beyond the store. Jessica and her husband and co-owner Matt Anderson engage the community through running groups and training classes. Many who join these groups are current customers, and word of mouth to friends and family helps to expand these groups as new members often become new customers. Events like their women’s night have been a huge success, says Jessica. They also reach out to health clubs and other health- and fitness-focused businesses, whether it's to come in and talk to their staff or do something in conjunction with one of their events. Fleet Feet also works with local physicians to inform them of ways to help patients with products like over-the-counter inserts, compression socks and shoe fittings. 

Jessica says there are plans for some newspaper advertising, but most of their marketing involves the abovementioned community outreach and their free e-newsletter. They have a good number of newsletter subscribers and very few have unsubscribed. She attributes this to only publishing bimonthly. That way she says they aren’t getting bombarded. “The information is either local running events or things going on in the community that are directly related to our business.”  

So outreach adds a much needed third leg to the print-digital arsenal. I am so glad I talked to Jessica and got this information from her. In many ways outreach is the strongest marketing you can do, and we have found that digital isn’t necessarily king but more part of a marketing trifecta. Bringing the three together into one carefully crafted strategy with consistent and clear messaging is the smartest approach to creating a solid marketing campaign.

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