When we asked Katrina Lane how the retail industry was doing on multichannel integration, she answered, "It's a journey." So where should this journey take us, and what should we watch for on the way?
Here's what she told us...
#1. Get the basics right
Lane says those companies best suited to multichannel success have certain fundamentals in place, including...
-- Strong leadership and vision from the top of the organization.
-- A solid partnership between marketing and IT departments.
-- A desire to speak to the customer directly and in a relevant fashion, coupled with an understanding that not all customers are equal or the same.
She notes, "If you already have a customer focus, then adding other channels isn't a great leap conceptually...it's just a matter of execution."
Which is why she adds a fourth condition...
-- Marketers and ground-level staff who are willing to support multichannel initiatives and work through the early, often experimental, phases of integration.
#2. Don't forget the unique nature of online channels.
Lane suggests that there's still plenty of potential to better exploit the rich, interactive nature of the Web, particular in terms of improving customer experiences and building customer relationships.
Citing the Harrah's example, she notes, "It's the only marketing channel outside the casino that begins to approach the rich interactive experience offered inside the casino."
For Harrah's, the website becomes a central customer touchpoint, built to better reflect the excitement of the brand and to support the individual casinos and other marketing channels by, for example...
-- highlighting local features and entertainments.
-- supporting the cross-casino loyalty program, which allows customers to manage their account online.
-- linking channels within the loyalty program, so if someone receives an offer by direct mail, they can log on, see the offer online and make the booking there.
#3. Take care coordinating new with old
If your other marketing channels are successful and well-liked by customers, you don't want to jeopardize that success and goodwill when developing online channels.
Integration then becomes a systems, process, skills and organizational challenge, where the aim, says Lane, is "...to pump up the tires while the bus is still moving. We're trying to keep cutting edge capabilities in existing channels, so when we integrate new ones, we don't want to take a step back."
#4. Be aware of your internal users
Lane warns against developing sophisticated integrated marketing initiatives without considering your internal constituency.
In other words, the frontline marketers and sales staff need to be able to use the tools you provide them. After all, says Lane, "They're the ones who actually drive business."
The difficulty is that the more complex and sophisticated you get in terms of data mining and marketing communications, the more difficult it is to build simple tools for marketers to use.
Lane adds, "What you want is very sophisticated decision science at the backend, but with a simple frontend interface and seamless integration with all channels. Not easy!"
#5. Be aware of online dynamics and how these contrast with other channels
Marketers need to adjust better to the dynamic nature of the online environment, particularly in regard to...
-- consumer behavioral patterns and the way they use the Internet.
-- the operating environment, e.g. technical developments and new services such as Gmail.
-- the marketing environment.
Lane says, "The advertising and marketing options change, both literally and in terms of their useful lifecycle. You have to stay on the ball."
An overlying challenge is integrating a fast channel with other channels that don't evolve at the same pace.
Lane notes, "Customers need to get a common experience at each marketing touchpoint. It's no good having a great customized and personalized email or website experience, if you then get an irrelevant piece of junk mail in the mail from the same company."
#6. Manage media buying expectations
Lane says, "Many marketers still regard the online space as free or at least cheap. But the reality is it's not. While it is definitely economical compared to offline channels, there here are hard costs involved in developing and maintaining a presence and online campaigns."
The longevity of this perception harms businesses in two ways.
First, it can lead to an unwillingness to commit enough resources to the online channel.
Second, it leads to inaccurate judgments of some online media opportunities as "too expensive," irrespective of the ROI.
#7. Understand the role of influenced purchases
Lane sees a need for a better understanding of the role of websites in influencing offline purchases.
She says, "The connection between online and offline is acknowledged as important, but while people are making genuine efforts to properly understand that relationship, it is quite difficult to get objective measurements of the impact."
The two problems are proving causation, versus merely correlation, and developing appropriate metrics.
Lane explains, "What do they do online that influences the offline behavior? How do you prove and measure the influence? Online metrics per se are fairly straightforward provided you have the technical and analytical capability, but the online/offline interface is less easily measured."
#8. Get ready for changing customer expectations
"We're ending the period of customer tolerance," says Lane. Internet use has matured to the point where customers are no longer forgiving of poor organizations or websites.
She explains, "Previously, 'not getting it' meant not having a website or not using email marketing. Now 'not getting it' is not having multichannel capabilities - a customer expects you to understand his situation immediately, irrespective of the channel he transacted on and the channel he is now using to make an inquiry or contact."
In other words, tolerance levels are dropping as expectations rise, with customers rapidly gravitating to the better companies. "They have a million other options out there to do the same thing or get the same stuff."
Lane says, "Customers don't care how you're organized internally...that your call center might be in another country and your marketing group in another building. They simply assume there is total integration of channels and that you have an understanding of all channel activity."
She adds, "It's a problem and an opportunity - those who get it right, they win. You need to understand the customer every place they touch you. Which means having the time, money and skills to move forward on multichannel implementation without compromising existing channel activities."
Note: Harrah's is a member of Shop.org, a forum for retailing online executives to share information, lessons-learned, new perspectives, insights and intelligence. More info at http://www.shop.org