No longer either/or decisions

When people ask me whether they should publish a print newsletter or an email version, run radio commercials or newspaper ads, or choose direct mail or billboards, my answer is always the same: yes.

It’s not a matter of being indecisive. It’s just that the expectations of consumers (and by “consumer,” I also mean those who buy business-to-business services and products) have changed in recent years, and trying to limit communications with them through a single channel isn’t as effective as a multifaceted approach.

It’s a parallel to the lesson that bankers have learned again and again as they’ve invested in new technology. While they wanted to use that technology to enhance customer service, another key goal has been to reduce their operating costs, of which staffing represents a huge percentage.

So they adopted telephone banking in the hope that it would allow them to trim their customer service staffs. Didn’t happen. “Surely ATMs would allow us to close some branches,” they thought. Nope. More recently, online banking was expected to reduce headcount by reducing the number of customer visits, but that hasn’t happened for most bankers. Although customers have embraced the technologies, they haven’t been willing to give up the “old” ways.

“When you discover a new food item that you enjoy, you don’t stop eating all the others. ”

You may view your new product or channel as a replacement for something you already have, but consumers don’t see it that way. They view it as something additional, and just because they now have the new one, they’re not necessarily going to sacrifice an old one. As consumers, we have more choices than ever before, and we don’t want to give any of them up.

Think of it this way: When you discover a new food item that you enjoy, you don’t stop eating all the others. You may have a little less of the others to make room for the new one, but when you get a hankering for one of those old favorites, you want it to be available.

So instead of looking at all of the available choices for your messages as either-or propositions, you need to consider the best way to deploy a group of them. Consumers are exposed to more media than ever before, and most spend less time with each. The days when you could count on an affluent consumer luxuriating over the daily paper are long gone. Today, that same consumer may get his or her news from twenty different sources at different times of the day.

That’s why you need to be willing to cast a wider net to reach your target audience. Instead of deciding between a print newsletter and an email newsletter, you may want to have both. They don’t have to be duplicates of one another. Customers who prefer the print version may be after more in-depth stories on your services, while the email customers may be skimmers who want the quick facts (although you’d be wise to include links to the deeper stuff).

It’s why you probably want to supplement your newspaper and magazine advertising with direct mail, and use billboards in addition to your radio. You have to reach out to your targets through more channels, because their attention is divided in many different ways.

That doesn’t mean you should take the shotgun approach and throw as much as you can in as many different directions as possible. All that will do is drain your budget and dilute your message. A better approach is to really get to know your customers, what matters to them, and how they want to learn about it. Then you can use those multiple channels to deliver highly focused messages to the most important segments of your audience.

You can also use one channel to direct your audience to another. Suppose you decide to make your website your primary communications tool. Reinforce that by using the other channels to point people to your website. Give them reasons to go there, such as codes that unlock special offers or discounts.

But no matter how many channels you choose to use, remember that you are one organization, and you need to present a clear, constant, consistent image and brand across all of them. If your website presents one message and your advertising another, they’ll effectively compete with one another. On the other hand, if each channel reflects and reinforces the others, you’ll benefit by creating synergy, as the whole truly becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

It’s all too easy to throw up your hands and say it’s too difficult to reach people today, but when you do that, you’ll miss out on opportunities to connect. Rest assured that your competitors who already know how to combine multiple channels into a cohesive strategy will be only too happy to take your customers and prospects away.