Until somewhere near in the recent history of technological evolution, we could think that, for a company, the development of a multichannel strategy could be a cutting-edge decision or even a whimsical innovation. Maybe an eccentricity or a publicity argument.
No one questions that now we live in a very particular era from a technological point of view. A historical oddity is that today, advances in the digital world first meet consumers, individual users, rather than large organizations. Partly for this reason, many of the innovative uses of new technologies arise between users and companies are who need to be adapted to that, not vice versa.
It can be said that the proliferation of mobile devices and technology –telephones, computers, tablets, web, chat, messaging, video streaming, and so– opened more doors for users to this digital world where we spend much of our time today. It is easy to think about these new doors, but frequently we tend to forget another important consequence of this: the fragmentation and dispersion of people’s attention.
Just think how we communicate today with family and friends. Conversations begin from a chat or messaging group, continue by private chat, are enriched with photos and video and may well continue by email or social networks –or personal meetings, let’s not forget about this–, depending on the time of day, the place or situation in which we find ourselves. All while maintaining perfectly, sometimes not so much, the thread of the conversation. This is the most natural use we make of the new technologies we have at hand.
When we are in touch with our family and friends, interest and thus our attention is able to spread by multiple channels and formats and still remain cohesive through them. Attention can get back together and concentrate, to picture it. This is possible because there is a mutual effort to maintain the bond and communication.
But when communication happens in a commercial relationship between consumers and businesses, this is not the case so often. Usually, interest and efforts are located on the side of the companies seeking to do business and to that they need the consumers, whether to attract a new customer or to build loyalty for the existing ones. Cases where the customer has an interest in hiring a company for some particular reason can occur, but most commonly in a competitive situation, companies dispute consumers. Consumers know it. And that’s where the equation changes.
In this scenario, companies must make the effort to capture the attention and interest of their target public. It is them who must make the effort to monitor the spread of conversations and information through multiple channels and put the pieces together to identify the needs of the users, like in a puzzle. It may sound simple, but in the real world, with multiple sales and customer service teams, silo-separated communication channels and fragmented information, it can be nearly impossible. The picture is even more discouraging when realizing that if this process is not done properly, it may not be possible to recover a potential customer’s interest to capitalize it onto a transaction. Or maybe a competitor would be able to unite these parts much faster.
This is where the value of a multichannel strategy appears. In one way or another, channels are out there and it’s just a matter of get them started. But the heart of the matter lies in the word “strategy”. This is where companies should consider the tools and processes they need to put the puzzle together and do it fast. At least, faster than their competitors. The key is to achieve cohesion and integration among the different channels.
In the US retail sector, for example, a new trend gaining traction has to do with the mix of online sales channels and traditional sales channel -the brick and mortar store. Retailers have long invested in e-commerce, but there is a well-defined new habit among consumers in which they purchase online but pickup in stores. This may seem so simple, it really is not. Here come into play stock management, supply-chain, local, regional and national distribution systems and processes. All these things need to be behind the scenes to orchestrate every single detail for allowing a customer to buy a hair dryer via a smartphone app and pick it up in a store on his way to work. Of course, when we speak of thousands and thousands of hair dryers and buyers.
However, major retail chains have managed to first understand this new habit and then adapt to it. Even some of them are already thinking about how to go a step further and use this to sell some extra things, or increasing share in the user’s pocket –perhaps you can sell a suitable brush or a bath mat with a hair dryer–. Somehow, these companies have understood and learned how user attention is spread today –when I want to buy, when I would like to receive my product at home or perhaps go to the shop– and are even going beyond. Something that is achieved when you can see the overall image, with all the pieces in place.