Email Is Critical To Successful Cross-Channel Marketing

Build on your email marketing foundation to reach customers on the path to purchase.

Email / CRM

Cross-channel marketing has room for improvement. That’s according to a recent study from Experian and Forrester, which also says marketers must have authentic conversations with consumers and should turn to email marketers for guidance because they’re the ones having good conversations with customers and tend to be more sophisticated when it comes to data management. What’s more, the study says marketers must become more proficient with cross-channel before transitioning into the next phase of marketing’s “evolution,” which it says is contextual marketing.

In its The Road to Cross-Channel Maturity study, Experian Marketing Services, which says it provides “integrated consumer insights and targeting, data quality and cross-channel marketing,” commissioned Forrester Consulting to look at digital marketers’ attitudes about, experiences with, and challenges related to cross-channel marketing, as well as the role email marketing has and will have in cross-channel interactions.

As a result, the study says Forrester found marketers are aware of the benefits of a cross-channel approach that “delivers relevant messages to the right consumer at the right time.”

However, the study also found “maturity” in this “new era” of marketing is low in part because integration of data sources, adoption of data management technologies, skill sets, and organizational structures conducive to cross-channel success have “vast room for improvement.”

In other words, per the study: Cross-channel marketing is still a work in progress.

In fact, what marketers consider cross-channel marketing today is actually a “rudimentary version” in which traditional campaigns run on multiple channels. Instead, true cross-channel marketing is about integrated channels and reaching customers in context with the best content on the right device at their moment of need, according to the study.

Nancy Shaver, principal consultant of cross-channel marketing at Experian Marketing Services, said cross-channel marketing is about having an authentic dialog with a customer, which means marketers need to listen as well as deliver a message. Marketers are getting better at synchronizing their messaging, she said, but there’s still a lot of stalling throughout the dialog in part because they aren’t fully exercising the capabilities of platforms that allow for managing the flow of conversations.

“No matter how many channels we have to play with, we’re still doing a lot of push marketing,” Shaver said. This includes behavioral pieces like responding to requests on websites or retargeting or dealing with cart abandonment, but it tends to be one-off campaigns instead of ongoing conversations, she added.

“One of the things that today’s consumer can smell a mile away is inauthenticity or something that’s off in terms of timing,” Shaver said. She uses the example of a car she purchased, which was followed by a direct mail promotion and then an email promotion suggesting she test drive a lower-priced model.

“Those are the kinds of things that can happen over and over again with any transaction that you might have made,” she said.

The real challenge, Shaver said, is in exercising channels she calls “high velocity.”

“Email is primary among them, but if you take a couple of channels and begin to create a plan around a dialog and capture conversations and interactions and really make certain what you’re doing in those channels matches what you would expect as a consumer, [you’ll end up with an] authentic dialog with a client,” she added.

Further, Shaver said marketers have gotten good at optimizing single channels, but not optimizing around customers.

“You can’t boil the ocean,” she adds. “Let’s say you’re a CMO and you have mass advertising and a whole bunch of digital channels and occasionally a non-digital channel. To get all of those working in sync all at once, including all of the reactions of customers at all of those different junctures is overwhelming.”

As a result, Experian recommends picking a couple of channels that are high in speed, which is in part why the study touts email so highly. In fact, the study found email marketers have the skills to lead and have the experience and competencies to improve cross-channel marketing performance.

That’s because email is easy to adjust and it’s a channel virtually every organization is pretty good at. It’s also low-cost and low-risk, Shaver said.

In addition, email marketers are experts at near-term behavioral management, which can result in rich, robust dialogs with customers.

In the study, Forrester says, “An email can provide a consumer with information or incentive to engage with other channels. As one of the most reliable, consistently used channels, email has an opportunity to be more than another transaction-driving medium…with cues from email, marketers can better provide interactions in other channels and touch-points.”

Nowadays, the customer must be at the center of marketing, which forces marketers to think not about the marketing action, but the customer need. Therefore, marketers are increasingly embracing the customer life cycle. In fact, the study found 61 percent of marketers agree the life cycle is better for mapping consumers’ attitudes toward brands.

In order to become a “cross-channel guru,” the study says marketers should build the skills that set “sophisticated marketers” apart, which include higher adoption and appreciation of tools that enable cross-channel execution. They should also build on email’s foundation to improve cross-channel as the study found sophisticated marketers have above average integration between email and other digital channels.

Additionally, to become more proficient with true cross-channel, marketers should prioritize channel integration and start with email.

“Identify where email is most relevant and influential in the customer’s path to purchase and then incorporate additional channels along that path that tie all the communications together,” according to the study.

Forrester surveyed nearly 500 digital marketing executives from various industries around the world.

What do you think about the state of cross-channel marketing today? Do you have any tips to add?