Multichannel marketing has been around for a long time now, but the approach got its first big boost when direct mail campaigns became cheap and easy enough that lots of marketers started using them. A second boost came in the late 1990s, when the Internet hit the mainstream and online and email marketing programs were added to the mix. (I think that's also when the term multichannel really started to get thrown around as well.) Now in the 21st century, we have the opportunity to add mobile and retail media strategies to our marketing programs. While many multi-channel programs have opted to present a unified front -- broadcasting the same marketing messages and brand image regardless of medium or format -- a recent ClickZ article by Tribal DDB's Dorian Sweet questions whether this is really the right strategy.
Ok, technically, Sweet focuses on online campaigns and how (or if) they should be integrated into the general marketing mix. In fact, neither retail nor mobile media are ever mentioned. But let's be honest. Both of these nascent industries have the feel of mid-1990s Internet advertising, and between the hype and the genuinely productive roll-outs, they both look to have the same bright future ahead. The crux of Sweet's argument? "Most of the time, online forces a transmutation of the original offline idea. This has created many a headache and long night for the people who valiantly strive for unification.... [I]ntegration can be redefined by the user's perception of an integrated idea, not on its visual consistency. If the TV ad made me laugh, the online ad can make me laugh, too. But the methods needn't be the same."
This could be a tough line for some retail media network operators to swallow. By now, most people know that standard TV commercials aren't likely to perform well when simply replayed in-store. Too much reliance on external factors like the availability of audio and the mental state of a home TV viewer make even a great TV ad much less effective on the sales floor. However, reconfiguring some TV assets to present a unified message that has been optimized for in-store playback makes both economic and marketing sense. From a budgeting perspective, reusing existing talent and creative collateral can cut a big portion out of in-store media creation costs. From a marketing perspective, re-purposing existing campaigns and branding materials lets multichannel marketers transmit the same message and brand identity information to consumers across different channels and viewing environments.
The problem with following this practice, Sweet notes, is that as marketers we're now encumbered by two sets of rules: the rules that the content had to adhere to for its original medium, and the rules that need to be applied to make the content fit in its new medium. There are especially large drawbacks in online marketing (Sweet's area of expertise) since the rules for TV and Internet advertising are still quite distinct. The differences between TV and digital signage are a bit more subtle, but do need to be kept in mind when you're trying to create effective in-store media. It can be hard to break away from the mindset that a unified message across all channels is the right one, but I can certainly think of cases where a message could have been modified or replaced altogether in order to function better in the retail environment. For example, the dairy board's famous Got Milk? campaign would probably work well in retail -- maybe even better than in traditional media. This campaign already has inertia and mind share, so it would likely elicit the same positive feelings and pro-dairy attitude in the store as it does when viewed at home. Moreover, the slogan could also act as a not-so-subtle reminder to shoppers who may otherwise forget to pick up milk while out shopping.
In contrast, take a campaign for another dairy line, Real California Cheese. This series of TV ads features fields of cows talking about how the great climate in California allows them to produce better milk, which in turn yields better cheese. This is a much tougher sell in-store, because instead of inviting a customer to make a general purchase, the ad needs to convey the supposed benefits of the product as compared to any number of other similar products in the category (which are all right next to one another in this case). The talking cow gag requires audio to work, and the wide-angle camera shots showing large open fields and expanses of grassy terrain aren't going to translate very well to a plasma screen in a 40 degree dairy aisle at the supermarket. In this case, the California Milk Advisory Board (the group responsible for the ads) would probably want to consider a different angle for their in-store promotions. While the group might place a Holstein or two into their spots to maintain a visual link to the larger campaign, even that might not be worthwhile, since they aren't necessarily associated with California or the particular qualities of the cheese that the advertiser hopes to present. The cows might look nice in the ad, but they won't do anything to differentiate the brand.
The ideal combination of recycled content and custom-made creative will be different from network to network and brand to brand, and may take some trial and error to figure out. But for the multi-channel marketers that get it right, the payoff can be substantial. A strategy that incorporates messages and imagery that cater to the retail shopper is going to perform better than a strategy that simply displays off-the-shelf creative that was never intended to be used in a retail environment. So run some shopper marketing experiments, and don't be afraid to take your advertising in a new direction if it's going to mean better in-store performance. As Dorian Sweet says, striking the right balance is key: "[As] a new breed of marketers, we need to keep one eye on consistency and another on the horizon."