Conducting a multichannel business audit

Mar 01, 2009 10:30 PM  By

If you want your business to survive in the coming months, focus is the name of the game. Consider conducting a multichannel audit, an in-depth review of your business that will allow for the creation of a blueprint you can act on with focus rather than fear.

A focused audit does not have to cost you anything more than time, mental energy and a collaborative attitude. Just remember that success is not immediate, and you must critique each of the silos within your business.

Most companies begin by auditing their selling channels. Instead, you should go back to the basics. What are the ingredients of a successful direct marketing program? Old-school marketing would say it covers three categories: 1) circulation, 2) the offer and 3) creative. It doesn’t matter which channel you’re in, the same three areas apply.

To understand how these elements work together, think of a three-legged stool. Marketing, offer and creative are the legs that support the seat of the stool; the seat represents the brand. With those categories in mind, consider the following when auditing your multichannel business.

BRAND

Among other things, brand is the perception your customer has of your product or service. This checklist will help point out possible deficits in your brand message.

  1. Your “one thing.”

    MARKETING

    Does your brand own a unique distinction in the marketplace? Can you describe your top-three competitors and their differentiating statements?

  2. Higher order benefit

    Does your brand own a relevant “higher order benefit,” the fundamental emotion that customers retain from doing business with your brand?

  3. Brand promise

    Do you own a succinct brand promise that clearly states your differentiation and who you are selling to?

  4. Customer awareness

    Do you truly understand your customer beyond just demographics? What are you really selling them and why does it matter to them?

  5. Brand filter

    Do you use your brand message as a filter when choosing and developing new products?

  6. Brand manual

    Do you adhere to a brand manual that includes a detailed description of your customer, graphic standards, a copy voice, a relevant tagline?

  7. Touchpoints

    Have you considered every aspect of the customer experience as it relates to your brand?

  8. Brand pervasiveness

    Is your brand embraced and understood throughout the company?

  9. Environment

    Is your brand message apparent in your physical environment?

  10. Consistency across channels

    Design your audit in three phases

    Are you presenting the same brand message across all channels, with the same graphic standards and copy protocol?

In the multichannel world, your catalog or e-mail is your store. The less you circulate, the fewer stores you have open, so prune judiciously. Here are some questions concerning your marketing efforts.

  1. Acquisition

    Do you know the cost to acquire a customer in each channel? Do you understand the lifetime value of a customer in each channel?

  2. Retention

    What are customer retention rates by channel, and where should overall retention and reactivation efforts be most focused?

  3. Testing

    How are you planning to test formats, page counts, contact frequency and timing longitudinally over the next 12 to 18 months?

  4. Refined mailings

    Have you employed advanced RFM techniques or refined your scoring models to fine-tune your segmentation by offer or campaign?

  5. Targeted e-mail marketing

    How are you evaluating purchase behaviors to identify new opportunities for targeted, relevant e-mail marketing?

  6. Navigation paths

    Have you analyzed the navigation paths that lead to the greatest overall conversion?

  7. PPC efforts

    How are you testing and applying the results of landing pages within your PPC efforts?

  8. Promotional opportunities

    How is your promotional strategy aligned with your brand? Are you solving problems or taking advantage of opportunities in the database?

  9. List strategy

    How are you altering your list strategy to accommodate changes in consumer behavior? What are you doing to improve selects, timing or negotiated terms?

  10. Database

    How are you enhancing your database to understand more about your customer than what and when they buy?

CREATIVE

Creative is a catch-all term that includes everything — channel, format, design and copy. It’s how you bring your product to market.

  1. Format

    Are you communicating your message with the right format? Consider your catalog’s size, use of solo mailers, postcards and e-mail.

  2. Organization

    Are your marketing materials organized, allowing customers to shop at ease?

  3. First impressions

    Have you planned for an effective visual path using known eyeflow techniques? How will your catalog’s cover or Website home page grab attention and get the reader inside?

  4. Hotspots

    Do you know the hotspots for your catalog, home page and e-mails? Are you taking advantage of them with important messages, offers or products?

  5. Thematic presentation

    Are you engaging customers with relevant stories and themes?

  6. Product benefits

    Are you clearly showing and describing the key benefits of all products? Are you using attention-getters, inset photos or additional copy to clearly articulate the unique benefits of a product?

  7. Ease of purchase

    How easy is it to buy your product or service?

  8. Design hygiene

    Are your catalog and Web pages free of clutter? Or do they distract with too much color, type and other elements?

  9. Branded copy

    Does your copy own a consistent branded voice? Is your copy engaging, always presenting the number-one benefit?

  10. Cross-selling

    How well do you cross-sell from one channel to the next?

OFFER/PRODUCT

You must have a unique merchandise assortment wrapped in a tightly defined brand. The combination of items that you sell at the price points you offer makes up who you are. Here are some discussion points for evaluating your merchandise mix.

  1. Brand filter

    Do you have a clearly defined merchandise “filter” that is grounded in your brand promise?

  2. Value

    Are your price points, along with your unique brand promise, presenting a value to the marketplace?

  3. Channel-specific merchandising

    What products/categories/price points work best in the catalog? Online? Overall across all channels?

  4. Merchandising by customer

    How are you evaluating your merchandise strategy at a more granular level? How do your best customers buy differently from your poorest customers?

  5. Segment-specific e-mail marketing

    How are you using e-mail marketing to target merchandise and price point to segments of customers?

  6. Visitor-specific content

    Are you taking advantage of the full capabilities of your e-commerce platform to show visitor-specific content?

  7. Vendor negotiation

    How will you revise prices or work with vendors to improve margins to balance your need to offset rising costs and still present value?

  8. Alternative formats

    What brand-essential products can be spun off into solo mailings or alternative formats (e-mail, postcards) that drive business and promote the brand in lieu of more expensive catalog mailings?

  9. Thematic merchandising

    How are you taking advantage of thematic merchandising to expand your product line and sell more to customers?

  10. Designing around benefits

    Do your marketing pieces convey the most brand-relevant and customer-centric features and benefits?

Evaluating your multichannel business with a critical eye, assigning priorities for improvement and monitoring progress are not things you do once and move along from. Maintaining a stable business in unstable times requires iterative application of the audit process.

Every six to 12 months you should be looking at your business under the light of environmental and economic change to ask, “What are we doing to be successful today? What should we be doing to be successful tomorrow?”

Lois Boyle-Brayfield is president and Steve Trollinger is executive vice president for J. Schmid & Associates (www.jschmid.com), a catalog consultancy based in Mission, KS.

GETTING STARTED

Design your audit in three phases

Before beginning, plan ahead and make assignments so that everyone involved understands their roles, responsibilities and deadlines.

  1. Information gathering

    Collect and sift through the data to understand the performance of your customer file, your product assortment, your contact strategies, your acquisition efforts, your fulfillment ratios and your cost structure.

    Evaluate your business seasonally by looking at trends in a rolling three-month time span. Then, examine a rolling 12-month year-over-year comparison and a rolling one-month year-over-year.

    This way, you see the business over multiple periods of time and how everything from sales to Website visits has trended over the past 36 to 60 months.

  2. Collaborative audit

    Involve key stakeholders: those with the ability to make decisions and craft solutions. Include high-level managers who can think objectively and effectively manage change, representing all major departments — finance, marketing, merchandising, operations or others that will be involved in fostering change.

  3. Follow-up strategy and execution

    Effecting change requires discipline and a clear strategy complete with directives, priorities, deadlines and a detailed picture of what the “end game” looks like. For maximum effectiveness, dedicate one senior-level manager to oversee the entire process.