Your Multichannel Contact Strategy Chart
Patient: "Doc, although we've got a good handle on our big-picture strategies, we keep getting off track in our execution. Our channel teams drift from what's said in our meetings; our timing is thrown off; our promos aren't all coordinated among our channels; our customers get hit with messages from all channels at once, then have a gap with no messages at all; and so on. Do you have any prescription to help us get and stay on track?"
Catalog Doctor: Here's medicine that you and everyone on your team can take. A contact strategy chart is easy to digest, good for one or many channels, and has shown effectiveness for team members at all levels. It will help keep your program fit and on track.
Start by Building a Simple Calendar
The first step for retailers who want to build a contact strategy system is to put together a simple chart listing weeks, start/end dates and holidays. Creating this type of chart takes only minimal spreadsheet skills. Even better still, this step proves to be fast and painless — even if you build an entire year of weeks and holidays — and what you end up with will form the basis for your full contact strategy.
Number the weeks one through 52. You'll find week numbers to be handy for reference throughout the year, plus you're ensured to never accidentally miss a week. To save time, only fill in the first week's start and end dates because you can calculate all the other dates simply by adding seven. And before filling in any holidays, save the entire first three columns as "values." (In Excel, use the "Paste Special" command.) Then you can add rows in between weeks without messing up formulas or losing dates.
Add Holidays and Other Events
Enter all significant holidays in blank lines under the week in which that holiday occurs. You're doing this because you'll find that many of your promotions for catalog, email, web and retail will key off of various holidays. For example, if you're a florist, you'll want to have an email blast planned for the early part of February to promote your Valentine's Day specials. Also, add any internal events you already know about that you might want to leverage via promotional messaging — e.g., new product introductions, planned clearances, a website revamp, opening of a new brick-and-mortar store, etc. OK, now you're done with the purely mechanical part of the spreadsheet and are ready to go on to the marketing function.
Add Marketing: Catalog Flights
Start with your catalog. For most cross-channel retailers, the catalog forms the core of their marketing program. Many other channel promotions link back to retailers' catalog programs. Plus, with postage rates so expensive nowadays, it's smart to grab the best in-home dates for your catalog to maximize return on investment. Add preliminary strategic direction to your in-home dates, from which details can be worked out later by design and offer teams.
A contact strategy chart also proves to be a handy tool when building your catalog circulation plan. On it you can see all the holidays when determining the best weeks/days to mail your catalog, as well as the spacing between catalog drops to help determine frequency. To give users a quick program overview, ensure your chart lists in-home dates, the general creative theme for each catalog and their offers. Your catalog creative team can then use this chart for reference when developing campaigns. They can quickly view the various creative themes, in-home dates, surrounding holidays, offers and audience to leverage all the elements and create pacing from book to book.
Add More Marketing: Email
Now that you have all the holiday and catalog in-home dates entered, it's easy to see opportunities to develop emails around catalog flights, themes and offers, as well as around other holidays and events.
For example, a retailer may have an email blast scheduled for Nov. 1, announcing its new catalog and promoting a special offer. Then, two weeks later, it may have another email blast scheduled to alert consumers that there's only one week remaining for the special offer.
Small catalogers may have one marketing person (oftentimes the owner) who develops the strategies and in-home dates for all catalog, email and other promotions. On the other hand, somewhat larger catalogers will have different people in charge of each channel. If this is the case for your business, make sure to circulate your contact strategy chart among everyone involved as you build it. Each employee can enter their ideas for their channel on a preliminary chart, subject to a later review meeting.
Add More Marketing, But Keep it Simple
You can add updates to your homepage, email messages, noncatalog fliers, retail promotions, etc., each on their own rows. Color-code each channel.
But keep it simple. This isn't supposed to be a supercomplex chart. It's designed to be a simple, at-a-glance tool for all team members, regardless of the channel in which they work. Resist the temptation to add extra data and lots of columns and rows that will obscure its at-a-glance functionality.
Shared Review, Shared Brainstorming
When all teams — circulation, catalog, email, web, brick-and-mortar — are looking at the same chart, your business is in sync.
Working on a first draft version? This is a good opportunity for everyone to get together and cross-channel brainstorm.
Catalog team: "We see that email has a Nov. 1 blast announcing the new catalog. We'd rather it push the new kid's socks. Is that possible?"
Email: "What if we do an A/B split test? We'd like to see which pulls better."
Catalog: "OK by us. Does inventory have input?"
With everyone's ideas and concerns on the table, you can keep evolving your chart until you're satisfied that you have a truly integrated program. It may never be final, but it doesn't need to be.
Now that a contact strategy chart lets your entire company see the big marketing picture at a glance, creative may have a great new idea to run up the flagpole; inventory may sell out of a promo product and need to swap out the promo, pronto; the email team may have a cool new contest that it wants to test, and so on. Change is constant. But with a multichannel contact strategy chart, change will integrate with other channels' activities and schedules for a more effective total marketing program.
Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.