Journey Component: Channels

Channels are an important part of the Customer Journey, because they are frequently used:

  • Marketing communication is send as a medium over a Channel.

  • Prospects and customers interact with your brand though communication channels.

Anything that holds or bears a marketing message or is able to communicate a brand identity can also be called a device. In that sense the very physical product or the way service is delivery to your customers may be devices for marketing as well.

As your customers switch preferred communication (and influencing, for that matter) channel, you might find your marketing team quickly adopt to send out marketing communication over multiple channels sequentially or parallel. This is called multichannel (or omni­channel) marketing.

Grouping Channels

Channels can be grouped by characteristic or type of communication.

For example, a communication and marketing channel by phone may be very interactive. But a message printed on a direct mail piece or on a billboard may be much more static.

The (hierarchical) grouping of channels will be particularly useful for Business Intelligence (BI) and marketing reporting. Also, taking into account the characteristics of the different channels will help your marketing automation tooling make better channel delivery decisions for your marketing campaigns.

Marketing and communication channels
Channel Group Sample channels within this group
Publishing channelWebsite Content, Magazine Articles, Branded Content, Brochures, Product Packaging / Box, Infomercial
Live interaction channelCustomer Contact Center, Telephone Sales Team, Webcam Support
Advertising channelOnline Search Advertisement, Display Banners, Outdoor Displays, Magazine Ads, Television Commercials, Radio Message
Retail / branch office channelLocal Stores, Appointments/Meetups, Service delivery
Direct marketing channels(Bulk) E-mail, (Bulk) SMS, Direct Mail piece (postal mail), Fax
Reseller channelAffiliate Websites, Preferred Partners, Events & Trade Shows, Referrals, Radio Interview
Social ChannelsLinkedIn, Facebook, Peer Recommendation

As you see, there can be more channels and media of interest than your company currently uses for inbound- and/or outbound marketing communication. And with reason. The fact that your company doesn't use a particular channel for marketing purposes (yet), doesn't mean that the customer may use that channel or be influenced by that channel! A bad review on a review site or within a peer-to-peer channel (that your company doesn't own or use) may cost your company thousands of new customers.

Channel Characteristics

Each Channel (and Channel Group) has its own characteristics.

  • These characteristics will help your company understand why some customers prefer one channel over the other.

  • The characteristics will also help you identify possible problematic touchpoints in the customer journey.

E.g. one characteristic of ‘live contact’ channels is that your employee or agent can immediately interact with the customer and look for a good solution, with the drawback that this channel takes much time.

The characteristic of the ‘publishing’ channels is that you can send out a message to lots of customers at once… but the possibilities for your company to overcome any objection or problem the customer has right at that moment is very limited. E.g. your website can only automatically provide answers to frequently asked questions of customers, but not to a specific question or objection that your customer has.

Channel Ownership

Apart from the groups of channels that your company may have available, there is another thing to take into consideration: channel ownership. Who owns or controls the channel that your company will be using to get in touch with a prospect or customer?

Channel Ownerships
Channel Ownership Description
OwnedA channel owned by your company. This can be the company website or your ‘My Support’-account system and the retail branch office. The channel is completely under control of your company.
PaidA channel that your company pays another party (a supplier) for to (temporarily or periodically) make use of. Advertisement spaces are paid (rented) channels, for example. If you pay the channel owner, he/she allows you to use the channel.
EarnedA channel that your company cannot own neither cannot pay for to ‘rent marketing space’. Instead, an earned channel is a channel that other people voluntarily decide for to ‘include’ or ‘mention’ your company. Word of mouth is in a sense a very good candidate for being an earned channel. Organic search engine ranking or retweeted Twitter messages are also examples of earned channels.

The type of channel ownership can have a great impact on your possibilities to optimize a customer journey dialogue.

Owned Channel

For example, when your company owns a channel like a ‘my account mailing system’, it will be a virtually free-to-use channel. This makes a my-account type of mailbox channel a good candidate to start sending out service related communication to further enhance the customer journey. Using this channel doesn’t really cost anything on variable costs per message.

The problem with owned channels of course is that your customer first has to login to a ‘my account’ before he/she can see the message. So the audience size for reach will be low.

Paid Channels

However, when your tap into paid channels, you directly or indirectly pay for each message send to (or received from) the customer. The great advantage with paid channels is that your company can quickly reach out to new prospects and new audience; the channels reach opens immediately after you have paid.

That makes also for a drawback. Because your company has to pay for messages in the paid channels, to possibility to experiment with content versions and to send out larger volumes of communication becomes limited by budget.

In your quest for optimal customer journey marketing you’ll therefore be balancing – either manually with your team or with the aid of marketing automation tooling – which channel to use for what message in what stage of the customer journey.

  • What are the odds of making an (additional) sale when paying for the message that you would like to send to the customers?

  • Does the additional cost add up to the expected revenue or not?

For the advanced readers: A prospect/customer makes more or less the same comparison, but with a different budget. As a customers’ time is limited (there are only 24 hours in a day, of which 16 awake), he or she will also make choice about what to communicate and how, if at all. Most customers don’t care that much and you’ll discover that more often than not even an ‘active’ customer can go silent for a long period of time with regard of communication. (Don’t expect your customer to call you once in a week to say how its going; it is you as the company that must make the moves.) If these customer go silent on automatic contract renewal, they'll be referred to as sleeping customers.