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The modern customer journey involves many online and offline channels, such as an organization’s physical office or storefront, website, mobile app, social media, live or virtual events, and email marketing.
Customers expect consistent and personalized messages across these channels; wanting to see their individual shopping preferences and history with the brand reflected in every interaction. Most customers are willing to share basic personal information for organizations to deliver personalized experiences, however, they also express concerns about how organizations collect and use their data.
To fulfill these customer expectations and keep their trust, organizations must gain a complete look at individual customers or buyers to inform how to engage them effectively throughout their unique journey.
What is cross-channel marketing?
Cross-channel marketing is a strategy in which organizations connect their sales and marketing channels to deliver personalized user experiences and unified messaging — which is proven to earn customer loyalty and increase sales.
What’s the difference between multichannel marketing, cross-channel marketing, and omnichannel marketing?
Multichannel, cross-channel, and omnichannel marketing aim to reach customers on multiple channels. However, there are key differences:
- Multichannel marketing: Engages customers across multiple channels, however, data from each customer interaction on a channel is siloed, meaning data and insights are not shared with other channels. Teams are also siloed in a multichannel marketing strategy, meaning, for example, paid media, email marketing, and product marketing teams operate independently.
- Cross-channel marketing: Engages customers across multiple sales and marketing channels and shares data across the channels. Cross-channel marketing addresses a single topic, goal, or campaign.
- Omnichannel marketing: Engages customers across multiple channels, shares data across the channels, and constantly seeks to blend experiences across channels in more personalized ways. Omnichannel marketing allows customers to interact across multiple platforms and devices simultaneously, with their data from all interactions affecting their experience in real-time.
Multichannel marketing is the least advanced strategy, as it does not integrate the entire journey, and it is quickly becoming outdated based on customer expectations. Omnichannel marketing is the most advanced strategy, however, it also presents unique technical challenges (sometimes involving hundreds of integrations). Cross-channel marketing is attainable for most organizations and serves as a stepping stone to omnichannel marketing.
Example: Cross-channel vs. multichannel vs. omnichannel
The three marketing strategies create a very different experience for customers because of how the strategy uses customer data. Consider this example of a clothing brand launching its seasonal collection and wanting to drive sales of the new products:
- If the brand follows a multichannel marketing strategy, a customer could receive a text message deal code offering 15% off a generic product from the collection. After they buy something, that same day they could receive an email and social media ad also promoting the collection and coupon.
- If the brand follows a cross-channel marketing strategy, a customer could receive a text message deal code offering 15% off a new product that is inspired by their past purchases. They browse the collection but do not immediately make a purchase. The next day, they receive an email spotlighting some of the items they browsed. They buy something and do not receive further advertisements or messages, because the organization knows the customer has made a purchase.
- If the brand follows an omnichannel marketing strategy, a customer could receive a text message deal code offering 15% off a new product that is inspired by their past purchases. They buy something and do not receive an email or social ad. Later in the week, they receive an email asking them to rate the product and share a photo of it on social media. The following week, they receive a new email offering complementary products and highlighting the customer’s reward point balance. Omnichannel marketing uses all channels to create a seamless experience and feeds interaction data back into the journey flow at every opportunity — like using a customer’s order history, email marketing engagement, and social media activity to augment the customer profile and deliver tailored messages across channels.
Benefits of cross-channel marketing
Cross-channel marketing is a natural strategic evolution for organizations seeking to meet customer expectations and deliver truly personalized experiences.
The average customer engages with three to five channels before making a purchase. By reaching prospects and customers on the channels they are most likely to engage on, organizations have a greater chance of breaking through to make a sale. For B2B organizations, buying cycles often span multiple months, so implementing a cross-channel marketing strategy can keep an organization top-of-mind for buyers.
Customers increasingly expect a personalized and fulfilling journey, regardless of how many channels they use:
- 71% want personalized interactions, and 76% get frustrated if this doesn’t happen.
- 60% expect companies to act on their data “instantly” when transferring between departments.
- Customer experience drives more than 66% of customer loyalty, which is more than brand and price combined.
By orchestrating a personalized customer experience, organizations can achieve notable benefits:
- 72% of customers spend more than anticipated after receiving personalized recommendations.
- Personalized marketing can reduce customer acquisition costs by up to 50% and lift revenues by 5-15%.
- Personalization helps fast-growing companies generate 40% more revenue than slower-growing companies.
Cross-channel marketing creates a cycle that consistently builds better customer experiences. Organizations that connect their customer data across channels can deliver personalized experiences and unified messages. The data helps organizations become more effective in their outreach, which drives sales and gradually cements brand recognition and customer loyalty. As customers keep engaging with the organization on different channels, the organization continues to gain valuable data that helps tailor their strategy.
Importantly, cross-channel marketing also enables integrated analytics, which allows for more effective campaign measurement. By understanding customer behaviors across channels and measuring campaign success holistically, organizations can more quickly identify strategies that consistently perform well with their customers.
Why would I use cross-channel marketing instead of omnichannel marketing?
Omnichannel marketing delivers the most fulfilling journey for customers, however, the strategy can be difficult and costly to implement. In some cases, an omnichannel marketing approach is simply unattainable due to team resourcing, like a lack of budget to implement a composable customer data platform (CDP).
Cross-channel marketing is more approachable for brands and still provides customers with personalized and engaging experiences. Cross-channel marketing is quicker to implement and can be especially effective for targeting specific personas across channels. It is also a preferred option if an organization has a specific campaign or promotion it aims to share with a wide audience quickly.
In many cases, organizations will start with a cross-channel marketing strategy and gradually mature it into an omnichannel marketing strategy.
Cross-channel marketing best practices
The success of a cross-channel marketing strategy often rides on the organization’s ability to collect, connect, and maintain its customer data.
The following best practices will improve the success of a cross-channel marketing strategy:
- Always be testing - The best way to learn what engages a specific customer persona is to A/B test various campaign elements. Consider testing different messages, visuals, or channels to find the optimal combination. Test different structure journeys, too, by delivering different channel combinations and sequences to see what resonates with individual buyers.
- Measure results holistically - Measure the success of cross-channel campaigns centrally so the team considers the holistic impact of the campaign, rather than the impact on a single channel.
- Consistently evolve the tech stack - A team can implement a cross-channel marketing strategy by integrating a few common workplace tools like a customer relationship management (CRM) platform or enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool. A composable CDP built on a data warehouse can integrate with other customer data sources to streamline cross-channel marketing and improve results, as customer data is stored in one central location..
- Create a cross-channel campaign calendar - When planning and organizing a cross-channel campaign, store all information in a central calendar that details messages and activations across channels. This will prevent potential overlap or inconsistent messages.
- Enable cross-functional collaboration - Eliminate barriers across organizational teams to avoid disjointed customer experiences.
- Prioritize engagement-based targeting - Build target audiences based on key engagement touchpoints. This enables an organization to send targeted communications to customers on the channels that are most effective in engaging customers and have better ROI.
- Augment customer data - After initially collecting and standardizing the customer data, enrich the customer profiles using insights from customer surveys, social listening, and 1:1 conversations. Be proactive in seeking customer feedback to tailor the marketing approach more quickly.
Cross-Channel Marketing Examples
Cross-channel marketing can involve many types of campaigns targeted toward specific user personas. Consider these examples when building a cross-marketing strategy:
Acquisition campaigns aim to reach new potential buyers based on an organization’s existing audience segments. An acquisition campaign will often involve a landing page, or a specific webpage designed to convert customers or acquire their information.
Example: A B2B SaaS platform provider starts an acquisition campaign to drive leads for its new product tier, which includes generative AI features. The organization creates the landing page, which is a gated white paper about the cost savings of using generative AI. In a cross-channel marketing campaign, the organization could send targeted emails to prospects who attended a webinar about AI, promote the landing page on social media through organic posts and paid advertising, and place a paid article in an industry publication discussing the benefits of generative AI.
Success metrics: Leads generated, conversion rate, cost per acquisition (CPA)
Cross-selling aims to increase customer purchases by recommending complementary products or services. It is especially important for retailers and organizations with physical locations to connect their offline customer data with online channels to optimize the experience.
Example: An online clothing store wants to increase sales with existing customers by cross-selling. In a cross-channel marketing campaign, the store will first segment its customers based on their purchasing behavior and identify the products that are most commonly purchased by the same persona. For example, if customers purchased a heavy winter jacket, the store could send a targeted email spotlighting that same jacket with a knit hat and gloves. Social media ads will also spotlight the product combo. The brand could also send a text message promoting 15% off the entire winter collection.
Success Metrics: Average order value, items per transaction, cross-sell conversion rate, click-through rates
Upselling encourages customers to purchase a product or service of a higher value than they originally expressed interest in.
Similar to acquisition campaigns, upselling campaigns can often involve a landing page that explains the benefits of the product or service upgrade and moves the customer closer to a potential sale, like offering a one-week trial.
Successful upselling starts by identifying the value and unique selling points of each product or service tier. Guides and infographics can show customers the differences between options to help them find what’s right for them. The organization can encourage an upsell by focusing on the customer’s needs and the value they’ll gain from the upgraded service.
Example: A premium gym has added complementary spa services, which are available at a new membership level. To drive awareness and sales, the gym could announce the new services at a special member event, where attendees can secure 50% off their upgrade. After the official unveiling, the gym could text message its members who did not upgrade and encourage them to visit an informational webpage. Targeted Facebook ads can reach potential customers in the area who might be interested in the new gym and spa bundle.
Success metrics: Customer lifetime value, number of product or service upgrades, upsell conversion rate, customer satisfaction scores
Every organization will inevitably lose customers, but that doesn’t mean they have to be lost forever. Churn winback campaigns deliver incentives or promotions that will entice churned customers to return.
An organization can identify customers that might churn based on user activity data, engagement metrics, and satisfaction scores. Ideally, the organization can engage the customer and help them overcome their challenges before they stop using the product or service.
Example: A company that provides video editing software could activate a churn winback campaign to re-engage customers and boost sales. The campaign could include messages like “We miss you!” or “A lot has changed since you left.” so it’s clear to the customer the company understands the situation. The company could email churned customers spotlighting recent feature updates and offering a discount for reactivating. A direct mail campaign could also offer a discount if the customer reactivates if the former customer’s mailing address is available.
Success metrics: Reactivation rate, churn winback engagement
Cart abandonment campaigns can be very effective for brands. If a customer adds items to their cart on the store website or mobile app but does not complete a purchase, they could receive a push notification, text message, email, or advertisement asking them if they left something behind and would like to complete their purchase.
Example: An IT manager could be purchasing new equipment for their team through a telco provider’s website, but the manager gets pulled into an emergency meeting. Because the manager had already added items to their cart, the telco organization could send an email reminding the manager about them. This enables the manager to get back to the point of purchase effortlessly.
Success metrics: Total sales generated and purchases made from cart abandonment campaigns
Even the most loyal customers may become disengaged. Or, a customer only needs a product or service at a specific point.
Companies can use their customer insights to deliver targeted messages and personalized content that keeps the customer’s attention and reinforces brand awareness. Re-engagement campaigns can span many different channels and content types, especially if the organization is trying to break through to customers who are ad-blind to traditional marketing efforts.
Example: A finance solution provider is experiencing a sharp drop-off in customers after the first year. The organization implements a cross-channel marketing campaign to engage customers during the first year. To start, the organization sends a welcome email to all new customers and follows up with a series of emails designed to guide users through their onboarding. The customer begins receiving paid advertisements promoting content that helps them use the solution to its fullest potential, including informational blog posts and e-books. If the customer doesn’t log into the product for several weeks, the organization can reach back out via email inviting the customer to join a lunch and learn session about the product’s latest updates.
Success metrics: Engagement metrics on campaign messages, customer churn rate, customer satisfaction
How to implement cross-channel marketing
There are several steps organizations will need to take to implement a cross-channel marketing strategy, including:
- Unify customer data - A customer’s data must be available in a single location — a concept known as customer 360 — so that each team and tool can effectively use that information. That location is typically some kind of data warehouse.
- Create buyer personas - Teams need to deeply understand their customers’ challenges, goals, and behaviors to deliver effective messages and support when needed. Create buyer personas that explain their traits and behaviors, including how they prefer to engage with the organization and what they need from the services.
- Segment the audience - Use customer data to group customers into centralized segments that can be sent out on multiple marketing channels at once.
- Align content - Create consistent content and messages that reach customers throughout their journey and across channels.
- Develop journey maps - Customer journey maps are helpful for understanding content opportunities and identifying gaps.
- Select a tech stack - There are many tools available to assist with cross-channel marketing needs. See the next section for more details.
- Promote the channels and devices - An organization’s customers may not be aware of the channels and devices they can use to engage with the organization. Actively cross-promote channels and create campaigns designed to increase cross-channel engagement. This can include encouraging customers to sign up for an email newsletter through social media or promoting a store’s mobile application at the point of sale.
- Measure efforts - Consistently revisit the campaign key performance indicators (KPIs) and listen to customer feedback to understand whether the strategy is effective.
- Tweak and test the strategy - Identify opportunities to refine or optimize the strategy. If necessary, restart the process to ensure the buyer personas and target audience segments are still effective.
Cross-channel marketing pitfalls to avoid
As with any marketing strategy, there are inevitable hurdles that teams will face. Teams should avoid these common cross-channel marketing pitfalls:
- Lack of data integration - Avoid siloing data sources and ensure that customer data can integrate across all channels. The only way a cross-channel marketing strategy is successful is if the organization has a single view of each customer and their data. Build this 360-degree customer view and ensure that data from different sources can easily move to and from each channel.
- Inconsistent branding - A company’s tone, visual identity, and messaging — both at the organization and product level — must be consistent across channels for customers to recognize the brand. However, many teams operate in siloes, so they often create messages and employ strategies that do not align with other teams. Marketers across departments must collaborate and share data to deliver consistent experiences and improve results. Create and share brand guidelines in a centralized location and regularly review these guidelines as the brand identity changes. Before implementing a cross-channel campaign, audit all messages to ensure they blend seamlessly across the channels.
- Setting it and forgetting it - Many parts of the customer journey can (and should) be automated to ensure a customer receives timely and relevant communication. However, a team should review all campaigns at least once a month to ensure the automation and messages still drive the intended effect.
- No central leadership: Each of the above pitfalls is amplified if there is nobody in the organization tasked with enforcing alignment across teams. Appoint a marketing leader who will take ownership of the brand messaging and align teams with shared data, platforms, and communication tools.
There are several tools (see below for more details) that can help marketers overcome these common pitfalls of cross-channel marketing.
Tools that help with cross-channel marketing
Any cross-channel marketing strategy starts with centralizing customer data in the cloud or data warehouse. From there, teams can use different tools to activate the data across channels.
A few of the key tools to consider for implementing cross-channel marketing include:
- Enterprise data warehouses (EDW) provide a single, centralized place to gather and store customer data.
- Composable customer data platforms (CDP) are built on top of centralized customer data and help enable customer 360. They work alongside a CRM or email platform to deploy a campaign or automation and can pull data from those tools back into the warehouse to further inform the customer profile.
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software to manage customer data and track customer activities.
- Marketing automation platforms can address routine marketing tasks and reduce the amount of manual work required by the team. The platforms integrate with an organization’s other tools to activate campaigns across channels in a central, easy-to-use interface, like orchestrating an automated email marketing campaign for a specific persona without marketers needing to manually write and personalize each email.
- Social media management tools help manage social media interactions and can extract key insights from social channels through social listening capabilities to augment customer profiles.
- Email marketing platforms make it easy to create, send, and measure the success of email marketing campaigns. Email marketing platforms can also address concerns around sender reputation and email subscriber management
- Analytics tools provide key insights across channels or activities to quantify the results of an organization’s campaigns.