As an industry, we’ve been talking about cross-media communications for some time, but the environment continues to get even more complex. For those who are already participating in this area of services, there is a need to ensure that services truly meet the needs of marketers and help them deliver relevant, timely communications to consumers. For those just entering this arena, there can be a significant learning curve.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with several experts whose companies are successfully delivering these services, and they were kind enough to share some of the secrets of their success!

We spoke with:

Tim Cooper
Chief Architect
Harland Clarke

Kevin Neal
Data Processing Manager
Curtis 1000

Anil Kapoor
Strategic Content Imaging

First, it is important to define terms. Many marketing professionals have told me that the term cross-media is not familiar to them; it seems to be a term that is used by us in the printing industry. More understandable to marketers are the terms multi-channel and omni-channel.

Anil Kapoor explained that cross-media or cross-channel communications are instances where perhaps a newsletter is received, the recipient clicks on a link and goes to the online or bricks-and-mortar store. Although the communications are about the same product, there is no tie or link between the various communications.

With multi-channel, when a customer comes into a store, while multiple channels may have been used in a more integrated fashion to draw them in, the sales associate has no idea about the customer’s purchase history as a result of those engagements.

With omni-channel, all those threads are woven together to deliver an integrated experience whether they are using a tablet, or simultaneously using a tablet and watching TV.  Kapoor uses the example of ESPN where viewers are watching a game and using their tablets or phones to track players and get more information as the game proceeds. These actions are all tracked and able to be used in customizing future communications, whether via print, online or in a bricks-and-mortar store.

Clearly, marketers would prefer to have the data generated by the omni-channel platform, which implies a greater level of engagement.

Tim Cooper stressed the need to become “technical evangelists,” explaining this difference to customers and ensuring they understand the benefits of a fully integrated solution. Kevin Neal stated that customers come to him asking for multi-channel solutions when what they really need are omni-channel solutions. All of this highlights the need for more market education, for both printers and their marketing customers.

The good news in all of this for service providers is that the print component of omni-channel campaigns is coming back. In fact, while runs are shorter and more targeted, all three companies reported that print volumes have not declined for them.

The other challenge these companies face is silos on the customer side. Historically, digital and print have been handled by different groups and/or agencies, with a lack of communication between them. This is wasteful, since in a true omni-channel environment, you would be using a lot of the same assets and messaging. Print service providers can help their customers by bridging these silos, helping them to not only be more efficient with assets and resources, but also more effective in the relevance of communications.

There is also still a need to work with marketing departments as early in the process as possible to ensure that the print component submitted can actually be printed!

So despite the fact that omni-channel communications have been possible for quite some time, there is still a significant need for market education. Cooper stated that some of his client companies have implemented a Chief Relationship Officer that is an internal attempt to bridge the silos. For companies that have this role, that’s an ideal place to start the conversation.

Who maintains the data required for omni-channel communications is also another key decision process. Kapoor reported that his company acquires raw data from customers in order to compose the communications. The company hosts that data for the customers for three years online and an additional seven years offline. Of course, security is key, and there are a number of certifications that can reassure clients their data is safe. Kapoor stressed the importance of staying current with these certifications and getting certified as new certifications come to market.

And if you are hosting data for clients, the next logical step is to offer data analytics – in health care, for example, how often are people changing their plans, why are they changing, and how can this information help plan marketers better manage that customer experience.

Neal pointed out that having the right technology in place is critical. He explained that while omni-channel has been possible for some time, it hasn’t really been feasible until recently. This includes most particularly the composition tools required to manage the data and related assets, whether it be hi-res images for printing or responsive HTML5 for mobile and other digital communications. Kapoor added that the ability to compose a document once and multi-purpose it for print, web, mobile, and deliver that communication on demand, also tying in an approval process – this has really made omni-channel communications not only possible but feasible.