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So what’s new about multi-channel marketing?

multi-channel imageWell, I know I’ve been in marketing for a long time. But I can’t help raising a wry smile when I hear today’s up-and-coming extol the virtues of this or that media channel, and propose it be used as a marketing tool. Occasionally (too rarely) they even suggest testing and measuring results. And the listener is left with the impression that direct marketing is all their very own invention.

There is no doubt the media opportunities have evolved beyond recognition since the direct marketing of the ‘90s. As well as traditional channels like direct mail, loose inserts, press ads, telemarketing, package inserts – all of which are, when appropriately used, an effective part of the marketing mix – we can include email, websites, e-commerce, mobile commerce, apps, social networks, blogs, e-newsletters, microsites, links, PPC etc etc.

And it’s not only the number of channels that has expanded. So has the number of vessels which deliver our communications every day. Technology’s exploded into smartphones and iphones, tablets and ipads, readers, smart TVs, pcs, laptops, Macs. Print media is also evolving – with more advertising in return for free information, QR codes to integrate with new technology, and a greater degree of personalisation within customer communications.

To cope with the diversity and range of channels, marketing platforms are evolving to help businesses integrate their marketing and make it customer-friendly.

Of course the prolific nature and ongoing evolution of marketing channels drives a correspondingly diverse number of “experts” who offer a range of “optimisations” – search engine optimisation, conversion optimisation, click-through optimisation, social media optimisation and so on.

But what I find so interesting is that, despite the new and continuously evolving channel opportunities, the basic principles of direct marketing are unchanged. It’s still a science that involves data, analysis and insight, media choices, creative and design, pricing, branding, product, offer, research, communication, delivery and customer service.

And it’s still about identifying and understanding the customer. Testing data, channels or media, offers, products, new ideas, new creative / copy, response and delivery mechanisms is still an essential part of the process.

And, vitally, it’s still about identifying and measuring the business’s key metrics ongoing to provide insight and refinement of ongoing, healthy and integrated activity.

Certainly there are significant shifts in consumer behaviour – they are more sophisticated, with a shorter attention span. They are hit by multiple messages about multiple products and services from multiple businesses via multiple devices. The lines between above- and below- the-line advertising have blurred to the point of oblivion – which does make the measurement of individual media channels a little more challenging.

But ultimately, the aim of any successful business has to be to deliver appropriate and seamless services, products and communications to its customers, while allowing the customer to deliver communications back through the channels of their choice. And the company that can achieve that is the company that will succeed, both now and in the future.

by Victoria Tuffill 30th August 2012

Victoria Tuffill is a direct marketing consultant with over 30 years experience. She founded Tuffill Verner Associates consultancy with Alastair Tuffill in 1996. She is also founder and Director of Fraudscreen – a data tool that assists in the prevention of 1st party fraud. Her experience ranges across businesses including publishing, home shopping, insurance, utilities, telcos and collections.

© Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates, August 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Multi-channel marketing … in schools

I was fortunate enough to enjoy reading and literature from a very young age, and, as a child, my father introduced me to Isaac Asimov. I promptly inhaled all his fiction, and, in particular, I remember reading a short story which has always stuck in my mind, called “The Fun They Had”. In that story, two children are reading with wistful enjoyment (and utter disbelief that any human could possibly know enough to be able to teach) about something called “school”, where children learnt and played together.

In Asimov’s future, every child has a mechanical “teacher” in their own home – programmed to the child’s own ability, which teaches and assesses its pupil on all subjects. The story was written in the 1950s and some 60 years later, Asimov’s vision of the future of teaching seems to be moving ever closer – and it’s certainly not taking hundreds of years.

Today we have extensive online education tools through all stages of education – from primary school vles (virtual learning environments) such as Espresso and Education City to all the way up to the scale to university and beyond. We have Fronter from Pearson – now widely adopted in London … there’s Noodle … Moodle … online revision tools … CEM (introduced into universities as early as the 1990s and since adjusted for use earlier in the educational process) … Open University has invested heavily in digital tools … support apprentice programmes like Blackboard; and many adult e-learning courses both for businesses and individuals.

However, there are still schools and universities, many of which are embracing technology in ways that other business sectors may find enviable.

Multiple marketing channels in education

Modern technology not only allows the provision of e-education, it also enables schools, colleges and universities to promote themselves, their brand, their goals, their community and their achievements to meet their own business goals and fulfil their ambitions.

Schools have unique challenges, which they address through the combined use of digital and traditional channels. State and private schools have subtly different goals, but today schools from both sectors are embracing technology to support their core priorities:

  • improved levels of achievement for their pupils (and better rankings in league tables)
  • a strong desire (particularly in the private sector) to raise awareness and persuade potential parents to choose that particular school for their children – just the same as any other business, but servicing a very specific market sector

The differences in technological philosophy between private schools (who have to find their pupils) and state schools (where pupils are admitted based on geographic location) are interesting. In general terms, state schools have been driving e-learning based on the curriculum; while private schools have been embracing technology to drive marketing.

But those differences are gradually becoming blurred, particularly with the advent of Academies and Free Schools. Schools use a variety of marketing channels to promote themselves and their community – from websites, SEO, print, direct mail, email, social media, e-learning, mobile technology, and TV and radio.

A strong emphasis on websites

Websites are essentially an interactive prospectus for schools, and provide a channel for self-promotion, dissemination of rules and policies and, importantly, to:

  • Engage parents – through inclusion of information, fixtures, exam statistics, OFSTED reports, news, pupils’ work and homework, blogs, school reports
  • Engage pupils – provide the facility for pupils to engage with each other and their teachers through private areas of the website, offer e-learning including “games”; internal debates; encourage contribution to school news reports and blogs
  • Engage the local community – publicise and involve the local community in school events, support local events, and form links with local industries
  • Raise money – publicise fundraising events; school charities; alumni engagement
  • Sell merchandise online – uniforms, equipment, sportswear – even souvenirs –directly from the website

There are some fantastic websites both from private and, more recently, state schools, who are now starting to see and reap the benefits of a good website as they begin to identify themselves as a business.

Social Media, digital and traditional PR

Use of digital PR is increasing in schools, combined with traditional PR through press and media, in a cohesive and integrated strategy to keep branding awareness, engagement and enjoyment of the school firmly in the public eye. A great OFSTED report should be shouted from the rooftops – as well as within a schools reception area; a visit from a famous author or celebrity makes an involving story; excellent exam results; a particular pupil or group of pupil’s remarkable achievement; school charity fundraising; particular sporting success; availability of school facilities to the community – all these provide opportunities to communicate and publicise the school both locally and farther afield.

But social media in schools has obvious challenges, and often has its own section in a communications / ICT policy. A problem with bullying or inappropriate posting is very serious. So it can be a tricky balance for a school to use Facebook or Twitter to promote themselves while adopting a proscriptive approach about whether or how their pupils may use them.

However, blogs, e-newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest can be an effective part of a school’s overall multi-channel strategy, and can set an example to involve pupils in how to use social media wisely and understand their benefits.

A good example is set by Kelly College, who uses Facebook to promote the school, disseminate information, generate interest, good press and involvement for parents, staff, pupils, and the local and wider community – working almost as a microsite of the school website.

Of course the traditional PR channels are also used – press, community magazines, a printed prospectus with stunning photography, broadcast media, posters and print. Broadcast has an added advantage of the ability to load videos onto the website and Facebook and You Tube … to enhance involvement and drive improved Google rankings.

Keeping up with Technology

It’s noteworthy that much of the technological innovation in education comes from the children first – they know and use the new technology; they have an instinctive understanding of social media, the internet, tablets, smartphones and the internet – all of which are a fundamental, living and breathing part of their lives. There are “rate your teacher” or “rate your food” sites; children already use social media to keep in touch with their friends … and to achieve objectives – whether it’s a Twitter campaign to prevent the appointment of a new head teacher, or a fund-raising exercise from a blog about school meals. So how much of a school’s social marketing activity could – and should – be developed and produced with pupil involvement ‘in-school’?

The increasing availability of notebooks and ipads is also impacting schools – it’s not that long ago that having an ICT suite was considered very forward thinking. Now schools are developing and implementing strategies for a time when all pupils have notebooks or ipads – in which case ICT will become a thing of the past!

My thanks to Jessica Avery and Peter Provins for sparing the time to talk to me.

by Victoria Tuffill, August 2012

© Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates, August 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Info, insight, views, news, debate …

Tuffill Verner Associates is a multi-channel, digital and direct marketing consultancy, founded by Alastair and Victoria Tuffill in 1996.

With the rapid and ongoing evolution of media, channels and technology, TVA’s blogs are designed to provide information, views and updates for TVA clients, colleagues and followers.  We look forward to your comments as lively debate is one of our core aims!

TVA’s integrated, multi-channel approach is driven both by analytics and creativity to ensure that the right communications are sent to the right customers through the right media – and, of increasingly importance, allowing customers to respond through their chosen channel – online or offline.

TVA consultants cover a range of business sectors, including retail, publishing, insurance, financial services, travel, utilities and telcos.

For more information on the consultancy, you can visit our home page or call 07967 148398 – victoria.tuffill