The trap of ‘multi-channel marketing’
As marketing became more digital and increasingly fragmented, a new buzzword appeared - multi-channel marketing.
The idea was that since customers are active on multiple online channels, brands should be too. The greater your brand’s surface area, the more likely you are to come into contact with buyers.
Every buzzword has more or less the same lifecycle. It gets coined, talked about a lot, then disappears. Either because people realise it’s rubbish or it becomes so ingrained in our thinking that it becomes the norm.
Multi-channel became the norm. Talking about multi-channel may seem passé now, but everyone thinks this way without realising it. And this is a problem, because when you do something without thinking about it you start to overlook the downsides.
And there are big downsides to multi-channel when you think in terms of ROI rather than ‘best practice’.
Marketing budgets are finite. The more channels you have, the less time and money you have to spend on content. Anyone who’s run a successful content operation knows there is a threshold of time, effort and money you need to put into your content before you turn a positive ROI on any channel.
Investing small amounts of money in lots of low-quality content will have a negative ROI, no matter how many channels you do it across. In fact, by doing it across multiple channels, you’re multiplying the negative impact.
This dynamic isn’t exclusive to marketing. It’s universal. Let’s say you need a car but you’re short on cash, so you get an old model with lots of miles on it. It breaks down all the time, is inefficient and needs to be scrapped within a year. That’s a negative ROI purchase despite being very cheap.
You learn your lesson and buy a car that’s three times the price of the last one but never breaks down, is extremely fuel efficient and after two years you sell it on for 50% of what you originally spent. That’s a positive ROI purchase despite being more expensive.
Replace ‘buying a car’ with ‘opening a restaurant’ or ‘buying IT equipment’ and you get the same story
Returning to marketing, and this is the critical flaw in a multi-channel approach, having a mediocre presence on any channel will usually have a worse ROI (negative) than not being there at all (neutral).
Starting a YouTube channel is free and easy. Creating high-quality video on a regular basis is not. In fact, it’s really hard. Same goes for every channel you can think of.
Even Twitter, which a lot of B2B marketers don’t take that seriously, is hard to do really well. And unless you do it really well, you’re probably not making money from it.
By dividing up your time and your budget, multi-channel drives your marketing ROI through the floor, because you don’t have the time to do things well.
This effect is compounded when you combine it with another piece of ‘best practice’, which is that it’s important to publish something, anything, on a regular basis.
Not publishing stuff makes people uncomfortable. It makes marketers uncomfortable because we want to look productive. It makes managers uncomfortable because they want their staff to be doing stuff.
Intuitively, the more channels you have and the more stuff you publish, the better your results will be, right?
No. If you have a finite amount of money and time, it’s the opposite.
The less channels you try to focus on, the less content you need to make. The less content you need to make, the more time you have. The more time you have, the better your content becomes and the more likely you are to break through the threshold of quality required to turn a positive ROI.
Basically, multi-channel atomises your time, attention and creativity in the same way that multi-tasking wrecks your productivity. Like a lot of buzzwords it’s great on paper but not in practice.
How We Generated 362 Quality Leads from One Epic Piece of Content 📈
So what should you do instead?
The obvious answer is to do less. But I’d take it one step further than that.
Set out to be the best in your industry at just one thing.
That may sound bold, but in my experience, if you don’t set out to be the best at something you won’t make it into the top ten. And setting out to be the best at something will focus your attention.
Obviously, that channel won’t be the only thing you do. Modern marketing is always going to be multi-channel to some extent. But make one channel your priority and use your other channels to support that ambition.
There’s a big difference mentally between doing five things at once and doing one thing in five different ways. From your strategy through to your reporting, having one priority channel makes your marketing more focused and coherent. This is the basis of the ‘One Metric that Matters’ approach to growth outlined in Lean Analytics.
Where should you focus your efforts?
That’s a big question and not one that I can answer in the final sections of an already long and rambling blog post. But I will say this…
Email, SEO and PPC consistently lead ROI comparisons across different channels. If I was trying to decide what channels to prioritise I’d start there with one important caveat…
They only have the best ROI when you do them well.
A great channel used poorly will perform poorly. A Stradivarius violin played by an amateur will sound bad. The question I’d ask is...
How can you allocate your resources so you break through the minimum threshold required to have a positive ROI for at least one of these channels and ideally a combination of them.
It’s worth noting that PPC will have a lower threshold than the other two, but it’s much less scalable and affordable in the long run.
I’ve been thinking about 'Content Creep', why it happens and how to fix it for quite a while now. I’ve really enjoyed writing these thoughts up and I’m interested to hear what you think.
Have you experienced Content Creep? Do you totally disagree with everything I’ve said?
Thanks for reading. 😀