In the very near future, mobile marketing will be ‘channel agnostic’. That transition will mean more effective two-way communication than ever before between brand and consumer. It will dramatically advance both the reach and (more importantly) the relevance of that communication. But in return such a development asks B2C brands to completely rethink their communications strategies.

In this piece I’m going to take a look at how all this might pan out. But first it might be helpful to define what we mean by ‘channel agnostic’. To put it plainly, it means abstracting your communication to the message you want to deliver, and the person or people you want to deliver to, and avoid thinking in terms of the channel you deliver it on.

So, instead of thinking in terms of an email I want to send to my customers, I think instead of information I need to make my customers aware of. Then, using data to determine whether that information would be best suited across an in-app message or ultimately an email, so long as it suits that individual customer, at the right time and so on.

So why does this matter? Well, we know that our customers are using more than one channel to interact and communicate with brands, so we can no longer assume that there is just one way to reach them. And as a marketer you (should) care a lot about your customers hearing what you and your brand have to say, without necessarily caring how you say it.

In the simplest of terms, good communication ‘lands’. If you send communication via the channel that each individual customer prefers, and the time of day they prefer that channel, then you will get more responses and more engagement. This means reach. And more importantly it means relevant reach: communicating with customers about things they care about, in channels they like to use.

That is important. There’s a word for delivering reach without caring about relevance: Spam. Delivering messages that users don’t particularly care about, in channels they don’t use or even just prefer less, is making the mistake of assuming that communication involves sending lots of messages, rather than ensuring messages are noticed and appreciated. This is not just ineffective marketing - it can be actively irritating. You risk either teaching the customer to ignore your brand, or develop negative attitudes to the way you communicate.

80% of brands think that communications from brands are useful and relevant, but only 20% of customers agree

Don’t believe me? Then I invite you to take a closer look at the research Twilio recently published (and that was discussed on this blog) showing just how wide the gap is between marketer and customer. Where an average of 80% of brands think that communications from brands are useful and relevant, only 20% of customers agree. This discrepancy in perception shows that this is an industry that has a very skewed view of what their customers think of their communications. To keep going on as normal would be a huge error for marketers.

The Challenges of Multichannel Engagement

So much for the theory. How do we get there in practice? Unfortunately there are challenges along the way.

The core issue with brands getting to a ‘channel agnostic’ state is that they are built in certain ways that will make this transition difficult. The first of these challenges is that in most cases brands don’t know which channel their users prefer. To solve this, companies need to get their hands on data that will show them - at the individual level - the different effects of an in-app message versus an email, which messages each person opens and interacts with, and even whether one or the other is preferred at a particular time of the day.

It should be obvious that without this data, there can be no channel agnostic marketing. Without an understanding of which channel suits which user, and in turn whether particular channels are preferred for different message types or at different times in the day, then it is quite impossible to automatically choose the right approach for each individual communication.

Gathering that data, and processing it in real time, is a real challenge - particularly when dealing with millions or tens of millions of customers.

Reach, Relevance and Resonance

The second issue with this transition is that brands and companies are set up to think in terms of channels separately. Most companies still have ‘push marketing teams’, SMS marketing teams’ and so on, which will make the transition to becoming fully channel agnostic difficult.

To start with, marketers need to start thinking in terms of communication as a whole, as opposed to individual channels; becoming ‘customer centric’ as opposed to ‘channel centric’.

Being customer centric, as I’m sure you could all guess at this stage, means living and breathing reach, relevance and resonance. There is little point in sending repeated push notifications to a customer if that customer refuses to open them, silences notifications, or even cancels the app completely. That benefits nobody, except teams incentivised by how many push messages they send. By making your brand customer centric, you’re ensuring that your brand thinks about its customers’ needs first; making the communication relevant, useful and personalized.

Transitioning to this new two-way communication between brand and customer will mean brands need to start understanding and acting on their customers preferences, and in particular their channel preferences. To do this, companies need to have a platform in place that understands and delivers this insight so that marketers can capitalize on it. They need to work hard to move away from thinking in terms of channels and adopt a worldview that is customer centric and change the culture of the organization to care about communication as a whole.

By revising your brand to become a channel agnostic enterprise, you will not only optimize your communication to your existing customers, but also extend your reach and response rates. And that’s what we all want for our business, right?