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Looking Forward to 2012: Multi-Channel Thinking

Intouch Team

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Working in digital marketing, I’ve always been a bit reluctant to prognosticate about the future. I’ve been especially careful the last few years, as I’ve watched technology turn on a dime. However, 2012 is different. 2011 has seen the mainstream emergence of two platforms that many marketers have been forecasting would take center stage for nearly ten years — mobile and social media. In my mind, these two platforms have simply matured to the point where it is up to us, as marketers, to truly embrace our consumers via the digital space in new and exciting ways. In 2012, these platforms will continue to provide opportunities far beyond our wildest dreams and force us to start thinking about how they will be integrated into our already-crowded marketing mix. Now, it is simply a matter of choosing how we go about realizing the potential of all of the channels our customers use every day.

Refocusing on Multi-Channel

Mobile and social media, as stand-alone platforms, are pretty significant. People’s reliance on their mobile devices has been growing steadily enough for every year to be coined "The Year of Mobile" since 2000. But, as of 2012, we are on the verge of more people accessing the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs.eMarketer estimates the number of U.S. tablet users to reach 54.8 million by 2012 and 89.5 million by 2014. There will also be 90.1 million smartphone users by the end of 2011 with a projected 148.6 million by 2015. As marketers, we can no longer think of mobile as a "channel" or something we may "test" this year. It is a legitimate platform challenging television for peoples’ attention. It is time to take a long look at our marketing mix and understand that mobile will be where we reach our customers. It represents the largest opportunity for us to provide valuable information to people where they are at any given moment. "Where" being the operative word here.

In pharma and health care, we are seeingexplosive growth in mobile adoption by patients, caregivers, HCPs and pharma companies themselves. The pool of valuable content that can be delivered via mobile is limitless and we are seeing many companies dipping their toe in the water by providing simple brochures via iPad for their sales force to use when they meet with doctors. At Intouch, we’ve fully invested in mobile and have built multiple applications for our clients. But we know we have only scratched the surface. To truly provide value, we look to build fully interactive mobile experiences and services for patients and doctors that allow our clients to engage with the people they serve at an unprecedented level across multiple channels. Integration with traditional and mature digital initiatives will be key to success.

Much like mobile, social media has been around since AOL was in its heyday. For most marketers, social media has been more of an annoyance than a marketing platform. It has been the place customers go to air grievances, review their products and services, and generally disrupt one-way messaging. As social media has grown, we now know that this is where the field between marketers and consumers is level. Marketers don’t own the space. The people own it, and we have to follow their rules. We have to provide what customers want. And we’ve found they want help. They want us tohear their grievances, ideas and preferencesand provide value far beyond what they may receive by calling the traditional 1-800 number.

The most positive thing to come out of the emergence of social media has been the change in marketers’ mindset. The simple loss of just a bit of control over our message and branding has taught us to think more like the customers we serve. Granted, no one has fully figured out how to be a marketer and use social media like a customer. But we are getting there. I’ve seen many health care and pharma companies embrace social media this year, providing more genuine access to customers. Some have taken small strides, like creating a Twitter account, YouTube channel or Facebook page, and some have developed larger efforts to create a social media ecosystem.

I expect to see the companies that Intouch works with not only take social media and mobile into the fold of their marketing mix but start to reevaluate their entire marketing mix. Mobile and social media have forever changed the landscape, and 2012 is the perfect time to create a marketing strategy where all platforms and channels work together. Companies must adopt multi-channel thinking and invest fully to build a marketing mix that encompasses the best attributes of traditional and digital marketing, blurring the lines between them to provide exactly what customers need and want. I know the full extent of this change can’t happen in 2012. As some companies are finding out, it takes a multi-year plan to discover the benefits of adopting multi-channel thinking. This is a new mindset to many, but evaluating your marketing mix over the next year and investing fully in these platforms may very well be the most important business decision you make.

Of course, multi-channel marketing isn’t the only thing to look forward to in 2012. Stay tuned for the rest of the series and comment on what you are looking forward to.

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