Brands online – if only it was simple

This week I wanted to address the opportunity that multichannel retailing presents brands, but having written that sentence down, I realised that it actually should be more of a question than a statement – does multichannel retailing offer brands an opportunity?

Initially my thinking was that if consumers are using different ways to access the products they want to buy, then the opportunity for brands to make direct contact with consumers must be increasing – correct? That was certainly what we thought when we researched how multichannel retail has changed our shopping habits. It seemed to make sense that e-commerce, s-commerce and m-commerce all offer brands a chance to talk directly to consumers, without the interference of retailers – finally they have their own voice and can even sell directly to consumers.

If only it were so simple.

It seems the biggest barrier to brands connecting directly with consumers is the consumers themselves. Or more to the point, it’s the consumer mind-set. If you ask consumers which sources of information they use when wanting to find out more about products, retail websites always come higher up the list than brand websites. It seems that whilst consumers are increasingly adventurous about using new technology to shop, they continue to be hardwired to turn to retailers first and foremost. Whether that is because they feel retailers can be more objective in their advice, or because that’s just what they are used to do it’s hard to say. But clearly this presents a problem for brands.

Now that’s not to say consumers aren’t reaching out to brands directly, or aren’t open to being contacted directly by brands – the number of followers some brands have on Facebook shows what can be achieved (Coca Cola for example has 54m and counting). It’s just that such connections aren’t top of mind, even, it would seem, when consumers need information about a product.

Does it matter? Well yes, it does if you are investing in this area or seeing it as a key part of your brand strategy.

The implication of the consumer mind-set is that visibility is a key issue wherever you are looking to communication with them. We used to talk about share of voice in advertising and then it was standout on shelf. Well, now it is just as important to get your website, Facebook page or app noticed amongst all the noise that is multichannel. You can’t just assume that once your brand has a Facebook page or the app has been designed, that the job is done, just as you can’t assume that once your new product is on-shelf people will buy it.

It is part of the paradox of modern marketing that with so many more tools available, it takes even more effort to connect to consumers. But once you do, it’s worth it!