When implementing a multi-channel strategy, a retailer must achieve a balance between different communication media so as to ensure a many-layered marketing structure for relating to the customer.

Interview with Michel Koch, head of international multichannel trading at British multinational retailer Marks & Spencer, at the opening of a new M&S store in the Beaugrenelle shopping centre in Paris.

L’Atelier: What is Marks & Spencer’s strategy for multi-channel?

Michel Koch: On the one hand we follow the so-called ‘bricks and clicks’ strategy. We try to have the best systems both in-store and on the Internet. But our multi-channel strategy also centres on helping customers relate to our products and on the ‘click and collect’ concept. This means enabling customers to order a product online and either pick it up in the store or have it delivered to their home, and the other way around – i.e. giving store assistants tablets to help customers to, for instance, find information on our products on the Internet. Where appropriate, we also install interactive systems such as our in-store digital hubs.

What about communication in the strict sense of the word?

Communication is something that takes place through every channel. For example on Facebook we have 60,000 fans, we have a newsletter on our website and in-store the website is flagged up on the displays and everywhere the customer goes in the store. Our strategy is to guide customers back and forth from one channel to another – physical to digital, and vice versa. We’ve developed dedicated tools, we have an optimised version of the website for tablets, a mobile site – as 13% of our online traffic is via mobile – using a different platform from the English website which enables a multi-lingual and multi-currency approach, so that our French customers for example can use the site in their own language and currency.

Does this multi-channel strategy make use of personalised communication?

We do have campaigns that make use of SMS and email, certainly, but the message we send is for everyone. For France we’re addressing all our French customers, without for the moment targeting any specific segment. However we are trying out an interaction strategy with some of our customers, in particular the ‘true fan’ segment, for instance running events and workshops on specific themes. Our prime target audience there is customers who are closest to us, our subscribers. Apart from that we basically use the brand and our actual products as a basis for communication. We also use ad retargeting but there we want to avoid the pitfalls of overkill, of overdoing the communication. We try to optimise our traffic acquisition marketing channels, not so much through personalisation as through better targeting, in the business sense. We want to be sure that there’s a real brand image impact and an impact on sales. We need to find the right balance between the various marketing channels.

Is this multi-layered communication strategy the future of brand communication?

In terms of our marketing campaigns, it’s a key approach at Marks & Spencer, because we believe that the success of a campaign will depend on how coherent our multi-channel approach is. All interactions with the customer must convey the same message and be in perfect harmony. With this in mind, when designing our campaigns we’ve started by planning upfront the various media channels we’re going to use along the critical path from campaign concept to launch, so as to integrate all the various elements which serve to ensure seamless communication with the customer. To work well, a campaign needs to be fully-integrated – what is known as a ‘360° campaign’ – with a physical setup in-store that is fully consistent with what we have on the website. The social tools are designed to support everything we do and interact with the physical side of things. Ideally we’ll get to the stage of creating campaigns where we can engage with our customers to the point where they come into our store as often as they go on to the Internet. It’s precisely this interaction between the physical and social that allows us to actually measure the outcome of our strategies, as we can calculate the conversion rate between web pages visited and customer visits to our stores.

So you’re following the example of Marks & Spencer in the UK. But are customers in Paris as technologically mature as over there?

Well, we can’t deny that customers over there tend to make greater use of digital devices. However, when it comes to using a hub in-store, it’s more a question of sensitivity than technological maturity. There’s a whole educational dimension here and the more we work together with our customers, especially with tablets, to help them to make choices in-store and find the product they’re looking for, the quicker they’ll get used to it. At the moment we’re just at the beginning. In fact very few stores in Paris have in-store hubs like ours. It’s a question of habit: the more people use tablets at home, the happier they’ll be to do so in-store.
By Quentin Capelle