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PURL Clutching

E-mail. Web sites. SMS. Video. Facebook. Twitter. Mobile. Instagram. SnapChat/Vines. And, of course, print in all its myriad incarnations. And more. It’s no secret that there is an ever-increasing number of ways to reach people—and not reach people—whether they be an audience for a publication or potential customers for a product or service. For at least the past decade and half, marketers, publishers, and other content creators have wrestled with what has come to be called “cross media,” a create-once-deploy-many approach to content. Commercial printers have been wading into the cross-media waters with varying amounts of diligence and rigor, and while some have been achieving success, others have strictly focused on the print component to the exclusion of all else. Or, in other words, they ignored it. In the middle ground are those that have started down the road, but took a wrong turn somewhere. Part of that wrong turn involves treating “cross media” as if it were something that can be added simply by buying a machine.

Birth and Death of a Buzzword

It was circa 1999/2000 that the phrase “cross media” became recognized as an industry buzzword, and since then it has generally fallen out of favor, especially among those who are actually doing it. “I don’t think they use the term ‘cross media’ and if they do use it, it’s in the wrong context,” said John Foley, president and CEO of InterlinkONE, a marketing solutions provider, and a frequent writer and lecturer—and tweeter—on the subjects of sales and marketing. The traditional approach to cross media—or multichannel marketing, or whatever we want to call it—has focused more on the mechanics of the workflow than the reason for, or strategy behind, doing it. “The major thing you want to do is understand the customer first,” said Foley. “Who’s your target audience?” If someone’s not clicking on a personalized URL (PURL), might there be fundamental demographic reasons for it? Perhaps a prospect doesn’t see the value in it. 

“Nobody talks about value in these articles,” Foley added. “A personalized URL isn’t ‘valuable.’ The value that you would offer your customers as a printer is, you could help them do a better job in garnering better responses in a marketing campaign that is multichannel depending on your targeted audience.”

And that’s the raison d’être of cross media or whatever we want to call it: going where the audience is and gleaning responses to a message.

The Willy Sutton Approach

An apocryphal story has it that when the Feds asked notorious outlaw Willy Sutton why he robbed banks, he replied, “That’s where the money is.” The logic is impeccable, and likewise when developing media campaigns for customers, you need to go where the customers are. That involves understanding the media—and the channels—in which they’re active. “Look at your target audience, their demographics,” said Foley. “What channels are they in? What media types are in those channels? If it’s the print channel, flyers, newsletters, and banners are media types. So if you have a flyer with a personalized URL, you bring them ‘cross media’ over to the Web, which is really the Internet channel.” Then, you need to ensure that the response mechanism—the specific action you are trying to initiate—is well-designed, effective, and measurable.

It’s also vital to recognize that the channels that are effective will vary by demographic. “If you’re targeting teenagers, I’m pretty sure my boys never went to the mailbox,” said Foley. “That doesn’t mean they won’t go to the mailbox, but we have to find another channel to get them there. The way they use communication channels, it may start with online.”

Meanwhile, channels change over time. Once upon a time, e-mail was an effective way to reach young people, but few young people use e-mail anymore—and even Facebook has fallen out of favor with the kids today. SnapChat is the current destination. For now. The challenge, then, is finding out where the customers actually are.

“Depending on the resources you have, hire individuals who can research that demographic space, or go buy the research,” said Foley. It doesn’t have to be expensive. The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project has done an excellent job of keeping tabs on where people are—and where they’re going. eMarketer, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and others are also good resources for keeping current.

Then there is the fact that identifying the right media types and channels is often trying to hit a moving target. “They’re going to evolve and change,” said Foley. “How are you going to keep up? You’ve got to keep your ear to the ground, or have someone keep their ear to the ground for you.” If you have kids, that helps. It also means trying to get younger people—new blood and new perspectives—into the printing business.

Effective cross-media deployment—if we’re still using the term cross media—is less about buying a new machine or some spiffy new software. It’s about people. “You have to have the right human resources, the right skill set,” said Foley. “How many times have I heard, ‘A prepress guy does the landing pages.’ Then they’re wondering why it doesn’t work, and then all of a sudden, ‘personalized URLs don’t work.’ ‘QR codes are dead.’ ‘Print’s dead.’ ‘TV’s dead.’ ‘Mail’s dead.’ ‘Everything’s dead.’ No it’s not.”

“When Twitter first came out, I said, ‘how is this going to work?’” said Foley. After some thought, the epiphany struck. “I said, ‘Wow, I get it now.’ It took me a little while to realize that you’re building a community of folks who may be in need of your product of service and there is a relevancy of who they are and, if they are the right target demographic, to connect with them. Then try to engage in their conversation in a thoughtful way, not being sales-y.”

Cross Media Begins at Home

The best way to understand how different channels can interact with each other and be effective is to use it for one’s own business before selling it to customers. “This is why I think there’s not mass adoption of this stuff,” said Foley. “If they did it for themselves first, they’d be better able to help their customer, but they don’t. Ask, who’s the target audience? Is there really a need in the marketplace?”

And understand that the physical mechanism by which customers are driven to a destination to take action is merely a means to an end, not the end itself.

“There’s not a lot of people that I run into who say they’re clamoring for PURLs,” said Foley.

Indeed, they’re clamoring for customers—and PURLs are merely one way of delivering those customers. For now.

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