Marketing Speak: Channels v. Ecosystem

February 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

February 2, 2011

I recently got into a conversation with some colleagues about how the terms “channels” and “ecosystem” should be used. The conversation got started around how they are mostly synonymous as it relates to communication with customers. I agree that in many cases they can be used interchangeably, but here is a quick perspective on the topic:

Channels: These are are the individual methods that companies use to communicate with customers. Examples of channels include stores, call centers, Websites, social media tactics (i.e. blogs, Facebook, etc), Mobile Applications, and the other various means companies have to communicate.

Companies often think about channels in a mostly discrete manor. This is partly due to that fact that each channel has its own technology, support, processes, and methods of interaction with customers. Today’s forward looking companies recognize that there is a need to synchronize channels, but often do so in pairs. For example, how does the call center support the Website or how does that Website support offline sales. Even more forward looking companies have placed Customer Experience Officers to look at all pairings and combinations of channels. Unfortunately, many companies still operate channels completely separate from each other and as customers, we can often acutely feel this.

Ecosystem: For companies looking at the holistic view of customer interactions, channels become part of a broader ecosystem. This term implies more than just the collection of individual channels, but implies that there are interdependencies between channels. That they are dynamic, act upon each other, and acted upon by customers. A channel then is really a node within an ecosystem. Companies that are really trying to master customer experience should adopt this view point and understand their entire ecosystem. The more detail the better.

If you are agreeing with this viewpoint, then here is a quick method for getting your arms around the issue:

  1. Pull together a small team of folks that have purview across the organization. With the team, ask the following questions:
    • What are all the ways we interact with our customers?
    • How often are these interaction points used?
    • How important are they to customers?
    • Which ones are used together or in combination with each other?
    • How is information passed during channel transitions?
    • How important are these channels or combination of channels to achieving business objectives (i.e. sales, customer services, etc.)?
    • Who owns or controls these channels?
    • What channels are missing or likely to come online in the near future?
  2. Answer these questions and get the basic information up on a whiteboard. Thinking about drawing a universe or even a table of elements. Each channel has a name, properties, and relation to other channels.
  3. Begin building hypotheses from what you see. For example, you might notice that customer service is completely segregated from the Web, but the Web is a key channel for purchase. You might see that there are multiple channels that conflict with each other and there is no formal or informal communication between channel owners. The larger and more diverse the company the more issues are likely to be surfaced.

Once you have completed a mapping exercise, there are a variety of next steps that can be conducted. These include reaching out to a broader group of stakeholders for validation and additional input, building data-drive dashboards to see how the ecosystem is changing overtime and impacting the business, and creating action plans for better channel alignment and overall ecosystem harmony.

I have done this exercise in the past and it is interesting to see how it allows stakeholders to think about their customer experience from a 10,000-foot level. If this works for your organization than formalize the exercise and how the ecosystem is measured.

So…bring it on. Does this make sense? Is it total bunk? Talk to me!


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