The ‘Digital Era’ is all about the freedom of choice. With a constant flow of information right at our fingertips, we can choose where, when and how we want to process and share what is important to us and communicate with the world. When it comes to business, a five channel comms strategy –  phone, email, SMS, social media and apps – holds the key to unlock a world of opportunities for customer engagement.

As much as freedom of choice is liberating for consumers, the opposite is often true for businesses. The recent increase in the number of channels of communication has created a burden of choice, leaving businesses unsure what to choose like being faced with 100 ice cream flavours and plumping for vanilla.

On top of that, businesses crafting their consumer engagement strategies seem to follow an ‘exclusive’ approach, feeling they need to choose a communications platform or medium over another. What is really needed is for organisations to strip their communications strategies and objectives to the bare bone and rethink who, how and when they should reach out to.

Don’t follow the hype

Read any technology news website and you will hear about the launch of the ‘next killer’ communications app (Ello anybody? Maybe Peach then…?) that promises to instantly connect you with billions of users across the world. Despite the great claims and the attractive prospects of this ‘new big thing’, businesses need to resist being carried away and investing money, resources and expectations without carefully assessing who is in fact using these channels and for what purposes. What matters is getting content read when it needs to be read. When it comes to consumer engagement, there is no such a thing as ‘the slicker the better’.

Know your customer

To make sure you get in front of the right people, at the right time with the right message, businesses need to know who their clients are and how they’d like to be engaged. According to research commissioned by OpenMarket, more than two thirds (68%) of 18 to 34 year olds, the so called ‘digital natives’ say that SMS is their preferred means of communication when it comes to family and friends ahead of more contemporary channels such as Facebook Messenger (61%) and WhatsApp (57%). The same research revealed that nearly half of the participants feel happy to receive relevant and timely SMS from retailers (40%). It’s clear to see that what we assume is often not true.

Consumers are bombarded with information 24/7 and for brands to avoid being filtered out as ‘noise’, they need to reach the customer in the way that suits them.

Integrate instead of cherry-pick

What brands often misunderstand is that, while new modes of communication constantly change the rules of the game, they do not render old channels obsolete. It isn’t a case of swapping one medium out for another as they all have pros and cons. Phone, for example, is great for research purposes, but isn’t suited to direct selling. Email is cost effective, but 80% goes unread. Twitter, IM and app activity is instant, but only reaches a portion of consumers. SMS, on the other hand, is ubiquitous as it can reach 84% of the global population and can be perfect for sensitive and personalised information sharing, but can be invasive if overused. What businesses need is the right mix applied in the right place. Consumers ‘speak’ to brands and are explicit about how and when they want to be approached. It’s up to the brands to listen.

Getting the mix right

Consumers today are savvier and more demanding than ever. When it comes to interacting with brands and businesses, they are happy to set their own rules and follow them to the letter. They value quality, relevance and convenience so they will rarely go out of their way or be ‘forgiving’ to those that get it wrong. As intimidating as it sounds, the new digital landscape brings opportunities to the organisations that are smart and agile enough to understand the mix of channels and to tailor their mobile communications to where they will be best received. Consumers hold all the cards, it’s up to the brands to win the game.

David Senior

David Senior


David Senior, Sector Director, Retail EMEA at OpenMarket.