So you're feeling pretty good about your digital strategy, eh John or Jane Brand Marketer? Sure, you've had a website for years and it's all optimized. You've metabolized every social channel that has come into the mix and grown communities on all of them. Hell, you staked out some territory on The Fancy before it was in the news. For the parts of your business that demand apps, you've got apps - both iOS and Android (and maybe Windows next year!).
In the physical world, you're starting to dabble in digital out-of-home and have started integrating interactivity into your retail spaces. Your agency roster is tight, and on the best of days there are ideas that get created by a mix of your traditional and digital agencies way upstream of execution.
If the above paragraph describes you, congratulations. It means you're kind of rocking it and you're certainly way out in front of your peers. It also means that you've learned how quickly digital changes and why if you fall asleep at the wheel you'll quickly cede your leadership position (I'm talking to you RIM, Yahoo, Digg, and MySpace) to nimbler players.
The next wave? Omni-channel.
Omni-channel is definitely an iteration of multi-channel, and the good news is that this part of our industry has a tremendous amount of white space; nobody is doing a particularly good job, and that means opportunity, hopefully for you.
So what's the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel? It's all about awareness, consistency, and tracking. Multi-channel means that your brand is on all of the key channels mentioned above, and for many marketers, that alone has been a significant challenge. Ensuring that your brand can reach potential and existing customers on every channel takes some work. Doing so in a way that's customized and optimized for each medium takes significant planning, a smart digital strategy, and strong execution.
Omni-channel first became an important concept for retailers over the last year. When faced with the data below that crystalized just how few consumers planned their shopping "mostly in brick and mortar stores" (12 percent), retail stores have begun the process of trying to retool their systems to link activities among offline shopping and the many digital channels.
But it has become an important idea for more than just retail businesses. Every marketer needs to move beyond guessing at cross-channel digital ROI and start building a holistic understanding of the consumer behavior path.
With omni-channel, each platform needs to have awareness of the other. The website needs to know what experience you've had on Facebook or Pinterest, how you've interacted with the brand's apps, and what kind of in-store digital experiences you might have had.
The experience needs to be seamless. With awareness of what a consumer is doing, marketers can start to tell a continuous story that plays out whenever and wherever the consumer interacts with the brand. The premise here is that customers and targets are going to move from platform to platform on a regular basis, often to perform the same task, and that they have expectations that their behavior in one place will influence the experience in another.
The last key piece is reporting and data, and it's the most significant infrastructure issue around this whole idea. Awareness and seamlessness are only made possible by building a sophisticated consumer profile and being rigorous about adding to it at every turn. We hear so much about "big data" and all of the data collection that goes on, but we find most of our clients are looking at the data in a limited way rather than using it to build a dynamically updating database. In a business that's already dominated by performance marketing (site optimization, monetization modeling, SEO, and paid search), omni-channel means paying even more attention to tagging and reporting, building or using agencies that have monetization models, and then pulling all of the data together to form a profile.
That means a lot of coordination between IT and marketing - not always the best of friends in many siloed marketing organizations. It also means that marketers need to think of what they're doing more as a series of products and less like a series of messages.
As I mentioned earlier, most companies are trying to put in the omni-channel infrastructure and as a result we haven't seen significant success yet. The best predictor for omni-channel success is marketers who have shown real distinction in multi-channel:
So again, congratulations on moving past "fishing where the fish are." We all now know that the fish are everywhere, and that's where we have to be as well. But we must do so in a coordinated, thoughtful way, where the multiple "everywheres" share information on a continuous basis as part of an overarching system. By bringing this type of an omni-channel strategy to bear, you'll see results in attribution and influence that will dramatically affect your decisions on where and how to spend your budget.
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Andrew Solmssen serves as managing director of Possible's Los Angeles office, leading the firm's West Coast client teams and determining best practices for engagement management.
He previously served as managing director at digital firm Schematic, where he played a key role in developing some of the earliest advertising models for delivering broadcast content via the Internet. Andrew was also responsible for providing strategic guidance to clients such as Comcast, ABC Television, and NBC Universal in the areas of digital strategy, content distribution, mobile entertainment, and Internet TV. Before Schematic, Andrew served as executive producer at Web design and consulting firm Kaufman Patricof Enterprises.
A frequent speaker at industry events such as Digital Hollywood and CES, Andrew is also regularly quoted by business and trade media on the topics of digital advertising and technology innovation. Prior to his involvement in digital media, Andrew lived in Namibia as part of the Harvard Institute for International Development.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @asolmssen.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT