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:
- Starbucks has taken a thoughtful and proactive approach in expressing its brand across multiple channels – in its retail stores, website experience, co-branded and franchise store model, branded product model, and on mobile devices. In expressing its brand identity across traditional media like broadcast, print, and banner advertising, seasonal and product-specific merchandising efforts consistently provide a fresh perspective without diluting the master brand. Recently, in the mobile space, Starbucks has leveraged its strong CRM system to offer a fresh perspective on rewards systems that has revolutionized how dedicated Starbucks customers get their daily coffee. The company was able to leverage great branded utility in the mobile space not only to entice customers to join its loyalty program, but to get them to initiate purchases from within that system. Now, all you need to have is your phone when you run out to get your fix. Starbucks’ efforts to become involved in local and community efforts near retail store locations echoes its efforts within online social communities, where the company has a strong presence and following on the social web: over 11,000 followers on Pinterest – just slightly fewer than Disney (13,000) – a branded YouTube channel, and a strong and active presence on Facebook and Twitter.
- Macy’s has been lauded for having embraced and invested early in online and in digital merchandising and marketing capabilities. Its email programs, for example, leverage data across channels as well as outside data to deliver nearly individualized campaigns that feel “just for me.” Macy’s is further experimenting with cross-brand innovations such as the “Beauty Spot” for in-store digital (designed by my company) – again focusing on the consumer rather than the manufacturers. Also in-store, Macy’s leverages multiple digital channels simultaneously – linking celebrity content, loyalty programs/past purchases, QR codes, and targeted mobile offers. This has provided a differentiated and enhanced shopping experience that helps guard against show-rooming and enhances collected customer data.
- Apple has proven to be top of class in online, retail, mobile, and digital sales/delivery. By owning the account through the Apple ID and digital checkout at point-of-sale in stores, Apple is regularly able to close the loop between digital sales and retail store sales. The company has succeeded in making its stores a destination – not only through excellent design but by delivering a unique customer service, education, and support experience. Despite this massive success across many channels, Apple has hardly engaged socially with its customers at all and is missing a significant piece of an otherwise very strong consumer relationship.
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.