Four ways to future-proof your omnichannel strategies
Technology can take a marketing strategy only so far. Here are some crucial steps to keep up with consumer expectations and the changing tech landscape.
The idea of omnichannel remains simple at its core: a seamless, continuous, one-to-one, personalized shopping journey.
“The ‘omni' in ‘omnichannel' encompasses an ever-growing reality of diversifying touchpoints with customers — driven by the digital revolution,” says Katrin Ribant, cofounder and chief solutions officer at marketing analytics company Datorama. “And it's about technology's influence on customer behavior — in terms of both media consumption and expectations — in regard to interactions with brands.”
In other words, as more sophisticated tech tools have evolved, so have customers' expectations for brands — and so have the sophistication and effectiveness of marketers' omnichannel strategies. Technology, however, constantly changes. ROI can diminish quickly. But timely concepts, tested strategies, and defined marketing goals have a longer shelf life, are more pliable, and will evolve as technology advances. So marketers need to future-proof their omnichannel strategies as technology advances.
1. Redefine marketing in your organization
Marketing continues to change, but in many cases companies and organizations are slow to keep pace.
“There used to be this nice world where marketers could just put out brand-produced content, push it, and people would see it,” explains Jeff Soriano, senior director of demand generation at user-generated content platform Offerpop.
“But people are creating a lot of content now. Marketers aren't just battling their competitors. They're battling for attention from consumers,” he adds. “The technology advances that have changed consumer behavior have inherently changed marketing's behavior because they have additional competitors now.”
Ribant adds that marketers who want to excel at omnichannel don't just need the latest technology. They must be also willing to take on a number of different roles.
“A growing number of marketers have partial responsibility over areas that are not traditionally within the marketing role,” she explains, “be it in IT, customer service, or in sales. The so-called hybrid roles are often missing from the conversation. They are not yet recognized enough as a fundamental evolution of the marketing discipline as driven by technology shifts in the consumer landscape.”
The role of marketing has certainly evolved far beyond its Mad Men characterizations. In fact, companies now must redefine exactly what effective marketing means, what it entails, and what it encompasses. To succeed at creating an omnichannel strategy, the organizational structure has to be examined and — in many cases — restructured and then updated.
Soriano says that to make an omnichannel strategy successful, key players across all departments need to come together.
“Too many organizations are still thinking in departmental silos,” he notes. “What's being missed is that no one is actually living that consumer journey. As people, we don't think in channels. We think about what we want and need.”
Ribant says that the all-encompassing role of today's marketer is critical to omnichannel success.
“Although omnichannel is very much a part of every conversation around marketing today, the complexity of the execution behind an omnichannel strategy is often only partially addressed,” she stresses. “The focus on technology, consumer behavior, and channel fragmentation tends to overshadow some of the challenges marketers face as their roles are changing rapidly.”
2. Reexamine the concept of a customer
Marketers must also consider the major shift in who a customer is, what his or her needs are, where he or she may be, and how to reach him or her.
“The consumer has become the marketer, whether we like it or not,” Soriano lets on. “People are taking pictures that have brands on them. They're driving brand perception, product awareness. They're influencing purchase decisions. The consumer should now be thought of as part of your marketing team. The content they create is an asset you leverage.”
Customers rest firmly at the center of every sound omnichannel strategy.
“Marketers have to be open to just letting go,” Soriano continues. “There was a time where marketers controlled the brand. People have to be comfortable with the fact that it's a lot less about push and a lot more about pull.”
He says that marketers simply have to accept that creating a future-proof strategy involves a certain level of risk: “But without taking that risk, you're essentially leaving yourself to be left behind.”
3. Partner up
To make any omnichannel strategy successful, marketers must work together.
“When an initiative like omnichannel is taken on, typically one person or department becomes the spearhead,” says Joe Pino, director of client insights and strategy at loyalty marketing firm Clutch. “There need to be more people in the room, not just talking about it, but taking responsibility for it as well.”
Collaboration and accountability should extend beyond the marketing team, he adds, and should include business partners — particularly tech partners.
“You have to be sure that when you do move forward with an omnichannel initiative, you find a technology partner that'll meet your immediate needs and that you're finding a technology partner who's willing to grow and evolve with you,” Pino asserts. “With omnichannel you're not just looking for a technology platform. You are also looking for the right tech and people to guide you.”
4. Technology's role
Although focusing on strategy is imperative, omnichannel plans cannot be implemented without the right technology.
“We're talking about being able to speak to consumers and tell them a story that makes sense,” divulges Jeff Hirsch, CMO of personalized video platform SundaySky. “You want to be able to tell that story wherever they are and on whatever device they are using. To do so, technology has to play a role.”
Mobile still plays a huge part in the advancement of omnichannel shopping journeys. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone and 19% of Americans rely, to some degree, on a smartphone for accessing online services and information. In fact, the expectation for frictionless, informative, rewarding experiences grows with each release of a new Apple product.
George Skaff, CMO of customer engagement solutions provider TouchCommerce, says that easy access to technology makes the once impossible an everyday expectation.
“All of this was pie in the sky and not achievable about a year ago,” he recalls. “There were separate stand-alone pieces that weren't connected. Now we're starting to see the connection and evolution of this technology to serve the customers.”Of course, technology is improving all the time. But it's not always improving in time. Consumers simply move too fast. Marketers must uncover new ways to create and execute effective omnichannel strategies — beyond simply implementing the latest technology. This requires a fundamental shift in thinking — a reconceptualization of omnichannel and customers, even of marketing itself.