5 Ways to Evolve Your Marketing to Omnichannel

Contemporary marketing has been deeply influenced by the titanic shifts in customer culture largely brought about by technology. Companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Google continue to disrupt conventional approaches, driving up consumer expectations for ease and relevance. And increasingly, as customers channel hop their way through the purchase process, they expect a harmonized omnichannel experience. With 89% of customers saying they’ve stopped doing business with a company after one poor experience, according to the Rightnow Customer Experience Impact Report, it’s never been more important for marketers to deliver an outstanding one.

“At its core, omnichannel marketing is the fundamental practice of providing a seamless marketing experience across multiple channels,” explains Jennifer James, director of marketing at loyalty marketing company Kobie Marketing. “Marketers need to ask themselves, ‘What experience will make my customers more loyal?’”

This is perhaps the crux of an omnichannel strategy. Brands that understand their customers’ preferences can use that data to foster relationships by offering what customers would deem a desirable omnichannel experience.

But, many brands have been sluggish in their evolution to omnichannel. This is due to a number of factors, including too many silos and not enough collaboration, a lack of technology, and misaligned goals. But much of that conceptual and technological red tape has been cut, so businesses are much better positioned to make the leap from a multichannel orientation (often defined as using more than one channel, but not necessarily orchestrating them or connecting the related data) to a more holistic omnichannel approach.

Here are five ways marketers can evolve their marketing and business strategies to fit the omnichannel demands of the day.

1. Think holistically

The first step to evolving to omnichannel is recognizing its necessity. “Some marketers need to wake up and look at the reality of how we’re all working today,” says Jeffrey Wilks, SVP of eBay Enterprise. “It doesn’t take a lot of research to see that the marketing community and its influencers are all thinking in an omnichannel way.” As are customers. Often, customers will complete what they view as a single transaction across multiple channels. For example, they may view an offer via mobile email, visit the Web to conduct further research on their laptop, seek recommendations from their social network using their tablet, visit a store to consult with a sales associate, and then return to the Web using an in-store kiosk to complete the purchase.

For this reason, “omnichannel has to be at the core of your strategy as a business—whether B2B or B2C,” says Meyar Sheik, CEO and cofounder of Certona, a personalization solutions provider. “Omnichannel is not a technology or a fad.”

Few marketers contest the importance of delivering a unified brand experience to customers, but many marketers are still wrangling the challenges of more basic multichannel optimization. Advancements in technology, however, have made executing marketing campaigns cohesively across channels easier than it once was. Marketers who focus on multichannel may see some gains from multiple channels supporting each other, but risk the wrath of confused customers who expect a unified brand experience if that experience is disconnected or the related communications are inconsistent.

“Marketing changes in waves and [omnichannel] is a wave that’s going to keep going, and there’ll be a wave behind it that changes things again. That doesn’t take away from the importance of thinking in an omnichannel way,” Wilks says. “If you’re any kind of marketer and you’re not seeing the writing on the wall, then you probably aren’t doing your job.”

2. Build collaboration

Not surprisingly, holistic omnichannel marketing that also delivers a top-notch customer experience requires collaboration from not only customer-facing teams (e.g., customer service, marketing, sales), but also back-office groups such as IT. In many cases achieving the level of teamwork required to break down silos for omnichannel marketing requires a culture shift within an organization. “It’s not easy to just change the culture of a company, but it’s an important piece of achieving omnichannel,” says Deb Woods, director of campaign and product management at Teradata Applications. “You have to make sure the organizations within a company can work together and share information.”

Collaboration begins with corporate leadership and aligned goals. But technology can help, too. “There are a lot of tools [marketers] can use to help break down silos. Data warehouses are one of them,” Woods explains. “You can store all the customer information, responses, and social interaction in one place. You want to have a single view of the customer, so you have to tie the organizations together on the back end.”

3. Map the experience

It may be cliché, but reaching a destination requires a plan and a map. Omnichannel marketing is no exception. “[Evolving to omnichannel] is a strategic challenge. You’re talking about affecting change through channels where people buy products and communication channels,” Wilks says. “This strategic challenge is really around experience mapping.”

Marketers making a foray into omnichannel marketing must have a clear view of what the omnichannel experience for their brand should look like. Customer journey maps can be powerful tools to achieve this, giving marketers a perspective from customers’ eyes in an environment where customers’ paths to purchase can be mystifying yet their expectations for relevance and timeliness are high. “Marketers need to understand what experience they want customers to have that moves them through the purchase path meaningfully, as well as understand where the potential barriers to that advancement lie,” Wilks notes.

4. Explore low-tech solutions

Technologies such as marketing automation and customer analytics have made omnichannel marketing more accessible. Indeed, these tools may prove essential to delivering the optimal customer experience across channels by providing insight into customers’ expectations and preference. But sometimes it’s just as powerful to simply ask what customers want through polls, questionnaires, and surveys.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the power of relatively low-tech techniques like surveys. Companies like Amazon ask people to tell them about themselves,” says David Grisim, CMO at survey provider Exact Media. “If people feel there’s value in telling you about themselves, then they will.”

5. Embrace transparency

Companies that market inconsistently across channels, expecting customers to not notice or ignore the differences may face a rude awakening. Customers displeased by such actions as inconsistent pricing won’t hesitate to expose, ridicule, or crucify brands that apply ages-old marketing logic to their business. Transparency in such areas as pricing and promotions can help propel the success of omnichannel marketing.

“In an era of complete transparency, marketers have to learn to embrace that transparency,” says eBay’s Wilks. “People will simply ignore you if you have a bad message, or they’ll aggressively complain about their bad experience with your brand.”

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