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In 2015, Technology Catches Up with Omni-channel Marketing

This article was originally written by Michael Osborne and published by Multichannel Merchant on December 31, 2014. Read the original article here.

For years, marketers have had two goals. They wanted to truly be able to engage with customers uniquely, based on both their interests and their value to our retail brand. They have also wanted to manage that conversation across every digital marketing channel, unifying email, web/mobile sites, display ad, and social efforts. While widely viewed as two separate goals, they were innately connected – how can you have omni-channel marketing without knowing who, specifically, you are communicating with? 2015 is the year when the promise of omni-channel marketing nirvana is fulfilled, finally.
The value of omni-channel marketing implies knowing your customers without conditions; demystify who each and every customer is by telling their stories. I say stories, because every customer has a few.  They have a story about their in-store engagement, and a different story based on their website and mobile app interactions. They also have a story at the retailer’s brand level. The stories are ones of high engagement and attrition risk. The stories are about frequent purchasers with high product return rates.  The stories are of customers who are high cost and low margin. It’s about relevance and an enhanced overall shopper experience… not for a single transaction, but for a lifetime of them.

Let’s say you have a high-value, in-store customer names Cheryl. Cheryl has shopped your brand for years. She buys two pairs of running shoes—a pair in your Indianapolis store in spring, and a pair in your Miami store at the start of winter. She is high value; she is brand loyal. That said, she recently browsed—twice actually—several consumable items on our mobile site… some energy shots and nutrition aids. This is a chance to bolster the value of one of your best customers by getting them introduced into a line of high margin consumable products. Yes, please!

That is when your omni-channel marketing strategy comes to life. As a member of a loyalty program, a retailer will engage her with an email first. The email will include both an offer and information to nurture her through her first few purchases. Should she come back to the website without seeing that email, the website will echo that message and offer from the email. Of course, if we don’t see either, we will escalate to the higher cost display ad channel.

Why Now? 

It’s because we all have a Cheryl, actually, thousands of Cheryls. We have customers who are disengaging; we have customers who are highly engaged non-purchasers; we have customers who are aspirational in their web-based browsing, yet value based in their in-store purchases. In essence, we have dozens of customer types, and if we can honor who they are, we can bolster their value. 

Why now? Because there are a collection of next generation vendors who understand “understanding.” They have internalized lessons learned over the last 15 years of solving the hardest challenges in retail, from the tactical to the strategic. For marketers who are open to the concept, they can have a partner in innovation vs. a vendor of technology. 

The technology has caught up to the vision. More vendors and partners are using lower cost cloud-based technology to build their solution, enabling top-tier insights that mid-tier retail can afford. Omni-channel marketing is real. More importantly, there are a collection of partners that can drop right into your existing partner ecosystem, enhancing and unifying your display, email, social, mobile, and content personalization vendors. They are delivering the true promise of a marketing hub; they are providing a cloud with only silver lining. 

When it comes to the evolution of marketing, you are either one of the first to embrace this new capability or one of the last, and Darwin doesn’t typically coddle the laggards. 

What Are the Challenges? 

The challenges of the past are, thankfully, just that. As vendors unify your view of the customer, they are more prepared than ever to deal with the challenges. Using next generation technology, vendors can take your “ugly” data, clean it up, and put it to use. With this technology, retailers will not only aggregate an understanding of who your customer is, but aggregate that understanding up to the brand level. It’s the critical insights you need to tune customer engagement, while bolstering lifetime value. After solving the customer data challenge, omni-channel marketing is child’s play.

Am I Ready? 

The requirements are simple. Can you throw your customer data over the wall to a vendor? Is your website tagged (or taggable, or using tag management)? Are you using a commercial quality partner for email marketing, display ad serving, onsite messaging? The technical requirements aren’t overwhelming. 

Strategically, are you ready? While it’s easy to say, yes, it’s a little deeper than that. It is a new way of looking at your responsibilities. It’s a step back to understanding the purchase cycle for products, from intent to post purchase servicing and executing. It’s embracing that between transactions there is your brand, and fortifying the perception of value to maximize customer engagement. It means taking the time to both re-familiarize with the traditional tenants of customer lifecycle, while embracing next generation insights. It means being open to new ways of investing your marketing/media spend that are hyper aware of who you are engaging, from new customer acquisition through retention. 

2015 is the year that more retailers will position themselves top of mind and bulk of wallet. They will do it through customer-centric omni-channel marketing. Those who make the commitment will redefine their business by tuning customer value, bolstering marketing spend effectiveness, and transitioning more new visitors and existing customers into high performance, revenue producing, retail brand champions.