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The Year Omni-channel Ambitions Become a Reality for Retailers

This article was originally written by Michael Osborne and published by Retail online Integration on February 5, 2015. Read original article here.

It’s a question that’s been at the forefront of marketers’ minds for years: How can I engage with customers uniquely, based on both their interests and their value to my brand? And then digging deeper: How can I manage that conversation not just digitally, but offline, too, through any channel? These are questions that have been asked, pondered, discussed and, ultimately, never answered. That is, until now. The promise of omni-channel marketing enlightenment gets realized this year.

Why it’s Important?

Retailers have been making progress through the years. They know more about their customers than ever before and they’re targeting them in ways that are more relevant to who they are than ever before. However, there’s more to do, and the opportunity is vast. The value of omni-channel marketing implies knowing your customers without conditions. This includes any number of customer stories — e.g., the history of their in-store engagement, how they interact on your website or mobile app, what their value is to your brand. It’s not about one story; it’s about all of them. 

To bring it to life, here’s an example: You have a high-value customer in-store. This person has shopped your brand for years, always in-store, but they haven’t been coming around recently. What happened to this person? They began shopping online, of course. Yet many retailers, upon seeing this long-time customer arrive on their site for the first time, still might think, “Hey, this is a new customer.” 

New marketing solutions will enable retailers to recognize this individual as a long-time, high-value customer with preferences and behaviors that are already known, and market to them accordingly. It’s about absorbing all the customer’s data through past and current behavior, no matter how they shop, and having that data be immediately actionable. 

Why 2015?

Well, it would have been earlier — certainly the idea was alive in recent years — but it’s taken so much work and technology development to get to where we are now. Why this year? Simply put, it’s because the technology has finally 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. 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’re delivering the true promise of a marketing hub; they’re providing a cloud with only silver lining. 

What New Challenges Are There?

The challenges of the past are, thankfully, just that. Using next-generation technology, vendors can take your “ugly” data, clean it up and put it to use, which couldn’t be done before. There is some increased confusion in the marketplace, however, because omni0channel marketing is something experts and vendors have talked about for so long, but never actually delivered. 

Confusion surrounds a myriad of messaging points like cross-channel, omni-channel and multichannel. What these messages mean depends on who you’re talking to, unfortunately. Talking to the vendors that offer these solutions — always with a scrutinous eye — and asking intelligent questions will help retailers get to the reality of product offerings. Demo products and ask trusted partners for suggestions of vendors to work with. 

Which Retailers Are Ready?

The technical requirements of this technology are pretty straightforward. 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, on-site messaging? 

Whether you’re strategically ready is a bigger hurdle. This technology and way of marketing requires a change in the way retailers look at their 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’s your brand, and fortifying the perception of value to maximize customer engagement. It means taking the time to both refamiliarize with the traditional tenents of the customer lifecycle, while embracing next-generation insights. It means being open to new ways of investing your marketing/media spend that are hyperaware of who you’re engaging, from new customer acquisition through retention. 

This is the year that customer-centric omni-channel marketing will redefine business for retailers ready to tune customer value and bolster marketing spend effectiveness. The ones that do will transition more new and existing customers into revenue-producing, long-term brand champions.