Omnichannel Marketing Is Preferred by 85% of Consumers

With the advent of the Internet and social media, choosing the right marketing channel to distribute your message to your target audience and create a stronger relationship with them is now more complicated. With all these choices, what’s important is to focus on selecting the right media channels for your customer base … both online and offline.

With the advent of the Internet and social media, choosing the right marketing channel to distribute your message to your target audience and create a stronger relationship with them is now more complicated. With all these choices, what’s important is to focus on selecting the right media channels for your customer base … both online and offline.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar with Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing from the CMO Council. She shared findings from a recent study done by the CMO Council in partnership with Pitney Bowes titled “Critical Channels of Choice.” The study surveyed 2,000 consumers across five generations (Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation).

According to Miller, “Everyone assumes that Millennials and Gen Zers are all digital and that is the best way, and in some instances the only way, to communicate with them. The most critical finding from the study indicated that the channel of choice was in fact, omnichannel.” Consumers expect a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick and mortar store location.

When asked to describe their communication preferences, consumers overwhelmingly agreed that one path to the brand simply isn’t enough … they want them all. Some 85% of consumers surveyed agreed that their ideal channel is actually a blend of channels, opting for a mix of both digital and physical experiences (Figure 1).

According to survey respondents, consumers prefer to have omnichannel marketing efforts directed toward them.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

Miller explained that print is alive and well. She said, “Perhaps most telling of this openness for omnichannel is that printed mail, considered by some to be one of the more ‘traditional’ channels in today’s marketing mix, is essential. It continues to be a highly valued channel of choice. One out of every three consumers surveyed expected printed mail to be part of their ideal communications mix. Brands need to reevaluate how they are leveraging and deploying all of the tools available in an omnichannel toolkit.”

While you might expect a divide across generations in terms of channel preferences, that isn’t the case. The research found that all respondents, regardless of age demographic, prefer a blend of digital and physical channels to pave their communications journey with a brand (Figure 2).

Based on key findings, there is a preference for a blend of digital and physical communications in marketing efforts, regardless of age.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The study also pointed out that the deciding factors for channel usage by consumers include convenience, reliability, speed, personalization, and trust (Figure 3). Whether it is print, social media, or email, consumers are looking for channels that meet their expectations.

Critical attributes of must have channels.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The Bottom Line

Given the drive for a seamless omnichannel experience, your customers will be looking for partners to help deliver the solutions consumers want. Print will continue to be integral to the marketing mix, but your offerings will need to be blended with social, mobile, and online channels, as well as brick and mortar point of purchase solutions. Service providers need to evaluate the role they want to play in an omnichannel world.

3 Martech Tools to Optimize Direct Mail Campaigns

The powerful targeting of direct mail can help you punch through all the marketing noise people are exposed to each day. Martech tools provide ways to make an even greater impact with your campaigns by cross-pollinating between channels.

The powerful targeting of direct mail can help you punch through all the marketing noise people are exposed to each day. Martech tools provide ways to make an even greater impact with your campaigns by cross-pollinating between channels.

Many marketers find this to be cumbersome and expensive, but what if there is a better way? Check out these statistics:

  • Companies that use multichannel marketing experience three-times higher effectiveness rates than those that use non-integrated campaigns (source).
  • 23X higher rates of customer satisfaction are experienced by companies with omni-channel strategies (Aberdeen Group)
  • 89% of customers are retained by companies with omnichannel engagement strategies (Invesp)
  • 45% of marketers feel they lack the necessary talent, technology, and processes to master omnichannel brand marketing (CMO Council)

So how can you harness these stats to improve your direct mail response rates? You know that on average it takes eight to 10 touches with a prospect to convince them to buy from you. So when you create campaigns using multiple channels, you make a bigger impact and provide more opportunities to convert them. You want your marketing to create engagement that leads to sales. Direct mail is a key component in your marketing strategy, but it is not the only one. So how can you easily pull together a multichannel campaign? Here are some options.

3 Platforms to Enhance Your Direct Mail

  • DirectMail.io: They offer an integrated omnichannel marketing program. Their services include data management, direct mail, email, live call center, SMS solutions, social media, and Amazon and Google voice assistant integration. This platform has flexible software that combines data, marketing, communications, and analytics, all in one place. DirectMail.io provides a simple solution that seamlessly integrates over 12 inbound and outbound marketing channels, allowing advertisers to launch, manage, and track all of their marketing efforts in one place.
  • SnailWorks: SnailWorks tracks mail using Informed Visibility from the Postal Service, which allows them to track each individual piece of mail to delivery, and then uses that delivery to trigger other marketing efforts, such as email, telemarketing, web advertising, and more. They take all of these disparate channels and tie them into a single campaign along with a web-based dashboard that shows real-time results and distributes leads for the campaign. Recently, SnailWorks added Direct2Digital ID to its service offerings. Direct2Digital ID provides mailers with an easy way to participate in the new Postal Service Informed Delivery program.
  • DirectMail2.0DirectMail2.0 suite uses seven different technologies, timed in such a way as to result in the best possible lift in a direct mail campaign. These seven technologies seamlessly track, enhance, and prove attribution on any direct mail campaign. It does this through incorporating Mail Tracking, Informed Delivery, Call Tracking, Online Follow-up, Social Media Follow-up, Social Match, and LeadMatch technologies. No need to be an expert in multiple types of digital technology. Just upload a processed mailing list with an ad or two and the platform does the rest.

As you can see, there are great platforms to choose from to enhance the effectiveness of your direct mail campaigns. In 2019, your customers and prospects expect to engage with you on multiple channels. Create more powerful direct mail campaigns by integrating them into a multichannel experience. Become one of the statistics above. Marketing experiences really matter and can make the difference between an okay campaign and a fabulous one. Are you ready to be fabulous? Get started on integrating your direct mail with other channels.

The 3 Big Challenges Marketers Face When Building a Marketing Tech Arsenal

It’s household knowledge that digital technology is continuously disrupting the practice of marketing. New tools mean new capabilities to reach and engage with potential customers in new ways. An expanding number of platforms and devices makes the prospect of providing seamless customer experiences an ever more difficult task. Meanwhile more technologies dictate that marketing tech stack integrations are becoming more complex. Yet nimble and savvy marketing tech adoption is one of the key factors for staying competitive in any market, today and in the foreseeable future.

That’s not all to scare anyone. But it’s worth taking stock of the fact that marketers have a tall order in front of them when it comes to evaluating and implementing new digital marketing technologies.

There are a combination of factors that make marketing tech adoption difficult. The sheer volume of potential solutions means that sorting through the noise and finding those tools that are relevant to your business objectives is a time suck. That’s certainly a big one, but an undue amount of time has been spent in blog posts and at industry conferences shocking marketers with intricate vendor-scapes while other challenges may go overlooked.

In this post, we’ll evaluate some of the common hurdles marketers face when it comes to adopting and implementing new technologies and consider some ways they can overcome those hurdles. With a better understanding of exactly what the challenges are, in future posts we’ll dig further into developing a process for optimizing your tech stack and explore some of the key business objectives marketers are trying to address with technology in 2018.

Editor’s Note: This blog post marks the launch of FUSE Digital Marketing, a weekly newsletter (subscribe here) and annual VIP executive summit (learn more here) that explore the strategic adoption of marketing technologies. Both aim to dissect the modern martech stack and explore how the right technologies can enable marketers to achieve business objectives.

Challenge #1: Omnichannel Customer Experiences Are Complicated by Content, Data & Technology

The vast array of devices and platforms where customer touchpoints occur mean that the need for marketers to provide seamless, omnichannel customer experiences is both more important and more challenging than ever. Doing so requires a well-oiled technology stack optimized for cross-platform data integration, 360° customer views, and AI-based automation that drives engaging content and offers.

But let’s dig a little deeper and uncover what’s at play when it comes to omnichannel marketing. Just how important is omnichannel marketing to marketers and what’s holding them back?

In the research report Omnichannel Marketing: The Key to Unlocking a Powerful Customer Experience, Target Marketing asked marketers how important providing an omnichannel experience is in their industry. 74% of marketers said it was important, fairly important or very important. The research also revealed that most marketers are not confident in their ability to deliver omnichannel experiences: 48% feel their company provides customers and prospects an “average” omnichannel experience, while only 33% say it’s “good” or “very good.”

Beyond lack of budget, which is considered the number one challenge, marketers see omnichannel marketing as fundamentally a technology problem, with “accessing data across channels” and “recognizing a customer on different channels or devices” as high-ranking challenges they face in this effort. When asked what they are doing to improve omnichannel customer experience, marketers’ top two priorities are “improving integration of existing technology systems” and “investing in new tools and technology.”

 

To address omnichannel challenges, marketers are “improving integration of existing technology systems” and “investing in new tools and technology.”

 

To be fair, the quote-unquote “omnichannel customer experience” is not just a marketing objective — it’s the objective of anyone trying to provide consistent experiences across digital platforms and understand how audiences move and behave across those platforms. For years it’s been an objective (and thorn in the side) of publishing and media companies, which have large-scale audience and butter their bread by cultivating very granular information about these audiences.

The comparison to the media business can also be useful because it speaks to why omnichannel customer experiences have become simultaneously more difficult and more of an imperative. If omnichannel can be boiled down to two fundamental principles, those are experience and data.

First let’s look at experience: With content as a major form of currency in the brand-customer relationship, the customer experience extends much further up the funnel today than in days past. It’s the reason why content marketing expert Robert Rose argues that marketers should be focusing on audience, and not customer conversion, when developing a content marketing strategy and supporting technologies.

Sticking with publisher analogy, the introduction of content can be both a gift and a curse: A gift because “audience” interactions with content reveal valuable granular data about buying interests and intentions, which can drive coveted personalization efforts that yield higher conversions. A curse because connecting behavioral data to an individual across platforms is no easy task.

It’s no surprise then that we’re seeing a lot of interest in identity management, journey tracking, and anti-journey-hijacking solutions to keep track of users, as well as tools like CDPs that enable a 360-degree view of known users and the ability to develop user profiles enriched by behavioral data. Analytics tools that extract further insights, especially AI-driven predictive capabilities, will continue their growth in popularity.

Of course, limitations on data-driven marketing like GDPR will alter the data exchange between brands and consumers, namely by raising the threshold for that exchange. GDPR will simply accelerate the need for “owned” audiences that marketers have permission to communicate with (often earned by providing content), some of which will become your customers. And though painful at first, GDPR will actually play in favor of some marketers’ high-level concerns about brand safety and ad fraud when the brand-consumer relationship is much more transparent and explicit for all parties.

Challenge #2: Organizational Bureaucracy & Shadow MarTech

Unfortunately, developing a 360-degree view of customers from the topmost part of the funnel down to the purchase and onward isn’t just a technological challenge. It’s a deeply organizational challenge.

Marketers face a couple internal headwinds when it comes to technology adoption — such as the lack of understanding by senior management or lack of talent to apply martech — but perhaps the strongest is bureaucracy.

At many large companies, web technologies are part of gigantic enterprise systems that tend to be rigid and/or slowed by bureaucracy. Getting a WordPress site approved through corporate IT can be a nightmare. Especially when it comes to providing cutting edge customer experiences, marketers need to be super agile — able to stand up a blog, digital magazine, or microsite in short order — to respond the market or experiment with ideas without huge investments and long lead times.

Many marketers are forced to rely on their organization’s IT system and watch the nimble upstarts pass them by. Or they’re going rogue and creating what is often called a “shadow IT stack” or “shadow martech stack.”

Whether by design or by necessity, we know that martech purchasing happens across organizations. Target Marketing’s 2017 report The Marketing Tech Buying Process revealed that although brands are buying more marketing technology than ever, it’s often with minimal input from other departments. 64% of marketing technology purchases are made by individuals or single teams. Fewer than 50% of purchasers conduct formal requirements assessments. And the IT department is only involved in the marketing technology purchasing process 53% of the time.

One of the downsides of this fragmented martech buying approach is that the organization doesn’t reap the full benefit it would if the marketing stack and all its rich data was fully integrated with enterprise systems. Think of all the data points revealed through social media interactions, behavioral website data, email preferences – all of which can be used to track and cultivate consumers through the sales funnel and then continue engagement. And the existence of shadow martech stacks means companies aren’t seeing the optimal ROI, and as a result more likely to stifle future martech investments.

The Layered Approach to Marketing Tech Adoption

The layered approach to your content marketing tecnology stack.
Robert Rose advises a “layered approach” to the technology that powers content marketing in order to prioritize flexibility in the piece that must be more responsive to the customers, and formal input in the pieces that must integrate with other IT systems.

 

First off, marketers need to make the case and executives outside the marketing function need to recognize that marketing tech should be better integrated into enterprise systems without stifling the agility and flexibility that martech requires. Cross departmental communication and collaboration that might not have previously occurred are a necessity, but even more important, is a joined mission and strategy between marketing and IT.

To this end, Robert Rose suggests a “layered approach” to martech adoption. First, consider which parts of the tech stack need to be most flexible and require less dependability. These are the technologies that shouldn’t require as rigorous vetting nor be considered long-term, foundational technologies. “Content-driven experiences are today’s media buys: Flexible, lightweight and even disposable,” said Rose in his keynote at the FUSE Digital Marketing summit (then called FUSE Enterprise).

On the other hand, consider which parts of the tech stack need to be more thoroughly thought-out and approved, such as core data management technology that needs to be scalable, dependable and standardized, and fit into your company’s IT infrastructure. These need to be done methodically, involve all the stakeholders, and will likely be picked by the IT department, not marketers (though hopefully with apt input).

Challenge #3: Developing Tech Expertise

Another core challenge to martech adoption, and the closest to home, is that marketers themselves need a great understanding of the many technologies they could use and how they work together. However, being a technology expert is a relatively new competency for marketers and one that many may not have or are working to develop.  At the very least, marketers haven’t been preparing to be technologists their entire careers. “Being current on technology and able to put it into place with the right business processes to use effectively is now as important to the marketer as it is to someone in the IT department,” says Target Marketing editor-in-chief Thorin McGee. Or if not being a technology expert themselves, knowing enough to understand the underlying business objectives of a given tech tool and having a collaborative relationship with the technology department is a must for marketing executives today.

Once a technology is purchased, the common lament is that the tool is grossly underused. The Target Marketing Omnichannel report found that not enough marketers are investing in personnel or training to support their tech acquisitions. According to McGee, “This is evident both in the quantifiable questions, as well as the open response queries.  Marketers repeatedly cite lack of skilled personnel as an issue. Without proper training and know-how, the tools are not going to help. Invest in your people.”

Marketers should build more training into their martech strategies as well as implement more formalized processes (like Rose’s layered approach above), to ensure greater collaboration among key stakeholders and greater ROI for their tech investments.

In subsequent posts we’ll further explore processes for focusing your martech adoption strategy and look at specific business objectives marketers are keen to address with technology. Sign up for the weekly FUSE Digital Marketing newsletter to keep up on the latest martech insights.

The Omnichannel Customer Service Gap

As part of our analysis of the omnichannel experience today in the report “Omnichannel Marketing: The Key to Unlocking a Powerful Customer Experience,” we asked marketers how they provide customer service in each channel, and whether or not they are getting AI involved.

As part of our analysis of the omnichannel experience today in the report “Omnichannel Marketing: The Key to Unlocking a Powerful Customer Experience,” we asked marketers how they provide customer service in each channel, and whether or not they are getting AI involved.

The Extent of Omnichannel Customer Service

Here’s what the marketers had to say:

Omnichannel Customer Service chart from the Omnichannel Marketing Report, 2018.

Perhaps not surprisingly, 82 percent of marketers offer live customer service over the phone, 73 percent through email and 52 percent through social media. But only 28 percent offer live service through website chat, and almost none do via virtual assistants (which is an emerging field).

Very few respondents are dabbling in AI or AI-assisted customer service. However, 14 percent do so through web chat — which means half of all web chat is being handled by AI. That’s followed by social media and email.

Outside of website chat bots, AI customer service is still a rare experience. Also, marketers do not yet seem to consider virtual assistants and smart speakers to be important service channels.

Is That Futuristic Enough?

I was a bit surprised that service was not offered more frequently in more channels. Only half of respondents said they offer customer service reps via social media. Tiny numbers offered it through website chat or virtual assistants.

Is that a wide enough spread of service options to satisfy today’s omnichannel customer? Is it enough to be considered “Omnichannel Customer Service”? On the flip side, does limiting those options make for a better service experience?

Beyond the number of channels service was offered in, it seems that very few marketers are leveraging AI for customer service in any channels. Helping customers still means connecting them with live CSRs. Is that really the most efficient way to do things?

The slower customer service is, the higher the chance you’ll lose that customer to a competitor. Offering service on more channels should help you ensure a great experience. Using good AI to assist your CSR’s should reduce friction and make the process more efficient.

What’s holding marketers back here? Is it the fear that an already damaged experience is going to be made worse? Well, I certainly don’t think the robots are going to do a worse job than crowdsourcing that service.

If you’re nervous about creating a chat bot, we’ve got a great session coming up at the All About Marketing Tech virtual conference that will help you learn the basics and build a chatbot that doesn’t suck. Check i out.

And for more about how marketers are building their omnichannel customer experiences, click here to download the complete report for free.

Early Results of Our Omnichannel Marketing Survey

While our “2018 Omnichannel Marketing Survey” is still ongoing, the early results are surprising. Far from being a retail-only issue, over 75 percent of respondents say the omnichannel customer experience is important in their industries.

While our “2018 Omnichannel Marketing Survey” is still ongoing — we’ve only sent out the first of at least three emails for it, with another coming out today — the early results are surprising. Far from being a retail-only issue, over 75 percent of respondents say the omnichannel customer experience is important in their industries.

The early returns on our Omnichannel Marketing survey find that 75 percent of marketers, across all industries, think omnichannel is important.
The early returns on our Omnichannel Marketing survey find that 75 percent of marketers, across all industries, think omnichannel is important.

What’s more, only 6 percent of respondents so far are in the retail/e-tail sector; more responses are coming from a host of other industries, from non-profits to CPG to financial services in both B2B and B2C.

So far, omnichannel is proving to be an essential concern in 2018 for marketers of all stripes, enough that budgets are shifting to handle it. The early results show that 53 percent plan to spend more on omnichannel marketing in 2018 than they did in 2017, and 7 percent are more than doubling that investment.

What are they investing in? According to the early results, a lot of that investment is going toward customer data, customer service and customer identification.

In the early results, new omnichannel investment is overwhelmingly going to data, customer service and customer identification.
In the early results, new omnichannel investment is overwhelmingly going to data, customer service and customer identification.

Based on tha, it appears that customers are continuing to face challenges in the core capabilities of omnichannel marketing: Knowing who’s engaging where, and putting that together with what they did on the other channels to create a worthwhile experience.

Now, these are only the early results. The survey is far from done, and I’d love to hear from you. There’s still time to be entered to win the $100 AmEx gift card!

So, if you haven’t yet, click here to participate in the Omnichannel Marketing Survey yourself. And keep an eye out in March for the final report and a lot more coverage!

Your Prospects Are Multichannel. Are You?

in order to engage, we must go to the watering holes where our customers and prospects hang out. We have to be in the channels they frequent, in addition to having relevant content for them to consume and share.

Last month on our Revenue Marketing journey, we discussed content marketing strategy and the steps to developing the best content editorial calendar. This month, let’s talk about channels for multichannel distribution of your content.

If you have a “field of dreams” wherein, if you create great content and put it on your website, somehow, “they will come …” well, good luck with that. The reality is that, in order to engage, we must go to the watering holes where our customers and prospects hang out. We have to be in the channels they frequent in addition to having relevant content for them to consume and share.

Ask Your Customers What Channels They Use

We have many clients who simply don’t believe their customers are on Facebook. So, we upload 5000 of their business email addresses to Facebook and show them the result: Usually a 65 percent match rate for business email addresses. Business people are on Facebook and they “hang out there” every day:

  • 63 percent of Facebook users are age 30 and older
  • Facebook has more than 1 billion visitors per day
  • Facebook has many more video views than YouTube

I only bring this up to highlight that our assumptions about which channels are best for reaching our customers may be wrong. The best thing you can do is ask your customers. The next best thing to do is to experiment with multiple channels and see which ones currently work best for your firm.

No doubt you noticed I didn’t even mention email yet. Yes, it is a channel, perhaps the one you are most accustomed to using. And it is easy and inexpensive. But it should not be the only channel you use. Increasingly there are issues with:

  • Information overload in inboxes so your communication gets lost
  • Automatic “junk” designation and filtering
  • Spam traps (so you decide to do an ABM campaign to 250 contacts at your biggest customer and you email all of them at once…guess what is going to happen.)

My point is that your attempts to engage your audience will be better if you use multiple channels to nurture them. Upload the email addresses in Facebook, LinkedIn and other channels, establish a connection to your contacts through these channels, and start sharing content over them.

Syndicate Your Content

Syndicate and promote are becoming synonymous today because organic social is pretty much defunct. You have to boost or promote your content to your audiences or targeted marketing groups.

For video, it’s simple; YouTube is owned by Google. They have 77 percent of the search market. Since videos are quickly becoming the hottest form of content, it makes sense to place it where it will be found. If you have a podcast, use a podcasting hosting site such as Libsyn to set up your audio RSS feed. This feed can then be used on podcast distribution platforms such as iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher to ensure your audience can access your show regardless of which mobile device they use. Set up a podcast promotion plan for your social media sites as well to drive new listeners to your episodes.

Look for Multichannel and Cross-Device Remarketing Opportunities

Multi-channel and cross-device remarketing are really hot right now. I would suggest adding in some reference or weaving in some of that in this section. The following is an example of a multi-channel campaign.

Let’s say you are going to run a webinar next month. What should that campaign design include in terms of channels:

  • One to three emailed invitations and a few variations of follow up emails
  • Up to three impressions per person promotion in Facebook image ads
  • Blog post promoting the webinar on your blog
  • Promoted blog post on LinkedIn, Facebook and a promoted tweet
  • Facebook media ad — video promoting webinar
  • Retargeting campaign to known contacts in Facebook and Twitter
  • Lookalike campaign in Facebook
What a campaign design document could look like.
What a campaign design document could look like.

Hopefully this example makes it clear that your campaign design document has to be very clear on all the channels for a promotion. The graphic and copy (assets) needs vary by channel, and the logistics for lining up all these assets at the same time are much more complex than when you are simply using a single channel such as email. But the results for going multi-channel will be much better of course.

Track Everything

If you have content on your website and you point to it from other online digital content you control, your blog for instance, you can and should be tracking all those clicks by content type and channel. But when creating links to your content from digital properties you cannot fully control, or with embedded links in documents you share, ensure you use UTM codes with the links.

UTM codes were formulated to track channel and content performance. Make sure you use them religiously on all links on ads and promotions and in embedded links in documents. Set up a shared Google doc or spreadsheet to automatically generate UTM codes for your team with an approved picklist of values for Medium and Source. Minify the links to ensure their integrity before using them. Here is an example, a link to a white paper on strategic planning and budgeting for marketing. It goes without saying that you use your Marketing Automation Platform (MAP) form capabilities to grab the UTMs and save them in the contact record.

Use a tag manager, and make sure you “pixel” visitors to your content no matter where they found the link. That way to can add them to your “pixeled” database of unknown but interested parties and do promotions to them through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

By tracking everything you will gradually start to learn which channels and content work best for you to attract visitors to your website and drive revenue.

Next month, we will continue the Revenue Marketing journey conversation, and focus on the marketing technology stack.

Please feel free to share your experiences with content marketing strategy and other insights on the above topics in the comments section below or email me at kevin@pedowitzgroup.com.

Omnichannel Customers Are 2X as Valuable – How to Make Them Yours

With so many trying to sort out an “omnichannel” marketing strategy, I thought it would make the most sense this month to provide some structure around what it is, the best way to take the “buzz” out of the term, and provide a framework for thinking strategically about this new mandate in marketing and strategy. For starters, here’s a simple idea, or “true north,” you can use to drive your own marketing strategy as you embrace the omnichannel consumer. “Put the Customer First” and build your “omnichannel strategy” around them.

With so many trying to sort out an “omnichannel” marketing strategy, I thought it would make the most sense this month to provide some structure around what it is, the best way to take the “buzz” out of the term, and provide a framework for thinking strategically about this new mandate in marketing and strategy.

For starters, here’s a simple idea, or “true north,” you can use to drive your own marketing strategy as you embrace the omnichannel consumer. “Put the Customer First” and build your “omnichannel strategy” around them.

Let’s remember, connecting with, engaging and finding the right new customers are where customer value is created and realized in omnichannel marketing. Optimizing that value comes through studying and tuning communications, improving your relevance and becoming more creatively authentic, not in the boardroom, but in the eyes of your customer.

Today, marketers appreciate that consumers engage on multiple platforms, devices and channels—the ones they want, when they want. With mobile devices being a spontaneous window into their thoughts and an outlet for their wants and needs as they arise. What’s a bit more subtle and more often missed is the objective and capability to respect the way your customers choose to engage and buy across them in a scalable manner—as it will either fragment their relationship with your brand or galvanize it.

Consider Kohls. Not exactly a high tech player in most folks’ minds. However they now deliver an omnichannel experience that deepens relationships with them. Recently, my wife received a promotion by direct mail (I doubt if she remembers when they asked for her phone number the first time, making the connection between the POS and her online purchases), she had it in hand as she went to the website to browse. Later, she used another promotion from her email right at the POS with her iPhone.

In a single engagement with the brand, she hopped across three channels, not including a customer service call by phone. As a consumer, she didn’t even notice—she just expected it to work.

Similarly, OpenTable will consistently get you to a good restaurant based on where you’ve dined before, and what your current online browsing and mobile location is. You probably do it all the time. Your relationship with that brand hops between mobile, desktop and point of sale effortlessly—but as a consumer, you’re not exactly impressed: You expect it to work.

As a result, effective omnichannel organizations have become “stitched into” the lifestyles of their customers. Moreover, this supports the creation of competitive advantage in the measurable, trackable, digital age.

Omnichannel Means Understanding the Customer
Putting the customer first obviates really knowing and understanding your customer in more meaningful and actionable ways. Not just with an anecdote of the “average customer,” but with legitimate, fact-based methods that are built on a statistical and logical foundation. This is the basis for the “absolute truth” that your omnichannel source is dependent on.

This, too, is no small task for many organizations, but it’s becoming more “doable.” And it has to be—because your competition is thinking and investing in this path, and it’s not a long-term, viable position to not have an actionable strategy to miss the boat on knowing your customer in a way that is valuable, actionable and profitable.

But first, let’s clear up some of the confusion that we’ve been hearing for at least a year now: Is omnichannel more than the buzzword of 2015, or is it something much more important?

Multichannel
At the most basic level, “multi” means many. As soon as you adopted your second or third channel, be it a catalog or an e-commerce website, your organization became a multichannel organization. Multichannel came quickly—as it’s not uncommon that the majority of a customer base has made a purchase across more than one channel—whether you have that resolution or not is another matter, and often requires a smarter approach to collection.

Digital growth is accelerating channel expansion. With the explosion of online and digital channels and the rapid adoption of mobile smartphones, tablets and now wearables, digital can no longer be viewed as a single channel. We now have the merging and proliferation of digital, physical and traditional channels.

Many marketers have experienced as much challenge in juggling an increasing number of channels as there is opportunity. But digital channels, of course, are more measurable and challenge the traditional approaches by bringing a greater resolution and visibility for some, and confusion for others.

Key factors in leveraging, managing, and maximizing those channels include:

  • Competencies developed in the organization
  • Identifying third-party competencies, especially in digital partnerships
  • The culture of the organization
  • Support for change and innovation in marketing
  • The depth of technical capability in an organization

As channel usage expands, data assets “pile up,” though most of the data in its raw format is of limited practical use and less actionable as one would hope. From the inside of dozens of IT organizations, the refrain is common; “We’re just capturing everything right now.” Creating marketing value would require strategists and the business units.

Omnichannel Is the Way Forward
While most organizations are still working through mastering their channels and the data they perpetually generate, the next wave of both competitive advantage and threats have come with them. The customer learns what works for them relatively quickly and easily, adopting new channels and buying where they want, how they want. Those touches are often lower touch, and introduce intermediaries, and are surrounded by contextual advertising, often from competitors.

Omnichannel buyers aren’t just more complex, they are substantially more valuable. We’ve seen them be as much as twice as valuable as those whose relationship is on a single channel. Perhaps this a reflection of the greater engagement with the brand.

Delivering that omnichannel experience will require more thought, focus and expertise than before. It requires the integration of systems, apps and experiences in a way that’s meaningful—to the customer—and that of course requires an integration of the data about those purchases and experiences.

To serve the business, the Omnichannel Readiness Process has six components, each of which require thoughtful consideration:

1. Capture—many organizations are aware that they need to capture “the data.” The challenge here is shifting to what to capture, and what they may be missing. The key challenge is: It’s impossible to capture “everything” without understanding how it can and should be used and leveraged. How that data is captured in terms of format and organization is of great importance.

2. Consolidate—In order to act on the omnichannel reality, we must have all our data in one place. In the ongoing effort to find the balance between cost, speed and value, “silos” have been built to house various data components. Those data sources must be consolidated through a process that is not quite trivial if those data sources are to create value in the customer experience and over the customer lifetime.

3. Enhance—Even after we’ve pulled our data together into an intelligent framework and model, built to support the business needs, virtually every marketer is missing data that consumers generally don’t provide, or don’t provide reliably on a self-reported basis. “Completing the customer record” requires planning and investing in appropriate third-party data. This will be a requirement if we’re to utilize tools and technology to mine for opportunity in our customer base.

4. Transform—much of the data we need to perform the kinds of analysis and create the kinds of communication that maximize response now, and the customer value over time, utilizes the derivation of new data points from the data you already have. Here is one example: Inter-order purchase time. Calculating the number of days between purchases for every customer in your base allows you to see whose purchase cadences are similar, faster, slower or in decline. On average, we’ll derive hundreds of such fields. This is one example of how a marketer can “mine” data for evidence of opportunity worth acting on and investing in.

5. Summarize—The richest view of a customer with the best data in its most complete state is a lot to digest. So to help make it actionable, we must roll it up into logical and valuable cohorts and components. Call them what you will—segments, personas or models—they are derivative groups that have value and potential that you can act on and learn from.

Many marketers traditionally spend 80 percent to 90 percent of their time and effort on getting their data to a point where it serves both the omnichannel customer and their brand. However, marketers can do better with emerging tools and technologies.There is no replacement for solid data strategy that is built around the customer, but efficiencies can be gained that speed time-to-value in an omnichannel environment.

6. Communicate—The prep work has been done, you’ve found the pockets of opportunity, now it’s time to deliver on the expectations the omnichannel customer holds for marketers. At this juncture, we need to quickly craft and deploy messages that resonate in ways consumers will think about their situation and your brand. They must address the concerns they have and the desires and opportunities they tend to perceive.

Omnichannel customers expect you will recognize them for their loyalty and their engagement with your brand at multiple levels, and that those experiences will be tailored in small ways that can make a bigger difference.

They expect your story to better-fit with their own, if not complete it. That sounds like a dramatic promise, but the ability to know your customers and engage them in the way they prefer, and at scale, is upon us.

Keep It Relevant to Your Business
This entire process must include of course, the answers to key business questions about the types of discoveries we’d make and questions we’d answer with it—for example, does the Web cannibalize our traditional channels? (Hint: It surely doesn’t have to).

That said, we’ve learned to start with the most basic questions—and are not surprised when there are no robust answers:

1. How many customers do you have today?

2. Do you have a working definition of a High Value or Most Valuable Customer?

3. If so, how many of those customers do you have?

4. How many customers did you gain this past quarter? How many did you lose?

a. Assuming you know how many you lost, what was the working definition of a lost customer?

5. How many customers have bought more than once?

6. What’s the value of your “average” customer, understanding that averages are misleading and synthetic numbers are not to be trusted? But we can measure where other customers are in terms of their distance from the mean.

7. Who paid full price? Who bought at discount? Who did both? How many of all the above?

8. For those who bought “down-market,” did they trade up?

9. How many times does a customer or logical customer group (let’s call them “segments,” for now) buy? How long, on average, is it between their purchases? And the order sizes, all channels included?

10. All this, of course, gets back to understanding more deeply, “Who is your customer?” While all this information about how they engage and buy from us is powerful, how old are they? Where are they from? What is relevant to them?

Now, even if a marketer could get the answers to all of these questions, how does this relate to this “Omnichannel” Evolution?

Simple. It only relates to your customer. Of course, they are the most important actors in this business of marketing—in fact in the business of business. What this really means is deceptively simple, often overlooked, and awesomely powerful:

Omnichannel Is Singularly Focused on Customers, Not Channels
It’s about the customer, and having the resources, data and insights at your disposal to serve that customer better. Virtually all of your customers are “multichannel” already. Granted, some are more dominantly influenced by a single channel. For example, online through the voice of the “crowd.” But even then, the point of omnichannel only means one thing: Know your customers across all the channels on which they engage with you. Note the chasm between having the dexterity to examine and serve customers across all the channels, and just knowing their transactions, behaviors or directional, qualitative descriptors.

So “knowing the customer” really means having ready access to actionable customer data. Think about it. If your understanding of your customer data isn’t actionable, how well do you really know your customer in the first place?

Considering the 10 questions above, and evaluating the answers in terms of the most important questions about your customers, is a solid starting point.

When you’ve worked through all of these, you’re now ready to create experiences and communications for customers that are not only relevant, but valuable—to your customer and to the business.

When you’re adding value and are channel-agnostic, as you must become, you’ve achieved the coveted omnichannel distinction that market leaders are bringing to bear already.

Not only is this an impressive accomplishment professionally, it surely is—but remember—it’s the customer we have to impress.

What Is ‘Omnichannel’? And Is It Different From ‘Multichannel’?

This is the year of “omnichannel” based on the amount of occurrences that I’ve heard this term. I’ve never been a fan of jargon—but I sure use it enough in some of my clients’ communications, often at their request. When I comply, I usually advise that a short explanation may be in order upon first reference to help define whatever the term is and to set a marketplace expectation. So what does “omnichannel” mean to me?

This is the year of “omnichannel” based on the amount of occurrences that I’ve heard this term.

I’ve never been a fan of jargon—but I sure use it enough in some of my clients’ communications, often at their request. When I comply, I usually advise that a short explanation may be in order upon first reference to help define whatever the term is and to set a marketplace expectation.

Often enough, analyst firms rush to fill the void too, explaining such terms as “big data,” “customer experience,” “customer engagement” and the like.

The good thing about being marketers and communicators is that we are all also consumers and business people and are able to put our own perspectives on the customer side of the equation. We all recognize we have more power now as consumers (though we’ve always had ultimate power in the wallet), and that what was once pure hit-or-miss with advertising (the consumer side of spray-and-pray) is more often, today, data-driven dialogue with the many brands we use.

So what does “omnichannel” mean to me, as a consumer?

  1. That a brand that I choose to use—and possibly have a data-based relationship with—will recognize me uniquely as a customer, no matter what the channel.
  2. That the data such brands may have about me is shared throughout the organization, so that all parts of the organization—sales, marketing, customer service, finance, in-store, Web, mobile, social, partners, service providers—can act in coordination.
  3. That I am respected as a customer and treated royally. Of course, this is about the products and services I buy and use. It is also about extending to me notice and choice about channel preferences, and possibly subject preferences, and that all data about me is secured.
  4. That I actually expect (and in some cases, demand) that brands actually use data about me to make brand messaging and content more relevant to me. If you collect or track information, please use it—wisely!
  5. That if I’m not yet a customer—that is, if I’m still a prospect—that points 3 and 4 still apply from a prospect’s perspective. I understand points 1 and 2 are about customers, but even here, some elements of prospecting require careful coordination to respect my time.

On a practical level, this “omnichannel” expectation requires brands to remove channel and function silos on the brand-side and walk the talk on customer relationship management, customer-centric marketing, customer experience, lead nurturing and other advertising and marketing processes that reflect today’s brand-customer dialogue.

It also requires that marketers invest in data governance, data quality, data-sharing technology platforms, analytics, preference centers, multivariate testing, employee and partner training and strategies to work toward this omnichannel vision, that is, from this consumer’s perspective.

Suffice to say, multichannel—interacting with customers in multiple channels—is a journey stop to omnichannel. Omnichannel is smart marketing, realized—and very hard work. As a communications professional, I’ll be attending several omnichannel learning venues this Spring to see how brands are trying to make this vision happen.

For those in the New York area:

On April 23: http://www.dmcny.org/event/2013-breakfast-series-3 (Direct Marketing Club of New York)

On May 22: http://www.dmixclub.com/CMS_Files/index.php (Direct Marketing Idea Xchange: This is an invitation-only event for qualified senior-level marketers. Please reach out to me if you would like to be invited.)

On June 10: http://www.imweek.org/ (Direct Marketing Association, in cooperation with eConsultancy)