For brands and their customers, the traditional path to conversion no longer applies - at least to the extent it used to. Of course, leading a potential customer down the well-worn path from “awareness” to “consideration” to “conversion” is still applicable in some cases, but in this rapidly evolving digital age, consumers have shown a greater likelihood to skip some of these conventional steps and become brand advocates rather expeditiously.
Much of this relies on messaging to targeted customers, but perhaps more importantly, it hinges on the timeliness in which customers receive said messages and their overall experience with your brand. With this, the onus is on brands to create and deliver a seamless and comprehensive omnichannel experience powered by the ability to share data across platforms in order to connect with customers precisely where they’re at, at precisely the right time, via precisely the right channels.
What is omnichannel?
Even the most tenured individuals in marketing can get confused about what it means to employ an omnichannel strategy. The term "omnichannel" is often mistaken with “multichannel,” the latter of which is an approach that many brands utilize today. Brands that employ a multichannel strategy do so by reaching customers through an array of mediums - both digital and physical - that help support customers during their journey. The traditional multichannel approach, while comprehensive in the ability to “make noise,” is wasteful and far less efficient. In short, it creates the feeling of someone talking at you versus talking with you.
Additionally, the issue with a traditional multichannel approach is that it lacks cohesion between channels and platforms. As a result, audience data is siloed, resulting in messaging and content being shared with target audiences (and non-targets) during their journey in excessive amounts and at inopportune times, leading to an aimless, inefficient, and at best fragmented customer experience.
Conversely, omnichannel aims to put the customer more squarely at the center of its strategy. By using data to cater to the various ways in which target audiences engage with brands, we are able to craft messages and experiences that are consistent with where the customer is along their journey, thereby increasing relevance regardless of the channel, be it digital media, CRM, or a traditional sales call.
“Creating an omnichannel experience is really about re-architecting your approach to customer engagement - moving from siloed media activation to a systems approach to audience experience design,” says Patrick McGloin, Chief Client Officer at MERGE. “Media activation is a part of the omnichannel experience, but just one part of a much larger and more sophisticated system.”
Success in creating an omnichannel ecosystem is grounded in a deep understanding of the target audience’s decision journey and having a learning system in place that is capable of providing the right content to that target audience within the right context to help them make more informed decisions.
Context is a combination of channel, journey timing, and content format. The ultimate goal is to create a frictionless experience, which means that the entirety of the process needs to be connected.
“Think of it like an oil pipeline,” says McGloin. “But in this case, what flows through the system are data. Just like oil, the data need to be mined, refined, and delivered to where it offers the most value. In our case, that would be in the form of an insight that drives more effective actions in the future. The data are ultimately what allows this whole process to work more and more effectively and efficiently over time.
“The data make you smarter about who you're targeting and more relevant in what you say to those targets, allowing you to improve on the experience and ultimately to track success of the overall omni approach.”
It's also critical to have a clear understanding of the brand so you can deliver a consistent brand experience at every stage of the journey. It’s really the only way to build a stronger connection with the customer, as without a consistent brand experience, the journey for the customer can feel overtly transactional, making it more difficult to build genuine long-term loyalty. It’s an often neglected step in the process where a lot of strategies can fall short.
Being contextually relevant at every touchpoint is another integral place where many fail to deliver. To be truly omnichannel across each and every channel, from personal to non-personal and everything in between, you need to engage with the customer in a way that's appropriate for that touchpoint. As people, we communicate across different channels in different ways.
In this case, a brand is no different than a person. If you aim to deliver a consistent brand experience across every touchpoint, regardless of channel, it’s necessary to understand how to position your brand in different channels to ensure it appears in a way that makes sense to the audience you’re attempting to connect with.
Lastly, it’s important to avoid cookie-cutter solutions - yet another area where many brands are left wanting with their omnichannel strategy. It’s virtually impossible to be contextually relevant AND deliver a consistent brand experience if you're trying to apply a cookie-cutter approach to content. It takes a creative team who understands the nuances surrounding the brand, the customer, their journey, and knows how to show up in a way that's appropriate across channels.
Installing the structure is easier said than done, to be sure. However, once the machine is up and running and the creatives have the data and insights to help refine their content, omnichannel can be a veritable game changer for brands.
A look ahead…
The complete omnichannel marketing series is below:
Part One: An Intro to Omnichannel Marketing
Part Two: Mastering the Art of Journey Mapping in Pharma
Part Three: Captivating Customers with Creative Content
Part Four: Making the Most Out Of Media Activation
Part Five: A Deep Dive On Data Capture and Analytics
Part Six: Keys to Supercharging Your CRM Program
Part Seven: Optimizing Your Omnichannel Strategy With Data and Look-alike Models