Part I: An Intro to Omnichannel Marketing

Part I of MERGE’s seven-part series on omnichannel marketing takes a look at what omnichannel is, how we define it and offers a preview of the critical components for building an effective omnichannel ecosystem

PUBLISHED: 5/2/2023

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 multi-channel strategy do so by reaching customers through an array of mediums - both digital and physical - that helps 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 multi-channel 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 a 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 is data. Just like oil, the data needs 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 is ultimately what allows this whole process to work more and more effectively and efficiently over time. 

“The data makes 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 touch point 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 touch point. 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 touch point, 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…

 

Now that your omnichannel palette has been whetted, the MERGE team primes you for a more insightful look at some of the finer points of omnichannel strategy in the upcoming installments of this ongoing content series.

  • Part II - Journey Mapping: What are our segmented targets thinking, feeling, and doing as they move through the customer journey?
  • Part III - Creative Content: Understanding who you’re communicating with, what matters to them, and syncing with where they are at in their journey of discovery
  • Part IV - Media Activation: Introducing media activation strategies built around a deeper understanding of target audience journeys, needs, demographics, and media consumption habits
  • Part V - Data Capture and Analytics: How to set up learning systems from a data capture and insights mining perspective
  • Part VI - CRM: The must-dos for empowering an effective CRM program as part of an overall omnichannel ecosystem
  • Part VII - Performance Analytics and Optimization: The most important considerations for installing an effective data capture and performance analytics program