Being an omnivore can have its advantages-as evidenced by the evolutionary dominance humans have enjoyed over other animals that only eat meat or plants. Likewise, being an omnichannel marketer may give you a leg up on your competition in the survival-of-the-fittest game of appealing to contemporary consumers, say the experts.
Historically, customer experiences occurred in a single channel-such as a brick-and-mortar store. In the 1990s and 2000s, multichannel experiences became popular, in which engagement with consumers could take place in any one of several channels, including retail stores, web sites, and call centers. Today, however, customers demand more.
"They expect omnichannel experiences where any given interaction may initiate in one channel and finish in another," says Shannon Warner, assistant vice president of retail consulting for Cognizant.
"Omnichannel is creating a seamless customer experience across channels, and it requires connecting data collected in each channel to enhance a consumer's journey through the buying process," says Meyar Sheik, CEO/co-founder of Certona. "With the explosion of smartphones, tablets and expanding technologies, it is becoming rare for consumers to shop in just one channel."
Sheik explains that, while multichannel makes use of more than one channel to reach a customer, the channels are not necessarily connected. Omnichannel, by contrast, brings channels together, but requires converging business units under a unified set of business goals and success drivers, democratizing data to create an interconnected flow across all channels, and leveraging data across channels to create efficiencies and better customer experiences.
"It means creating an experience with your brand that is audience- and brand-centric rather than driven solely by the channel," says Jeff Johnson, senior vice president and managing director for Primacy. He cites as examples heavy Twitter action seen during the airing of popular TV shows like Dancing With the Stars and the seamless transition between streaming video channels like Netflix and Hulu.
"The simplest example of omnichannel is moving from one tool to another, say a desktop PC to a smartphone. We want to have access to the same content and we want it formatted right for that tool without having to slow down," marketing consultant Edward Chenard says. "Content providers need to think about that seamless experience, as consumers will hop from the desktop to a tablet to a phone and back, and the content needs to adjust as smoothly as the customer can."
While digital marketing remains important, it needs to capitalize more on digital customer touch-points as media consumption and ad spending shifts, noted Warner, who added that digital marketing should be treated as an integral part of a holistic marketing plan.
Jason Thibeault, senior director of marketing strategy for Limelight Networks, says ad technology is beginning to keep pace with the omnichannel trend, although challenges remain. "Ad technology that understands what I've been doing on different devices influences the placement and display of ads. But true omnichannel must take into account data from other sources and applications to further personalize the digital experience," says Thibeault. "The problem right now is that there isn't continuity between ad technology platforms, and we aren't making that sharing available. Google doesn't know me on Facebook and (vice versa)."
Digital publishers and electronic content providers need to jump aboard the omnichannel bandwagon sooner rather than later, Warner says. "[They] must take advantage of the massive amounts of data available to them to derive actionable insights. They need to leverage those insights to create hyper-personalized messages, product suggestions and promotions and to deliver the marketing to customers through the most effective channels at precisely the right times," says Warner. "The days of winning customers' attention through daily email spam, mass banner ads and newspaper circulars are over."
Rory Dennis, North American general manager at Amplience, agreed, adding that omnichannel marketing provides digital content providers a unique opportunity to create personalized, rich campaign materials to help brands grow and reach broader audiences across myriad channels.
"By embracing new design methodologies like responsive web design and rich media content management systems, brands are able to deliver dynamic content across all devices and in all formats," says Dennis. "However, successful omnichannel execution first requires a deep understanding of how an audience interacts with content across different platforms. Do consumers use your content on a smartphone the way they do on a laptop or tablet? Or does behavior vary depending on the device?"
Once they understand the consumers' interaction and engagement habits, "publishers can implement the correct combination of rich media elements for each given device," Dennis says.
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