Omni Channel Marketing – Fiction or Reality?

Just when marketers were getting the hang of multi-channel marketing, here comes omni-channel marketing – the industry’s newest Holy Grail. “Retailers Share their Omni-Channel Experiments”, blogs Wall Street Journal. “7 Inspiring Examples of Omni-Channel” thunders HubSpot. But what exactly is omni-channel marketing? And is it something that marketers need to adopt?

Multi-channel communication is about maximizing communication reach. People, increasingly are using multiple devices and channels (i.e. social, messaging) to communicate. They use some channels more than others, respond differently across channels, and switch channels depending on time and location. So to reach broadest level of audience, one needs to use multiple channels.

Today, being present in multiple channels is essential – but it does not guarantee success. To succeed, you need to ensure consistency, continuity and coherence in communication across channels. This is only possible if customer’s identity and interaction context is shared in real-time across different channels. This is the essence of omni-channel marketing.

Marketo defines omni-channel as “orchestrating customer experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated and consistent”. Hubspot, defines it in similar terms – “Customer can be shopping online … in bricks and mortar … and the experience would be seamless… Omni-channel accounts for each platform and device … and … deliver(s) an integrated experience”

These terms – integrated, seamless, consistent, and coherence – are vacuous at best. The best way to understand this concept is to walk through a typical customer journey – say you are looking to replace an old laptop.

You start the journey by firing up the old laptop; check the newest laptops on the website of the leading online retailer. You like one of Dell’s ultra-notebook, put it on the online cart, but decide to wait to discuss with your spouse.

Exhausted, with all the bewildering technology jargon, you check your friends on Facebook with your iPad. You are taken aback a little by an advertisement from the same retailer for the Dell laptop you selected.

You still not have had time for your morning caffeine fix. So you drive to the neighborhood Starbuck, and while waiting in line, get a text message – again from the same retailer - with a 1-day promotion for a Dell laptop. That does the trick and helps make up your mind.

You get home, but your spouse wonders whether the extended product warranty makes sense. You call the retailers hotline to know more. You are pleasantly surprised to be greeted by an agent who is fully aware of the Dell ultra-notebook laptop you have selected, and quickly educates you on the terms of Dell’s extended warranty.

This is the essence of omni-channel marketing. Yes the online retailer is present in multiple channels - but there is a big difference. There is consistency, continuity, and coherence of communication across channels. The messaging seamless without the customer having to do anything. And customer’s interaction context is at the center of this coordinated multi-channel communication. Is the above scenario, reality or fiction?

I for one have never experienced all elements of omni-channel marketing. Some problems like ensuring session information (online cart in our scenario) is shared across devices have been solved. Others like matching, in real-time, online identity - your retailer account information – with offline identity – the phone call you made – is still a few years away.

But marketing automation technology is gradually overcoming some of the hurdles in the way. So it is time for marketers to slowly and incrementally start adopting omni-channel marketing.

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