Why ‘Omnichannel’ Is No Passing Fad

tedprince“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Ted Prince, senior vice president of media and new ventures for Neustar Inc.

The marketing industry has a long history of embracing emerging trends, then dismissing them as passing fads, buzzwords or just obvious. Does this mean today’s big “omnichannel” trend is destined for the fad pile?

Let’s hope not. While there certainly are some challenges, omnichannel retailing really does have the potential to revolutionize the market. More than just keeping pace with new channels as they emerge, a comprehensive and well-executed omnichannel strategy can greatly enhance consumer relationships, yielding tangible value.

Of course, the concept of tracking consumers across all channels -- online and offline -- isn’t new: Mega-agency Young & Rubicam unveiled what it called “The Whole Egg” back in 1972, when the user universe was far less fragmented than it is now. Almost immediately, the idea began drawing criticism from those who doubted its potential value.

But things have changed since then, and not only because of the staggering array of media formats and channels, which virtually mandate an omnichannel approach. The advances we now take for granted in media, data and technology give us unprecedented opportunities to integrate content and coordinate message delivery across all of these media types. Those new developments can give us more holistic insight into consumer audiences for the first time, and could enable the industry to finally make the long-held omnichannel concept a reality.

Industry professionals get it. In a survey released in June by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Winterberry Group,  91.7% of marketing executives said they see real value in these strategies, and 82.4% intended to pursue them in the near future. The greatest benefits of omnichannel strategies, according to respondents, are improved brand identity and recognition, which topped gains in response rates and revenue growth. The fact that the trend is evolving at a rapid rate is also on the industry’s mind: While only 25% say cross-platform products are already very important in driving customer engagement, 79% believe they will be crucial in the near future.

It’s no wonder. By improving long-term customer communication -- making the interactions more valuable to customers and better aligning messages with the overarching business strategy -- omnichannel offers the potential of a truly customer-centered promotional approach for the first time. It’s more than just outreach capabilities than span every media type, such as TV, digital video, online display, direct mail, etc. It also integrates all the informational, transactional and customer-service vehicles that connect brands with customers -- including email, mobile, e-commerce portals, physical point-of-sale platforms and more -- in order to apply lessons from one customer to another.

How To Get There

The ultimate mission is informed engagement with consumer audiences to optimize the lifetime value of relationships, rather than the tactical goals of any one channel. Likewise, an omnichannel strategy should be designed to support the strategic aims of the enterprise, not just the tactical needs of the marketer.

All this will require wholesale transformation of today’s marketing and media infrastructure. That’s no easy task, and there’s no single formula for omnichannel strategies. However, here are some key factors that I think will grow increasingly important:

  • Customer analytics and multiplatform attribution: These factors are needed to build the foundation of a deeper understanding of the customer and the engagement strategy.
  • Rich content: Optimized for context and strategic intent, this content ideally enhances the value of every consumer interaction and supports a range of tactics for branding and performance.
  • Operational infrastructure for customer engagement: This includes media-buying and -selling tools that support various channels (and metrics), as well as business processes, incentive structures and key performance indicators aligned with those channels.
  • Cross-platform, audience-driven media products: These products will allow advertisers to better identify and engage with customer segments through their chosen platforms.
  • Integrated and engaging, yet disconnected, channels: For now, these include addressable TV, mobile video and out-of-home media; others will surely emerge.
  • The omnichannel strategist as a senior role: Having a senior executive focused on omnichannel strategy is needed to ensure accountability and coordination of customer decisioning, product development, pricing and other critical functions.

It Won’t Be Easy

To put it bluntly, omnichannel isn’t easy. It requires a delicate orchestration of owned and independent media, data, technology, creative assets, workflows and other overlapping resources. It requires a unified identity throughout all those elements, and mandates fundamental behavior changes from marketers (as well as media providers, technology suppliers and agency partners) who have been weaned on a very different approach. And it seeks value through a deceptively simple premise -- “Let’s think about how we interact with customers” -- that offers little in the way of obvious, tangible next steps.

At the same time, the potential is undeniable. Omnichannel marketing presents a platform for delivering credible, thoughtful content that can respond to the shifting norms of a social-media society. It offers an opportunity to streamline, standardize and optimize a number of back-end functions associated with analytics, measurement and marketing operations, all while boosting performance. It sets the stage for enhanced integration of strategy and promotional execution through an automated “programmatic” capability. And finally, it brings the opportunity to elevate the influence and importance of marketing -- and with it advertising, media, customer insight and all its associated functions -- within the enterprise.

Strategic consumer engagement means building a relationship that is credible, authentic and grounded in mutual values. Omnichannel marketing offers the best way to do this. And that, in my opinion, makes it far from being just a fad.

Follow Neustar (@NeustarInc) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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