Theoretically, omni-channel is a simple concept: Customers aren't buying online or offline -- they're buying from a brand. In fact, every marketing touch-point leading up to the purchase is part of their journey and brand experience. Having a consistent message and unified goals at every point of contact along the way is quickly becoming a necessity -- not an optional luxury -- in a good marketing campaign. Putting theory into practice, however, isn't always as easy as the otherwise simple idea suggests.
Although all marketing channels and initiatives in an omni-channel approach work together, there has to be a dominant leader that sets the pace for these campaigns. Mobile -- always at hand and increasingly used by shoppers to access the world around them -- is the perfect key to unlocking all the possibilities inherent in programs comprised of diverse paths to a shared destination.
Omni-channel is the newer and more holistic answer to cross-channel or multichannel programs, which means that most brands still haven't wrapped their heads around how to make it work for them. But there are ways to stay ahead of the curve and make mobile the linchpin of your omni-channel strategy.
Think of mobile as a connector
Mobile shouldn't be just one component on a to-do list. It should act as a link that takes the consumer from one campaign channel (perhaps a commercial or print ad) to the ultimate destination (such as an app download or online store) -- but how? One of the simpler and more obvious ways is to include custom calls-to-action on each channel -- broadcast, print, email, web, etc. -- directing shoppers to their cell phones where they can execute a quick, easy task (such as typing in a code) that then transports them from point A to point B.
Aside from simply getting them to your intended destination, this is a great way to let customers opt in to opportunities to receive brand-related goodies such as promos and discounts, as well as to allow their data to be shared across channels for a more personal, individualized approach. Mobile amplifies the efforts of every other channel and makes the connections between them. No matter where customers see the CTA, they'll go right to their phones and take action.
Use story building to improve the overall brand experience
Most current multichannel marketing strategies consist of taking one brand message and tweaking it slightly to fit the channel at hand. There's the broadcast ad messaging, the social media messaging, the online video messaging -- and they're all saying the same thing. It's consistent, but also somewhat dull. Instead, try story building -- telling a multidimensional story that unfolds in various ways, with each channel assigned a different piece of the plot. Some marketers nervously assume they'll be losing control of consumer interaction with the narrative, but in actuality story building can provide more fine-tuned control. When shoppers opt-in to allow use of their behavioral data, that information -- where they are, what they're seeking, and what's sure to grab their attention -- helps predict how the diverse parts of the story attracts a wide assortment of customer segments.
Turn user engagement into purchasing power
Timeliness is a crucial factor in mobile's importance to an omni-channel strategy. Once shoppers are hooked into the brand's story, they'll want ways to engage with that story in real time. Mobile has the immediacy and intimacy to give consumers what they want precisely when they want it -- think of branded apps that make use of simple geo-location info, immediate pop-ups of product coupons while shopping in-store, or bonus loyalty points for social media check-ins. There are also mentions that map out where in the aisles certain shopping list items are in a given store and scanning an object and accessing information on similar items sold both in-store and online.
Omni-channel marketing blurs the boundaries between online and offline commerce to the point of irrelevance, as consumers can now connect with brands whenever they want in whatever way they choose. With mobile as the central strategic touch-point, brands can learn more about customers than previously possible, while shoppers can complete purchases in ways deemed unimaginable a couple of years back -- a win-win situation!
Joe Gillespie is CEO and president at Zoove.
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