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The modern purchasing experience involves an increasing number of channels — like social media, physical storefronts, email, and mobile apps — creating an opportunity for organizations to optimize the buyer journey.
The average customer engages in between 20 and 500 brand touchpoints before making a purchase. Each touchpoint can provide organizations with key customer insights to personalize their experience across channels and touchpoints. Historically, however, organizations operated in siloes that restricted the flow of customer data.
Omnichannel marketing emerged as a concept around 2010 for marketers to connect data across the many different touchpoints in a customer’s journey to create a seamless and personalized experience across all channels.
What is omnichannel marketing?
Omnichannel marketing creates a seamless experience regardless of where or how the customer engages with a brand. It uses insights from a customer’s actions on one channel and reflects those insights across all other channels and brand interactions.
The common omnichannel marketing channels can include:
- Physical storefront
- Mobile application(s)
- Email marketing
- Social media
- Instant messaging or chat channels
- Text messages (SMS)
- Online community or communities
- Virtual or in-person events
- Virtual reality or metaverse environments
Many brand touchpoints take place within each of these channels and can affect the customer experience.
For example, a physical storefront can include fitting or dressing rooms, the point of sale, and distinct areas within the store where customers may need assistance. The customer might use other channels to complement the in-store experience, like using the store website to confirm hours, checking social media or email for discounts, and using the mobile app to order a product and picking it up in-store.
The omnichannel approach breaks down the barriers between channels and enables organizations to approach customers with highly relevant messages, no matter where they are.
Building on the physical storefront example, a customer who purchases an item in-store could later receive an email suggesting a complementary product instead of a generic product — showing that the organization understands the customers’ interests.
By implementing an omnichannel strategy, organizations can deliver relevant and timely messages to target audiences like:
- Email non-openers with a paid ad on social media
- Highly engaged audiences with a push notification or SMS
- Customers who abandon their shopping cart with an email and SMS
- New product users with a series of help guides and how-to articles through email
Multichannel marketing vs. omnichannel marketing
Omnichannel marketing is often confused with multichannel marketing. While related, they are two different marketing approaches.
The prefix omni- means all, whereas multi- means many or multiple. This gives a solid clue about the difference between omnichannel and multichannel approaches.
In omnichannel marketing, the customer or consumer is the focus and organizations meet them wherever they are. Omnichannel marketing reflects all interactions across channels and changes future interactions based on the customer’s activities.
For example, an omnichannel journey may include:
- A customer visits a physical store location and receives a coupon
- After visiting the store and not making a purchase, the customer could receive a text message reminding them of their coupon and encouraging them to browse online
- While online, the customer receives suggested products based on their past purchases
Multichannel marketing, however, is more of a top-down approach, where the organization decides which channel(s) it will invest in, and each channel operates independently (meaning no data is shared across channels). Multichannel marketing often focuses on a specific product/service and reaches buyers most interested in those offerings.
As an example of multichannel marketing, a customer could receive a text message promoting a product, they purchase that product, and later in the week receive an email promoting the product they just purchased.
Cross-channel marketing vs. omnichannel marketing
Cross-channel marketing falls between multichannel marketing and omnichannel marketing in terms of integration.
In a cross-channel marketing strategy, teams connect channels and share information across them, unlike in multichannel marketing. This means a customer could make a purchase online and later receive a thank-you email asking them to take a survey about the experience.
Cross-channel marketing starts to break down organizational siloes, but it isn’t the fully integrated experience of omnichannel marketing. Omnichannel takes cross-channel marketing one step further and focuses on blending experiences across channels, not just fulfilling customer needs within each channel. Instead, it lightly supports a handoff across channels.
What are the benefits of an omnichannel marketing strategy?
An organization’s product or service quality is no longer enough to keep customers — 80% of customers say their experience with a company is equally important as the product or services.
The majority of consumers want brands to use their data to improve their experience. Further, 65% of customers and 78% of business buyers expect companies to adapt to their changing needs and preferences (something that is only possible with a complete look at their data).
Omnichannel marketing is one of the best ways to fulfill customers’ evolving needs and build customer loyalty, and there are measurable benefits to adopting an omnichannel marketing strategy:
- Nearly one in three shoppers will abandon a brand for a competitor if they receive communications or offers unrelated to their shopping behavior.
- Customers who engage on multiple channels shop 1.7 times more than customers who use a single channel, and they spend more.
When organizations maintain a consistent brand presence across channels and tailor unique messages to address individual customers, they can improve the customer experience — which increases conversations, optimizes media spend, and delivers a higher ROI.
Omnichannel marketing examples
Omnichannel marketing strategies can benefit both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations. Consider these examples:
B2B fintech company omnichannel marketing
Although many published case studies focus on how B2C organizations have implemented an omnichannel marketing strategy, the approach can be equally important for B2B brands (which commonly have much longer sales cycles).
As a hypothetical example:
- A B2B buyer could download a gated white paper about the benefits of automation in accounts payable, which enters them into the email marketing cycle.
- The first email invites the buyer to complete their profile, which asks them to select the topic(s) they’re most interested in learning about (like digital payments, financial security, or compliance).
- The following emails discuss topics related to the whitepaper and the buyer’s selected interests. Email engagement data like links clicked should inform future communications through email or paid advertisement.
- Once the buyer makes a purchase, they could receive a 30-minute onboarding call, in which they receive a detailed product walk-through. Any information shared during this call will supplement the customer profile to inform future communications.
Disney omnichannel marketing
Disney is commonly celebrated for its omnichannel strategy and ‘My Disney Experience’ tool, which helps visitors plan their trips through a mobile app or website. When they arrive at the park, the tool provides maps and estimated ride wait times. It also integrates with other channels, including email and text, to send visitors important information or timely notifications when they matter most!
Netflix and Hulu omnichannel marketing
Video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu employ similar omnichannel marketing tactics to keep their customers engaged with the service. When new users sign up, they are encouraged to select several shows or movies to inform their recommendations. These inputs affect not just the in-app experience, but the email marketing they receive.
As a user’s watch history builds, the services can deliver more intelligent recommendations and proactively alert viewers when new content is ready — like sending an email when a new season of their favorite show is available. The viewing experience is also consistent across devices, and customers can pick up where they left off on any show, regardless of where or how they are watching it.
REI omnichannel marketing
Specialty outdoor retailer REI has built its omnichannel strategy over several years, aiming to give customers consistent experiences and deliver personalized messages. The REI website shows inventory for nearby stores and online stock, giving customers flexibility on how they choose to order. Customers can use the REI mobile app to scan in-store barcodes and access detailed product descriptions. REI has also built robust customer segments to deliver emails and text messages tailored based on purchase history and preferences.
Starbucks omnichannel marketing
The Starbucks app gives customers total control over their experience. The app links to a customer’s rewards card so they earn points with every purchase. Customers can also view their point balance or load money onto their account to handle payments wherever they choose to shop. All changes reflect across every channel, meaning customers can rest assured they’ll receive a top-tier experience every time. The app also integrates with other communication channels, including email and text to ensure customers get relevant messages that reflect their preferences.
Omnichannel marketing best practices
There are many common pitfalls of implementing an omnichannel marketing strategy. The following best practices are proven to help overcome the challenges:
- Conduct customer interviews - Supplement customer insights through direct 1:1 conversations or polls. These learnings can help improve customer journey maps.
- Prioritize customer data management - One of the biggest hurdles for an omnichannel marketing strategy is incomplete or disconnected customer data. Ensure your team is fully trained on customer data management and consider adopting tools like a composable customer data platform (CDP) to make the process easier.
- Unify the company branding - While it’s important to personalize specific customer messages, it’s also critical to ensure all communications and experiences reflect the same branding and brand identity. This way, customers recognize messages as coming from the same organization.
- Optimize for multiple devices - Customers engage with brands from an increasing number of screens and devices. Test all messages and campaigns across devices, including iOS and Android mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, and laptops or desktops.
How can my team build an omnichannel marketing strategy?
Building an omnichannel marketing strategy is a way for organizations to future-proof their sales and marketing strategy. Take the following steps to get started:
Gather important stakeholders
Create a committee to discuss the organization’s current marketing approach and identify how to mature into an omnichannel strategy. Gather representatives from across the organization, including members of any customer-facing teams like sales and customer support, as well as IT and technical support and members of the C-suite leadership.
Ensure you have a single view of the customer
The only way to deliver an effective omnichannel experience is to ensure all online and offline customer data is available in one centralized location — a concept known as customer 360. Having a single view of the customer ensures the organization has every potential data point that could influence a customer’s omnichannel experience. This also enables the organization to implement tools to automate experiences and deliver personalized messages using customer data.
Review your customer journey/journey maps
Review any customer journey maps or individual journey maps. There may be multiple journey maps based on different customer personas or segments, so gather every map — or create them — before starting.
When reviewing the journey maps, ask your committee the following questions:
- How do customers currently interact with the brand?
- What are the major touchpoints?
- Which channels does the strategy currently support?
- What gaps exist between what customers want and what the brand provides?
Find opportunities to connect touchpoints
After understanding where all customer touchpoints are, organizations should try to improve connectivity across touchpoints to deliver a true omnichannel experience. In some cases, the organization may need to implement a centralized data warehouse or data cloud to ensure customer data can be shared across all online and offline channels.
This step can take significant time, which is necessary given the many touchpoints the organization may have with customers. Work through each customer journey and possible scenario to connect channels and touchpoints.
An omnichannel marketing platform can accelerate this process (see below for recommendations on what to look for in an omnichannel marketing platform).
Measure outcomes and iterate
Once an organization achieves customer 360 and can leverage customer data across the customer journey, the organization should continuously test and measure different components of the omnichannel marketing strategy.
Everything from messages, headers, subject lines, images, and send times can affect the success of a marketing campaign. The goal is to test new ideas and use data to inform what works for individual customers.
Email marketing teams, for example, should A/B test messages to see what increases positive actions like email opens and clicks (and ideally boost revenue-per-email).
Do I need an omnichannel marketing platform?
It’s common for organizations to question whether they need an omnichannel marketing platform or related tools to enable an omnichannel marketing strategy.
Customer data management is a key component to omnichannel marketing, so investing in a customer data management solution is essential. Many organizations rely on a mix of customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise data warehouse (EDW), or customer data platform (CDP) solutions to manage customer data.
A composable customer data platform (CDP) is an advanced solution built to achieve customer 360 and can sit on top of these tools or other data warehouses. Composable CDPs also help address data privacy concerns and regulations because the customer data lives in the organization’s data cloud, instead of a third-party platform.
After the customer data is properly stored and integrated, teams should assess which tool(s) they need to act on the omnichannel marketing strategy.
Many large enterprise technology companies provide omnichannel marketing platforms, such as Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle, and HubSpot. These offerings often include multiple solutions that span functions, such as email marketing, paid advertisement, and sales capabilities.
Composable CDPs are built to integrate with omnichannel marketing platforms to help move data from a data warehouse to the platform. Alternately, marketers could build their own omnichannel platform using a composable CDP and connect the tools they want (like Braze for SMS, Iterable for email, and Hubspot for customer success).
To decide if the organization should adopt an omnichannel marketing platform, first assess the key channels in play for the customer journey and the current tools used to orchestrate experiences in those channels. Review the capabilities of each tool and whether they effectively tap into the customer data and can deliver automated experiences. If the current solutions fail to enable a consistent experience, then investing in an omnichannel marketing platform could be the fastest way to achieve the intended benefits.
When evaluating an omnichannel marketing platform, ask the following questions:
- Which marketing channel(s) does the platform connect to?
- What level of automation does the tool provide?
- What are the key use cases of the platform?
- Will the platform integrate with the organization’s existing tools?