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Is COVID shining a light on the challenges of Omnichannel marketing?

2020 has changed many things. One of the changes that is likely to stay is the way consumers shop and the role of physical retail. This acceleration of eCommerce has moved forward a decade with no warning.

With the key trading period of the year coming up, the survival of many brands will be hanging in the balance knowing that the success of their marketing and eCommerce has never been more important.

In order for brands to succeed this season, they need to have effective marketing activity – and in this is increasingly online world, one that is driven by data and executed through effective omnichannel delivery. But as time goes on, it’s increasingly clear that not all brands have a handle on their data or can effectively communicate as they now need to.

Where the problem starts

Clive Humby is a pioneer of data driven marketing. He is often quoted as having said that “Data is the new oil…”. What people often miss out is the rest of what he said, “…it’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used”.

And this is the issue. Businesses may have data, but it’s typically siloed, poorly understood and unorganised. And they can only hope now that it’s GDPR compliant.

For other brands, they are realising that they haven’t ever been delivering Omnichannel marketing. What has been happening is multi-channel messaging. At best, these are messages as part of a consumer’s journey – often duplicated across channels or sometimes not connected at all.

Omnichannel marketing is defined as a strategy where channels work in cooperation to deliver a seamless content experience across multiple points of contact. And in order to achieve that, you not only need to have a proper handle on your data, but also link all your data to an individual, define the right strategy and have the content and capability to execute it.

What can brands do

Most brands know that they need to up their data game. Many are aligning their content assets across channels too - parts of the jigsaw are coming together. But the other three areas are typically still a challenge. 

Orchestration Strategy

Brands need to have one customer-focused strategy across all channels. It sounds simple, but organisational complexity means that even knowing who is responsible for this is nearly impossible.

And with increasingly complex customer engagement ecosystems, not just traditional and digital channels, but the emergence of new social channels, this is a mammoth task.

Everyone has to start somewhere. So, I’d suggest brands do what they can to prove the value of this approach with the channels they can control most easily. Strategies can be adaptive – something is better than nothing.

For impactful omnichannel marketing you also need to understand the best channel and message for each touchpoint. Many marketing teams however rely on a single lens for this, including; customer transactions; channel engagement; audience Personas; and perhaps predictive modelling too. Brands need to be looking at all of these – all together. The data is typically available, it’s the co-ordination and content availability that often limits the execution.

I also wouldn’t underplay the importance of proper Personas here. Not a generic pen-portrait of an audience type, but a collection of actionable and differentiated Personas that you can apply to each individual to understand their motivations, behaviours, needs and wants.

Creating a single identity

Brands winning now are ones that have evolved their customer identity. 30 years ago, good looked like a SCV matched on name and address. The introduction of the cookie, over 25 years ago now, started a larger and, until recently, disparate data source, collecting customer transactions and interactions.

Fast forward to today and we are capturing more data than ever before across multiple devices, multiple identifiers and often multiple device users.

Whilst name and address matching are still fundamental to leading identify solutions, brands now need to be able to create single identities from all of this data. The ability, not just to onboard data, but to accurately hold, access, understand and activate against a consumer’s engagement, behaviour, channel preference, transactional history, real-time location and much more is now a reality. And increasingly a must.

Omnichannel Execution

Whilst many brands have moved to integrated campaign management platforms, they’re now facing the challenge that direct channels, such as programmatic media and social aren’t effectively catered for in their current stack. It raises the question of do you wait for your tech partner to catch up or do you create a hybrid stack?

In my mind, the challenge now for Omnichannel marketers is to focus on what is important – the identity, strategy and messaging. If you have a central strategic vision, a good understanding of each and every customer and can tie your data together then each technology component can play its part to achieve your goal.

We’ll see who wins and who loses through Black Friday and Christmas. But I won’t be surprised if we’ll see some more big names fall early in 2021 and I’d wager that, at least in part, their inability to get a handle on proper omnichannel marketing will be a factor in their demise.