The number of communications channels has literally exploded in recent decades. Previously, marketing was equated with TV, radio, conventions, and direct marketing. But in recent decades hundreds of new channels have emerged in the media mix, with examples such as social media, email, SMS, and display screens with moving media in urban environments, not to mention shelf flaps, airplane trays, computer games and concept boutiques. The advertising firm Smart Insights’ list indicates that there are over 120 different communication channels to choose from today, but admits at the same time that the list is not complete.1
It is becoming increasingly difficult for people who work with sales and marketing to capture and retain customers’ attention. The customer’s journey is becoming more and more complex and purchasing behavior can vary significantly between different customer groups and situations. Today, a customer can start by looking at an item in a store and then buy it online. Or the opposite. Perhaps one uses social media discussion fora or price-comparison sites to make evaluations and decisions in between. It becomes a hybrid solution where sometimes the customer looks for information online, sometimes visits fora and asks questions of chat bots, and other times feels a need for more consultation and personal support in the purchasing process. Another interesting aspect is that customers tend to spend more money the more channels they use.2
Customers don’t live a single
channel life, or even a dual channel
life. In both B2B and B2C worlds,
customers today live multi channel
lives. | Liz Miller, Vice President, CMO Council
This also creates challenges for customers, who must navigate in this swarm of information, advertisements and offers. Maintaining coherency in the purchasing experience has become one of the stumbling blocks for today’s technology- smart buyers. There is an expectation that seamlessness, where one can, without hurdles, wander from platform to platform. The expectation is that the supplier is where the customer is.
Therefore, for suppliers it has become important to – to the greatest extent possible – streamline and integrate the purchasing experience in the channels where the customer is. Integration between channels is becoming increasingly important, and they can no longer be treated as individual streams. The term omni channel (omni = all encompassing) points to the fact that the purchasing experience must be consistent, regardless of which channel the customer uses. The ambition is for the customer to always be met by the same branding, the same prices, the same inventory quantity, the same purchasing conditions and the same return possibilities. But even personal offers and loyalty benefits should be uniform. Similarly, marketing – regardless of channel – should convey the same messages and values. Postnord has created a so-called omni index that measures how well Swedish companies meet this challenge. In 2017, the omni index was at 62: an increase from 52 the previous year. This shows that companies have taken on the challenge and gradually improved their omni-presence.3
The clothing company Neiman Marcus works actively with omni channel. If a visitor to their website searches for size 44 shoes or XXL clothes, this is logged in their system.4 If the same person later visits the website and clicks on a given product, they immediately receive information about in which physical store they can find the product in their size. In their stores they also have “Memory Mirrors” that can record 360-degree video of clothes that a customer has tried on. Customers can transfer the video to their cellphone and let the purchasing decision mature – and later make their order through their phone or on the Internet. They also have an app that lets customers photograph attractive clothing that they see in town and in other shops. The app does an immediate search for the most similar product at Neiman Marcus. Their goal is to remove the barriers between different channels and let their system become smarter every time customers interact with it.
Omni channel has made great strides in B2C, but in B2B it is also necessary to bridge the gaps between the online world and physical customer meetings. The importance of an integrated and comprehensive solution is even greater, because more-professional buyers have greater demands. If the total experience makes a messy and inconsistent impression, there is a big risk that the customer will choose a competitor in the end. If the experience, instead, is characterized by a holistic customer experience, it is more likely that the customer will conclude a purchase.
Customers don’t think in terms of channels. They want to find an answer or a solution to their problem as easily as possible. They will select the channel that is simplest at the moment, or the one that they are accustomed to. From the customer’s perspective, the boundaries between channels are erased. Working with an omni-channel strategy is about meeting or exceeding the customer’s expectations. It is about providing trustworthy and consistent information and living up to the promises made by the brand.
1 Smart Insights (2017, 22 June). The BIG list of today’s marketing channels. [blog post]. Downloaded 2018-10-22 from https://www.smartinsights.com/online-brand-strategy/multichannel-strategies/selectmarketing-channels/
2 Sopadjieva, E., Dholakia, U.M., Benjamin, B. (2017). A Study of 46,000 Shoppers Shows That Omnichannel Retailing Works. Harvard Business Review. Available: https://hbr.org/2017/01/a-study-of-46000-shoppers-shows-that-omnichannel-retailing-works
4 Virgilito, D. (2017, 2 October). Omni-channel brands: 10 outstanding
examples and what to learn from them. [blog post]. Downloaded 2018-10-22 from https://www.shopify.com/enterprise/10-examples-of-outstanding-omnichannel-brands