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Omnichannel marketing: Marketers discuss its potential and pitfalls

While many marketers are still working on multi-channel and cross-channel marketing, the next wave is already here: omnichannel marketing.

So, what exactly is omnichannel marketing?

Omnichannel marketing is perhaps best defined with an example. When a company is using omnichannel marketing, a customer should have a seamless experience across all channels, digital and physical. That means that wherever they are on the shopping - or post-purchase - journey they should be able to change the platform, medium or even place and pick up where they left off.

But, are companies really doing omnichannel marketing? Or is it a far-off goal which most marketers are just getting started on today?

To find out, ClickAcademy, in association with Amazon Web Services, recently held roundtable discussions with brand marketers at Digital Cream in Kuala Lumpur. At the Omnichannel Engagement table, hosted by Venkat Narayanan, CEO, BigTapp, attendees shared their thoughts about omnichannel marketing and their experiences trying to implement it at their own organisation. Below is a summary of the discussions from the day.

1) 'Born digital' businesses are omnichannel leaders, traditional businesses, laggards

Starting off, attendees were asked - are any companies actually doing omnichannel marketing now?

The answer was a qualified 'yes'. According to participants, there are several companies who are doing omnichannel marketing but few who are doing it well.

Businesses which started off as digital are, however, making the transition to omnichannel quicker than traditional companies. For example, Amazon was well-established as a pure digital merchant for many years before opening its first store and now is skilfully expanding its offline footprint. Its online to offline experience, based on Amazon Prime, is nearly seamless.

Traditional companies are not doing nearly as well moving online. Part of the problem is that companies with a large offline business struggle to get their data into one place so that each touchpoint has access to it. Data is 'siloed' by the stakeholders of the various channels and are not motivated to share it with the rest of the organisation.

Without data sharing within an organisation, omnichannel is not possible, said one delegate.

2) Obtaining customer data for omnichannel is a major challenge for most businesses

In addition to having issues moving old customers to omnichannel, attendees also felt that they would struggle onboarding new customers, too.

The problem is that most channels, online and offline, do not require customers to 'log in' - and so it is very difficult to identify them to offer an omnichannel experience.

Moreover, even if the company can identify them, it is unlikely that they will already have a lot of data on them. Businesses typically have a customer's email or phone number and purchase history, but very little else.

To provide a personalised omnichannel experience marketers need, therefore, to enhance customer data by breaking down internal data silos, performing analysis on existing customer data and using external data providers.

3) Using customer data for omnichannel may even be more difficult than obtaining it

Delegates who had experimented with omnichannel shared that even with correct, relevant and context-sensitive customer data, companies still faced the challenge of using it to deliver an omnichannel experience.

The main issue is that channels are often owned by different people within a business. One manager is responsible for offline premises, another for the ecommerce site and even another for marketing communications.

Because of this, channel conflict arises where it is in no one manager's best interest to share customer behaviour or status data with the other channel owners. Why should people who are responsible for their own department's P/L lose business in order to improve someone else's?

Addressing channel conflict by educating managers about customer experience or convincing them that omnichannel is for the greater good of the company has little impact, said one attendee. Instead, channel conflict needs to be solved by incentivising managers financially.

4) Overcoming omnichannel obstacles requires new thinking

After listing all the issues faced when trying to implement omnichannel marketing, delegates were then asked to suggest some solutions. What can marketers who need to deliver an omnichannel experience do?

The first suggestion was that companies need to institute a 'real' loyalty programme. Real in the sense that it is not a disguised way of providing discounts, but something which truly encourages the consumer to identify themselves every time they shop.

Secondly, marketers need to engage customers throughout the buying lifecycle. As some products, such as durables are only bought every few years, marketers cannot simply rely on product information to keep a consumer's attention. Instead, they need to find other topics related to product through which they can keep customers engaged between buying cycles.

Finally, marketers need to come up with new KPIs to measure omnichannel success. These new measurements are sometimes called 'KGIs' (Key Goal Indicators) as hitting them will be more about achieving the goal of implementing omnichannel than crossing a performance threshold. One example of a KGI for omnichannel would be email open rates or single customer multi-channel logins.

It seems, therefore, that marketers have some way to go before omnichannel becomes a reality. At the very least, though, marketers are thinking seriously about the topic so we can expect to see more omnichannel experiments in the near future.

A word of thanks

ClickAcademy would like to thank Venkat Narayanan, CEO, BigTapp for hosting the Omnichannel Engagement table and Kenneth Chong, Head of Sales, Cognitive CX, AWS for providing subject matter expertise.

We'd also like to thank all the marketers who made time to attend Digital Cream in KL and hope to see you at all future ClickAcademy events!


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