Prior to the advent of the internet, and decades before the explosive growth of social media, television was the dominant medium for advertising. A popular television commercial was often the pinnacle of a successful campaign.
However, as cable television grew into specialty channels that catered to specific audiences, marketers needed a better understanding about which channels would reach their desired audiences. The same ad that ran on a sports channel would not necessarily convey the same message and urgency to an audience watching a network devoted to cooking.
Today, a similar rule applies.
Just as the television audience fragmented with so many available channels, the development and expansion of social media has also led to the creation of niche audiences, and the desire for marketers to get their messages to those audiences. Also, just as a television campaign that would seek to deliver the same message across every channel on the cable box would be both expensive and ineffective, the same approach to online marketing would be just as costly and time-consuming.
Marketers have now developed an omnichannel marketing strategy designed to not only spread their message across banners, web browsers, apps and smart voice assistants — but to spread that message in a cohesive, continuous manner.
Simply put, omnichannel marketing ensures that the marketer's message stays consistent across multiple channels. For instance, a viewer sees a TV commercial with a website address. The viewer goes to the website on their smartphone and sees a link to download the company's app. The smartphone app then delivers the same content and services seen in the commercial and on the website, and also allows the user to carry out the same functions — like register an account and add a product to their checkout cart.
The next day, when they jump back on their desktop computer and head to the same website, that same product is still in their cart — carried over from their mobile experience. Needless to say, their entire experience was seamless, continuous and connected. Or — it was omnichannel.
John Bowden, Senior VP of Customer Care at Time Warner Cable, describes the omnichannel approach as "orchestrating the customer experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated and consistent. Omnichannel anticipates that customers may start in one channel and move to another as they progress to a resolution."
Most companies understand the importance of using more than one marketing or customer experience channel, such as in the example illustrated above. In most cases, the company has a team overseeing their traditional advertising channels, another on their website or email campaigns, and still another on their social media efforts.
But a multichannel approach does what it says, it just gives the user an experience on multiple channels. So, there may be an app and a desktop website, but those two experiences are isolated and disconnected, unlike in the omnichannel customer experience scenario.
In an omnichannel approach, these teams coordinate their resources and ensure that the user gets the same, continuous message and experience when moving from channel to channel. Bowden describes the difference between multichannel and omnichannel as “omnichannel is multi-channel done right.”
Delivering an omnichannel customer experience is obviously the desired option, but how many channels should your omnichannel strategy include?
Problems arise when brands attempt to adopt every channel with any sort of consumer attention. After they dive into Instagram and Snapchat, they begin releasing smartwatch apps, launching Alexa skills, publishing Pinterest content and starting a podcast, all at the same time.
While that sounds fantastic, is it sustainable? Or, better yet, are each of those channels going to deliver an ROI worth pursuing?
Not every marketing channel fits the needs and circumstances of every business, and since most businesses don't have the resources needed to cover all channels all the time, marketers must prioritize where to direct their efforts. These priorities can reveal themselves with the answers to a few simple questions.
The most brilliant concepts, the most innovative designs, and the most advanced technology will avail marketers precious little if they apply those efforts toward channels that their audiences don't use. The best commercial for golf equipment won't have nearly the impact it should if it airs on the Tennis Channel. The same principle applies to social media marketing.
For marketers seeking to find their target audience, demographic data about social networks is a critical component of their decision-making process. A 2016 study by the Pew Research Center revealed that 45 percent of all adult women online use the virtual photo pinboard Pinterest, versus only 17 percent of all adult men online. Data like this can be instrumental in choosing the right channels for an omnichannel campaign.
Another useful tool for evaluating the usefulness of marketing channels comes from looking at which competitors are already using those channels, and how effective they are at delivering their message to the same target audience. If a competitor is already well-established on a channel, and has gained a significant audience share from that channel, then a new effort to enter that space and gain an audience would be an uphill battle.
However, if an unexploited channel is available, and it fits the marketer's target audience, the advantages could be substantial. A survey of 672 business and technology leaders published in the Harvard Business Review in 2014 found that companies that act as “Pioneers” in adopting new technologies enjoy a “first mover” advantage.
"Pioneers are growing faster than other companies and beating their competition." the survey read in part. "Twenty percent have experienced more than 30% growth.... Pioneers are also more likely to have a positive view of their market position; 64% said they were ahead of their competition."
A major factor in developing an omnichannel strategy lies in the capabilities the company has at hand. If the strategy calls for more photo-based content, such as for channels like Pinterest and Instagram, then the marketing teams efforts must shift from developing text-based content to delivering eye-catching photos.
The omnichannel strategy not only calls on team members to deliver content to each channel, but it also requires that the content maintain consistency across channels. The ability to meet this requirement depends on the ability of each team to communicate across departments, technologies, and cultures to deliver consistent results.
The good news about developing an omnichannel strategy is that marketers have access to more data on both current and potential customers than ever before. The bad news is that they have to find ways to sort through all the noise to find the information vital to their decision-making processes.
The best news is that an effective omnichannel strategy can deliver results beyond expectations, while also delivering a strong return on investment. Since so many aspects of these channels often have a significant overlap, the efforts in one area often translate to results in another.
A consistent, effective, and coordinated omnichannel marketing strategy will ensure that viewers will “stay tuned” to a brand and keep the “ratings” high, while an inconsistent approach will be sure to turn off viewers and see the results of a marketer's efforts “canceled.”
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