How Omni-Channel Marketing Can Help Brands Better Connect with Customers



A few weeks ago, a friend of mine received an email from HSBC Bank informing him that, as a platinum cardholder, he was entitled to “fabulous wedding offers.” From the banquet, gown, and jewelry to photo packages and honeymoon travel, his wedding bases were covered. This would have been nice information to have, if he wasn’t already married with two kids. To add insult to injury, these were details stated clearly on his HSBC profile.

This is one of many innocent—but avoidable—blunders that we encounter in the digital age. As marketers try to conquer every ‘touch point,’ many risk diluting the personal, human touch of commerce. Despite covering QR codes, email, mobile, social, web, events, and webinars all at once, marketers continue to provide a unichannel experience in a multichannel world.

The problem is that marketers are struggling to evolve from multichannel to Omni-channel, which is a form of marketing that allows all channels to have awareness of all others. In the Omni-channel world, marketers know that my friend is married with kids and doesn’t need wedding promotions. They know how he likes to receive messages and what types of messages he will respond to.

Omni-channel is not about spreading out more, nor is it about the “share of voice” or “share of wallet.” Omni-channel is about the “share of experience.” It begins by weaving information from disparate channels into a single narrative in order to personalize commerce, overcome the distances of a multichannel world, and bring back the personal touch to commerce. While retailers gravitated quickly to Omni-channel, it is not isolated to that sector. Banks, insurers, and the healthcare industry also need to grasp the Omni-channel concept or risk losing business to brands that get it.

Know Your People

The importance of trust and familiarity goes back to the origin of business when high transaction costs and weak legal structures made relationships the heart of exchange. Little has changed through the years. People want to feel like brands know them. But, when we change from personal exchanges to multichannel relationships, trust and familiarity can get sacrificed.

The issue is data dumbness. A hair stylist who sees you monthly collects ‘data’ about you and uses it to improve your experience each time. Yet, he or she never has to share that data or worry about other channels. In contrast, large brands see customers moving from platform to platform on a regular basis, often to perform the same task. These customers expect that their behavior in one place will influence the experience in another.

Consider the typical customer experience at a bank. A customer can perform transactions online, in the branch, through ATMs, call centers, or through a mobile device. Yet, the data from each experience is not captured, integrated, analyzed, or acted upon. The bank has no idea how experiences vary across these channels. Stuck with siloed data and a one dimensional view of customers, marketers tell you about “fabulous wedding offers” when you’re already married.

Instead, brands must build one consistent understanding of the customer by drawing information from all channels, which will lead to a personal and enjoyable experience.

Enable Them

After marketers know their customer, the next hurdle is making it easy to act. A surprising number of marketers still create promotions where the customer has to sign up for emails, print the coupon, and then shop at a specific location on certain days, between certain times, and by a certain date. Why not let customers present the coupon from their smartphone? Why force the customer to join an email list that they will later unsubscribe from? Overall, why make it hard for people be a customer?

To be everywhere and be successful, Omni-channel commerce must be simple. It should take one tap (or click) to act on a discount, upgrade a service plan, or request a call from a customer service associate. Customers are people who have limited time, preferred methods of interaction, and detectable habits; and, it’s within a marketer’s power to understand and enable these preferences on all channels.

Show That You Know Them

If you can weave Omni-channel data into a cohesive whole and enable action on all channels, then you can show that you really care about your customers by delivering value.

To give an example, I stay with Marriot whenever I travel for business. They know what types of rooms I like, my requirements, which TV programs I tend to watch, and they use all of this data to make each stay memorable. Having my favorite programs appear on the TV menu isn’t about dollars or deals – it just shows that the Marriot cares about my experience. We, as marketers, can provide this level of service in any industry.

Banks, for instance, could track interactions to provide better service and offers. If I withdraw cash in an ATM at several foreign airports, the bank could tell me about their global travel card that has no foreign transaction fees and other travel privileges.

Or, consider a customer in the process of making a long-distance call on her smartphone. Just before the call goes through, the service provider sends a text message saying that she can make the call at a cheaper rate using a long-distance calling plan. The customer purchases the new plan with a tap, and it’s a win for both parties. To take it a step further, imagine the same customer visiting the foreign country she had called. On detecting that the customer is in this country, the provider could offer a cheaper roaming package.

In healthcare, I can research a specific illness and hospital online, get an appointment on my mobile, get my queue ticket at the digital kiosk at the hospital, receive my diagnosis report and prescription by email, and claim medical insurance for my visit on my mobile. Again, I get control over a stressful experience.

Omni-channel is an adventure from being everywhere ineffectively to being at the right spot, with the right message and the right choices.

Marketers Need Allies

In the cyber age, Omni-channel is how we return trust and familiarity to commerce. The point of going from unichannel marketing in a multichannel world, to true Omni-channel, is to provide a seamless experience at every stage of the customer’s journey. From awareness to engagement to conversion to loyalty, get to know your customer and show that you care. On a practical level, this requires that business functions, processes, and data are no longer in silos.

Each example requires IT, operations, customer service, finance, and other departments to participate. An Omni-channel world requires an ‘Omni-department’ response.

Wherever you represent your brand, collect all the data chatter into one potent narrative, and give something in exchange. By the time information moves from one channel to another, a customer isn’t being taken care of effectively. It’s too late. Listen everywhere. Take note if someone’s married, and return the personal touch and humanity to multichannel business.

Redickaa Subramanian is the CEO and Chief Strategist of Interakt Digital Group. She is also a guest writer for Adrants.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Eshed Gal-Or

About the author: Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising.

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