To be a marketer in 2023 is to grapple with a plethora of constant and seemingly contradictory truths — time spent online continues to rise, but brick-and-mortar
is forecasted to bounce back. The linear consumer journey is dead, but a new consumer journey (shaped like an infinity loop, flywheel, or fluid funnel, depending on who you talk to) is taking its place. In an industry and era of constant change, how are forward-thinking and agile brands innovating to meet consumers’ ever-increasing expectations across physical and digital touchpoints?
These days, operating across multiple channels is a given for many brands, with omnichannel marketing ensuring that the messaging is consistent for consumers across their journey.
“At its core, you must have one single view of your customer,” according to David François
, managing director at Tag, a newly acquired Dentsu company, with over 20 years of experience in omnichannel shopper experiences. “You should be able to understand all your customer interactions, behaviours, and activities, across all channels and at all times. When we look at omnichannel strategies, we are looking at how to build a single view of the customer across all those channels and how we deliver content, services or experiences across that ecosystem,” François added.
Within the evolving retail landscape, adopting an integrated approach (a.k.a. connected retail) affords brands the opportunity to consider what roles both physical and digital touchpoints play in their overall omnichannel strategy.
François explained the potential that integrated retail poses: “You can reinvent the experience for your brand in the store. Does the store become a showroom, does it become an experience, does it become a place where people connect? What does connected retail mean for brands and their positioning, and what is the role of the store in that ecosystem?”
The change is already happening. Specifically, he highlighted the popularity of BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) and similar models as proof of the hybrid way consumers engage with brands on- and offline.
Life beyond omnichannel
There’s a world of difference between simply deploying content across multiple channels and crafting a cohesive and integrated consumer journey centred on delivering contextual value. More than just omnichannel, a true “omni experience” is far more than the sum of its parts. It’s a seamless, consistent, and hopefully delightful experience — a next-gen consumer experience that requires concerted effort and understanding from the brand’s part.
A look back at recent years shows that change has become the only constant; consumers can no longer be easily packaged, and their behaviour cannot be neatly summarised. On the journey to transcend beyond omnichannel content to creating customised and individual omni experiences at every touchpoint, mapping the consumer journey based on data and analytics is key to understanding how your customer behaves (and ultimately, how to engage them).
“Because multiple touchpoints influence that final purchase decision, we need to focus on mapping and understanding the complex journey and tailor that omnichannel strategy,” said Daniel Brodecky
, managing director at Tag with 20 years of experience in retail.
The modern consumer also demands more, he said. “Consumers expect relevant and personal content and offers that are personalised and that’s key.”
“At the end of the day, every channel should convey the same messaging, look, and feel whether it’s a physical display in-store, website, mobile app, or social. They must be able to switch between those mediums without losing progress. Education is super critical,” said Brodecky.
While the execution of omnichannel strategies is often discussed from the tech perspective, François called for brands to pay attention to storytelling, optimisation, adaptations, localisation, and most crucially, context when creating omni experiences across touchpoints. “The content needs to be contextual to when it’s delivered and why it is delivered,” he said.
Context is key as each brand’s omni experience will be very different — defined by their industries, offerings, and the aims of their physical presence, which could range from conversion to brand- and community-building.
Beyond data and consumer trends, tech innovations will also shape the future of omni experiences. With the rise of artificial intelligence, particularly generative AI, the marketing industry is fast exploring the applications of machine learning. Both elements will have a huge say on the next generation of connected retail experiences with brands soon able to go beyond personalised content to truly personal content, delivered in real-time and in a brand-safe manner.
Brodecky said, “I think everything’s going to that level of AI-driven personalisation, and we’re going to see AI drive augmented reality experiences.” He further noted the ability of machine learning to provide deeper insights into how shopper journeys unfold in the era of connected retail.
“We need to invest in that technology to understand the analytics. Some people say, ‘Oh, we’re never going to need to go to a store, we can purchase at home by hybrid shopping experiences.’ But in the end, we’ve all got the desire to touch and feel and explore the physical,” Brodecky said.
That desire is a reminder to not lose sight of what is real.
“Building those bespoke shopping experiences within retail environments is important for brands to stay connected with consumers, because we can never lose sight of that real scope,” he concluded.
The omni engine that could
Knowing all of this is all well and good, but designing an omni engine is key to executing such an ambitious ask. Delivering in a way that’s both nimble and adaptive requires a robust framework that can facilitate content creation, management, delivery, analysis, and more in an integrated way.
No matter if you are optimising an existing content engine framework or building a bespoke solution from scratch, it is essential to not only keep your omnichannel objectives in mind but also to think beyond them in the form of “omni experiences.”
A combination of non-linear consumer journeys, the growing role of new tech, and the constant evolution of customer behaviour and expectations necessitate this shift in thinking.
The omni experience has to be more than the consistent messaging of omnichannel. It has to provide a personalised experience for every single customer, no matter the touchpoint. That could be physical, phygital, or completely digital — such as refill reminders or product recommendations based on previous purchases — all of which is driven by that single, comprehensive view of your customer.
So how do you get there?
Brands rely on relationships with many parties, from internal teams to external partners working together to create omni experiences. This presents its own challenge. Beyond efficiency and effectiveness, a strong content engine framework is supported by “People, Process, Platform, and Partners” while still allowing room for evolution in our ever-changing world — is the ideal solution to aim for.
“To deliver the right experiences, we need the right people who understand the sector, and can offer domain knowledge and strategy,” said Brodecky. To him, the foundation of an omni engine focused team should be “based on a core of data analysts, data architects, CRM specialists, CX specialists and the ability to turn that single view of the consumer into relevant inputs that power the omni engine.
For example, centralised data from various digital and in-person interactions enables a single view of the customer, empowering a personalised sales experience. Feedback collected by customer success teams loops back into the engine to shape both digital and in-store content, further improving customer experience.
Outlining the process of creating such a framework, Brodecky said, “We start with a clear understanding of the brand, the brand’s starting point in terms of strategy and asset availability, and then from there we ensure that it’s measurable so we can continue to improve as we learn more about how to drive effectiveness in the use of that specific content.”
Not all brands are created equal, and François noted that they are not all at the same stage of life to pull off such a shift. Honesty — and critically assessing your current process and technologies — is the best policy, he said.
“Not every organisation has the same level of maturity, technology, resources, people, or processes. It’s always good to know where you are, where you want to be, how you're going to get there, and what the gaps are that we need to address to implement that omnichannel strategy,” François said.
There is little doubt that designing a cohesive and holistic experience can only benefit both brands and consumers.
“The more seamless a customer’s experience is, the more likely that customer is going to come back and potentially become an advocate of that brand,” Brodecky said.
At the end of the day, that is what’s on the table. In 2024, simply delivering consistent content across channels won’t cut it anymore if brands want to maintain that hard-won loyalty. It’s time to evolve from thinking about omnichannel in its current state to crafting fully realised omni experiences. To ensure their own competitiveness and longevity, brands will have to truly surprise and delight consumers by going above and beyond to deliver personalised experiences through a balanced combination of context, content, data — and yes, channels.