Of all the marketing buzzwords that have emerged over the last two decades, perhaps no other has resonated as strongly as one: omnichannel. A product of the 1990s digital revolution, the term first emerged in the world of retail, where marketers were uniquely challenged to integrate their customers’ buying experience across what had been a fragmented and confusing array of brick-and-mortar, e-commerce and other direct- to-consumer touch points. “Align the customer experience,” the theory posited, “and you’ll build lasting loyalty.”

Since those early days, the omnichannel mandate has moved steadily beyond its retail roots. It’s evolved to encompass marketing as well as sales, and its practitioners have grown to embrace a robust mix of both traditional and emerging channels in their promotional mix. But at virtually every step of the way, the practical deployment of omnichannel programs has been stymied by a simple reality: while leveraging a wide range of marketing channels is easy, coordinating the deployment of those efforts so as to put the customer at the center of the engagement—with a continuous focus on delivering the right experience, at the right time, to the right individual—is difficult work.

In undertaking this research, we’ve aimed to advance an industry-wide conversation about the practical implications of “omnichannel” (and similarly transformative customer-centric marketing practices)—helping practitioners benchmark their efforts and leverage the experiences of their peers so as to drive real, positive change within their organizations. We look forward to your feedback.

The practice of omnichannel is coming of age.

Driven in large part by the proliferation of customer data and the emergence of powerful new marketing technologies (and helped along by the learnings accrued over about 20 years of trial- and-error), savvy marketers are finally seeing results from their efforts to deploy truly integrated marketing strategies across audiences of scale and vast complexity. Critically, those successes are finally putting to rest old misconceptions about the relative value of disparate marketing channels and helping brands fulfil a long-held promise: that their customers would ultimately reside at the center of their marketing efforts.

We aim to help marketers across all vertical industries apply a set of established best practices to the deployment of their own omnichannel programs. Based on an intensive research effort that included telephone and online surveys of more than 100 marketers and service providers, it will establish that successful omnichannel strategies are grounded in three universal ingredients:

Recognition: the persistent identi cation of individual audience members—including both customers and prospects—as they engage with various promotional and transactional touch points.

Engagement: the maintenance of a robust, fluid mix of customer-facing channels, to be deployed in such a way that delivers the best possible customer experience (while leveraging the inherent strengths of each channel)

Orchestration: the coordinated management of the promotional and transactional customer experience, leveraging a combination of data-driven insights and foundational infrastructure supporting optimal channel selection, messaging, cadence, personalization and ful llment of all appropriate customer preferences.

72.4% …of panelists have identified audience recognition as at least a moderate priority….. but only 6.7%…are fully satisfied in their ability to leverage audience identifiers or attributes surfaced in one channel for recognition, targeting and engagement across other touch points.

37.5%…of panelists feel they are able to orchestrate the delivery of content across all the media channels that they use today to some extent.

Persistent recognition of customers and prospects across a range of touch points represents the most fundamental element of true omnichannel marketing—and a business priority of rapidly growing importance.

Despite their efforts, most marketers struggle to recognize their customer audiences consistently, inhibiting their ability to develop and execute upon cross-channel insights.

  • Nearly three-quarters (72.4 percent) of survey panelists indicated that their organizations are actively pursuing cross-channel audience recognition as a key business priority.
  • Over two-thirds (68.7 percent) said their audience recognition efforts have supported their ability to drive value from new and/or previously underleveraged media channels.
  • Only 8.9 percent of panelists said they consistently recognize customer audience members across all of the media channels at their disposal.
  • Along the same lines, just 6.7 percent said they’re fully satis ed with their ability to leverage audience identi ers and/or attributes surfaced in one channel (i.e. terrestrial contact information, IP address, behavioral data, etc.) for recognition, targeting and engagement across all other touch points.
  • Still, marketers are clearly making do as they focus on accelerating their recognition efforts. A solid majority of panelists (77.8 percent) said they’re regularly able to identify individual audience members across at least “some” of their addressable marketing channels.
  • Panelists noted that their audience recognition efforts would be most advanced by better aggregation and management of data (selected by 47.7 percent), deeper integration of their marketing technologies (39.5 percent) and introduction of systems or processes to match audience pro les across channels (38.4 percent).
  • When it comes to brand building, more panelists (90.9 percent) endorsed the positive impact of broadcast advertising than any other channel; online display advertising and online social display advertising were cited next.
  • Asked about the acquisition of specific, uniquely qualified customers, most panelists (54.5 percent) were bullish about the role of direct mail, followed by search.
  • And with respect to the acquisition of “in-market” customers (those actively seeking out a product or service), more panelists (77.1 percent) chose search than any other channel, followed by online display advertising.

More than anything else, marketers believe the key to better audience recognition is better integration of their marketing technology and addressable data assets.

Casting aside old misconceptions about the value of digital and traditional media, marketers increasingly recognize that all channels play a potentially critical role in the omnichannel mix— provided they’re deployed to support the use cases for which they’re most appropriate.

The email channel has matured to assume a critical role as a “bridge” between various omnichannel initiatives—supporting both customer recognition and engagement, as well as a series of advertising and marketing use cases that are driven by traditional and digital datasets. Though marketers are extremely bullish on the potential contributions of mobile across a range of use cases, the channel has yet to solidify its contribution or impact across any specific set of applications. Where marketers are succeeding in the deployment of complex omnichannel strategies, they’re doing so thanks largely to the contributions of the supply chain partners— including agencies, data providers and other third parties that support the execution of those underlying programs.

What’s the next frontier of omnichannel marketing? Panelists said the next great leap forward would be driven from the inside, with the potential alignment of internal business processes and technology infrastructure likely to do more to advance their omnichannel efforts in the years ahead than any other initiative.

• In addition to playing a critical role in supporting retention-oriented marketing—more panelists (51.3 percent) endorsed its importance as a driver of up-sell and cross-sell of existing customers than any other channels—email was cited as the channel best suited to drive value in conjunction with other media, as selected by 58 percent of panelists.

• Though panelists expressed anecdotal enthusiasm about the role that mobile apps and mobile advertising would ultimately play in their omnichannel mix, they likewise said that the channel doesn’t yet represent a “first choice” option to support any of their various strategic use cases.

• Nevertheless, significant numbers of panelists endorsed the mobile channel as a driver of customer service/support (endorsed by 48.6 percent) and up-sell/cross-sell of existing customers (32.4 percent).

• Most panelists said they’re generally confident in their basic ability to orchestrate the delivery of messages across multiple channels; 40 percent of panelists said they’re able to orchestrate the cross- channel delivery of marketing content fairly or extremely well, and a further 37.5 percent said they’re able to do so at least “to some extent”.

• What’s responsible for powering that success? More than any other factor, panelists endorsed the role of their supply chain partners, whose contributions, they said, are delivering even greater value than the licensed technology platforms (and even internal business processes) whose work they complement.

• Nearly half of panelists (49.3 percent) felt that better integration of their existing marketing technology would most advance their omnichannel marketing efforts; 40.3 percent selected better recognition capabilities for matching consumers across channels, while 37.3 called out better internal data management processes.

 

Persistent recognition of customers and prospects across a range of touch points represents the most fundamental element of true omnichannel marketing—and a business priority of rapidly growing importance.

PANELISTS SAID…

  • In significant numbers, marketers are focusing on recognition as a critical first step to personalizing brand interactions across media channels. Nearly three-quarters (72.4 percent) of survey panelists, in fact, indicated that their organizations are actively pursuing cross-channel audience recognition as a key business priority.
  • Much of that effort, it appears, is focused on unlocking potential value that previous omnichannel efforts have yet to deliver. On a scale of 1-to-5 (where 5 indicates that audience recognition is a “high priority” for their organization), panelists pegged their organizations’ level of interest at 3.35. By contrast, the same panelists assigned a slightly lower score—3.21—when asked to consider the extent to which previous and existing recognition efforts have supported their effort to derive value from new or underleveraged media.
  • Nevertheless, that response suggests that when they are able to recognize audience members across touch points, marketers are able to derive af rmatively greater value from new and/or underleveraged channels—particularly through the empowerment of relevant, personalized communications. Over two-thirds of panelists (68.7 percent), for example, said their audience recognition efforts have supported the development of such value.

Despite their efforts, most marketers struggle to recognize their customer audiences consistently, inhibiting their ability to develop and execute upon cross-channel insights.

PANELISTS SAID…

  • Though marketers are increasingly prioritizing cross-channel audience identi cation, consistent recognition remains one of their biggest challenges. Even when marketers are able to collect identifying data through one channel, for example, they’re commonly unable to leverage those identifiers to inform how they engage or target the same audience members across other touch points. Only 8.9 percent of panelists, for example, said they consistently recognize customer audience members across all of the media channels at their disposal.
  • Along the same lines, just 6.7 percent of panelists said they’re “fully satisfied” with their ability to leverage audience identi ers and/or attributes surfaced in one channel (e.g. terrestrial contact information, IP address, behavioral data, etc.) for recognition, targeting and engagement across all other touch points.
  • Still, marketers are clearly making do as they focus on accelerating their recognition efforts. A solid majority of panelists (77.8 percent) said they’re regularly able to identify individual audience members across at least “some” of their addressable marketing channels. And a slimmer majority (53.4 percent) are at least satis ed “to some extent” with their ability to leverage single-channel data for recognition of their customer audiences across other touch points.

77.8%…of panelists said they’re regularly able to identify individual audience members across at least “some” of their addressable marketing channels.

 

More than anything else, marketers believe the key to better audience recognition is better integration of their marketing technology and addressable data assets.

PANELISTS SAID…

  • Panelists noted that their audience recognition efforts would be most signi cantly advanced through investment in a range of internal infrastructure and process improvements, most prominently including better aggregation and management of data (selected by 47.7 percent of panelists), deeper integration of their marketing technologies (39.5 percent) and introduction of systems or processes to match audience pro les across channels (38.4 percent).
  • Only 1.2 percent of panelists, by contrast, indicated they have “everything [they] need” to support cross-channel audience recognition.Which of the following would most advance your organization’s efforts to better recognize its addressable audiences across various marketing and media touch points?

RECOGNITION … IN THEIR OWN WORDS

“Most companies are thinking a lot about audience recognition—it’s being accelerated by all the social media platforms out there that are announcing they can do CRM data retargeting. There’s a move in the U.S. towards thinking about how you use data, how you partner or build that internally, and there’s a business opportunity for supply chain partners in that recognition ability.”

“Plenty of marketers know what they are doing with respect to recognition isn’t very good, but they persist with it because it’s working ne for the present and too hard to change—or they don’t have the resources and expertise.”

“One thing we see often is customers wrestling with legacy systems and relationships—internally and with the providers that host the platforms that are the foundation of their customer marketing. If there’” ultimately there isn’t a silver bullet that provides a solution for effective recognition.

“One thing you nd is that newer companies tend to be more successful at adapting to omnichannel because they nd it easier to change quickly, by their nature. Twenty years ago, bigger companies were more sophisticated than smaller ones. Now that’s not the case—it’s easier to adapt if you’ve just joined the market because you don’t have to change entrenched culture and organizational structure, you can build up your organization with omnichannel in mind.

“If there’s one conclusion I’ve reached, it’s that ultimately there isn’t a silver bullet that provides a solution for effective recognition.”

ENGAGEMENT: SUPPORTING A CROSS-CHANNEL CUSTOMER DIALOGUE

Casting aside old misconceptions about the value of digital and traditional media, marketers increasingly recognize that all channels play a potentially critical role in the omnichannel mix—provided they’re deployed to support the use cases for which they’re most appropriate.

PANELISTS SAID…

Marketers are increasingly looking beyond traditional distinctions between media channels that are “growing” or “in decline” to seek out a media mix that includes a robust but balanced mix of customer-facing touch points. The key driver of evolution: a growing understanding that different channels support fundamentally different marketing use cases—and that managing the alignment of those applications with their addressable media represents one of the fundamental missions of the omnichannel marketer. In particular:

  • When it comes to brand building, more panelists (90.9 percent) endorsed the role and positive impact of broadcast advertising than any other channel; online display advertising and online social display advertising were cited next.
  • Asked about acquisition of specific, uniquely qualified customers, most panelists (54.5 percent) were bullish about the role of direct mail, followed by search.
  • And with respect to the acquisition of “in-market” customers (those actively seeking out a product or service), more panelists (77.1 percent) chose search than any other channel, followed by online display advertising.

Mapping the Use Cases: A Channel-by-Channel Viewpoint

 

The email channel has matured to assume a critical role as a “bridge” between various omnichannel initiatives—supporting both customer recognition and engagement, as well as a series of advertising and marketing use cases that are driven by traditional and digital datasets.

PANELISTS SAID…

  • In addition to playing a critical role in supporting retention-oriented marketing—more panelists (51.3 percent) endorsed its importance as a driver of up-sell and cross-sell of existing customers than any other channels—email was cited as the channel best suited to drive value in conjunction with other media, as selected by 58 percent of panelists.
  • The versatile nature of email and its addressable dataset (which can be useful for cross-channel audience recognition through “matching” protocols that anonymize information for use in targeting and personalization of digital content) have positioned the channel at the crossroads of a number of key omnichannel demand trends. Panelist interviewees, for example, noted the channel’s unique efficacy as a direct complement to both targeted marketing and general advertising deployed through other channels.

Though marketers are extremely bullish on the potential contributions of mobile across a range of use cases, the channel has yet to solidify its contribution or impact with respect to any specific set of applications.

PANELISTS SAID…

  • Though panelists expressed anecdotal enthusiasm about the role that mobile apps and mobile advertising would ultimately play in their omnichannel mix, they likewise said that the channel doesn’t yet represent a “first choice” option to support any of their various strategic use cases.
  • Nevertheless, significant numbers of panelists endorsed the mobile channel as a driver of customer service/support (endorsed by 48.6 percent) and up-sell/cross-sell of existing customers (32.4 percent), reinforcing the notion that mobile’s most signi cant long-term role may be linked to its unique potential as a platform for both promotional marketing and the delivery and optimization of real-time customer experiences.ENGAGEMENT … IN THEIR OWN WORDS

“We are finding that channels complement each other and have complementary functions. We approach things for our clients from a neutral standpoint, as far as media or channel, and figure out best way to address their objectives.”

“What used to be a channel-siloed approach to marketing has now become cross-channel. We use complex attribution models in order to look at the results of our marketing efforts in a channel-agnostic way, and we look at spend from a cross-channel perspective when we are thinking about marketing budget.”

“In order to understand how best to leverage all of the channels at your disposal, you need to do customer research. That’s how you find the right balance of frequency and volume between all of your channels.”

“It’s about integrating your marketing channels. I would advise organizations to bring email and direct mail together in their campaign deployment. And the next step would be to gure out how mobile comes into play to augment that.”

“Email is very effective for marketing to existing customers, but I never see email work on its own. We have messed that up for ourselves as marketers by bombarding people with emails. I see response rates getting worse. But performance for email as a channel goes up when it’s a combined campaign with direct mail.

 

ORCHESTRATION: COORDINATING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT

Where marketers are succeeding in the deployment of complex omnichannel strategies, they’re doing so thanks largely to the contributions of the supply chain partners— including agencies, data providers and other third parties that support the execution of those underlying programs.

PANELISTS SAID…

  • While marketers may struggle today with audience recognition and the development of cross-channel insights, they are doing fairly well when it comes to deploying content and messaging across touch points in service of their broader omnichannel initiatives. In fact, most panelists said they’re generally con dent in their basic ability to orchestrate the delivery of messages across multiple channels. 40 percent of panelists said they’re able to orchestrate the cross-channel delivery of marketing content fairly or extremely well, and a further 37.5 percent said they’re able to do so at least “to some extent.”
  • What’s responsible for powering that success? More than any other factor, panelists endorsed the contributions of their supply chain partners, whose contributions, they said, are delivering greater value than even the dedicated technology platforms (and even the internal business processes) whose work they complement.

What’s the next frontier of omnichannel marketing? Panelists said the next great leap forward would be driven from the inside, with the potential alignment of internal business processes and technology infrastructure likely to do more to advance their omnichannel efforts in the years ahead than any other initiative.

PANELISTS SAID…

  • Nearly half of panelists (49.3 percent) felt that “better integration of their existing marketing technology” would most advance their omnichannel marketing efforts in the years ahead.
  • Also likely to play a supporting role in the development of scalable omnichannel infrastructure: 40.3 percent selected “better recognition capabilities for matching consumers across channels” (selected by 40.3 percent of panelists) along with “better internal data management processes” (37.3 percent).
  • Anecdotally, a signi cant number of interviewed panelists echoed the importance of internal alignment as a key step in their organizations’ broader strategic evolution—with the theme of “customer-centricity” going hand-in-hand with a movement away from an emphasis on products, channels or legacy lines-of-business. Many noted that the “omnichannel infrastructure” investments their organizations are currently pursuing (often focused on better management of data or centralization of technology assets) can be used for positive cultural ends, as well—helping to catalyze an organization around a set of customer-oriented business objectives that support the general elevation of the marketing department and its role in the enterprise.

49.3%…of panelists said that better integration of their existing marketing technology would do the most to advance their organization’s omnichannel marketing efforts.

Thinking about your organization’s infrastructure needs, which of the following would do most to advance your organization’s omnichannel marketing efforts?

Better integration of existing marketing technology Better recognition capabilities for matching consumers across channels Better internal data management processes (e.g. data collection and storage) Closer collaboration between internal departments/functional groups More or better internal data analytics talent Access to more or better marketing automation technology Improved access to data (i.e. faster, more ef cient, more real-time, etc.) Improved measurement and attribution methodologies Better marketing orchestration/customer journey mapping tools Closer partnerships between various supply chain partners More or better support for data analytics from third-party partners. Better data visualization tools.

ORCHESTRATION … IN THEIR OWN WORDS

“Organizational structure is becoming more and more important to a successful marketing practice, especially when you’re trying to do omnichannel. The silos around channels, the channel-centric view has to go away, and that will be a challenge.”

“We are in the process of migrating to one centralized database that will integrate all of our customer data, including offer and interaction history, and give us a 360-degree view of our customers. When omnichannel really comes to fruition is when you can see every i”nteraction a customer has had across all channels and have that inform your future orchestration of content and offers.

“The impetus for us to take some action and integrate all of these legacy systems came from our C-suite. They gave us funding and then stepped back and let each department pick the platform that best suited our needs. Getting all of those platforms to talk to each other is a challenge, but we wanted to go best-in-breed for each piece and then put in the work and the time to integrate them.

“Often we engage with a client who wants us to optimize within one channel, and we try to tell them that where you reap the real bene t is by looking at everything in one uni ed view. The hardest part of being on the agency side is that you see where you co”uld add value, but because of the way organizations are set up today, you can’t help them optimize across channels.

“When omnichannel really comes to fruition is when you can see every interaction a customer has had across all channels and have that inform your future orchestration of content and offers.”

In Conclusion

The path to true “omnichannel” engagement is one that has no distinct destination. New media channels are likely to continue emerging at breakneck pace. Customers, including both consumers and B2B audiences, are growing more fragmented in their interests, attitudes and buying behaviors. And the datasets and technologies used to bridge the gap between the two—uniting channel and customer in what should be a productive long-term relationship— are only going to grow more complex over the years ahead, complicating the marketer’s work in as-yet unimaginable ways.

Fortunately, there’s a silver lining to this cloud of looming challenges: many marketers are already making great progress in driving a customer-centric business transformation. But few organizations have actually made the effort to develop comprehensive strategies—considering the three imperatives that are recognition, engagement and orchestration—to support the growth of their omnichannel effort over the long term. For many, that roadmap begins with a series of questions:

  • Does the organization have appropriate processes and protocols in place to share information across departments and functions?
  • Does the organization have a process or solution in place to support persistent customer recognition—linking and understanding customer pro les across channels, brands and environments?
  • How well is the organization’s data governance function—which should provide for central administration of all addressable data, ensuring that key information assets are safeguarded so as to protect the interests of both customer and company—geared to support various types of information, and new approaches to leveraging that data for cross-channel recognition?Engagement
  • Has the organization established a set of guiding principles to identify and prioritize key marketing use cases, aligning each with the most appropriate customer-facing channels?
  • Is the organization agile enough to honor customers’ channel preferences consistently? Can it manage a diverse array of touch points so as to ensure the right channel is being deployed to the right customers at the right times?
  • Are budgets allocated in such a way that enables the exibility to rapidly shift resources from one channel and/or campaign to another based on customer response and performance?

 

Orchestration

  • Is the organization able to surface insights about its customers and prospects in a way that informs meaningful interactions across all touch points?
  • Are the organization’s technology platforms—overseeing data management, analytics, campaign management, message deployment and other functions—aligned so that data and other assets ow seamlessly from one tool to another?
  • Do the organization’s internal business processes support the sharing of resources across the enterprise and the optimization of all addressable technologies? (Or do they act as a series of “workarounds” to compensate for gaps in resources and other issues?)
  • To what extent do the organization’s supply chain partners support its efforts to drive lasting, channel-agnostic customer engagement?
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