The traditional customer buying journey or path-to-purchase followed a mostly linear track. A customer considered several brands, narrowed choices through an evaluation phase, and ended up buying a product in-store or online. Marketers mostly followed suit with a funnel-like engagement strategy that viewed each touchpoint or customer interaction through a transactional lens.
A linear, static transaction-based approach is no longer tenable when trying to engage with the continuously connected consumer. The empowered consumer is now in charge of his or her own customized, dynamic buying journey that is nearly unrecognizable from the traditional, straight-line path. An explosion of interaction points across multiple smart devices, channels, and applications coupled with unprecedented consumer choice makes today’s omnichannel buying journey more like a Whac-A-Mole experience. A consumer can, and will, surface in no readily discernable pattern across a host of touchpoints without a defined beginning, middle, or end.
Omnichannel does not necessarily mean the same thing as “multi-channel”, which refers to consumer options for how to engage with a brand. Mastering omnichannel marketing is more about the seamless orchestration of physical and digital touchpoints into a holistic experience. It’s a recognition that, for the customer, each touchpoint complements another in an instantaneous, visceral manner based on changing variables, conditions, or events. While viewing a 30-second ad, a consumer might begin an online search. Or a customer could be one of the 45 percent of American consumers who say the smartphone is an “essential” shopping tool, checking out in-store inventory while simultaneously on their device looking for a better price.
For the marketer, managing such a journey requires viewing the journey through the lens of an overall customer lifecycle in which a relational construct that is built over time through loyalty, growth, and retention supersedes any single transaction. Mastering omnichannel marketing entails always being on the lookout for customer signals and viewing each interaction not only in the context of the last interaction that preceded it but also in the context of always-changing, trigger-based variables that are unique to each customer for every moment in time.
An Ear to the Ground
To achieve the consistency that consumers expect throughout an omnichannel journey, marketers need to refine how they listen to consumer signals. A famous quote from educator and leadership expert Stephen Covey illustrates how marketers need to change tack. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply,” he said. This describes the key difference between transactional and relational marketing. In the former, marketers listen with the intent to reply: the customer did X, in response we will do Y. An action expected a response. In the latter, marketers listen non-stop for cues that will inform their knowledge about the customer in the context of the overarching lifecycle.
Listening to understand allows marketers to see precisely what’s happening underneath the Whac-A-Mole cabinet. Instead of having to make even an educated guess about where and when the customer will resurface, finely tuned listening lets us engage with a customer in the right context and cadence every time. This inner-workings view is made possible by having a single view of the customer, a persistently updated golden record that lets us know everything there is to know about a customer.
A single view of the customer strips away the guesswork by providing marketers with every piece of consumer data from first-party, second-party, and third-party sources, including structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data. Any new trigger or variable – a like on social media, a page view, a product review, a new job, a new home – instantly becomes part of the unified customer profile and builds on not just what we know about the customer, but also informs our expectation for the customer’s likely course of action.
In transaction-based marketing, attribution has been a challenge for a long time. Marketers struggled to understand a 1:1 cause and effect for which action spurred a purchase. Was it the 30-second ad, the product placement, the packaging? In a relational, omnichannel approach, there is no magic bullet. Everything is intertwined, and the complexity of the dynamic customer journey forces marketers to re-think attribution. Linking a specific offer to a specific outcome fails to recognize the breadth of a true omnichannel experience, and discounts the power of the consumer to chart a unique path based on a narrow orchestration of events and variables.
The traditional way to think about purchase intent – predicting the likelihood of purchase based on past behavior – offers an example of why it’s important for marketers to adapt. A transaction-based construct uses imperfect measures, such as forecasting buying intent based on a set interval between purchases. Making an offer based on old-school purchase intent analysis fails to account for or recognize the power of the consumer to instantly pivot based on any number of variables.
Imperfect assumptions based on a straight-line, transactional customer journey run the risk of introducing friction into the customer experience by making an offer that is not relevant to a consumer at that particular moment and touchpoint, or by showing the customer that you do not recognize them as an individual across an omnichannel environment. According to Forrester, 70 percent of consumers have a negative view of inconsistent cross-channel messaging, with a subset of that population claiming that an inconsistent experience factors in a decision to switch brands.
Real-Time Decisioning is the Omnichannel Lifeblood
Data aggregation is an important first component of listening with the intent to understand. Data activation is the second crucial component; in totality, listening is a combination of applying everything we know about a customer with a real-time decisioning engine powered by advanced analytics and machine learning.
Real-time decisioning is the fuel that powers the management of an omnichannel experience. A real-time engine provides an understanding of not only how to interact with the customer, but to interact with the customer in the right context, cadence, and in the right channel at the right moment. A real-time engine breathes life into last-mile connections by ensuring you’re moving at the pace of the customer in a consistent manner across all touchpoints.
Buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS) illustrates the importance of real-time in fueling the last-mile connection to keep pace with a consumer’s customized journey. When a customer buys a drill online and chooses to pick-up in-store, real-time decisioning that includes geo-fencing as a consumer data source will let the marketer know when the customer is near the physical location. A next-best action could be a mobile app push notification for a discount offer on an accessory such as drill bits that may have previously been a partial cart abandonment. Or maybe the customer recently purchased drill bits, and the next-best action is an offer for a woodworking class. Without a real-time engine, a brand would be unable to facilitate a seamless customer experience.
Staying In-Step with the Customer
Data aggregation and real-time decisioning provide marketers with a single point of control over data, decisions, and interactions that is an absolute necessity to engage with customers in an omnichannel environment. A single point of control levels the playing field for marketers by intelligently orchestrating a next-best action in the context and cadence of the customer at every interaction and on any device or channel. Whether a customer chooses to webroom, showroom, BOPIS, or even just check in on social media occasionally, a single point of control puts marketers in-step with the customer throughout every dynamic journey.
A recent Harris Poll commissioned by RedPoint Global underscores the importance for marketers to manage an omnichannel experience with a data-driven approach. Consumers rated omnichannel consistency as the second most important dimension of customer experience (CX) when rating brands’ ability to meet their expectations, just behind privacy and just ahead of customer understanding (recognizing the customer as an individual). Together, the CX dimensions inform how consumers define the personalized customer experience, with many (43 percent) saying personalization means a brand knows who they are across every touchpoint, and 42 percent defining it as a brand’s recognition that the consumer is in charge of customizing and controlling how, when, where, and why the brand interacts with them.
Customers are clear; they want the brands they frequent to know who they are. They want a personal relationship. While it may seem counter-intuitive for a brand, eschewing a transactional marketing approach in favor of a relational one to engage with the omnichannel customer will produce the outcome every brand wants: more transactions, and more satisfied, loyal customers.