How To Do Omni-Channel Marketing The Right Way | Definition + Examples
As a marketer, you already know how tough it is selling your company’s products or services using a single channel, like through a website and nowhere else. It doesn’t work because people like to use multiple channels when interacting with companies. They might want to buy a product online and pick it up at a local store. Or they may want to view their electricity bill on a phone app in the morning, and on a website later on. When companies allow them to do this, and ensure that the branding and messaging is consistent across every method, it’s called omni-channel.
Omni-channel can be worth a lot of money for companies who do it right. A study from the Harvard Business Review found that roughly 73% of customers prefer to shop across multiple channels.1 Shopify confirmed that more than half of retailers are getting tools that allow them to cater to this.3 And Think With Google found that omni-channel strategies led to an 80% higher rate of additional store visits.2 Modern businesses need to undertake omni-channel to keep up with their competitors, and this includes using omni-channel marketing techniques to promote their products and engage with customers.
In this article, we explore the concept behind omni-channel and omni-channel marketing, and provide a step-by-step overview on how to start omni-channel marketing for your business.
What is omni-channel?
Omni-channel is selling and servicing customers on multiple channels, while providing a consistent experience across all. People expect to be able to interact with brands across their preferred channels. They may want to buy a product from a company’s Instagram page, ask a technical question about it through their website, and call the company about a problem they’re having with it. That’s three separate channels, every one of which is the preferred choice for that particular customer interaction. Throw in the fact that customers expect to have a similar experience with a brand wherever they encounter it, and you have the essence of omni-channel marketing. To extend an old marketing adage, it’s delivering “the right message to the right person at the right time on the right channel.”
At the heart of omni-channel is knowing what your customers want, and then giving it to them. It’s a customer-centric approach that requires thorough research for your target audiences, out of which come rigorous buyer personas and buyer journeys. These paint a vivid picture of your ideal customers—who they are, what they want, how they behave, etc. Once you have this crucial information, you can set up shop on the various channels that your customers want to use, being sure to use the features that are most appropriate for each channel. Common examples are your website, social media pages, physical store, app, emails, and shopping aggregators like Google Shopping or Amazon. A customer should be able to seamlessly switch between each of these and do the things they want to do, while experiencing similar branding and messaging across all of them.
On the business side of things, this is no easy task. To provide a seamless experience for customers, channels need to communicate with each other, passing the relevant data back and forth so that you can identify people’s touchpoints and decide how best to react to them. Every individual channel needs to be linked so that it becomes a single, powerful omni-channel ecosystem, providing you with the data you need to make good decisions for each buyer persona, like when to promote a product, what kind of content will help them, which support methods they’ve used in the last 12 months, etc. Omni-channel selling should provide you with reams of valuable data that you use to better service your customers, with the ultimate view of increasing revenue and growing the business. It’s messy, complicated, and requires ongoing investment, but can be extremely lucrative if set up and managed properly.
Here’s just a few benefits of omni-channel selling:
- Wider reach—in theory, the more channels your company is using, the bigger your potential audiences. A company that sells on their website may have an potential audience of around 100,000 people a month. If they decide to start selling through eBay as well, that audience might jump to 10 million. But every channel requires extra resources to set up and manage, so deciding whether to use one shouldn’t be taken lightly.
- More loyal customers—consumers are usually spoilt for choice, and if you don’t sell on their preferred channels, they may take their patronage to a competitor that does. But if you take the time to understand what your customers want, you’ll be able to satisfy their desires and make them more loyal as you do.
- Better brand recall—a necessary part of omni-channel selling is painting a consistent image across each channel, and when this is achieved, customers will be able to remember your brand more easily. This results in more sales.
- Better user experience—creating a cohesive presence across multiple channels makes things easier for your customers. They recognise your brand across every channel, which use similar colours, imagery, and messaging, so they know what to expect. Predictably may sound boring, but it’s a better user experience for your customers.
Still unsure what omni-channel is? Here’s a few simple examples:
- Click & Collect—buy an item through a company’s website, and pick it up in one of their stores.
- Telecom—in Australia, Optus customers can pay their phone bills on their website or through their app. They can also sign up to Optus Sport—a sports streaming service. That’s just three channels of many which Optus use, as you’d expect from a large company.
- Disney—omni-channel royalty. They sell movies, video games, and merchandise, run theme parks, publishing houses, theatres, and more. A customer can navigate their Florida theme park using Disney’s custom app, have a Disney burger for lunch, buy a Mickey Mouse t-shirt as a souvenir, and watch a movie at their dedicated theatre. Disneys channels are numerous and their power immense.
As for the channels in omni-channel, here are just a handful of examples.
- Website—usually your most important channel.
- Physical store—the OG channel. Some people still like to visit these, if you can believe that.
- Marketplaces—eBay, Amazon, and Catch are places where you can sell your products. They can be a lucrative channel for a business.
- Email—email remains an effective way to market to customers, and is an important channel for many businesses.
- Social media—an exclamation point for our current Information Age. Huge audiences, and often a key part of omni-channel selling.
- SMS—a great tool for sending short, sharp, and direct messages to consumers.
- Search engines—a vital tool for finding information online, particularly the products and services we need.
- Virtual assistants—Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Nest, Chatbots…all handy tools that can help you get the information you need more quickly, which can come from businesses who practise omni-channel.
This list of examples can be extended with any channel that is used by a customer to interact with a brand.
Now that we’ve covered omni-channel as a broad concept, we can explore the part that makes everything cohesive and good for the customer: omni-channel marketing.
What is omni-channel marketing? And how is it done?
Omni-channel marketing is discovering the most profitable channels for a business, setting up on them using the company’s proper branding, and running campaigns on them. It’s about creating a unified experience for your customers across every single channel they want to use, and analysing key data across each of them to determine the most effective touchpoints. In essence, it’s the marketing side of omni-channel selling, and everything that usually represents.
To start omni-channel marketing for your business, you’ll need to follow these essential, summarised steps:
1. Learn about your customers
For omni-channel to be successful, a company needs a deep understanding of their customers. They need to know demographics like their age, gender, and average income, which channels they like to use the most, the steps they usually take when buying the company’s type of product, why they are loyal to particular brands, and a whole lot more. This difficult and time-consuming task falls to the marketing team, and it’s executed with customer research techniques like surveys, interviews, focus groups, visiting the customer’s workplace (for B2B), completing keyword research, analysing data, and more. We wrote an entire article on how to identify your customers’ needs, which we recommend reading.
The goal of this customer research is to produce two important documents:
- Buyer personas—these describe your ideal customers, and allow you to better service them. For omni-channel, they help you to understand which channels people might like to use, and how. If you’re not sure how to create them, check out our article on buyer personas.
- Buyer journey map—this describes the process your personas go through when buying your products or services. It’s typically broken down into three stages—awareness, consideration, and decision—with each stage including information like the person’s goals, touchpoints (i.e. the channels they use), the types of content they consume, and more. It illustrates what people want, need, and do when buying from you, and is crucial for omni-channel marketing because it also reveals which channels they use.
2. Decide which channels to use
When all of this precious information has been gleaned, and you have well-researched, shiny new buyer personas and buyer journey maps that tell you which channels you should be using, the next step is deciding whether those channels are truly right for your business. Do they complement your branding and positioning? For example, you may have discovered that many of your customers are avid Gumtree users, but this channel might not reflect the luxury image you want to portray. Or your older customers might be staunch readers of the Courier Mail, but that paper lacks integrity, which is a core value of your brand. Be sure that the channels you use fit well with your branding and your specific positioning in the market.
Once you’re confident in your channels, the next step is to figure out whether those channels can pass the data you need back to your core systems. If the channels are disconnected and unable to pass important information to you (or each other), the user’s experience may suffer. As a simple example, a customer might buy one of your products on your eBay store and then request a refund through your main website. But your support staff can’t find a record of the sale because eBay isn’t passing the information back into your website’s order system, or your accounting system. This disconnect between the two channels leads to a frustrated customer.
This data transfer is another tricky part of setting up omni-channel, but absolutely essential to get right. Take the time to figure out how data can be moved from channel to channel, or back to your core system. There’s other apps like Zapier which are designed specifically for this purpose—they “connect” your apps and allow them to send and receive key data.
3. Get the right tools
The hardest thing about omni-channel marketing is measuring your success. When customers are hopping between so many channels and viewing so many possible campaigns, how on earth do you know which of them has been effective? The answer is attribution—a measurement technique that rightly scares a lot of marketers.
Attribution is used to identify which specific actions/touchpoints contributed to a goal, usually across multiple channels. It’s a complicated process that uses a weighting system for individual touchpoints to determine which were most influential in reaching the goal. There’s three attribution models that may be effective for measuring omni-channel performance:
- Media mix modelling (MMM)—uses aggregate data from all channels (traditional and digital) to determine which campaigns are most effective.
- Multi-touch attribution (MTA)—measures specific user engagements and how they have helped to achieve the goal.
- Unified marketing measurement (UMM)—a new model that uses a combination of aggregate data and user engagements to calculate attribution. This is considered the most accurate model because it uses different data types, but there isn’t much information on how to do it.
As you might have guessed, you’ll need software to handle your attribution measurements. Take the time to shop around for marketing attribution software that offers this important functionality, with particular attention on whether it can handle omni-channel attribution. Some options might be HubSpot, Ruler Analytics, or Branch, as outlined in this article from HubSpot.
The more channels you have, the more data will need to be fed into the attribution software to accurately measure your omni-channel performance. And remember that all of this juicy data helps you to build an even clearer picture of your customers, and will allow you to refine your buyer personas and buyer journey maps. Omni-channel is data-driven marketing at its finest.
In addition to attribution software, you’ll save time with a marketing automation tool that takes care of social media posting, email marketing, and other key campaigns you may want to undertake. You may also need analytics software like Google Analytics to provide data that other systems miss. There’s a chance you’re already using software like this, but it’s good to sit down and evaluate what else you may need for your omni-channel marketing.
4. Set up the channels
It’s time to set your business up on the channels. A big part of omni-channel is providing a consistent, cohesive experience for customers, so you’ll need to use the features of each channel to stamp the company’s branding across them with your logo, colouring, imagery, and messaging/tone of voice. All of this information should be outlined in your brand style guide. If you’re a local florist whose customers are Instagram users, the images you share on the platform should reflect the brand’s design style. Similarly, if you’re a landscaper who sends promotional email campaigns, the imagery and messaging you include should be reflective of your brand as a whole.
You also need to be consistent with the information you include on each channel. For example, if you have an ecommerce store and you’ve discovered that your customers like to buy from Amazon, the products you set up on Amazon should include the same information as the products on your own store. It’s all about providing a consistent experience for your customers for every channel they like to use. They should be able to jump between them seamlessly and see a clear association, as well as having everything they need. Your omni-channel ecosystem must be fundamentally harmonious (we apologise if that sentence made you feel nauseous).
5. Run campaigns
Once the channels are set up and running smoothly, you can start conjuring up campaigns that might work on them. Here are a few examples from different channels:
- Facebook video—create a series of short, branded educational videos that help to solve one of your customers’ biggest problems. Promote them with Facebook’s advertising features. At the end of each video, direct them to your company blog for more valuable information to encourage them to switch channels and get more value.
- Phone support—start a “proactive support” campaign where you call customers and ask if they need help with anything. Encourage them to visit your support documentation if they need help in future.
- Email—send out a branded, personalised email campaign inviting people to sign up for an upcoming webinar, which teaches people something important in your industry.
- Radio—create a series of radio adverts to promote a new product. Direct people to a website landing page where the first 100 buyers can get it for a heavily discounted price.
- Google ads—run remarketing adverts that “follow” people around particular websites, encouraging them to download your awesome new eBook.
The possibilities are endless, which is why omni-channel marketing can be so effective (or so ineffective!). It creates tons of revenue opportunities, but requires skill to execute. Again, much of it comes down to knowing your audience.
6. Measure your performance
If you’ve managed to get to this point, you’re a lot further than most. The last piece of the puzzle is measuring your performance through attribution modelling, for which you should already have the software. In addition to this, you can also measure the performance for your individual personas, channels, and of course, the campaigns themselves. You might measure revenue, active customers, repeat purchases (for loyalty), and churn numbers. But your highest level data should be your attribution models, as this tells you the most effective touchpoints across every channel, campaign, and persona. It gives you a holistic view of your performance because it uses aggregate data from every important source, which is why it’s such a powerful tool.
Omni-channel vs multi-channel
Omni-channel and multi-channel are often confused because at their core, they’re both about operating on multiple channels. The key difference is that the channels are connected and cohesive in omni-channel, but separate and distinct in multi-channel. As a simplistic example, a company that practises omni-channel might have three channels in their ecosystem—their website, an eBay store, and a Facebook page—each of which is stamped with the company’s branding, and send important data back to the company’s core system. A company that practises multi-channel might have the same channels, but they may not have paid much attention to branding each of them, and none of the channels send data to each other. They’re detached and therefore less useful. That’s why omni-channel wins every time. It’s much more difficult to do, requiring plenty of resources to set up and manage, but ultimately a better way to increase profits for a business.
- Emma Sopadjieva, Utpal M. Dholakia, Beth Benjamin, A Study of 46,000 Shoppers Shows That Omnichannel Retailing Works, Harvard Business Review
- Omnichannel statistics, Think With Google
- The Future of Retail Report: Trends for 2022, Shopify
- What is Unified Marketing Measurement?, Marketing Evolution
- Online Marketplaces: The Best Platforms for Selling Your Products, BigCommerce
- Customer research methods, Queensland Government