Omni-channel marketing explained

Omni-Channel vs Multi-Channel Marketing

The What and the Why

Although the concepts of multi-channel and omni-channel marketing are related, they are not the same. Multi-channel typically refers to using multiple channels (ex. website, social media, in person) to communicate with your customers and is generally marketing-centric. Omni-channel is customer-centric and involves creating a seamless experience for the customer, regardless of how the customer is interacting with your brand.

Omni-channel quiz questionAlmost half of the people missed that question on the ‘Are You Marketing Buzzwordthy’ quiz. Today’s marketers are familiar with multi-channel marketing – both as a concept and in practice. I believe that most of us, especially in B2B marketing, simply don’t use the term ‘omni-channel’ even though we intuitively understand what it means.

Buzzword or not, omni-channel stands for a very important shift in the marketplace today. Your customers expect a seamless experience with your company regardless of where they are: online, on social media, at a tradeshow, or in person.

That seems pretty obvious, right? We all understand the concept of branding. Omni-channel is like branding on steroids. While branding is centered on how your customer feels about your company, omni-channel describes how your customer interacts with your company.

On a daily basis, we all have a tendency to focus on our own role and department within our company. Our brand effectively operates as the sum of all our departments – sales, operations, development, support, and so forth. Considering that each of our departments has specific goals, metrics, leadership and systems, it’s possible we all approach customer interactions with very different objectives and voices.

The customer doesn’t see us as different departments at all. They see every single interaction as part of an overall experience with our company. Most importantly, they expect each interaction with our company to demonstrate that our company KNOWS and VALUES them as customers.

The Omni-Channel Experience has been Contagious from B2C to B2B

Omni-channel marketing has primarily been used in discussions about retail shopping experiences. Most of us have enjoyed how easy it is to order our favorite Starbucks drink from home using their app and then pick up the drink from our local barista without waiting in line. We might save money or score points by using the Cartwheel app while shopping at Target to scan an item and check for coupons. If our flight is delayed at the airport, our Delta app may pop up an alert with an option to change our itinerary without even talking to a gate agent.

Starbucks app screenshotWe don’t think of the word ‘omni-channel’ as being new or special because these seamless experiences are now commonplace for us. A high level of convenience and service is expected and demanded of companies in today’s world.

This new expectation has spread rapidly from consumer-focused companies to B2B companies. In his book Engage to Win, Marketo CEO Steve Lucas references profound findings from a study done by Wunderman, a leading digital agency. The study revealed that 87% of people in the US measure brands against superior companies such as Amazon, Netflix, and Starbucks. This means that your customers aren’t just comparing your company to your competitors, but to the experiences they have out in the world.

No matter what your industry, you are competing against companies who are obsessed with improving the customer experience.

Is Omni-Channel All about Technology?

In many ways, yes. Industry leading companies are investing billions of dollars in using technology to better understand their customers and to provide a smoother experience at every stage of the customer lifecycle.

Disney Magic BandsThe most prominent example is Disney’s creation of Magic Bands at their theme parks. These colorful RFID bracelets were developed secretly over the last decade with the goal of removing ‘all the friction within the Disney World experience.’ Wired magazine’s profile Disney’s $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband should be required reading for any company striving to understand both the WHY and the HOW to roll out an omni-channel experience.

It’s all about technology, but then again, it’s not.

While most companies thriving in the omni-channel realm make big investments in technology, it’s more important to look at the driving philosophy. These rock star companies (Starbucks, Amazon, Disney) have created technologies and processes that make the buying experience easier and less painful for their customers. The root of all this technology is customer empathy.

The first step is to embrace the knowledge that your customers expect flawless experiences that make them feel understood and valued. If the term ‘flawless’ sounds scary, realize that the more important part of their expectation is that you care about them. Begin with empathy.

It’s not about the buzzwords; it’s about the basics.

In closing, I’ll share a personal story about Disney. A few years back, I vacationed at Disney World with my wonderful and chaotic family. Somehow four of us ended up at the park entrance with only three tickets that had been connected to our magic bands. Disney can turn to the unhappiest place on earth quickly when traveling with little kids, especially if you have issues. At the customer service desk, my husband starting describing our situation to the Disney cast member by saying “We have a bit of a problem.” Her response was instant “You’re at Disney. We don’t have problems here. Let me fix this for you.” That moment was memorable because of the human connection and respect, not because of technology.

The true omni-channel experience comes down to how your customers feel at each and every interaction with your company. Technology can only take you part of the way. It will always be about the humans you employ who find ways to make your customers’ lives easier – whether with technology or good old fashioned customer service.

What are the quick takeaways for B2B Businesses?

  • Understand that your customers are comparing you to best-in-class companies, not just your competitors.
  • Look at the impact of your business decisions through your customer’s eyes.
  • Create an internal working environment, including data and systems, that provides a 360° view of the customer. Your sales reps should understand if a customer has an unresolved issue. Likewise, your development teams should understand the feedback coming from sales and support calls. Everyone in your company benefits from understanding your customers better.
  • Make sure all of your communications and processes are built with the customer in mind.

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