Omnichannel is the favorite buzzword right now in the digital marketing industry. Everyone says they’re selling omnichannel solutions, everyone’s tech stack is omnichannel, everyone’s favorite new cocktail is an omnichannel mix. It’s the new big thing.
But it’s not a new concept, and its current popularity demonstrates our industry’s youth. Omnichannel marketing, in fact, is a standard marketing concept. It’s simply marketing focused on delivering a consistent, personalized, end-to-end experience for consumers. It’s best-in-class branding. The practice of creating a great end-to-end experience for a consumer is thousands of years old; think of how royals are treated to uphold the brand of the state.
Nevertheless, it’s really satisfying that omnichannel marketing is making strong headway in digital marketing as we create experiences that benefit and engage people as consumers. It’s the democratization of digital branding, making a quality experience accessible to all digital consumers. And it takes us a step closer to a future where we bring the complete digital and offline world together for a true omnichannel experience.
Omnichannel is the key
Why is omnichannel now seen as a new concept in digital marketing when it’s such a basic standard of service around the world?
There are two reasons: The first is that the digital landscape has vastly expanded in the last decade or so and consumers have embraced it. There are many more digital mediums through which consumers engage with the world. There are even entire digital worlds at this point; just ask my kids about their video games.
The second reason is that digital marketers have matured. Although we still don’t always recognize standard marketing concepts like omnichannel when they appear in our landscape, we’ve now had 20 years to get things right—and wrong. Most folks agree that marketing missteps include an over-fixation on tracking individual consumers via the use of imperfect technology like third-party cookies and extremely rapid development of a programmatic marketplace unfettered by standards of quality for consumers, digital content providers or brands.
Recognizing these mistakes has made everyone smarter, while appropriate privacy legislation has been passed and those making money in the field have realized that investing in quality controls and experiences will ultimately drive more brands and more consumers towards digital advertising.
Getting that data
Consider the early days of advanced TV, which encompasses the various ways of streaming television content. Content owners, learning from the way programmatic display evolved, realized and protected the value of their content and the consumer experience. While automated buying is still the main method of exchange, trading is happening much more within private or packaged marketplaces, sometimes created by the content owners or providers themselves.
There has been an immediate insistence on quality of technology (ad podding, as an example) and a deeper understanding of what kinds of targeting data really matter when a user is experiencing advanced TV. Household-level intelligence, combined with content data in real time, makes for a far more sophisticated offering than linear TV panels. Technology and data science are advancing, making access to data and decisioning more cost-effective over time. Users are cutting cords and consuming content on digital devices, so dollars from linear campaigns—which still drive most of the market—need to follow them. The market will only grow.
Thinking beyond digital
We are moving in the right direction with automated, programmable buying, but we should learn from our industry’s mistakes and look at media engagement with consumers over time. Right now, omnichannel in the digital world means across digital mediums. But consumers don’t live in a digital-only world. We will be truly omnichannel when we are able to engage with and message consumers across the digital and physical landscape.
For example, while e-commerce is booming, 85% of CPG consumer buying still happens in stores. The smart companies are figuring out how to put everything together, and the biggest retailers are investing in proprietary tech to do just that.
We are working to connect those two worlds, and to do so we’ll need to revolutionize the way we think about engagement. We need to evolve our thinking about what outcomes we want from consumers over time. Marketers already have a pretty sophisticated understanding of the consumer funnel and how it works in each vertical, so we should create measurement standards that reflect that funnel, both on- and offline. The days of programmatic pay-per-click banner ads will be long gone, and real conversions will follow.