GUEST COMMENT The future of marketing: an omnichannel approach

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

The way people shop has undoubtedly changed over the past 18 months, but consumers have adapted well to this shift. In fact, online shopping surged by129% in early 2020 as customers had little option but to shop from their own homes, andmore than three-quarters of consumers intend to continue shopping as they did during the pandemic, despite the fact that physical stores are now open.

As electrical retail AO’s boss,John Roberts, put it “we saw 10 years of change in just 10 months”, and so retailers, as well as consumers, have had to ensure they adapted appropriately to this unavoidable change. As consumers now spend more time on their mobile devices, laptops, and tablets, rather than on the high street, they have more exposure to digital content – from videos and product images to brand logos. This means for marketers, it’s increasingly harder and more competitive to effectively cut through the noise and reach their audience.

With this constant online access to digital content, comes a rise in customer expectations, too. It has been reported that71% of consumers shop online more now than before the pandemic, and 55% say they need more convincing to check out online compared to in-store. It is therefore important for businesses to provide consumers with a personalised and consistent experience across all channels – from social media through to the website, and even customer care. So, how can marketers today respond?

A breakdown of omnichannel marketing

For a retailer today to thrive, it must put the customer at the forefront of its marketing and sales strategy. That means fostering a positive, consistent, and integrated experience at every touch point along their purchasing journey – whether that’s in-store or online. While this can look different for every business, the best retail marketers are the ones adopting tactics, strategies, platforms, and tools to not only keep up with the evolving digital landscape and reach their customers but to embrace the future of retail and cross-channel marketing.

This strategy is what we call: omnichannel marketing.

At its core, omnichannel marketing is a coordinated multichannel approach that allows a business to strategically provide its customers with a unified brand experience, across all touch points. From a consumer first seeing a product on the website or spotting a campaign image on social media, to revisiting the content later, to finally adding the piece to their basket and paying for it. The goal is to create high-quality connections that encourage the consumer to make a positive purchasing decision. 

H&M is a pandemic omnichannel marketing success story. In January of this year, the retailerreported that it turned an online profit in 2020 due to the digital transformation investments it made in recent years. The leadership team commented that digital sales helped to compensate for store closures and restrictions during the year, and moving forward, online technologies will remain key to its digital strategy. This shows the potential technology holds when it comes to omnichannel marketing.

The importance of brand consistency

According tofigures from the ONS, it was estimated that online shopping made up 26% of total retail sales in July of this year, down from the pandemic peak of 36%. However, as we tentatively return to “normal”, customers are still not browsing in-store in the same way that they used to. Thanks to social distancing measures, the presence of face masks, and some people approaching crowded spaces cautiously, consumers are not wandering around shops looking for inspiration in the same way they used to. Instead, customers often enter shops armed with lists, knowing exactly what they want, with many having already researched options or seen what they like online — and even checked stock availability — from home. This means retailers need to make sure that their brand experience and product information, from website to high street, is consistent in order to make the purchase journey as easy as possible.

For omnichannel marketing to be a success, it must meet the customer consistently at all touch points. No matter where they are, or where they go, each stop in the journey will be more impactful with a persistent brand image, message, and, ultimately, experience. Offering a positive shopping experience regardless of time, place, or channel creates a memorable impression and builds brand loyalty, which is more likely to drive consumers to act and purchase a product.

Tools to help you succeed with omnichannel marketing 

When putting together a strategy to approach omnichannel marketing, technology should be at the top of the list. Software that provides a business with a “central source of truth” for their sales and marketing materials is what makes it possible to provide that consistent brand experience.  

This central-source-of-truth concept helps support omnichannel marketing in retail by ensuring the whole team, from C-suite to shop floor, has the accurate information, data, and assets required to deliver a unified brand experience to their customers. By doing so, this fuels an efficient, agile workforce plus, most importantly, an omnichannel experience.

For example, when the web team updates an image or product data in a centralised location, those updates are then reflected to the sales team handsets, the consumer website, and anywhere else that information is being pulled into. As a result, consumers and team members are viewing consistent information no matter where they’re shopping.

Example of central-source-of-truth technologies

Digital asset management (DAM) software helps a company to centralise its brand photos, product images, videos, marketing materials, or other assets by acting as a library or hub for content. This command centre supports teams across the company by providing access to the latest versions of files, ensuring complementary assets are used within every channel. And with assets pulling into other systems from a central source, any updates made in the DAM system will be reflected in integrated systems ensuring content is consistent across all channels.

Product information management (PIM) solutions provide a single location to collect, manage, and distribute all of the information that is critical for communicating product details such as descriptions, colour options, or product dimensions. By capturing this information in one source, integrated product data is displayed consistently in all locations keeping everyone and every channel on the same page. This will avoid the potential dissatisfaction of online stock levels not aligning with those in-store.

Looking to the future

Customer requirements have undoubtedly changed over the past year and a half, in ways that never could have been predicted. Building trust and loyalty with consumers is no longer optional, it’s essential for retailers to overcome unforeseen challenges, and the way to do so is rooted in the ability to present a consistent brand identity along with concrete, accurate information across every channel, from in-store to online.

As the retail industry continues to evolve, connecting customer experiences in a seamless and consistent way should remain top of every business’ agenda. And with the right tools and technology, it’s getting easier for brands to meet these rising customer expectations. 

There’s no doubt that every industry has faced enormous challenges in recent months, and hitting the right tone when it comes to marketing is even more important for businesses to continue building loyalty in 2022 and beyond. For retailers to see success, they must embrace an omnichannel approach to deliver a consistent, seamless, and positive experience across all channels no matter where the customer is, or where they are shopping from.

Author:

Nate Holmes, product marketing manager, Widen, an Acquia Company

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