Almost dating to ancient times, marketers have known to value and watch the customer journey in order to improve it. Now, they know they have to provide seamless omnichannel marketing to create conversions.
But a phrase only slightly older — “It takes money to make money” — is still dogging them. That’s true because the marketing budget emerged as their largest concern in Target Marketing’s recently released research. The study also suggests seven key capabilities brands will need in order to improve those customer journeys via omnichannel marketing.
Announced on March 5 by Target Marketing, “Omnichannel Marketing: The Key to Unlocking a Powerful Customer Experience,” travels the customer journey with omnichannel marketers to discover why it’s not yet seamless and how to make it so.
While 81 percent of marketers responding to the survey said their omnichannel experiences along the customer journey were good enough, the biggest challenge to optimizing the experiences was the marketing budget — showing up in the survey as a 10 percent larger concern than any other marketing strategy challenge.
While that percentage is showing brands are making progress in optimizing the customer journey, research author and Target Marketing Editor-in-Chief Thorin McGee writes that omnichannel marketing still has gaps to close.
“Lack of budget, lack of cross-platform data and customer recognition and lack of personnel with the necessary skills are holding omnichannel back,” he says in the report.
But there is a bigger picture to consider, too, McGee intones.
“As important as getting the budget for omnichannel is,” he writes in the report, “marketers must apply those funds to the right portions of the customer journey to create a great customer experience.”
Here are the parts of the customer journey omnichannel marketers can optimize to create a seamless customer experience and get their best ROMI:
The Customer Journey Must Be a Consistent Experience Across All Channels
Back when omnichannel marketing was still called cross-channel marketing or multichannel marketing, marketing consultants were strenuously urging brands to keep their images consistent from print to online channels, so consumers would recognize them. Marketers needed to do that to ensure consumers trusted that they were still dealing with the same brand. That was even the case in 2011, when a representative of Internet marketing services provider OrangeSoda told me any channels connected to search engine marketing efforts had to follow this rule:
“Keep the message clear and consistent across channels, knowing that the product name may be the main search term.”
Then as now, says Target Marketing’s omnichannel marketing report, brands do need to keep their presences consistent across channels, in every way — including branding and messaging. But right now, McGee writes, the most consistent action marketers take across channels is keeping omnichannel strategy on pricing the same; but, even so, only 55 percent of marketers are doing so.
Omnichannel marketers said this of consistency across channels throughout the customer journey, according to the omnichannel report:
“The amount of channels, as well as the customer experience throughout the entire process” are what’s important, said one response. “You cannot simply say the first step was good, yet the rest of the process was bad, and therefore the whole omnichannel experience was great — everything needs to work seamlessly together.”
Another said, “The message must be consistent, but not always the same. People use their channels in certain ways, and as an advertiser/marketer, we must try to better understand these channels. The messages must be unique to the consumers. Today’s psyche is much more geared to personalization. People want to feel important. They want to feel as if they are a part of something.”
The Omnichannel Customer Experience Needs to Include Interactions With Them, Online and Offline
About 98 percent of Target Marketing readers employ email marketing and, in the omnichannel marketing survey, 88 percent used the channel to interact with customers and 11 percent plan to do so in the future — meaning only 1 percent will stay away from the channel and not truly be omnichannel marketers.
The research shows the omnichannel experience in the customer journey takes them through interactions including the following channels: mobile apps, virtual reality, virtual assistants, online, display, search, TV, radio, other broadcast media, social media, mobile, telephone, direct mail, website and brick-and-mortar locations.
“Customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the year 2020,” writes REVE Chat, quoting a Walker study, “Customers 2020: A Progress Report.” That study says customer expectations are increasing and “interactions at every stage of the [customer] journey are becoming more complex.” So that’s why interactions matter — customers expect personalization, seamless omnichannel experiences and speed.
Conversocial reports in 2017 that during the previous two years, customer service interactions increased 250 percent on Twitter and during the first three months of implementing Facebook Messenger interaction, “Sprint saw an increase of 31 percent in private messages.”
Customer Data Will Help Omnichannel Marketers Recognize Customers on Any Channel They Visit
Sadly, brands see integrating customer recognition along the journey as one of their major data challenges. Marketing budgets aren’t matching the need, they tell Target Marketing.
“At the top of the list, we find most respondents are focusing their improvement efforts on customer data and omnichannel customer service. Just fewer than half are investing in systems integration and customer identification across channels. These are essential capabilities for enabling the seven keys to a great omnichannel customer experience, and it’s encouraging to see marketers investing in them. These will help overcome the challenges discussed in Chart 4.” (Above)
On March 7, a Target Marketing piece shows omnichannel marketers how they can monetize data “from the digital customer journey” after using first-, second- and third-party data to “develop a comprehensive view of the customer.” That will help with “analytics-driven decision-making, to drive more effective marketing” along the omnichannel customer journey.
Marketers Need to Be Able to Access Customer Data From Their Core Records in the Channel the Customer Is Using
Part of the reason being able to find this data in real-time matters during the customer journey is the report finds omnichannel marketer are interacting with customers live:
- 82 percent of marketers offer live customer service over the phone
- 73 percent through email
- 52 percent through social media
Back in 2010, linking customer data to channels in real-time during the customer journey was so rare, a call center employee hugged her boss for adding the capability.
With That Customer Data, Be Able to Reference Historical Customer Experiences in Real-time
While this subhead may seem like it would creep out consumers on the customer journey, omnichannel marketers can do well with this if they use the knowledge intelligently. They’re already using it in well-informed remarketing offers. (For example, abandoned cart display ads are smarter than the ones offering customers what they already bought — so updating the data is important. Otherwise, consumers may see a discount they didn’t get and ensure that happens, as did a head of Cisco.)
It also works well for predictive analytics and models that show consumers that, a la Netflix, they make like these products based on what they’ve already experienced.
The report takes a look at many options:
Enable Customer Conversion, Purchases on Any Channel
Omnichannel marketers are better about allowing customers to buy in any channel they like vs. just four years ago, when IBM reported holiday shoppers were extremely frustrated with mobile purchasing.
Now that smartphones are so ubiquitous the idea of making conversions burdensome is ludicrous, marketers are having to up their game even more.
Target Marketing says customers expect to be able to buy anywhere.
Well, Target Marketing blogger Amanda Watlington says Google is making sure omnichannel marketers also make that option quick.
“Site speed is now a confirmed ranking factor particularly for mobile sites — which is where most of the traffic growth is,” she writes. “If your site does not load in less than three seconds, you still have work to do.”
Omnichannel Strategy Should Enable Customer Service Interactions Wherever the Customer Wants to Have Them
While brands are in most channels along the customer journey, not all can be called “omnichannel marketers,” in terms of customer service channel offerings, according to the Target Marketing report.
The research states that there are a few growth opportunities, including:
“Very few respondents are dabbling in AI or AI-assisted customer service. However, 14 percent do so through web chat — which means half of all web chat is being handled by AI. That’s followed by social media and email.
“Outside of website chat bots, AI customer service is still a rare experience. Also, marketers do not yet seem to consider virtual assistants and smart speakers to be important service channels.”
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.