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The omnichannel revolution has begun.
In a 2016 study, Nielsen found that 87% of Australian consumers 'often' or 'sometimes' look at an item online before buying it in a store.
Recent research by Google backs this up. According to its data, more than two in five (42%) of in-store consumers research online while in stores.
How can brands take advantage of this new omnichannel consumer behaviour?
What are the steps toward providing a consistent customer experience both online and off?
To find out, Econsultancy held a roundtable event, Understanding the Customer Journey: Optimising Engagement Levels for Greater Customer Acquisition & Loyalty in Melbourne, Australia.
Dozens of client-side marketers came to discuss the trends, best practices, and issues they are facing with customer experience.
The roundtables were moderated by subject matter experts from Econsultancy and our event sponsor IBM Marketing Cloud. Participants brought their own experiences, questions, and challenges to the table for open discussion.
Below are suggestions from participants on the day for how marketers can improve their omnichannel experience.
1) Identify data sources and break down silos
Attendees agreed that the challenge of delivering a high-quality omnichannel experience has changed in recent years.
Previously companies were lacking the data they needed to fully track the customer journey. Now many feel that the data is there, but it is in 'data silos' and difficult to extract.
This problem appears to be universal. A recent global survey of senior executives by Capgemini consulting found that 'scattered data lie in silos across various teams' was the most frequently listed challenge faced when implementing data solutions.
Additionally, nearly eight in ten (79%) of organisations indicated that they 'have not completely integrated their data sources across the organisation'.
Marketers feel the same about their systems. According to a 2015 survey by Teradata, 80% of marketers report that 'silos within marketing prevent them from having a seamless view of the campaign and of the customer across channels.'
This is a problem. In order to measure effectiveness of omnichannel strategies, marketers need access to channel performance data.
The first step to omnichannel excellence then, according to participants, is to join industry pacesetters and break down the data silos in their organisations.
2) Train up marketers so they can integrate systems
Participants also noted that marketers are frequently targeted these days by tech companies with data solutions.
While many of the solutions are promising, implementing them exposes another hurdle to providing excellent omnichannel customer experiences.
Namely, there is a knowledge gap between what marketers are familiar with today and what is necessary to map the customer journey.
One participant told a very familiar story. His former company had bought advanced analytics and marketing automation systems but, because of a skills gap, the systems were never integrated. As a result, the marketers now have all the data that they require, but they are not able to use it to improve the brand's omnichannel experience.
The notion that marketing suffers from a skills gap has shown up in Econsultancy's recent research as well.
In our report The Rise of Marketing Technologists, the 'lack of internal resource to get maximum value from software' was the most frequently-encountered barrier marketers faced when using marketing technology.
Interestingly, agency respondents also felt 'lack of skills' was a significant problem for their clients.
The roundtable agreed that the best solution was that management should ensure that the marketing team is trained up on new marketing systems before implementing them.
This way, it is more likely that the systems will be integrated and used for improving the omnichannel experience.
3) Take a unified approach to offline and online marketing
One participant pointed out that in order to truly deliver an omnichannel experience marketers need to move away from ad hoc campaigns, both online and off.
That is, as another attendee put it, there is little point advertising to change perception of the brand on one medium and then not to be able to deliver that experience on the other.
Instead, marketers should ensure that all campaigns work in a unified fashion, ensuring campaigns are carefully planned, tested, and measured toward a single, omnichannel goal.
Recent research indicates that a unified approach is worthwhile for other reasons as well.
In a 2015 paper in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, researchers asked hundreds of participants to choose a brand whose store they were familiar with, but not their website. Then they had them perform basic online tasks and measured their performance.
Brands with a similar offline and online experience were significantly easier for participants to use than those whose brand's experience was incongruous.
The researchers concluded:
[Retail brand image] incongruity appears to cause a disruption in the effectiveness of navigation performance on flow, such that a website's effectiveness is reduced substantially, which can, in turn, affect downstream variables, such as website revisit intentions.
So, coordinated offline and online marketing will not only ensure that marketing initiatives are working toward the same goals, a unified approach will also improve the digital customer experience as well.
A word of thanks
Econsultancy would like to thank all of the client-side marketers who participated on the day and especially our table moderators for the Joining Up Online and Offline Channels Data table, Richard O'Sullivan.
We'd also like to thank our sponsor for the event, IBM Marketing Cloud, and we hope to see you all at future Melbourne Econsultancy events!