The reason omnichannel has remained out of reach for most marketers is that consumers seem to almost deliberately throw marketers ‘off the scent’ by failing to use coupons, forgetting to scan QR codes, and (most annoyingly of all) changing their internet-connected device between searching online and visiting the physical store.

Seriously, though, it’s pretty tough for those tasked with coming up with an omnichannel strategy as online-to-offline customer journeys are notoriously difficult to map and joining the relevant data is almost impossible.

So, what is a marketer tasked with an omnichannel initiative to do?  To find out, Econsultancy recently invited dozens of client-side marketers to discuss omnichannel marketing. At the tables led by both Dean Salakas, Director at The Party People and Chris Jahnsen, Data & Content Manager at Tourism Tropical North Queensland, marketers openly discussed their frustrations and occasional successes with one of marketing’s most difficult concepts, omnichannel.

So what should someone who is working on an omnichannel strategy know?

1) There are many ways to get omnichannel data

First off, those working on an omnichannel projected listed a number of ways that marketers can get data which helps link online and offline customers:

  • WiFi sign on
  • Beacons
  • Coupons / loyalty programmes
  • Competitions
  • Call centres
  • Specialized landing pages
  • Events

Additionally, both Google and Facebook offer ‘store visit’ conversions so that you can measure the effect of your digital ad on real-world behaviour.

Finally, some more experienced omnichannel marketers said that third party data, such as from Quantium, was a good way to decipher the omnichannel customer journey but warned that third party data can be prohibitively expensive.

All in all, marketers recommended that people who are just starting in omnichannel should do as much research as possible to find the data sources which most closely match their requirements.

2) But omnichannel marketing is really difficult if you don’t own the point of sale

One of the main barriers to omnichannel success, according to participants, is that many brands do not own the point of sale and a ‘no man’s land’ exists between marketing and the point of purchase.

This barrier can be made even more complicated by the fact that retailers are often not incentivized to work with online stores with offline fulfilment. In many cases, attendees reported, offline retailers will rebook online purchases in order to get credit for the sale.

The answer to this conundrum is straightforward but quite difficult for marketers to do. Omnichannel marketers must either own or develop a very close relationship with customers.

Reason being that the more touchpoints the brand has to interact with its customers, the more likely that marketers will be able to map the online and offline customer journey.

3) It’s also hard to sell omnichannel to the business

Attendees pointed out that creating a business case for fusing online and offline data can be difficult to write up and even harder to get approved.  The issue is that for omnichannel marketing to make a difference you will need to be working with a sizable retailer, perhaps one with 100+ stores.

In these cases, the stores could do great things with, say, beacons but the cost to implement and maintain the technology is also quite significant.

One attendee suggested that the business case should be an innovation project with competitive advantage or strategic clarity being the tangible benefit. Marketers should, in these cases, avoid any direct links between the initiative and return on investment (ROI).

4) You can try to collaborate with data providers, but don’t get your hopes up

Everyone agreed that omnichannel will work best once multiple companies are working on it together and sharing data between various touchpoints.

Those with omnichannel experience, however, told fellow attendees not to get their hopes up. The reason is that touchpoint data such as shopping centre footfall, media exposure, and point of sale is very valuable and third parties prefer to monetize data themselves than be part of a broad solution.

Also, sharing consumer data may raise both technical and legal issues and so, because most companies are risk averse, sharing omnichannel data is often relegated to the ‘too hard’ basket.

The only way that data sharing is likely to happen, one participant noted, is when data sharing is included in initial contracts with partners.

5) Don’t worry – no one has ‘nailed it’ yet

Marketers on the day mused about using Amazon’s approach of integrating video and AI to capture every move a consumer makes in the store. Participants admitted, though, that it would probably be at least 10 years before that technology was generally available, and that they had issues to overcome today.

Everyone, therefore, agreed that they were in the same place with omnichannel. They were just starting to understand what was possible and starting to deploy tools such as Salesforce, Adobe, Crux, Hitwise, Clearbit, and Live Ramp.

So, none of the delegates felt like they were far along their omnichannel journey. They all still had plenty of options to explore beforehand with their existing marketing programmes before they felt it was worth deploying more complicated or costly technology.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank all of the marketers who participated on the day and especially our Omnichannel table hosts: Dean Salakas, Director, The Party People and Chris Jahnsen, Data & Content Manager, Tourism Tropical North Queensland at Salmat.

We hope to see you all at future Sydney Econsultancy events!