Omnichannel Marketing Guide: What is It and How to Get Started

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Table of contents

  1. What is omnichannel marketing?
  2. Benefits of using a personalized omnichannel marketing strategy
  3. How to create an omnichannel marketing strategy
  4. Omnichannel marketing examples

What is omnichannel marketing?

 Omnichannel marketing is a fully integrated approach that gives customers a unified, personalized experience across multiple touchpoints. This can include brick-and-mortar stores, Instagram, Facebook, email, SMS, and any other marketing or sales channels.

 But make no mistake—personalized omnichannel marketing is not the same thing as multichannel marketing. Instead, it’s highly personalized, consistent, and regularly updated marketing based on your shoppers’ needs—not on the needs of your channels. It puts customers at the center, offering them a seamless experience across all the sales channels they’re using and presenting them with the right information at the right time.

“Having a personalized omnichannel marketing strategy ensures that you communicate with shoppers wherever they are, with curated content, offers, and recommendations based on their preferences, at the precise moments they’re most likely to buy,” says Deniz Ibrahim, Vice-President of Product Marketing at Bluecore, an AI-driven retail marketing platform.

“This type of strategy keeps brands in lock-step with the shopper at every stage of the buying process.”

Unlike segmentation—which involves directly advertising to customers based on other people like them—personalized omnichannel marketing offers customers communications and experiences designed specifically for them.

At its essence, omnichannel marketing is an entirely unique shopping journey created with a specific customer in mind.

Benefits of using a personalized omnichannel marketing strategy

Omnichannel marketing is proven to drive sales, increase revenue, and improve engagement

Retailers today have never had a better marketing toolkit. The rise of omnichannel marketing helps ecommerce merchants and retailers meet shoppers wherever they are.

The result is improved engagement (some research indicates that omnichannel campaigns earn nearly 19% engagement, compared to 5.4% for single-channel campaigns) and higher sales. 

For example, a 2017 Harvard Business Review study found omnichannel shoppers spent 4% more in-store and 10% more online. The more channels shoppers used, the higher the sales. The study notes that customers who used more than four channels spent 9% more on average, compared to those who used just one channel.  

Omnichannel marketing gives customers what they want

Why is personalized omnichannel marketing so effective? It’s because shoppers want personalization. 

“Customers crave engagement. More and more, we not only want to feel known by the brands we support—we expect it,” says Gavin Flood, Senior Director at marketing platform AdRoll.

“People don’t remember brands that don’t engage them. By being everywhere [customers] are with an omnichannel strategy, you grow engagement, which drives goodwill toward your brand.”

According to an Epsilon survey of online shoppers aged 18 to 64, 80% of respondents indicated they were more likely to do business with a company if it offered personalized experiences, while 90% indicated they find personalization appealing. People are looking for products and services to better their own lives—not the lives of people like them. That’s why receiving ads based on segmentation can sometimes miss the mark. (Don’t believe us? Ask any single woman between the ages of 30 and 40 whether she enjoys getting targeted ads for dating apps based on her marital status, age, and gender alone, and you’ll likely get some pretty divisive answers!)

Google’s 2019 Global Retail Study of over 14,000 global shoppers also supports the idea that people are seeking out personalization: 49% of respondents said they wanted brands to send them promotions or deals specific to their past purchases. 

And yes, while shoppers can be wary of companies collecting data about their preferences and habits, they also appreciate it when it saves them time. Google’s study found that 32% of shoppers want retailers to remember past sizes and items they’ve bought, while 33% were keen on getting recommendations based on past purchases.

Omnichannel marketing allows you to create consistent messaging across channels, while driving brand awareness and loyalty

“Omnichannel marketing can help ecommerce merchants grow loyalty,” says Flood, noting that it’s five times cheaper to retain a customer than to acquire a new one. 

Ibrahim agrees. He notes that this is one of omnichannel marketing’s greatest strengths and says that it only typically takes two days to convert a shopper through curated site experiences. But, he says, it’s the second purchase where the real value lies. According to Ibrahim, a second-time buyer is 130% more valuable than a first-time buyer.

“This reveals an enormous opportunity for brands to increase a shopper’s likelihood to continue buying,” he says. “With an omnichannel personalization strategy, brands can tap into shopper predictions and preferences that get them to that second, third, and fourth purchase in whichever channel a shopper prefers to interact. For example, selectively surfacing discounts to a shopper who needs them to convert via email because that is the channel she interacts with most, or delivering recommendations to a different shopper based on his affinity for certain style products through SMS, because that is his preferred channel.”

How to create an omnichannel marketing strategy

Leverage customer data to create a personalized experience in-store and online 

Beauty mega-shop Sephora has long built loyalty with its shoppers by providing rewards for every purchase, both online and in-store, and offering a gift on members’ birthdays (you’ll see many a Sephora shopper race to the brick-and-mortar shop on their birthday to collect their gift).

Take Sephora’s beauty workshops, in-store makeovers and product testing for example. Its online membership program replicates the personalized customer service you get as a regular customer—and it’s giving the brand a great return on investment, given that its 10 million members tend to spend 15 times more on its website than those without a nurtured relationship. Sephora was on the early end of digital gift cards, too: “51% of our digital gift cards are redeemed within just one month, compared to only 33% of our plastic gift cards,” Bridget Dolan, Vice-President of Sephora’s Innovation Lab said back in 2015. 

Structure your marketing team to reflect the power of omnichannel personalization

Ibrahim says that one of the biggest mistakes ecommerce merchants make is organizing marketing teams or budgets around on channels, rather than audiences. He says this can lead to disconnected customer experiences and competing channel performance goals. 

“Historically, brand teams focused on stores, with ecommerce serving more of a support function,” he says.

“The massive shift to digital requires a new level of collaboration between ecommerce and brand leaders—and for some organizations, has even sparked the creation of new roles like ‘chief customer officers.’. These individuals will lead with data-driven approaches that will inform both store and ecommerce strategies, introducing better collaboration with brand leaders on merchandising and creative.” 

Ensure your messaging is consistent across platforms

One of the benefits of omnichannel marketing is that it ensures your marketing isn’t disjointed across different platforms—which can also pay dividends for your store in the long run. Flood points to a study by Yes Lifecycle Marketing, which found that two-thirds of brands found it challenging to coordinate campaigns across various channels due to limited time and resources, which is only further complicated by the proliferation of new channels.

“By shifting your focus from channels to customer experiences, understanding your buyer persona, and segmenting your buyers you will be able to deliver the right message to the right user through the right channels,” says Flood.

Connect with your customers during in-store shopping experiences

One of the more advanced tools of omnichannel marketing is mobile location data combined with first- and third-party audience data. With technology, specific consumers can be targeted during the “moment of truth,” like if they just stepped foot into your brick-and-mortar store.

But be sparing and strategic while using geofencing marketing or mobile GPS. You want to make sure the shopper has consented, so they pass the weirded-out stage of the whole experience and skip right to the part where they’re glad for that discount on the baby blankets piled high on a display case before them. Often you can get that consent when offering store WiFi or when a user downloads an app. Then, in the customer’s mind, it makes sense that you would provide offers or suggestions because they’re an active participant.

Reach out to your customers on social media and SMS

 You’ve got to reach your shoppers where they are—and that’s on social media. According to the 2019 Customer Expectations Report from Gladly, there’s been a massive rise in live chat and social messaging with retailers, up 14% and 6%, respectively, since 2017, while email has declined by 18%. Customers want answers in real-time. The Harvard study cited above found that “deliberate searching beforehand led customers to greater in-store purchases.” Nordstrom’s social media integrations have been heralded for the clean way they direct a shopper from a posted photo on Instagram or Pinterest to the product page on the Nordstrom site, which then lets them know if the product is available in a store near them. 

Increasingly, SMS is proving itself to be a powerful part of omnichannel marketing strategies. Allison Kelly, Head of Partnerships at Attentive—which specializes in SMS personalization campaigns—says that it’s a common misconception that text message marketing will cannibalize your email marketing channel performance. 

“These two marketing channels should not be thought of as either/or,” she says.

“Both channels have their own unique strengths and naturally complement each other. While email works better for long-form content that isn’t time-sensitive, the fact that text messages are generally opened faster than emails make them ideal for succinct messages designed to drive immediate action.” 

Remember: omnichannel marketing is about personalization; not segmentation

“There’s still a lot of confusion between segmentation and personalization,” says Ibrahim. “Segmentation—which is often a list-based approach informed by demographics and past behaviors—can provide a perspective on what’s worked in the past but doesn’t predict the future. Personalization involves creating unique experiences for individual customers based on factors like product, content or offer recommendations, and priority and timing of your communications.”

Choosing the right tech stack for omnichannel marketing

Data collection—including traffic, on-site interactions, personal data, purchases, and searches—is critical to powering ecommerce personalization. The same goes for tracking your success with the right metrics. 

“While marketers measure the overall effectiveness of the campaign, they don’t measure the KPIs at every stage of the buyer’s journey, preventing them from deriving meaningful insights,” says Flood.

But figuring out what data to use and how to track it is only going to get more complex. The experts that we interviewed for this article predicted that, in the future, we’ll see accelerated growth in video marketing content and more digital and cashless payment options. And with Chrome phasing out third-party cookies, first-party data collection will become increasingly important for merchants.

“Many brands believe centralizing all customer data is the key to personalizing their digital communications, but that doesn’t address the issue of data accessibility and activation, which is the true bottleneck in personalizing at the speed of shoppers,” says Ibrahim.

“Without centralization and activation at one place, systems do not end up speaking to each other and opportunities end up being missed across touchpoints.”

Given the complex metrics involved, it should come as no surprise to learn that AI solutions—like those offered by Bluecore—are leading the way to do some of the heavy lifting and help scale automation. 

For example, brands (including Shopify Plus merchant Pura Vida Bracelets) are now seeing up to a 60% lift in digital revenue from AI-driven personalization powered by Bluecore’s ability to combine Shopify product catalog data with shopper data. Campaign production time has also been reduced by 85%, with the ability to create and execute personalized campaigns in minutes. 

Omnichannel marketing examples

Lounge Underwear

With a focus on consistent messaging, omnichannel personalization offers merchants the opportunity to both establish and reinforce their brand’s identity and values. That was the case for Shopify Plus merchant Lounge Underwear, a UK-based home apparel merchant.

 “A year ago, we had just begun establishing ourselves in the U.S. market. It’s hard to break into the U.S. as a young British start-up, especially as an e-commerce brand. To be successful, we needed to keep our messaging cohesive in every element of our campaigns,” writes Kiran Bains, Head of Paid Media at Lounge Underwear.

“From the moment someone finds us on social, to when they sign up for an email and receive a targeted ad, we had to determine: how do we talk to someone cohesively throughout their customer journey?”

Lounge Underwear found its answer by engaging the services of marketing platform AdRoll. With AdRoll’s assistance, Lounge Underwear’s 2.3 million Instagram followers and 230,000 Facebook fans are now presented with high-quality photography, which allows them to click through to the brand’s store. There, they receive resources on style and fit, as well as incentives to purchase and the opportunity to opt into the company’s email list.

They’re then targeted across social channels, web pages, and devices. This is all a key element of creating a connected experience—and one that’s heavily focused on reinforcing the Lounge brand values. Contacts created through email collection are also leveraged with AdRoll data to identify similar audiences to grow the pool of future customers in driving engagement with the brand.

The result? Exponential revenue growth. Lounge Underwear increased revenue from social platforms by 388%, while managing to drop new audience acquisition costs by 78%. 

Big Blanket Co

Shopify Plus merchant Big Blanket Co—which sells “the biggest, best blankets in the world”—wanted a mobile-first marketing strategy that delivered customer service on every touchpoint. Delivering personalized and timely responses was also important to the brand.

The brand reached out to Attentive to launch it as part of an omnichannel marketing campaign. In addition to launching a campaign that triggered text messages to subscribers for personalized experiences, Big Blanket Co. also uses historical customer purchase data stored in Shopify to create additional SMS segments, such as subscribers who have abandoned their carts, visited the website, or purchased a specific product or category.

The result? Within only four months of launching its SMS marketing program, text messages sent via Attentive account for 18% of Big Blanket Co’s total revenue.

Want more omnichannel marketing examples? Read our posts on 10 examples of omnichannel brands and what you can learn from them.

Final thoughts on omnichannel personalization strategies

The take-home message? Customers are at the heart of omnichannel marketing.

“A true omnichannel marketing and personalization strategy requires shifting processes, technology, and people to be customer-centric,” says Ibrahim. “This means putting customer data and audiences at the center of your marketing strategy, prioritizing technology that is optimized for speedy and agile data activation and execution across multiple channels, and organizing teams and leadership in a way that holds one leader and team accountable for technology and channel execution.”

Flood agrees. “Omnichannel marketing and personalization strategy places customers at the heart of everything you do. It’s a journey—not a destination—as customer tastes, preferences, and priorities will always be evolving,” he says. “Take every opportunity to connect with your customers. Lines keep blurring between online and offline, so continuously connecting with consumers across key channels is crucial to stay relevant.”

About the author

Jessica Wynne Lockhart

Jess is an award-winning freelance journalist and fact checker splitting her time between Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Her writing has appeared in ChatelaineenRouteThe Globe & Mail, and The Toronto Staramongst others. She is also the Contributing Editor of Verge Magazine.