Reaching the Unreachable Omnichannel Star

For many brands, creating the seamless and consistent experience all customers have come to expect has become both the ultimate challenge and end goal. Here are the three success stories to inspire and motivate omnichannel improvement

Over the last decade, emerging contact channels have blossomed into vital avenues for customer interaction and data collection. But, as most businesses will agree, cultivating an omnichannel engagement strategy typically sounds easier in theory. For many brands, creating the consistent experience all customers have come to expect has become both the ultimate challenge and end goal.

Yet, while companies have in-depth abilities to analyze survey data and customer preferences, executing an omnichannel approach comes down to integrating the necessary strategies and technologies that will aid the company’s efforts to generate a holistic view of the customer and share that data across channels and departments to establish consistency throughout the organization. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all guide for companies as they look to launch their transition, as such components must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

But, despite all the advice from thought leaders and experts on the Web, success stories often offer the greatest lessons for companies looking to forge their own omnichannel path. Here are just three brands that are leading by example:

Meredith Embraces New Channels

While Meredith once connected with customers solely through monthly subscriptions, the publishing company discovered that, along with the proliferation of contact channels, came the need to expand both its circulation and its view of the typical customer. Mobile devices and social media have led many magazines to move their publications to the Web, with mobile applications and online subscriptions gaining great momentum over the past few years. But, for an industry that once relied on print and direct mail alone, creating an omnichannel approach meant getting to know consumers all over again.

“Aside from ensuring that our creative material and the associated offers are appropriate to the channel over which they are being delivered, we have had to build out our understanding of our consumers to understand the channels over which they prefer to be contacted and how we can reach them on those channels,” says Krystal Maher, senior systems engineer. “Historically, we were entirely a direct mail company for whom the ‘household’ was the organizing principle for contact. Now we are building in ways to think about both households and individuals.”

Through observations and analytics, Meredith can determine channel preferences on an individual basis, allowing the company to send targeted messaging and offers. Because Meredith’s consumers are changing, the company continues to work on developing the most effective channel for each consumer in order to improve response rates, for the greatest challenge remains building an understanding of those consumers for whom marketers only had direct mail interaction in the past. Though still a work in progress, as is the case with omnichannel strategies across industries, Meredith continues to measure success based upon said response rates, as such metrics are dependent upon reaching consumers via the correct channel for them. In the first half of fiscal 2014 alone, Meredith saw increased digital traffic, with 58 million unique visitors and 2.5 million digital orders for print magazine subscriptions, highlighting the brand’s online presence and its ability to drive omnichannel conversions.

Smarthome Understands the Current Market

Consumer shopping and purchase patterns continue to demonstrate the extent of technology’s impact on the average customer experience. For Smarthome, the evolving consumer landscape marked the need to shift attention from its catalog presence, incorporating online, mobile, and in-store strategies to connect with customers across touchpoints and overcome the increasingly competitive marketplace.

“Increased consumer interest in energy efficiency and security solutions have driven significant growth in the home automation market, attracting both new customers and new competitors,” says Scott Holder, vice president of marketing. “Smarthome embraced an omnichannel approach early on in order to be available wherever and whenever prospective customers were shopping. That doesn’t mean we try to be everywhere. It just doesn’t make sense to try and be all things to all people, but rather we focus on the products and prospects where we’re best positioned to win.”

Smarthome understands that, while developing an omnichannel presence means being where their customers are, they recognize that not all channels are pertinent. Therefore, the company chooses to devote the bulk of its attention on improving the channels that resonate most, with special emphasis on the brand’s e-commerce and online presence. Creating an e-commerce site allowed Smarthome to feature both products and expertise, encouraging those who visit—whether by choice or via search—to remain on-site. Smarthome recognized that, by offering consumers relevant information via this primary research channel, the company was able to differentiate itself from the big box retailers with its superior product assortment and in-depth knowledge of the home automation market. By embracing these newfound behaviors and analyzing which products attract the greatest response, Smarthome has established itself as an agile competitor that constantly reevaluates its strategy in order to remain focused on key touchpoints, as customers are quick to move onto the next big thing. The company’s ongoing commitment to monitoring and profiling competitor assortments and price points allows marketers to stay on top of emerging trends so the business can respond quickly and proactively across channels with consistent, real-time messaging that keeps customers engaged and loyal.

George's Music Blends Varied Experiences

For George’s Music, the musical instrument retailer, creating an omnichannel experience meant looking beyond the direct competition to explore what leaders throughout the retail industry were doing to boost communication. The retailer, which began as a Philadelphia startup in 1977, has grown to include 10 brick-and-mortar locations and two Internet companies—one national, one international—breeding the constant ability to change alongside the consumer and industry trends. Using Apple as an example, George’s Music decided that the ideal way to improve communication techniques would be to blend channels in-store, making its online and retail entities complementary, not competitive. Thus, the company incorporated television touchscreen technology to enhance the brick-and-mortar experience by encouraging consumers to fulfill the online research phase of the purchase process in-store and complete the remainder of their journey in one place.

“When building this omnichannel strategy, we chose to look at what success would look like at the end and work backwards,” says George Hines, president. “We envisioned what the environment would be like in stores, ultimately integrating touchscreen technologies in order to bring the Internet into the store. Customers often research or buy online, but will visit the store to showroom. At that point, many will go back online to make their purchase. We were looking to reinvent the retail engagement experience, blending both the online and retail side to encourage more in-store purchases.”

The company also implemented dashboards that allow employees to bring in channel information, pulling data in different ways for different areas of the business, enabling the various departments to see pertinent activity clearly and holistically. Overall, George’s Music operates under the concept that, when customers aren’t happy the company uses the opportunity to learn and improve, thereby emphasizing the importance of behavior analysis and actionable insight.

No matter the company's approach, omnichannel may not mean every channel. To succeed, marketers must analyze and assess the channels they currently frequent in order to develop a targeted engagement strategy that offers relevance and promotes loyalty. Each brand must recognize that not every channel is appropriate for its audience, allowing them to focus attention on those channels that truly resonate. Only then will companies be able to assume the position to bring all customer data to action.


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