Omni-channel refers to the plethora of digital marketing opportunities that influence consumer decision-making and buying behavior throughout the Path-to-Purchase cycle. Omni-channel is redefining 21st century marketing because it has created a more results-oriented way for branders to reach and relate to intended audiences – one that offers a stronger intuitive connection with the consumer and greater interactivity and collaboration among buyers and sellers than ever before possible. And no single tool within this new marketer’s palette is better poised to direct the dialog than mobile, and in particular smartphone devices. Mobile truly is the lynch pin within the omni-channel environment for a variety of reasons.
Mobile is the predominant way for retailers to actually interject into the consumer’s mind-set in-store, making it the most powerful medium for reaching live, on-the-go shoppers, with the possible exception of aisle display and end-cap interactive advertising. Close to half of shoppers indicate they browse retailers’ own sites or apps in-store. Because most of these mobile shoppers are highly mindful of activity on their smartphone versus other devices (simply by nature of the delivery medium), it is the most interruptive tool within a brander’s arsenal.
Research has revealed that mobile usage can literally “double the value of in-store visit.” (Sourcing: Shoppertrak and Mastercard SpendPlus) And, according to Google, smartphone devices have “given retailers more opportunities to build brand loyalty – 51% (of consumers) said they used digital devices to look for additional information after buying.” This ability for branders to now reach consumers at sequential points of influence across their lives and their shopping experience has irrevocably changed the marketing equation. The days of linear advertising simply no longer exist, and retailers who fail to utilize myriad channels – simultaneously – to reach desired targets will sadly lose competitive advantage.
While multiple digital tools within the omni-channel spectrum have emblazoned the marketplace, mobile in particular is at the heart of this new marketing world order because it has the opportunity to impact nearly every aspect of the retail experience. For consumers, it’s empowering them with more information and up-to-the-minute buying opportunities. This not only potentially encourages them to shop more, but it helps to stretch their discretionary dollar further – a feel good by-product of the mobile revolution that’s healthy for America and the shopping economy. And, for retailers, it’s opening up a bonanza of untapped revenue generators that challenge them to better optimize each link within their profit cycle. At the center of this omni-channel marketing evolution sits the mobile phone because it meets the needs of both parties in a reciprocal fashion.
Following are a few observations that will shape marketing strategy as it relates to the omni-channel spectrum and mobile’s place within this increasingly intricate new communications horizon:
First, holding the dialog in real-time is becoming increasingly critical – as decisions are made and influenced on the fly. Shoppers will gravitate to retail brands that demonstrate genuine caring about their lifestyle, shopping preferences, and desired means of communication. Thanks to today’s busy lifestyle, the average consumer is typically shopping when they are already energy and time-strapped. By engaging with them via apps, text messaging and email, as a complement to in-store kiosks and other prominent “out-of-home” marketing channels, merchants have a greater opportunity to derive a meaningful dialogue that can direct purchase behavior in the moment.
Second, the conversation must be truly two-way. Because the omni-channel environment is highly interactive, brand marketers must be listening far more than they’re talking. This requires a dual dialog with built-in mechanisms to monitor the conversation. It also mandates that marketers respond with more agility around the way sales and marketing messages are created. Each communication needs to deliver measurable value for the consumer. Consumers – by design – have overwhelmingly adapted mobile as the two-way communication tool for these purposes: after all, we broadcast messages and instant message via our smartphones because the technology is quick and easy and the devices are always with us, wherever we go.
Third, the omni-channel medium the consumer chooses is dependent on time, location, and necessity, but “the message” must transcend these boundaries. Channel preference is conditional based on user behavior, but what must remain consistent – regardless of whether it is being transmitted online, via mobile or across more static, traditional marketing channels – is the quality of the message across the selected channel. As long as it is effectively delivered to qualified audiences in a timely fashion, marketing content that is aligned with a brand’s unique value proposition and that provides unified equity, across the marketing spectrum, will set the retailer up for greater success.
Fourth, with omni-channel, it’s easier to monitor shopper activity outside of the store and to effectively target consumers to come into the store. Mobile is the at-the-ready technology that will make this possible. As reported in RetailWire, “thanks to beacons, geo-fencing and other quickly-maturing technologies, it has become much easier for marketers to monitor where customers are shopping and to customize those shopping experiences based on specific locations.” Because there are multiple channels that consumers actively use, the volume of feedback from these varied touch points is now greater than ever, providing merchants with a robust set of metrics by which to calibrate marketing offers and customize their sales outreach. But, it’s mobile that is truly at the heart of this equation because no other medium can accompany the consumer on his or her purchase journey in quite the same highly interactive way – offering a real time pulse point that can Engage the shopper, Elicit information, and Influence decision-making all at the same time.
Advances in omni-channel marketing are truly a multi-dimensional “gift” to national retailers because it gives them more integrated branding opportunities and cost-effective delivery methods literally at their fingertips. And it allows them to hand feed their messages, with greater laser precision, to intended targets. There is a method of access for nearly every retailer to easily reach a highly qualified and segmented consumer. From lap tops, to wearable devices, to smartphones, e-billboards, live chat, social media and more, the possibilities are almost endless – and attainable in a budget range to accommodate most every brander’s price point.
As long as the quality of the message remains worthy of the medium, the omni-channel environment is going to “open” up the marketplace for businesses on a whole new level – and in a sense will help to level the playing field to create a more inclusive overall commerce environment. Merchants have good reason to polish their storefront shingle. The marketing landscape is as alive and diverse as it’s been in decades. And mobile, given it’s ubiquity, is the player up at bat with the strongest opportunity to deliver relevant, contextualized information to a hungry marketplace.
Navneet Loiwal is the CEO of Shopular.com, a free mobile shopping app for Apple and Android.