Today's path to purchase is a bumpy road. It's an increasingly fragmented journey filled with many stops and starts. The digitally savvy customer jumps from channel to channel and from device to device as they narrow their choices before making a purchase.
While customers meander from offline to online along their journeys to purchase, their individual interactions with each touchpoint are considered part of a larger, all-encompassing set of insights that help organizations make better business decisions in the future. This is in the same way disparate ingredients blend together to create a winning recipe. Business leaders are recognizing this and according to Aberdeen Group, leading retailers are taking pains to align their brands, product offerings, and marketing messages to be able to deliver a uniform customer experience across all channels. In fact, research by the analyst firm shows that 44 percent of retail leaders consider the development of a multi-channel, multi-touch marketing plan as a top strategic action.
This is not surprising. Consistent campaigns and communications are more likely to reinforce brand messages. As this Customer Strategist Journal article, "What's Inside the Mind of the Customer" highlights, pieces of information from customers' everyday experiences-including marketing messages-are stored into long-term memory and can be triggered by sensory hooks, prompting a brand response. For example, the sound of a Kit Kat bar being broken off has been leveraged in marketing materials, becoming an iconic trigger that activates a memory of the brand. Similarly, when neuromarketers examined the impact of a new advertisement for a British food manufacturer, they found that while humor made the ad more memorable than its more traditional counterparts, its message was incongruent with the brand and therefore undermined the associations that customers already had with that particular product.
Michael Behrens, senior vice president of emarketing at WebMetro, the digital acquisition marketing arm of Revana Growth Services, notes that consistent messages have a positive impact on ROI since they reaffirm brand consistency across the board. Behrens notes that as a rule of thumb, customers need to be exposed to a marketing message between four and seven times before it is encoded into memory. If the message is inconsistent each time, the company might need to increase the frequency of the ad, costing organizations more in advertising dollars. "Advertising is expensive so you cannot lose any opportunities," Behrens stresses.
Getting to the root of the problem
While there have been strides forward in omnichannel messaging, many organizations are still struggling to deliver a consistent brand message across the different and often disparate touchpoints. "Providing a seamless omnichannel experience is problematic mainly because of a legacy of silos," notes Dan Darnell, vice president of product marketing at Baynote.
Trip Kucera, Aberdeen's vice president of client success and CMO-in-Residence, points to three common reasons for the ubiquitous problem of departmental silos. One is a lack of education for the whole organization about the importance of to seeing the various touchpoints as connected entities.
Another is the inability to see every channel as an opportunity to market to the customer. Kucera explains that in the past not all channels were used for marketing purposes. The contact center, for example, was solely a place to resolve customer issues, not cross-sell or upsell to customers based on their online viewing habits prior to calling. "We need a cultural shift within organizations to recognize that each and every touchpoint has a marketing function," he explains.
A third involves deploying technologies that don't enable effective information sharing and project collaboration. Over the years different departments have adopted technologies without first speaking to each other and ensuring that they were compatible with those used by other parts of the organization. Tom Wentworth, Acquia's chief marketing officer, explains that over the years different departments have adopted technologies without ensuring that these were compatible with those used by other parts of the organization.
These realities mean that organizations often end up with disjointed communications that don't resonate with customers, or, worse still, confuse them, leaving them without a clear idea of the brand promise. The problem becomes even more pronounced when organizations use channel partners who don't stay on message, notes Dan McDade, CEO of PointClear. As Behrens notes, working with multiple marketing agencies-which is not uncommon, especially for larger organizations-can lead to distorted brand messages. "There are several benefits to using a specialized agency that understands a particular domain, like mobile, but the problem might be brand consistency," he explains.
Unfortunately, as Darnell points out, many companies cannot afford to stop operations while they bridge silos and bring information together. "They need to maintain their current systems operational while they repair the problems," he notes. Darnell also explains that the Holy Grail unified technology that bridges all the silos is yet to be found.
Bridging the divide
According to Andrew Stanten, president and co-founder of Altitude Marketing, the key to successful omnichannel messaging lies with building a cohesive strategy that encompasses all channels. Often, he notes, businesses look at distinct marketing messages in isolation, thinking about the message they want to deliver through an email blast or on a brochure. "You need to start at the 30,000-foot view," he stresses. At that point, business leaders must ask: "How do we want to be perceived in the market?" Stanten notes that it's only once a brand is able to establish how it wants to position itself that marketers can start working on specific communications, ensuring that these are completely aligned with the overall message that the organization wants to send. Jeffrey Wilks, head of client services for eBay Enterprise's marketing solutions division, notes that this strategy needs to be built according to insights based on understanding of the brand, the organization's customers, and the market. "It's only when you have these insights that you can develop a meaningful strategy," he says.
Wentworth notes that one way to avoid departmental silos is to create teams that are organized around the customer journey. For example, one team will focus specifically on customers who are in the consideration stage, irrespective of which channel they come from while another will deal with customers who are further down the purchasing funnel. "Marketing departments should organize around the customer lifecycle," he stresses. Of course, different teams will need to work together to make sure that the message is consistent across the whole purchasing journey and avoid situations where a customer will be targeted with inconsistent or even conflicting messages.
Especially within organizations that have separate marketing teams for the different channels, business leaders need to be sure that they're equipping these groups with the necessary tools to deliver a consistent brand message. Stanten recommends creating a verbal toolkit that includes proof points, testimonials, case studies, and any other relevant content that will help them create a message that resonates with the target audience. It's about giving the teams the different building blocks that can be combined in endless ways to create distinct campaigns which remain on message. "Once the verbal toolkit is codified, share it with them," he says.
Irving Fain, CEO of CrowdTwist, agrees. "Especially in bigger companies, it's very easy to start talking in a different language," he notes. This means that organizations have to make sure each and every employee understands the message that the company wants to deliver. This requires a strategy of transparency, which, as 1to1 Media explains in the article, "Four Tips to Immerse Employees in the Brand," was the road chosen by Ford when the company was undergoing financial struggles. Keeping employees informed of what's happening within a company can avoid them creating their own version of the truth and then sharing it with others.
While social media has given brands a new conduit through which to speak with customers and prospects, it has also brought about challenges in controlling the message. Social channels mean that any employee's comments about an organization can quickly make it around the world. Stanten uses the example of a SaaS company whose 65 employees used more than 30 different ways to explain what the organization did on their LinkedIn accounts, providing a very distorted brand message. "The divergent messages sent confusion into the marketplace," he notes.
There has been a lot of debate as to whether business leaders can manage employees' social discourse to ensure that it resonates with the brand message but without appearing too controlling. Stanten recommends giving guidelines to employees and making recommendations on what is acceptable and even the verbiage that should be used. "Ask, but don't tell, employees to make changes to their personal pages," Stanten suggests. On the other hand, anyone in a position to speak on behalf of the company is considered a spokesman and needs to abide by the company policy. "Give them the tools to make it easier for them to be on message," he says.
Kucera also points out that providing the whole organization with the tools to deliver the right brand message makes it much more likely for their communications to be genuine and organic, and not appear as if they were simply reiterating a message. "Clear communication across channels starts with a clear message," he explains.
Aligning the marketing message doesn't solely refer to sending consistent communications across different channels, but also making sure that these interactions resonate with the exact point of a customer's purchasing journey. Wilks stresses the need to map the experience that customers will have across the different touchpoints at distinct points during their journey, and then create a strategy that allows for a consistent message across the board, without unnecessary repetitions or failing to deliver useful information. While the core brand message needs to remain consistent, organizations need to make sure they don't bore customers with repetitive messages.