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Omnichannel marketing in full swing amid coronavirus crisis

Since omnichannel marketing was introduced in the retail sector in 2014, it has evolved from a buzzword into a popular strategy. At its heart, it is now a clear approach – using all your channels to create a unified experience for your customer, anytime, anywhere and through any channel.

The coronavirus outbreak  has forced many sectors that traditionally rely on in-store services and experiences to step up their actions to go live online. Tourism, real estate, catering and education – as well as previously hesitant retailers –are now expanding their marketing efforts online as the pandemic lockdown showcases the advantages of digital channels and, to some extent, proves the resilience of those already using omnichannel marketing in a time of uncertainty and crisis. It’s safe to say omnichannel marketing will be fully embraced by various sectors amid a new round of digital transformation after the pandemic.

This article explores the main issues and values in omnichannel marketing, takes an in-depth look at fundamentals in the relationships between companies, channels and customers, and provides a useful tool for business managers and designers.

In brief, a business uses channels to reach out to customers and deliver their product or service. Channels can be in the form of traditional brick-and-mortar stores, apps, WeChat public accounts or WeChat mini-programs.  Customers choose channels based on their own distinctive requirements and environment.  

A visual representation of the process a customer goes through to achieve a goal with a company makes a classic client journey map with all the stages of a customer’s lifecycle – awareness, consideration, acquisition, service and loyalty. The process can be better illustrated by the following graph of swim lanes.


(A swim lane diagram to show omnichannel marketing.)

Issue 1 – solid support for omnichannel marketing:
Break down barriers to information and data and make customer experience seamless and consistent.

The key to adopting omnichannel marketing is integrating all channels and ensuring they are universally usable to orchestrate the customer experiences across all touch points, anywhere and anytime. So the separate swim lane, or the channel-specific approach, will be merged for a holistic, cohesive strategy.


(data shared across all channels)

One form of omnichannel retail integrates online and offline channels by offering the option to pick up an online order at a particular store or check the real-time inventory at a particular store online. The practice of merging the retail front and warehouse back end is just a new step forward in omnichannel push.

Issue 2 – planning omnichannel marketing
Integrating channels and functions

Many in China are now using online banking to process all types of tasks, a trend that has weakened the traditional role and functions of brick-and-mortar bank branches. As a result, the outlets are starting to shoulder new roles such as answering inquiries on complicated services or a shift to marketing and sales. New services unrelated to financial transactions have been launched to improve community engagement and the visit rate, while some outlets have also rolled out special services using an app. These efforts are all in line with the omnichannel marketing approach and aim to respond effectively to changes in various channels.


(Roles and functions of diverse channels)

Things could become slightly complicated with the ever-increasing number of digital channels, so clear positioning of each channel is needed. Which one will acquire new potential customers or serve existing customers? Does a channel match well with the customer expectation? How to align the features and functions of some channels?

Uniqlo’s chief marketing officer for Greater China once said in an interview that “Uniqlo regards e-commerce as only one of our many retail outlets, and the only one no longer bound by time or space. An app is more of a service and content communication. Social media platforms such as WeChat are channels for deep dialogue with consumers.” This mindset may explain why Uniqlo has no buying link on WeChat messaging – the casual clothing brand does not intend for all channels to lead to direct sales.

Issue 3 – omnichannel marketing experience: 
Single channel and multichannel

In the omnichannel approach, every channel has a certain positioning, which is often just part of a larger scenario with many functions in the service process. To ensure the customer experience, it’s necessary to make sure a channel can fully offer the features and functions the positioning needs.



(Graph: omnichannel customer experience)

In the omnichannel marketing strategy, all channels need to deliver a seamless and consistent experience so customers feel an integrated brand value. To reach such a goal, companies need to pay close attention to following problems:

1. Consistency of experience across channels
2. Seamless connectivity across channels
3. Synergy between channels

Issue 4 – omnichannel innovation:
Exploring new applications and channels

Building deep customer relationships requires more contact scenarios and opportunities with customers that are way beyond existing business areas. To achieve that goal, many companies have kept improving their services.

For example, a commercial bank, also a client of ThoughtWorks, found that many of its high-net-worth customers were local residents who owned properties in ‘urban village,’ space filled with low-rent, often shoddily built, housing. Seeing that those customers faced challenges in managing their rental properties, certainly a pain point, the bank then incubated a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform to meet client needs and greatly improve interaction with customers through non-financial services. The bank also leveraged cross-channel resources and its own app to improve the financial service for property rental,. This is a move that boosted loyalty in its high-net-worth customers.


(A bank’s innovation push across channels)

The channel in this sense is more than a vehicle to deliver services, but an innovative, meaningful interaction that retains the customer base.

Summary

With this systematic analysis, we aim to illustrate the impact of omnichannel marketing on technical support, channel planning, the customer experience and innovation. Keeping this broad framework in mind allows us to better understand the meaning for different stakeholders in implementing an omnichannel marketing strategy.

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