Rene Power | Smart Insights | Tue, 18 Aug 2015 10:00:27 +0000

The why and how of omni-channel B2B marketing

Omni-channel marketing is a buzz phrase that is used interchangably with other phrases such as cross-channel marketing; multichannel marketing and my preferred term integrated marketing.

I had the opportunity to sit on a panel at The Big Social Media Conference in Manchester in July and discuss how a fundamental shift in consumers’ behaviour and expectations across an ongoing proliferation of marketing channels has created challenges and opportunities for the modern B2B marketer. This post summarises some of our discussion.

Omni-channel is a complex, customer-centric approach to marketing. It’s all about thinking holistically in terms of customer experience, interactions, and messaging.

From a B2B perspective, it is about being relevant in all the places a customer wants or expects to find you. This, although the use of ‘omni’ implies it, doesn’t necessarily mean everywhere!

A seamless omni-channel experience

What does a seamless omni-channel experience look like?

It looks connected and joined up. That is to say if, on a given day or week, you visited a website, a Facebook page, saw an ad (print, banner or retargeted), received an email, saw a POS in-store, they would be all be talking about the same thing.

Omni-channel marketing works totally irrespective of the channel rather than merely being applied to a specified number and type of channels.

To many marketers, terms like omni-channel, cross-channel and multichannel marketing mean the same thing, so perhaps it is best to think of omni-channel as an evolution of multichannel. Omni-channel is a more comprehensive approach where you prioritise being ‘omnipresent’ in the consumers’ experience. Multichannel is a more marketer-driven, siloed approach and could in fact just be three or four channels.

According to the recent DMA 2015 Response Rate Report, 65% of marketers use two or more media channels in their marketing campaigns while 44% of marketers use three or more.

Omni-channel is also inherent in the design. Campaigns that are planned for all relevant channels, not bolted in to them as an afterthought. There might be data, software, automation and analytics considerations.

Why is omni-channel marketing important for B2B businesses?

B2B marketing is chiefly about ROI and about creating a large top of funnel that can be nurtured through to sales conversion. B2B marketing doesn’t always have the same stellar budgets as B2C (simple economics of TV, cinema, radio advertising). And it’s hard to measure ROI so with limited budgets, so B2B marketing has to be smarter.

Taking an omni-channel approach means strategy and ROI are built in from the start too, so as an approach it helps measure what works – allowing accurate attribution of results and enabling marketers to move budget from what doesn’t work to doing more of what does.

This has specific relevance when B2B companies are looking at the rise and proliferation of social media sites, tools and technologies, wanting to try them out in a managed way. GE do a fantastic job right across the mix – check them out on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other sites (omni-channel in social!)

Challenges businesses can face with omni-channel marketing

Forrester Consulting’s Thought Leadership Paper, commissioned by Accenture and Hybris, showed that while traditional B2B buying journeys were offline and linear, the shift to digital and omni-channel expectations –driven by buyers’ consumer experiences – is well underway.

More than half of the 930 B2B customers surveyed said they expect to make one out of two purchases online in three years’ time. Future technology and how it improves organisational output and structure were deemed critical.

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Barriers to omni-channel include:

  1. Back office integration
  2. Difficulty sharing data across teams/countries
  3. Limited skills
  4. Employee engagement /resistance.

Which analytics should businesses focus on when measuring the results of omni-channel campaigns?

In reality, the same as other campaigns. Focus on sanity not vanity. Smart marketers are driven by uplifts in things like traffic, dwell, actions, conversions – but bear in mind they may be measured not just in sales terms. Impressions can give a general sense of visibility of campaign/brand.

Attribution is critical in an omni-channel strategy. An AdRoll survey of 1,000 marketers summarised that it helps marketers to understand where to apply marketing spend (56%), justify marketing budget (44%) and optimise campaign performance (43%). In total, 71% of marketers track attribution to better understand their customers.

So, what should businesses really consider when putting together an omni-channel strategy?

Good marketing rules still apply. Be where your customers go – it’s far harder to transport them to somewhere that feels alien. Talk in their language about problems that affect them. Position products/services on benefits not features. Offer some kind of emotional connection.

Securing data to be able to market to them is key, so make sure all activity is designed to better populate a single view of each customer. Over time build your data set to include the following:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Cell phone number
  • Social media handles
  • Home address
  • IP address
  • Landline
  • Behaviours
  • Preferences

In summary, what are the key benefits of omni-channel marketing?

Omni-channel marketing in B2B means you’ll have a better overall behavioural understanding of your customers. You’ll be able to improve your targeting which gives a % step change in conversion. Customers will develop a perception of yours as a business in tune with its market. You’ll intuitively have a better grasp of attribution and what works.

Look at companies like Oasis in B2C. They are using iPads in store with customers to check stock, take payment, order for home delivery. How could you translate this use of technology to your site, apps, email and direct marketing to improve customer self selection and their perception of your service?