As the buying experience changes before our eyes, savvy small businesses are using omni-channel marketing to stay on top of the tectonic shift in customer preferences.
"Omni-channel marketing" describes a comprehensive approach to engaging customers who no longer purchase products and services in the traditional sense, but rather make use of multiple devices and platforms as part of their buying experience.
"In practical terms, this means being able to ensure that your customer can do something like look up a product at home online, order it later via smartphone or tablet, and pick it up at a convenient store location on her way home from work," says eCommerce specialist Kate Robinson. She advises small businesses just beginning to adopt this approach to start small, focusing "on building a quality presence in one or two channels at first, to justify expanding into others and to guarantee that you do in the most effective way."
It's more important than ever to know your customers and stay on top of their purchasing habits. What do they want? What do they need? How do they want to engage with your business? Resources like data analytics programs, social media listening software, app development, etc. can answer these questions and help you more effectively reach out to prospective customers as well.
A Consistent Customer Experience
The key to effective omni-channel marketing is ensuring a consistent customer experience across the board. The price of your product or service, for example, has to be the same whether customers engage your business on the company website, in some other online marketplace or at a physical store (if appropriate). Businesses that offer discounts designed to drive prospects to a specific channel must be prepared to offer the same discount wherever customers wish to shop.
Brand consistency is equally important. A small business's logo, images, messaging and overall look and feel must be the same, regardless of where the customer encounters the brand. Any discrepancy confuses would-be customers, when the goal is precisely the opposite - offering the same high-quality customer experience across all channels.
Get Your Business Functions in Order
If you're ready to embark on a full-fledged omni-channel marketing campaign, be sure you have all your ducks in order, the experts say. Key elements include:
Inventory. Many customers research products online, then visit a brick-and-mortar store to make their purchase. Other customers start with a physical store, then buy online. Your goal is to have enough stock on inventory to meet customer preferences, wherever they choose to buy.
Customer service. A successful retail business trains its staff in providing high-touch, personalized customer service. The best online businesses do the same by offering support services and other methods to assist customers in the buying experience. First-rate customer service must be seamless in every venue.
Check out. There should never be any hassles when a customer is ready to pay for her purchase. Front-line staff in a physical store must be able to facilitate this purchase as smoothly as possible, while online customers should feel that the check-out process is quick, safe and secure.
With all your functions in order, omni-channel marketing can deepen customer engagement, by drawing users from one channel to another. "Employ tactics from one channel that drives engagement to another," says Ramon Ray of Smallbiztechnology.com. "For example, a social media post that drives traffic back to a website. Or an email or even physical postcard that drives traffic to an interactive contest on social media."
These days, customer expectations are high. They feel that, whether they click "Buy" on a company's website or tap a key on their smartphone or walk into a physical store, they'll have the same "customer-first" experience. By mastering omni-channel marketing, your small business offers greater value and makes a far more positive buying experience than competitors still struggling to meet these changes in customer behavior.