What Marcomms Can Learn From Retailing

Omnichannel is the buzzword in retail. It means more than multichannel, which refers to the ability of the customer to buy in different ways: online, on mobile, in store and on the phone.

Omnichannel means they can blend these into one seamless experience – eg Click and Collect. The channels are crossed and the customer gets a consistent experience however they engage. What’s more the salesperson and the system know the customer history wherever they are encountered. This is known as clientelling.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending the past few days at the BT4Retail Summit with a lot of retailers discussing how best to deliver omnichannel retailing. And it struck me that every kind of communications discipline could learn a lot from retail.

After all, retailers have to build a journey that culminates in something very powerful: the parting of cash. Marketing communications, PR, corporate communications and investor relations tend to have softer or less immediate goals. Sure, lead gen is track able for marketers, but actually getting someone to put in their credit card details is a big outcome and so the attention to detail about the journey is obsessive.

Imagine a scenario where PR people had the same obsession. They may have every journalist and blogger who ever covered their company or industry in a database (really?), but just think how powerful it would be if there were an equivalent to clientelling in that process. Every time the journalist checked out the company site they’d get relevant ‘offers’ of related content or contacts; when they met a company rep at a conference or event their details and interests would be immediately available to ensure the message is tailored; and they can order their interview online and collect it when they turn up to the media event.

Something like this already happens, but not in the same obsessive, A/B testing way that it does in e-commerce. How many corporate communicators have tried alternate versions of the sustainability website to see which one gets a greater response? Or trialled with and without video? Or tracked everyone who registers and then sends them tailored content based on their interests?

Marketing automation does deliver a lot of this in the marketing space, but the communications at the centre of it has not yet caught up. How often do marcomms people produce five versions of the same content tailored to the different market segments?

And in B2B, wouldn’t it be interesting if you could track customers as closely as your B2C colleagues do? If, when they download a white paper, that triggered all sorts of actions that would build your reputation with them?

As a content guy I think this is really interesting, and should mean that in the future there will be less of a one-size fits all approach to much content, and greater tailoring. Omnichannel marcomms is on its way, and the retailers will be showing us how it’s done.

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