The omnichannel lemonade stand
One day, your eight-year-old daughter will ask for your help to expand her lemonade stand. She’ll want to grow beyond your front yard into a vertically integrated global enterprise – offering fresh lemonade online and in stores across six continents. She’ll know the importance of implementing an omnichannel marketing strategy, but won’t know what that means.
Of course, she’ll already have multichannel marketing; she engages customers across media – TV, mail, web, email, social, push, call center. She’ll have strong leaders at the helms of those channels, and they’ll optimize the hell out of their resources and campaigns.
So what will you tell her? Here are three tiers of omnichannel sophistication.
Level 1: Orchestra
In Formula One racing, each team actually fields two cars and two drivers, and some of the fiercest rivalries in the sport unfold between teammates. They jockey for the team’s resources and the fans’ affection, often at the expense of the other. If your daughter’s budding empire is like many companies, her marketing department looks similar.
Step one: evolve the org’s reporting and incentive structures, so content can be harmonized (if not personalized) across channels, and a smart attribution model can mirror the reality of meandering paths to purchase. She will execute data-driven (but low-sophistication) outreach like abandoned cart, retargeting, and purchase-driven offers, and she’ll even respect channel preferences, to the extent a consumer will have stated one. (Most won’t.)
It’s like an orchestra – very much a one-way street, where the audience is there to receive what the players make. And while she’s not yet engaging in context-aware, 1-to-1 conversations, at least the channels are working together. End result: something pleasing to most “end users”—the audience. There’s a cohesive vision (authored by the composer), a traffic controller (the conductor), and a willingness to share the limelight (focus shifting fluidly from one section of instruments to the next).
Level 2: Dog
Think of a brand. Chances are, if that brand were a person, he or she would be friendless. The reason is that brands are socially awkward; they forget our names and mutual history, don’t recognize us even though we’ve met, and will keep yammering about a topic even when we’re clearly bored. This explains the magnetic charm of dogs: they recognize us and engage us on our terms, making us feel seen. For a budding lemonade empire, emulating the dog is key. Your daughter must recognize individuals, and respond accordingly.
Recognition is hard, and doing it well costs money. While 2nd-party data is a good intermediary step (a data-exchange partnership with another company), data management platforms (DMPs) are there to help, and for good reason: Not only do lemonade customers hop among devices and channels, but also they move houses, change jobs, change their names, and change their preferences.
DMPs and other vendors will help to create a single view of each customer and prospect, letting her sell frozen lemonade concentrate to busy soccer moms, organic lemonade to athletic urbanites, bulk lemonade powder to the doomsday set, and printed coupons to the “eat local” crowd. She’ll know whether to engage each user via email blast versus Snapchat Sponsored Geofilter, and will see how each offline purchase originated with specific online content. Critically, she’s now listening and engaging—not just broadcasting.
Level 3: Host
As a forward-thinking CEO, your daughter ponders not only what’s possible today but also what’s next. True, she’d be in the top 7% of companies by achieving mere customer recognition, but the real prize is to be the gracious restaurant host.
It’s Friday night, the lobby is packed, and before you can even give your name, the host recognizes you, asks how your specific family members are doing, and whisks you to your favorite table. Brandishing a knowing smile, he explains the oysters are spectacular tonight. Mere humans are utterly helpless against an experience that delightful. You’re now a customer for life.
That’s a high bar for a company with millions of customers: to recognize instantly whom someone is, to remember exactly what they like, and to suggest the perfect product—before he or she even thought to want it.
But by the time your daughter makes her first million, Machine Learning (ML) will have gone mainstream, enabling precisely that. Omnichannel marketing will be powered by ML playbooks that comprise not just mere preferences and transaction history but also entire brand experiences.
In fact, your daughter will rightly note that we ask too much of brands. She’ll marvel that we ever expected a single brand simultaneously to attract and retain doctors on the Upper East Side who pour her lemonade in cocktails and also cheerleaders at Arizona State University, who drink it after practice. With enough inputs and computing power, brand identity itself—how it talks, what it looks like, what promotions and channels it employs—will be limited only by the number of customers and prospects in its universe. Brands as singular, static entities will one day feel as quaint as phone operators connecting two people to talk.
Credit to your daughter for pondering omnichannel at this early stage, before silos and systems are entrenched. But any enterprise, no matter how big or small, young or old can start thinking—and doing—omnichannel right now, at any level of sophistication, beginning with tools at hand.