For best omni-channel results, don’t forget the physical


Too often, “omni-channel” really means “we have a great digital channel.” But consumers expect responsiveness across channels – including the physical. Barb Mosher Zinck assesses new data.

Historic mergers of online and offline—most recently with the acquisition of brick-and mortar Whole Foods Market by online powerhouse Amazon—demonstrate how worlds are colliding. Now the end consumer will believe that the personalization and speed of their Amazon Prime order will be replicated down the aisles of Whole Foods. To be sure, this “Amazon expectation” won’t be limited to the walls of Whole Foods; the expectation will spill over to every store in the same way it has spilled over into every online experience.

This is from a new CMO Council report called The Responsiveness Requirement: How Agile Marketers Act on  Consumer Feedback  to Drive Growth.

We talk about omni-channel experiences and how brands are working hard and achieving great consistency and context across channels. But the reality is, most brands are only “omni” with their digital channels. The idea of a consistent, contextual experience across physical and digital is a lot harder to achieve, and that’s quickly becoming a major issue, as the CMO Council report shows.

Physical channels play a key role in purchase decisions

Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing & Programs for the CMO Council, walked me through some of the findings of this new study. What they found was that physical channels play a key role in the decision to make a purchase, but marketers aren’t able to quickly make changes to physical channels to ensure they are meeting consumer expectations:


(From The responsiveness requirement: How Agile Marketers Act on  Consumer Feedback  to Drive Growth)

What does the above chart tell us? It makes the point that the channels marketers focus on aren’t necessarily the key channels used by consumers to make purchase decisions:

This reveals a significant gap in what marketers say is critical to delivering an omni-channel experience and what channels actually have the most influence on the end consumer’s buying behavior.

For example, marketers believe the corporate website is among the top three touchpoints for consumers when deciding to purchase only 23% of the time, but that same website is deemed a critical part of the omni-channel strategy for 80% of marketers.

Does this mean marketers are focused on the wrong things? Not exactly. Digital channels are very important because consumers use them to help influence purchase decisions, but not necessarily make the final decision. Too much time on digital isn’t the problem. The problem is marketers aren’t spending enough time on physical channels even though things like in-store promotions, product packaging and POP (point of purchase) are what moves the needle.

There’s a responsive challenge to physical channels that marketing must resolve

The ability to respond to customer requests and feedback is critical for marketing. According to this study, they are nailing it – at least in their digital channels. In fact, 43% of marketing teams can respond within one day, and 35% within 7-14 days.

Now compare that to responding to feedback and requests in physical channels – like product packaging. The idea of responding within one day is pretty much impossible; the reality is 59% require more than 30 days to respond:


(From The responsiveness requirement: How Agile Marketers Act on  Consumer Feedback  to Drive Growth)

Digital has changed consumer expectations. Brands can react quickly to social media; they can change their website in hours and adjust online advertising even quicker. This has trickled over to physical channels, and consumers are having the same expectation of responsiveness.

Now Miller pointed out that consumers don’t expect split second responsiveness. They are reasonable in what they feel can realistically happen. But a 90-day response isn’t acceptable; most think 30 days is more reasonable and possible.

Miller said that marketers have an opportunity to gain a competitive edge if they can figure out how to be more responsive in their physical channels. Responsiveness is hard for many reasons, and some of it deals with the supply chain. It’s not to say that partners are the problem, said Miller. The problem is there is no transparency to let marketers see where they can make cost-effective changes.

Another challenge for large organizations is the decision by committee approach to creative. It’s a very manual process, that takes a stopgap approach to finalizing a change, like adjusting packaging. Miller said marketing needs to find ways to streamline the collaborative process.

Three things that improve responsiveness

In the report, marketers identify three things that need to happen to improve responsiveness:

  1. Culture: Organizations still focus on product over the customer. Customer experience is the competitive differentiator that will drive the business forward.
  2. Transparency: Many organizations are still operating in silos. The product team has no view into customer insights, and creative teams don’t have access to customer needs and expectations. Without the ability to share data and intelligence across teams, responsiveness can’t happen.
  3. Partnerships: Procurement teams need to work closely with marketers to help identify the right vendors and resources – those that are most responsive. The key here is to understand it’s not about getting the best price; it’s about the ability to react quickly to customer needs.

My take

Marketing is very wrapped up in digital and for a good reason. The digital customer experience is critical to ensuring customer needs are being met. But in the rush to be great at digital, physical channels have been set aside. That seems to have caused problems.

Consumers don’t think in terms of digital or physical when they interact with a brand. They think about their needs and if the brand can meet them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a website, or an in-store display, or a product package – the ability to listen and respond as quickly as possible across all channels must happen.

Image credit - Feature image - Portrait of retailer with tablet © auremar - Images from CMO Council credited above.

    Comments are closed.

    1. says:

      “Consumers don’t think in terms of digital or physical when they interact with a brand.” Well said. No customer will actively decide to forgive a brand for having below-average offline service if the online service has led them to expect something else. While consumers may be reasonable in their expectations, and understand that digital and physical response speed inevitably differ, there’s a limit to how long they are willing to wait. Investing heavily in online responsiveness can of course yield great results, but it shouldn’t be done at the expence of offline service.