Brands are being sold the promise of omni-channel marketing. With a top-notch omni-channel platform/provider and minimal effort (self-service!), we are told that we will be able to converse with our target customer (let’s call her “Jane”) as she snaps a picture of our latest product on her phone, researches it online, goes to our website, is retargeted across the web (desktop and mobile), is linked with us on social media, and is ultimately moved down a sales funnel until the purchase is made. The digital promise finally realized! Or is it? While plausible in theory (and on a PowerPoint), in practice it isn’t so simple to accompany Jane on her journey.
A vision yet unrealized
The omni-channel “vision” in which communications are relevant at every touch point is not yet realized for several reasons. First, customer-relationship-management data is not yet fully unified, and the teams mining the data are still channel focused. Second, while we believe we know Jane, she is really represented as a set of disparate IDs across our different interactions because of the device/channel/etc. where the interaction takes place. Jane is her email address in one context, her mobile number in another context, a hardware ID in another, a cookie value in yet another.
This alignment/integration of multiple IDs into a single persona (identity management) is where a lot of today’s rising companies do their work and is the daunting challenge to omni-channel ubiquity.
Lastly, there’s the question of whether Jane wants accompaniment by a brand on her journey. What value is the brand adding? How is it relevant at each step?
Leverage what you know well
All is not lost, though. If we stop trying to boil the ocean and focus on the data we have and know well (CRM data, user profiles with email address and attributes), we can be successful in designing and executing customer journeys that cross the email, SMS (text messaging) and social channels effectively.
The key is the power of today’s social media application-programming interfaces (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), which allow targeting by email address instead of strictly using lookalike models based on attributes. When a specific message can be sent to a specific individual, the conversation can be extended and enhanced by remaining relevant.
Social media is a wide landscape
Social media consumption is staggering. Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are ubiquitous. I would, jokingly, offer that we fit our day around our social media consumption and not the other way around.
Social media is the ultimate in relationship/retention marketing, whether it is friendship or content. It is only natural that we would want to integrate it into CRM.
Let’s think about standard CRM email campaigns and standard social media campaigns. Email marketing is one-to-one and works very well with targeted initial and secondary messaging. The idea that you receive an email from a trusted brand or advertiser and then receive some form of follow-up is well accepted.
Social media marketing is usually based on segments (lookalikes built from recent successes) and is solid for initial messaging, but it is then leveraged for those eerie secondary (retargeting) messages that feel like too much too soon. It always feels a little disconcerting when I interact with a brand or advertiser and then have them pop up on Facebook 30 seconds later when I check my feed. There is a lack of subtlety that lowers the effectiveness of the social media message.
Think about engagement holistically and not by channel
A successful strategy for crossing email and social channels can be built by relying on the new mechanisms for targeting in today’s social platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and others now support robust targeting directly via email address.
This is very empowering. Using email addresses to segment for a campaign with an initial message delivered via email and a follow-up delivered via a social media channel at a prescribed future is a lot more engaging than a follow-up email. This is much more subtle than typical social (re-)targeting in message focus and timing.
You can also be so bold as to flip the channels and target a specific set of users in a social channel with the initial message and then follow-up via email at some point in the future. With a broad array of popular social channels, the combinations for creating compelling cross-channel messaging grow quickly.
Omni-channel platforms are not a silver bullet. Effective omni-channel marketing is still hard to execute well, and proper identity management is currently overwhelming. If we focus on email address as the targeting mechanism, we can create very rich and relevant cross-channel journeys that leverage the best of both email and social, getting us closer to the vision of optimizing messaging at every touch point.
David Steinberg is the CEO of New York-based analytics and big data company Zeta Interactive.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.