Why Brands Need to Align Their In-Person and Digital Experiential Campaigns

Retailers recognize the importance behind these strategies but aren't implementing them

Retail experiences need to step up their game to compete with digital. Getty Images
Headshot of Brittany Hodak

A cohesive brand experience is no longer a nice to have—it’s a must-have. Sixty percent of millennials expect a consistent omnichannel experience. In fact, millennials called channels “irrelevant,” underscoring their perspective that a brand experience should be constant.

The problem? While consumers expect a seamless experience across platforms, only 7 percent of retailers offer one. Businesses may have launched initiatives at different times or inadvertently siloed their teams, but consumers expect consistency nonetheless.

Companies have heard consumers’ demands: 87 percent of retailers acknowledged an omnichannel strategy was crucial. While companies recognize the importance of creating a cohesive brand experience, many still struggle to do so.

Understating the benefits

The potential payoffs for brands marrying their online and offline experiences shouldn’t be downplayed. Companies that invest in omnichannel customer engagement retain 89 percent of their customers on average. Those that haven’t retain a mere 33 percent of their customers.

While companies recognize the importance of creating a cohesive brand experience, many still struggle to do so.

Even small moves, like enabling customers to buy online and pick up their purchase in-store, creates additional touchpoints with customers conditioned to expect convenience. Amazon’s success has proven that price isn’t the only factor that matters to consumers—convenience often trumps price.

That storefront advantage can extend far beyond convenience. “Retailers with brick-and-mortar locations have the added benefit of the in-store experience, which can be an extra opportunity to deliver surprising customer service, build loyalty and drive additional sales,” Phil Lockhart, principal consultant and digital practice lead at management and IT consulting firm Credera. In fact, research shows that customers who shop in multiple channels spend up to three times more.

Overcoming omnichannel obstacles

Saying a brand wants a consistent experience is the easy part, achieving it is more difficult. Bringing together processes and platforms that existed as stand-alones requires technology, resources and budget.

For example, adding that seemingly simple in-store pickup option can require a new approach and process. If a customer orders something online and picks it up, he expects to get out of the store within minutes. To meet that expectation, a store has to develop a streamlined process and hire adequate staff. Most businesses see the time and money layout required, not the time it may save and the money it may draw from customers.

Establishing the right process requires accurate data, and this is where many companies trip up. Operating with disparate systems, they create data silos. When the marketing team uses one platform, the sales team uses a separate CRM and the inventory system is on a different platform altogether, the data isn’t connecting. Removing barriers between these systems offers a unified picture of customer data, giving brands a significant competitive advantage.

Neiman Marcus won the 2017 IRT Retailer Innovation Award by personalizing its omnichannel experience. By using machine learning across its platforms, the site gets smarter about what customers prefer: If a customer’s been searching for size 34 pants, the site will combine that with geolocation to highlight size 34 pants available in nearby stores. It also implemented a Memory Mirror feature so customers could save a 360-degree image of themselves in an item to view and buy later.

These types of omnichannel thinking help brands build super fans, customers whose affinity and spending will over-index. This subset of customers will not only provide the highest lifelong value, but its members will also serve as advocates and micro-influencers to draw others into the fold.

Pinpointing the problem

Brands wanting to identify the problems lurking within their customer experiences can narrow their search.

Explore whether core customers’ needs are being met. Are those being addressed across all channels? Do internal operations make sense? What organizational, staffing or process-oriented changes need to be implemented? The critical opportunities generate revenue, lead to cost savings or protect the core customer base.

Take a look at the store. “Usually, retailers get it right in their store,” Lockhart says. “When building a digital experience, automate what a store associate would do.” If associates ask follow-up questions to determine the right item or fit, duplicate that experience online by using those questions to narrow customers’ options.

A consistent omnichannel experience is necessary in this day and age, but it’s not impossible to achieve. By taking a step back to view the brand landscape through customers’ eyes, brands can get a view into what they need to make the experience cohesive. After all, the channel doesn’t matter—the experience does.

@BrittanyHodak Brittany Hodak is co-founder of The Superfan Company.