Omnicanality: how to combine homogeneity and differentiation?

Tue 11 May 2021

While brands are now making omnicanality a strategic priority, the new challenges are now focused on its operational implementation. What are the pitfalls to avoid? What are the key factors for success?

Multi-channel, cross-channel, omnichannel are all "key words" that express the evolution of consumer uses and the ensuing strategies.

It is clear that for several years now, the use of and appetite for the digital channel have been growing steadily, driven by the health crisis in 2020. However, the challenge for companies today is no longer to focus on strengthening the digital channel but to integrate all channels within a global customer experience strategy.

In the era of omniconsumers, most companies are working to create customer journeys that comply with the evolution of usage, while remaining boundless and seamless.

But beware of falling into the trap! Delivering an omnichannel customer experience is not the same as implementing a uniform strategy across all customer touch points. Strategic objectives must be global and mutual, but their operational implementation must be adapted to the specific characteristics of each channel.

Multi-channel, cross-channel, omnichannel: what are the differences?

Each of these different concepts represent a chronological stage in the evolution of marketing strategies.

  • Multi-channel corresponds to the early stages of web growth in consumption modes. This strategy involves developing the digital channel in parallel with the physical network. Here, the channels are treated separately and do not interact with each other.
  • The emergence of "cross-channel" strategies reflected a concern for coherence between the different points of contact. The first inter-channel bridges were formed. The objective is not to compete with channels but to make them work together.
  • The emergence of new marketing strategies is often linked to the evolution of needs and uses. Yet 73% of customers are not attached to a particular channel[1]. With omnicanality, it is no longer a question of creating bridges between channels but rather initiating real synergies between them to enable their simultaneous use.

In light of these developments, omnicanality has quickly become a standard for most companies, which place their customers at the heart of their concerns. However, this strategy is not easy to implement because you have to know how to adapt to the characteristics of the channels composing it, and even more importantly, you have to identify the corresponding benefits they can mutually provide.

The benefits of omnicanality

In order to offer a seamless customer experience and to smooth out the breaks in the customer journey, it is essential to adapt to the specificities of each channel. However, it is important to remember that omnichannel strategies must be based on a common objective and provide the same quality of experience to customers. Differentiation does not imply addressing channels in silo, quite the contrary. This is where the complexity of omnicanality lies: finding the subtle balance between consistency across all channels and adaptation to the targeted channel.

But why is this subject so preoccupying for companies to that extent that we talk today about customer obsession?

Because implementing an effective omnichannel strategy generates customer engagement[2], the ultimate grail for many companies! Indeed, a company with an optimal omnichannel strategy retains on average 89% of its customers, compared to 33% for brands with a weaker omnichannel customer journey[3].

The sine qua non condition is, of course, to have a centralized customer database in order to fine-tune the actions intended for them and measure their impact.

An example that illustrates the point is Benefit Cosmetics[4], a global cosmetics brand that has seen exponential growth in its turnover thanks to the strengthening of its omnichannel strategy. The customer can choose an institute and a beautician digitally. In the institute, beauticians have access to customer data to then propose a "tailor-made" experience and build loyalty over the long term.

The main steps in implementing an omnichannel strategy

The objective is no longer to multiply touch points but to create end-to-end synergies while having a differentiated approach per channel. Today, 75% of customers expect brands to offer a seamless user experience from one channel to another, so they don't have to start their purchase journey from scratch[5]. But how do you juggle brand consistency with a differentiated approach per channel?

1/ Collecting data on all available contact points

Like any customer centric (or should we say customer "obsessed") strategy, the first step is to collect customer data. Omnicanality allows us to broaden the spectrum of data collected, which is very useful: social networks, forums, customer service, Google reviews, in-store returns, and apps are all sources that will form a solid foundation for analysis.

At this point, it is essential to have an overview and to combine the data collected on all channels in a single database.

2/ Analysis of collected data & creation of transversal paths

This involves analyzing all the data (pain points, preferred channels and needs identified at certain stages of the customer journey, etc.) and mapping as many cross-functional paths as there are channels available and buyer personas identified.

The purpose of this exercise is to answer the following questions: What do my customers need? What am I missing today to increase their engagement? What are the drivers and inhibitors of purchase? On the web? On the app? In store?

It is at this stage that differentiation is required. For example, personalization will not have the same meaning and implementation from one channel to another:

In store, the consultant will personalize his/her proposal based on an exchange with the customer and the data available on the sales tool (sales history, frequency...). Of course, this is much more complicated on the web, but brands are full of ideas. For example: ClubMed[6] personalizes proposals based on a choice left to customers on the home page: sea or mountain. This way, visitors are directly offered trips that correspond to their desires.

Similarly, appropriation must be thought of differently: it is rationally difficult to touch and test a product digitally. Once again, technology can provide a solution. For example, the Atol[7] website allows customers to chat with an optician, but also to try on pairs of glasses thanks to virtual reality.

3/ Internal distribution and... Action!

It is not enough to have a cross-functional logic and to create synergies between channels. This approach must also be reflected in the organization. It is important to co-design customer journeys and the various associated action plans with all the stakeholders: distribution, marketing, data, IS, operational teams, etc. To deliver a boundless omnichannel experience, it is also necessary to abolish any internal boundary so that everything flows smoothly together.

Finally, you must not stop iterating. An omnichannel strategy is long and complex to implement but fruitful. Don't overlook the logic of continuous improvement!

Marketing strategies and concepts are evolving in line with usage, which is constantly changing. The future of omnicanality is the complete fusion of contact points and is called phygital. Some brands, pioneers in this field, have already taken this turn, like Burberry, which has turned its flagship store in London into a temple of digital innovation: an application available on iPads to customize one's own trenchcoat, or mirrors that turn into interactive screens[8], transforming the store into a hybrid channel.

Chances are that companies that have invested in the most advanced omnichannel strategies will be able to re-engage customers!


Lou Chevreux

Customer Experience & Digital Transformation Consultant